Written By: Jesse Nash

Source:  The Hard Report (US)
Date:  10 January 1992
Subject:  Interview - Kilbey

Bands, like titles, are always open to interpretation. And if you're Steve Kilbey of The Church he'll tell you he prefers it that way. The group's latest album on Arista Records is Priest=Aura. Well, if anything, this latest offering is probably the most consistent musical treat we've ever received from The Church. Kilbey, however, refuses to admit this to be the ultimate album from the group. Rather he states, "It is definitely our best album to date. No one ever reaches their ultimate when it comes to music." You might disagree. Here you have sixteen tracks of music that take you on a magical ride through dream scapes and the inner workings of the mind. As far as the title is concerned -- Priest=Aura -- Kilbey and the band would aptly prefer to let each listener draw his own interpretation. And rightly so. Now's your opportunity to interpret the man responsible for the music behind The Church.

Explain the title of the new record, Priest=Aura. Everything about the album is ethereal -- the music and the lyrics -- what are you getting at ?

Kilbey: You know, there's always the problem of explaining the meaning of a title of anything because then you've got the labourious job in interviews to repeat it over and over again. I really believe the title should have its own interpretation by each listener. But if you must know the truth, and you're the first I'm telling, it was just sort of stumbled upon while I was in Spain. But it was all a mistake really. I'll explain that a little later on. It was something that we really never had a concept on. In my own mind I just wanted it to happen on its own accord.

There's a lot of songs on this record -- sixteen tracks.

Kilbey: They just sort of poured out. The process was just a good ole jam. Someone went bong, bong, bong and another person went bing, bing, bing and suddenly the drummer went boom chicka boom chicka. You do that for a while and then you look at each other and say, 'That's hopeless!' and then we'd start something else and hopefully you find a good idea that everyone can agree on. (Laughs.) Truthfully -- the way we did the album and the way we do all our albums is that we did it all in one go in a studio in Australia. The producer came in and then it was done.

How do you choose the topics you write about? Does the state of worldly affairs or politics become a subject that affects you? Or is it a more personal thing ?

Kilbey: We were operating in, sort of, the Twilight Zone topic-wise. Weird impressions rather than just topics.

Have you ever seen an aura?

Kilbey: An aura? No, no. I haven't. (Laughs.) Not even photos of them. Put it this way, I've never seen one sober.

Well, what prompted you to choose that peculiar topic ?

Kilbey: Well, hmmmm... it's a very interesting topic but an aura is a lot of other things than that actual thing we've known it for on basic terms. Most people think of it as this new age idea of people supposedly having this energy field around them. In Spain I stumbled across this title as a mistake, like I said earlier. I actually misread something that I thought said: "Priest=Aura," when actually it didn't turn out to be that after all. And it just struck me as an incredible title.

What was it really ?

Kilbey: I read it in a notebook. I usually hate to do this because like I said I hate to have to start telling this story because then I'll just have to keep repeating it. But you're the first and so you're the lucky one.

I like being first and I like being lucky. I feel like a virgin all over again.

Kilbey: Sometimes when you release an album and you've got an anecdote you end up telling it every time and then it ends up being published in every magazine interview you ever do and it becomes dull reading. So you'll be the only one. So here it is.

It's about time. I'm on the edge of my seat I'm so damn excited.

Kilbey: There was this girl who came up to me and asked if I'd sign her notebook. And I said yes. Inside her notebook contained her English lessons. And she had things like: "hello=ola;" and "butter=mantaquia;" and "priest=cura." And I thought it said aura. I thought it said: "priest=aura," and that she had written down this ingenious title for a poem that she was about to compose or something.

That's interesting how a mistake worked to your benefit.

Kilbey: Yeah it was a mistake, but I also have this theory that everything's already happened and that time is just nature's way for us to distinguish it all. If it all happened at once we wouldn't know what was happening. When I saw this title I remembered all this and it definitely tugged a very strong chord in me. And this happened two years ago and everyone in the band said, 'Yes, of course, that's what the name of the album should be.'

Do you sit around discussing titles?

Kilbey: Yeah. No one's ever discussed what the title has actually meant to them. It's just the right title and everyone recognized that without delving any further.

How long did it take to record the new album?

Kilbey: Everything was done in three months. There wasn't a typical pre-production period but more like a writing period, and then we went in and cut the thing. It's four guys going into a room standing up and whatever we agree upon is going to make it on a record as The Church.

How would you describe the chemistry between band members especially when it come to the writing aspect?

Kilbey: Well, a lot of times it's just a process of elimination. We just start out writing. No one says what chord or whatever. If we like the way it sounds then we keep it and try to do something with it. If one or more says, 'Yuccckkkhh! Bleahh! I hate this!, well then it's history and we chuck it and move on. You know if suddenly someone says that sounds like the middle eight to one of the James Gang's songs, it's gone. If somebody feels it's derivative and not like a Church song, well, then it won't make it. It's very much on a feeling basis. We don't over-intellectualize the process if we can avoid it. We have a functional autonomy that's unverbal and unspoken.

How much credit would you give Gavin Mackillop in the production of this record? Differentiate between how much is Gavin and how much is The Church?

Kilbey: Well, as far as all the writing is concerned, that's concentrated by the whole band. Gavin was a good sounding board and often provided us with his remarkable sense of humour. He really let us do what we wanted to do and that was the understanding upon which we decided to work with him. Besides the work he had done before which we had all liked very much. And, you know, it also depends upon the producer and where they're at. Gavin was ideal for us because he was an impartial, sort of, fifth member of the band.

As a fifth member of The Church so-to-speak, what did Gavin bring to the project? His specific contribution?

Kilbey: His recording and technical expertise. Once again, his really great sense of humour.

To keep you guys from getting too serious?

Kilbey: No. We never really do get too serious about anything. During certain practical pragmatic parts of the recording process he was essential. Just making sure that it gets done and that we don't trip over ourselves. Consisting mainly on logistical problems.

If you had to single each member out and say to me what each member brings to The Church, what would you say?

Kilbey: No way am I going to touch this question! (Laughs.)

Too hot for ya, huh?

Kilbey: Oh yeah! Each member brings something positively different to the group. It's four autonomous personalities who subjugate themselves for the sake of the whole. To a greater or lesser degree it's a continuing process. Everybody's got their own solo projects and can do what ever they want to do without having to ask permission or get a consensus from three other people. The Church inexplicably comes together when it has to.

Explain to me why there are always consistent rumours that the group is going to break up. Why does this seem to happen before the release of each album?

Kilbey: I don't know. I think it's because you get a bunch of guys who are also constantly working on solo projects which I feel keeps the band stronger in the long run. Solo projects provide an escape valve which I think is a valuable and necessary characteristic for every band. It keeps tensions at a minimum. The Church doesn't have high visibility really and that also helps to fuel such rumours. We only put out a record every two years and that's probably another factor. Who knows? I guess it all emanates from our reputation as being difficult.

Why are you so difficult?

Kilbey: We don't think that we're difficult. We think that we're entirely reasonable. Our responses to things are well within the bounds of reason and good taste.

Who has pointed the finger at the group claiming you're not reasonable?

Kilbey: Oh, I don't know. It's something we hear, too. It's part of the rumour factory. It's probably a bunch of little elves in a room that go, 'Who shall we pick on today? Ah, The Church seem like fair bait!'

Next -- I know you do a lot of interviews and they must get boring at times. So if there was one question you could ask yourself that would cap your interest, what would that be?

Kilbey: Oh, that's a safe -- but hard -- question. I don't know really.

Can you put yourself in my shoes as a journalist? What would you want to know about yourself that maybe you wish somebody might ask?

Kilbey: It's funny, but I was hired by a magazine in Australia to interview Grant McClennan of The Go Betweens. I'd made an album with him. And following that he put out an album of his own. So for the first time in my life I found myself having to prepare questions. And I realised just how difficult it is being a journalist and just how difficult it is to get information out of somebody without asking him or her the same old questions. I had to think about the questions he would like to be asked. And I realised just how hard a job it is interviewing people about records because a lot of the obvious things have probably already been asked. There's only a finite amount of things that you can say about a record.

You need to find a new slant on the same old subject.

Kilbey: And hope the slant has an added edge to it as well.

We're all influenced by what goes on around us. But I'm curious about your power to eliminate something that influences you that you wish you could stop being influenced by?

Kilbey: Yeah right! Well, I am influenced by the amount of work I do and I always feel guilty if I'm not working. It's constant. I've always been influenced by working all the time. I don't know exactly where this influence comes from exactly but when I'm not working it bothers me to great lengths. If I'm not actually writing or playing the guitar I really feel like I'm wasting time. And, so, that kind of guilt is edging me along and pushing me to keep creating all the time. Maybe it would be much better for me if I took a year off and didn't do anything at all.

Yeah but the opposite might happen.

Kilbey: Yeah it might.

Do you have a favourite influence?

Kilbey: Favourite influence? Hhmmmm. No. I can't think of any. It's a funny thing but we're at a stage where we're kind of influencing ourselves. I think I've been influenced positively by what a good Church record is.

Do you think this is the ultimate Church record?

Kilbey: No! Definitely not! I think it's impossible for anybody to do the ultimate "blah blah blah." I think you should always be able to keep improving because the art of it is to practice perfection. And perfection is infinite. I think music is such that you can always do it better. No one should really be no such thing as reaching your peak, but most people do.

Do you think this is your best effort to date?

Kilbey: Definitely.

As the creator of this record, what do you think makes it the best Church record to date?

Kilbey: It inhabits a realm of dreamy consciousness, and that's what we were after. I think this is the most dreamy album that we've ever done. It drifts along nicely.

How do you feel about your record label, Arista?

Kilbey: I like them. I don't put much interest in that as a topic of conversation.

Curiously, do you get involved in the business aspect of The Church?

Kilbey: Only on a negligible level. I'm probably my own worst enemy. I just can't be bothered. I just don't take it seriously.

What happens if the record doesn't sell as much as the label wants or expects or even needs it to?

Kilbey: So be it. I don't know. I've always looked at it like I'll make the music and I'll let all of that take care of itself. You know, we always get deals. If they drop us someone else will pick us up. I don't know. All I can do is make the best record and I think the more you try to get involved beyond that, beyond the business side of it, the more you will suffer. If you become a businessman then you're not going to be able to be a musician. Musicians have to keep themselves away from all that. It just destroys you as a musician, you know.

Are you forced to sit in on A&R meetings or Promotion meetings?

Kilbey: No.

You don't have to do any of that?

Kilbey: No. I'm not interested in that. I have nothing to do with it.

Does Clive Davis get involved?

Kilbey: Clive's involved. Yeah, we talked to Clive before we made this record.

What kind of things do you talk about?

Kilbey: We told him the kind of record we wanted to make and he told us, 'Yeah, that's a good idea.' We just talked about feelings and ways to do it.

Did he ever say what you should or shouldn't be doing, such as offering constructive criticism. And if so, how do you handle those criticisms?

Kilbey: Of course. We're like business partners really. He's interested in The Church putting out a good record, artistically realistic enough that it sells enough to justify itself.

A word many artists hate is commercial. What does it mean to you? Does it affect you?

Kilbey: It has no meaning or effect on me. Honestly, I've just taken a disinterest in that side of things deliberately. I can hardly bear myself to talk about these types of questions. I think that for every inch that you stray into that territory then you sacrifice an inch on the other side -- the artistic side. Pure creativity. Honestly -- I try to be as naive as possible. We're in it for the music. Period.

Many thanks to Pat Cobb for transcribing and sending the article in.

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