The dream weavers of the Church put forth their most cohesive sermon to date.
Try to stay awake.
by Mark Blackwell
I may live on until I long for this time in which I am so unhappy and remember
(saying on a menu in a Japanese restaurant)
I'm trying really hard to get to know these four reasonably quiet guys who are eating Japanese food with me. That's my job -- to find stuff out about bands and tell you, the reader, all about them. So on the eve of the release of the Church's Priest=Aura, I hang out with the group. My ice-breaking question to singer and bassist Steve Kilbey is something along the lines of "So are there really, like, kangaroos and stuff in Australia?" I don't think that gets me off on the correct intellectual foot with him, but that's okay.
The Church's sound has always been low-key, layered, and dreamy. However upbeat the songs have gotten over the band's 12-year history, there's always been a gloomy undercurrent of loss and sadness. Not sad in a painful, Nick Cave way, or even in an overt, Cure-like fashion. Like the Cure, though, much of the mood is set by the tone of the vocals. Whereas Robert Smith gets crazily frustrated to the breaking point, the Church's Kilbey remains icy and self-assured, stating somber truths, like a Nostradamus in some ambiguous netherworld.
"People like the fact that we make dark, brooding music, but when they meet us they expect us to be, like, 'Hi! I'm really happy!'" says Kilbey. 'If you make miserable, dark, angry, compulsive music, or whatever it is -- you're probably going to be like that."
I hazard a stab at labeling the band's music with a word that sounds like an insult but isn't intended as one: dismal.
"We've got the market cornered on being dismal," agrees Kilbey as the rest of the group chuckles. "We're not sad people, exactly. I envy those guys who are like, 'Hey! Hi!' I'd like to be like that."
"We go to radio stations, and these exuberant DJs expect us to fit in with the pace of their show," says guitarist Marty Willson-Piper. "They're like 'Yeah! Having a good time, guys?' and we usually just sort of sit there. It's embarrassing."
"Not everybody's going to like us," says Kilbey, "but if people don't know anything about us, maybe more will. We wouldn't want to put anyone off by talking."
A parade of Japanese waiters march out with a birthday cake for some guy, to the avid approval of most in the restaurant.
"We're the kind of guys who don't clap in restaurants," quips Piper.
"I can see the article now," says Kilbey. "The Japanese sing 'Happy Birthday' while the Church sits around dismally sour."
In these pages over the past few months, the term "afraid to rock" has been batted around to describe English bands like Moose, who, however enjoyable, never quite brave it out of first gear. The Church exists in a similar plane, yet instead of being afraid to rock, they just have no interest in rocking.
"My favorite thing in the world is that state between asleep and awake," says Kilbey, who admits to having once wanted to be a Bowie/esque rock star. "That's where I want our music to put people. It all happens in a dreamy, hazy place."
"In that tunnel to the nonlogical part of your brain," adds new drummer Jay Dee Daugherty.
Guitarist Peter Koppes says the music flows from a "controlled spontaneity" that occurs when the band gets together, aided by the fact that its members live in different parts of the world -- Kilbey and Koppes in Australia, Piper in Sweden, and Daugherty in New York.
"Trying to explain the appeal of music is like trying to tell someone what a drug does," says Kilbey. "The reason the Church is still around is that there's a minority we turn on like that -- in some unspoken way. What people overlook is that though our music can be broadly termed sad -- sad things make people happy. That's a weird paradox, but it's very true."