The Constant Search For

The Comfortable Medium

by Allan Webster

Juke - June 25th 1983

steve.jpg - 20662 Bytes Seance : a meeting at which spiritualists seek to communicate with the dead. (Webster's Dictionary)

"To me it (the word Seance) implied getting music and lyrics out of nowhere, just calling them up out of nowhere." (Steve Kilbey)

This is the one. The LP that will determine whether the shaky foundations of The Church will bring the walls crashing around their ears or not.

The Blurred Crusade was just that...an unfocussed odyssey beyond the frontiers of general acceptance, Sing Songs was, by Steve Kilbey's own admission, hastily put together and "thrown out" onto the marketplace. What's the point in being a rock when you're swimming in quicksand ?

Since confessing to an "Unguarded Moment", The Church have been searching for that comfortable medium (no pun intended) between their own aspirations - or in particular those of songwriter Kilbey - and the demands of 'the business'.

"This one (the LP Seance) is crucial to our career," says Kilbey as we talk in the Melbourne offices of EMI. "A lot of people have told us that and it has become apparent to me as time goes on that this is the big one.

"If the album doesn't do well I don't see very much of a future for us. There wouldn't be much point in soldiering on. for anyone to continue to be interested in us, this album has to be the one to pull up its socks and to [do] a lot better than the other ones."

He says it softly, without the slightest hint of desperation or even concern.

"I have a totally philosophical attitude. If it doesn't do well then, well, I've done my best. What can I do ? People just didn't want it at this point in time."

Kilbey is, of course, keen to see it do well and so has broken a self-imposed silence to do a whirlwind promotional tour, just to have a chat.

"I like talking but I was always saying things I shouldn't say and I was doing too many interviews before. I thought I was demystifying the whole process of what we were trying to do.

"I was becoming cynical and sick of it. And to tell the truth, I didn't want to do interviews with people who hate me or hate the band. I just didn't want to go through that - I don't want some snotty-nosed little guy saying to me 'why don't you give all the money you make to poor bands' and all those stupid naive sort of questions I went through before. "This time I thought I'd do just a few, so maybe people would read about the new album and if they could afford it, go out and buy it and enjoy it, and enable us to go on for another day or two."

He has every reason to be optimistic about Seance. The album sparkles with confidence, certainly the most mature and cohesive piece of vinyl yet from The Church; from the familiar ringing guitars of "Electric" through the ethereal "Fly" to the primitive, mantra-like "Travel By Through", the spirits at work on Seance manifest themselves as much more substantial than mere ghostly visions.

Theory

Magazine cover - 27K Bytes Kilbey, as we've now come to expect and accept, has an intense aversion to talking bout his songs; about what they mean. And even if he wanted to he couldn't say where they came from. He has a theory that every song has already been written and that they're all floating around somewhere 'up there' until plucked out of the air.

"A lot of the time I'm trying to write the one song constantly. I have this idea in my head of a song I want to write ... a mood kind of song.
"The good thing is that I don't think I'll ever write that song. If I do, I'll give up."

There's one track on Seance which Steve feels comes closest to that 'one song': a track called "Electric."

"I really like that song and I've got a few others to come at home which I haven't done anything with yet that might come even closer than that.
"But then ... I might get up tomorrow and write another one that comes closer still. The trouble is, my idea of what that one song is changes constantly, every day".

Kilbey's pursuit of the Perfect Song...the ones that sums it all up...makes him somewhat oblivious to things such as record production.

"I've never really been interested in sounds....I'm more interested in songs and playing."
So when EMI suggested Nick Launay as producer of Seance, Steve had no qualms.

"I met Nick and was quite happy to let him mix the album, and it turned out for the best."

It's certainly a sympathetic job, I suggest.

"I hope that has happened,' Steve says. "It's hard to hear it now - when I listen I just hear all the things that happened when we recorded it.
"You have to put yourself in different chemical stats to try to appreciate it, to try to hear it with virgin ears. But you get half way through the first song and find yourself listening to the funny buzz in the string synthesizer or little mistakes...in that sense everyone is destined to never really understand or appreciate their own music. You're always an unknown quantity to yourself.
"But I'm pleased with the music, the playing and performance. I think this would have been a good record regardless of who mixed or produced it, although Nick's work has been the icing on the cake."

The question of appreciating your own music, of being deprived of that appreciation by a recording process which requires an intimacy with every note, nuance and word, is one which fascinates Steve. Particularly as he soaks in other people's perspectives and theories on his songs.

"I'm constantly flattered that people are interested in what I'm writing and it is interesting to hear people's interpretations. It makes me look back at things I thought a song was about and I start to think, well, maybe it was really about something else ?"

So, if there was any objectivity to begin with, the recording process quickly takes it away.

There's no other way you can do it, really, unless you recorded everything live, like the Beatles - maybe they could go home and listen to themselves and appreciate it more.
"But these days...well, it took us a month to do the album, which was really quick for us. But all the going over and over...it's never going to be the same. It's going to be a million layers off different things.

"You agonise over whether this should have been as loud or should I have done that at all...but it's too late."

Home Recording

Steve wrote about 20 songs to be considered by the band for inclusion on Seance. He recorded them all at home on his four track studio.

"Then we went through the process of playing the songs to the band as we all do, they say which ones they like or don't like and sometimes I have to do a bit of a hard sell by playing them over and over, and then we went into the rehearsal studio for about four days." In previous interviews, Steve had mentioned his desire for the other band members to write more songs.

"Marty and I have written a great song together, which Marty sang and wrote the lyrics for, but for some obscure reason which I don't know, EMI didn't think it was good enough to go on the album.
"I thought it was one of the best tracks. We wrote it when we were in Europe - it's called '10,000 Miles." To me the album will always have a bit missing because it isn't on it. But hopefully we can get it out at a later date on something else.

"The other guys are pretty lazy when it comes to songwriting, whereas I spend all my time writing. So it's best for me - I'm the songwriter in the band; it's part of my function.

"I do encourage them to put up songs...maybe on the next album, I don't know. But I think these are some of the best songs I've written."

while most of them are new, there's one that is quite old, titled "Travel By Thought". It's a raw and nebulous swirl of sounds which gives the impression it was improvised on the spot. It was.

"I'd written that thing a long time ago with the bass, a drum machine and this poem I used to read over the top of it. We used to use it for an intro tape and a lot of people would come up after shows and ask what it was.

"So I thought that if everyone likes it we might as well put it on the next album.
"Peter, Richard, Marty and I just went into the studio and I said 'right, we'll do this in one take. I'll go boomboomboomboom on the bass and you guys do what you like !
"So we did that and Marty went back in to make some more noises and Peter did the same and I did some more bass and synthesiser then the lyrics. That was it. There's no real melody...no real anything.
"Was surprised it got on the album, actually. Maybe EMI thought it was our entry in the primitive, tribal sounds stakes. But I'm pleased with it because it's a contrast to everything else.
"Actually, if you listen to it, Richard stops playing drums at one point - he'd give up on the track because he'd made a mistake or something, but I told him to keep going so he joined back in, and we just left it like that.
"I like songs that just arrive like that, as opposed to something like "It's No Reason" where we agonised over it, tried it a million different ways."

'It's No Reason' ended up being the first single from the LP, though Steve insists that's not the reason they slaved over it: he would deny anything so calculated as a song written specifically as a single. Critics of the band would say that's obvious. The Church don't care much for normal song forms that included middle eights, bridged, repeat choruses etc.
"We used to have a drummer who'd go crazy because of that," Steve said with a grin. "But I think all that's boring. I don't write to any formula at all. I've tried it a few times but they don't turn out very well. The best songs are the ones that sneak up on you. You write them and just leave them alone.
"I hear some things on the radio and wonder how anyone could have the gall to put them out, because they're so transparent.
"Someone has obviously decided 'right, I'm going to try to make a lot of money and write this instant piece of plastic. I don't like that kind of thing and I'm not really interested in doing that."

It's Steve's - and the Church's - refusal to fool with their songs that brought them to loggerheads with their American record company, Capitol.

"Our second album didn't come out at all in America because they didn't think it had enough hooks, so we were dropped by Capitol.
"I hate Capitol and I never want anything to do with them again. They were a horrible bunch of people, the kind of people I really disklike in the music business. They were just toally indifferent and uninterested in us. You should have heard the edits they did of "Unguarded Moment" and "Too Fast For You!" The record failed to sell well in America though it did well in Canada, really well, but Captiol just unceremoniously dumped us and blamed us that I couldn't come up with the right material for the American market. In fact someone in America had the cheek to suggest I go live with an American songwrite for six months to learn how it's done !"

Revenge

So there was an understandable sense of sweet revenge when Steve learned that 'Like A Ghost', a song he'd written which was recorded by Ignatious Jones, was making headingway on the US dance charts.

Steve has a stockpile - techno-pop, ballads, straight rock songs but, as he says : "I'm a bit reticent about appreaching people myself."

He may have to, of course, if Seance doesn't live up to expectations.

"I don't know what we'd do. If the album does really badly I guess that's the end. there's no point banging our head against the wall. If it doesn't do well, then next time we go into the studio people will start saying 'you have to write songs like this, you've got to do it this way'. So the fourth album might come out with 10 hit singles on it, whatever they are, and we'd be betraying our ideals.

"So either way, I'm happy. If it breaks up after this, we'll go out and we'll have our own little niche in history. If the album goes alright people will leave us alone and we can go on.
"What does it all mean...really. In ten years time it's all going to look silly. It's just that I'd really hate to sell the people who buy the records short. That's the main thing. I just want people to be happy with what we've done."

Steve does have one or two other things on the go - among them a book of poetry titled The Crowd Invisible which he has compiled and which his manager is in the process of hawking around to publishers. It contains about 100 poems - some dating back to the mid-Seventies - and is illustrated by Paul Patty who designed the Blurred Crusade album cover.

"I quite hastily assembled the book. I suppose I could have sat down and more carefuly done it, written some better poetry, but sometimes I like to put things out hastily then sit back to see what the reaction is. Like Song Songs (the EP), which was done really quickly. It didn't do very well at all but I think it was an interesting record.

"But the poetry book was my own idea. It amuses me. As someone said to me, the word 'poet' is very strange, a really pretentious word. And as you said, I've done records, singles, clips, tours, so what next ? Stick out a book of poetry for the sheer cheekiness of it.
"People who are really into the Church, who are into the music and the lyrics, might think it's great and people who already dislike us are going to hate it.
"And I just bought a record by Pete Townshend called Scoop which is full of all his old demos so I though, well, if he can do it so can I because I've got at least a double album full of demos...I really couldn't be bothered recording them all again so I wouldn't mind sticking them out."


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