Forever Down Underlings?
With daft psychedelia invading the charts
in the guise of Dr & The Medics, can THE CHURCH expect their
modern paisley paranoia to be taken seriously?
Mat Smith quizzes our Antipodean cousins on this and many other pertinent points.
Portraits: Paul Rider
Interview taken from the Melody Maker, May 31 1986
"Sometimes I walk into The Marquee and think 'Oh God I've
been playing this place for the last six years.' I think about
groups playing the Albert Hall and hanging around airports with
models and we're still roughing it up and down the Ml in a
Transit van. But it's a very dualistic thing. It's like a happily
married man who wants to have a girl on the side - it'd be very
nice to do both but you can't. I suppose we've made our bed and
we're gonna have to lie in it."
Extraordinarily enough, this an Australian talking, Steve Kilbey of The Church.
"It's great when we play England 'cos the fans here seem to know what we're about but then, after the gig, it's like scraping up the cab fare to get back to your dingey hotel. There again, if you care about your music and fans and don't want to rip people off then that's your worry - don't complain about not making any money.
Kilbey isn't the complaining kind but he can't help but feel bitter. It's not for want of playing the big boys' game that The Church aren't mega. They've made an astonishing 13 videos - only one of which I can ever recall seeing on British TV. They even supported Duran Duran but folks still hark back to their second LP, "Unguarded Moment" [Brian: It was their second single, not second LP], as The Church at their best. "Fuck off!" says Kilbey, his defiance reflected in the band's recent shows at The Marquee and in the music on "Heyday", The Church's fifth album and their first for EMI. After the "change-for-change's-sake" sound of "Remote Luxury", "Heyday" rings a welcome return to that familiar Church cocktail of jangled 12-strings and introspective soul-searching.
Freed from Carrere, The Church are once again nursing modern neuroses with a comforting lifeline to a more carefree musical past. It's an LP Kilbey's particularly happy with, citing the opening track, "Myrrh", as "summing up what The Church are about." This young Australian is more worried about the cover though, as it captures all four members of The Church in multi-coloured picturesque paisley shirted glory.
"It was originally a self-depracating joke," he explains with a boyish grin. "Our heyday was when we wore paisley shirts but now it's come out over here, people will probably think we're trying to jump on the Doctor & The Medics bandwagon."
It's a measure of Kilbey's naivety that he actually believes this. Whatever, he still remains fiercely loyal to the bands back home and doesn't think that Australia has lost the pioneering musical spirit that bubbled so effervescently at the turn of the decade. He disagrees with my notion that the initial igniting spark lit by The Birthday Party, Go-Betweens and, indeed, The Church themselves has been fanned into an ugly roaring monster by the likes of Midnight Oil and INXS.
"There's good and bad bands everywhere. I'd have to draw
a line between INXS and Midnight Oil. INXS are simply mopping up
as much money as they can whereas Midnight Oil have got very
genuine intentions about what they're doing. "It just
doesn't translate to an English person. It's like an Australian
trying to understand a Northern comedian. Midnight Oil are
singing about political issues you have to be Australian to
understand. By contrast, INXS are speaking an international
language. But Australia still has a lot of good bands."
Did he, I wondered, get much chance to go back there these days? "Not really. We've done virtually everything we can do in Australia now. There's no point in playing Sydney, Melbourne, Sydney, Melbourne forever. I mean, you go to America and there are about 200 big cities you can play. Australia can be so limiting."
"I was born in England and I think that if my parents hadn't taken me out to Australia when I was young I'd be doing real well by now. It seems to me that The Church occupy some nebulous middle rung - I don't think we'll ever break big anywhere but it doesn't really matter. We'll still be playing the Marquee when everyone's forgotten about The Bangles -though they'll have probably made buckets."
"People ask me if I'm fed up 'cos bands like R.E.M. made it and we didn't, but, to me, R.E.M. are just a bunch of ordinary guys making very one dimensional records."
The same people would probably dismiss The Church by the same token though.
"They might but they'd be wrong. The Church will incorporate anything into their music - be it the latest Sigue Sigue Sputnik clone or a Mozart record. I think we've got a fairly strong sense of our identity now. We're not walking around pretending it's 1967. Although I do think there were things done in the Sixties that were never followed up. Most bands just took the superficial aspects of it and never recaptured the emotion. It's like Christmas in Australia. They've got the Christmas trees and the plum pudding and the turkeys but it doesn't feel like Christmas. What The Church are trying to do is forget the superficial aspects and generate that real feeling."
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