Despite enthusiastic reviews for their new Gold Afternoon Fix lp, The Church are bitter and angry about their treatment by the British music press. Caren Myers met them in Amsterdam and endured a sullen ear-bashing from the cantankerous Australians.
The Church have a chip on their shoulder so large it's a wonder their arms stay attached. It seems they feel hard done by the press.
"British journalism is just interested in cheap sensationalism and stereotyping. We're always portrayed as beer-guzzling, brainless Australians just because the British want to feel superior. Our records are liked all over the world and in England we get criticised, " they carp.
The fact that their new album was given an extremely favourable review in these very pages seems to completely unimportant. Like all people who have an axe to grind, any positive elements in the picture are not only ignored but are seen as an irritation. And aggrieved as they are, the last thing they want to do is an interview.
Fine, I say. Not being in the business of making anyone's life miserable, I assure them that they don't have to do anything they don't want to. Life will go on.
"No, no !" they rejoin hastily, they'll do it. The just want to complain about it. Equally the keep wandering out of shot during the photo session, but never quite far enough to end it.
I can't understand why they're so upset. The Church were acclaimed as visionaries from the time they released their first single "Unguarded Moment" [Brian notes : "She Never Said" was actually the first single.],. They synthesised the psychedelia of the Sixties with their own emotionally candid pop more successfully than the Stone Roses.
"I think we're a reasonably good band, we make reasonably good music," said Steve Kilbey, the singer and main songwriter, without any enthusiasm. He seems to do most things without enthusiasm. Playing live he's too pudgy and supercilious to make essential viewing, while the band tend towards dull guitar heroics. At the end of a recent show in Amsterdam, in what look like a display of bad temper, he hurled a few beer glasses into the crowd.
Don't you like your audience ?
"Yes, of course I do. I love the audience."
So why do you throw beer glasses at them ?
"I'm giving them souvenirs."
Do you think being hit in the face by a plastic beer glass is a souvenir ?
"I don't think they get hit, I think they catch them.":
Which doesn't bode well from unco-ordinated members of the audience. Maybe Kilbey is just annoyed because the crowd doesn't worship him - they save that for the dishy guitarist Marty Willson-Piper.
Marty, who is more polite and from Liverpool, smiles. "I don't think about my looks at all, it's not something that's important to me. I think it can be used against me, like in the Melody Maker review that referred to me as the guitardickgob-type or something. What can I do about it ? Wear baggier trousers ? I don't think it would help."
So do you sometimes feel treated like a male bimbo ?
But to prove he's a brunette with brains, he explains the literary debate which fuels the Church.
"Steve and I have this funny argument where I'm Jean Cocteau and he's Andre Breton. I belive surrealism is a negative, shallow waste of time, whereas Steve believes it to be an opening of the conciousness, and the at the subliminal effect and thoughts that come out of the guesswork of surrealism are valid in reality. I don't believe that. I believe you have to concentrate deeply on life itself and try and put direct input of meaningful, thought-out things into your life in order to grow. I'm not into being clever for the sake of it, I want things to have heart. Like Camus was clever with heart, " he concluded existentially.
Do you think heart ins undervalued at the moment ?
"Yes, the eighties have been terrible for that. That's what I can't stand about the Talk Talk Talk column in Melody Maker because it's just perpetuating hatred." Oh I say, steady on old chap. "No, I know its fun, but you know what ? I don't want to learn to ignore a man with no legs, " He adds engimatically.
While Marty is affable and concerned, Steve seems to be in the running for the sullen brat Osacr. He insist that all the elements that appear in the songs - science fiction, the environment, fantasy, humour - mean nothing to him.
Steve is also an author. His book, "Earthed" seemed to be a cry of horror at the soulless world we live in. A typical passage reads: "The magic is fading from this world. Logic and rules replace the spells. The giants are gone. The elohim no longer look over me and I feel the metallic coldness in the breath of my children."
What's it all mean, Steve ?
"I just made it all up as I went along, "he shrugs. "I'm the sort of guy who just walks talong the world, like a whale swimming through a sea of amoeba, sucking in ideas, sentences and words. I don't stand by it at all."
How can you not stand by it ? You wrote it, so obviously at one point in your life you thought you were a druid. How can it mean nothing now ?
"Look, I could write a book every week and I would never stand by anything that I had written."
Do you stand by anything you've ever believed ?
He swears blind that he's tleling the truth. If so, I feel sorry for him. Honestly. If he's just being childish, then he's only hurting himself. He clings with cranky stubborness to the right to be the most boring person on earth.
"I've never done anything extreme in my whole life. I haven't done anything noteworthy. I've never been disappointed by humanity, I've never attempted suicide, I've never been really happy, I've never been really sad. I don't have any strong view on anything. I'm just a guy who plays guitar and sings songs. Why's that so hard to believe ?"
Don't you want anything ?
"Happiness, wealth, all the rainforests to grow back, Nelson Mandela to be freed - again."
He's freed already. He's played Wembley, which is more than you can say for The Church.
The saddest thing about this whole fiasco is the The Church's songs used to conjure up all sorts of flights of fancy: spaceships, magical animals, hazily remembered romances. Your imagination could uncurl and it was good.
Now's that they've repeated to me a hundred times that to the British they will always be be an incredibly crass bunch of Aussies, I can only doubt my first impulses. I'm very suggestible, you see. If they insist that every journalist who ever writes about them only thinks of Sheilas and surfboards and Castlemaine XXXX who am I to argue ?
I came home and put on my favourite song from the album "Back in Metropolis, circuses and elephants," they sang. But steadily building in the background was this boinngg boinggg boinggg sound. All I could see were kangaroos hopping across the outback, their pouches bulging with tubes of the amber nectar. Strewth ! They had been right all along. And I never asked them about "Neighbours".