Typed up by Karl Reinsch
Five years after they thought they'd finally interred the rumor once and for all - by slapping a gloriously inappropriate, paisley-drenched cover on their brilliant 1985 album, Heyday - Australian groove merchants the Church are still forced to address the issue every time they surface for a round of Mudwrestle The Press. For them oft-whispered queries about dat ol' debbil psychedelia aren't millstones anymore - they're more like jokes whose punchlines have long since been memorized.
"I truly do not think this is a psychedelic album," singer/bassist Steve Kilbey says of Gold Afternoon Fix, the band's seventh. "It's an easy umbrella word, you've got to realize. In poetry or film, there are millions of subgenres - Dada, Futurism, Impressionism. Whereas in rock 'n' roll, if you're any one of those things, you're psychedelic. I get annoyed by that, 'cause I think of psychedelia as nursery rhyme-ish, which our songs aren't." "The only reason I can see the term being applied to us," muses guitarist Marty Willson- Piper, "is that the lyrics aren't about 'baby' getting in and out of Steve's car. I never knew babies could even drive cars - though they always seem to be doing that in rock songs."
True enough. The closest the Church venture to the old cars-'n'-girls cliche on this go-round is "Terra Nova Cain," a sweeping, post-nuclear bit of nostaligia about a space-traveling babe who pilots her satellite with a lead foot. Beyond that, as devotees have come to expect, it's nigh onto impossible to pin down too much in Kilbey's mercurial lyrics. _Gold_Afternoon_Fix_'s first single, "Metropolis," might be a Kink-y bit of Superman-inspired whimsy. On the other hand, it might be a glimpse of urban society gone south in a handbasket. Kilbey's not telling.
"I want to set up this very vague atmosphere that I'd like people to wander around in," he explains. "But I don't want to turn the lights on and let them see exactly where they are. You've got three people with very different opinions, I'm sure, but to me everything the Church do is accidental anyway. It's like throwing a whole lot of paint on a canvas and having people spend six months telling you you've painted a bull running through a bed of flowers. You start to think 'I guess that's what I was trying to do after all.'"
At the risk of breaking the rather... _metaphysical_ mood, one can't help but notice that Kilbey is referring to the Church as 'three people'. Now, anyone who's taken so much as a gander at the cover of, say, _Starfish_, will tell you there are four parts to this whole. Or are there? "Basically, Richard [Ploog, their longtime drummer] is having an extended holiday to see how he feels about things," Willson-Piper says softly. "It's his decision and ours."
However temporary the hiatus (during which, the Church beat will be provided by former Patti Smith Group pummeller Jay Dee Daugherty), it's hardly the first disturbance within the group: Kilbey recalls them calling it quits before their first LP, _Of_Skins_And_Heart, was released nearly a decade back, and there've been more close calls along the way, most recently Willson-Piper's brief split after _Heyday_. So perhaps it's not so surprising to learn that the Church followed their lengthy tour in support of _Starfish_ by going back to the studio - separately. Kilbey, Willson-Piper and guitarist Peter Koppes had all released solo collections in the past - the singer reflecting his personal take on surreal sonics, Willson-Piper providing sweetly succinct exericises in the purest of pop, and Koppes exploring dreamy, soft-focus guitar landscapes. In 1988, they strutted their stuff on _The_Slow_Crack_ (Kilbey), _Rhyme_ (Willson-Piper), and _From_The_Well (Koppes); Kilbey, ever prolific, has yet another collection, titled _Remindlessness_ ready to go as we speak. "One perpetuates the other," Koppes shrugs. "After doing the Church for a year we're glad to get away from one another. The reverse is just as true. If we didn't have those outlets, I doubt that we'd still be together as a band."
The fact that the members have been known to, er, disagree every now and then never upsets the Church's sometimes ethereal, sometimes gripping brand of 60s-meets-80s mood-rock. _Gold_Afternoon_Fix_, for instance, ranges from the menacing throb of "You're Still Beautiful" to the languid stretch of "Disappointment" to the cosmic drive of "Transient". In fact, it probably helps to sharpen the edges of their unique sound. As the three Churchmen are quick to point out, their internal arguments continue even though they long ago gave up trying to convert each other. Those debates, however, are the only places they feel they've run out of things to say.
"Absolutely!" Kilbey agrees. "I've now reached this ridiculous stage where, if I'm having an argument with a woman and she's hitting me over the head with a bottle, I'm thinking 'How am I going to put this in a song?' And when I'm having an orgasm," he continues through a guffaw, "I'll be thinking about how to express it in musical terms!" "Without the mess, of course," snickers Willson-Piper. "Of course," deadpans Kilbey.
Well, at least they agree about the important things.