THE CHURCH'S MARTY WILLSON-PIPER
CREATOR OF METAPHYSICAL SOUNSCAPES
Marty Willson-Piper creates sonic landscapes as pastoral and atmospheric as the rolling English countryside where he's spending a few weeks writing songs and playing guitar. Two weeks after moving to Australia in 1980, the Liverpool native joined the Church and formed an enduring musical partnership with singer /bassist Steve Kilbey, guitarist Peter Koppes, and drummer Richard Ploog (recently replaced by ex-Patti Smith and Tom Verlaine drummer Jay Dee Daugherty) The Church's first record, Of Skins And Heart, introduced the world to their lush, cerebral mind- pop, a pre-cursor to the neo-psychedelic guitar explosion of the early 90's. However, the Church didn't achieve mainstream success until 1988's Starfish opened the band up to a larger audience with it's ethereal hit "Under The Milky Way".
Koppes' and Willson-Piper's 12-string Rickenbacker jangle has brought numerous comparisons to the Byrds, but Marty claims that Roger McGuinn was not a primary inspiration. "I wasn't really into West Coast Rock," he recalls. "I suppose it was Jimmy Page, because he could do riffing and rocking as well as beautiful 12-string stuff. I've got that two-sidedness to my playing, and I like that flexibility. You can jam with a band and still have the knowledge for writing lovely songs."
Songs and lyrics are the thematic crux around which Willson-Piper weaves his rining open chords and tremelo shivers. And both Kilbey's metaphysically breathy lyrics and the songs Marty writes for his solo records demand a near-poetic musical sense. "The songs dictate my style more than my style dictates the songs," he offers. "I want to complement what the song is trying to say."
Like on previous releases Heyday and The Blurred Crusade, the songs on the Church's new record, Priest=Aura, concoct a dreamy, mid-tempo atmosphere, with Kilbey's lyrics evoking strange emotional twists and philosophical quandries. Willson-Piper pleads ignorance when asked about any specific instrumental approach to the material. Admittedly, a lot of his accompaniment is purely stream-of-consciousness, much like the lyrical bent. "I've always been afraid of sounding like some boring old lick someone probably did 20 years ago better than me," Marty concedes. "In the Church I'm aware of what mood needs to be created for what the group is, and I try to dig things up in that area. I just try to do what's appropriate, and I'm not afraid to hit screaming, chaotic stuff or play a Dsus4 on a Rickenbaker."
On the Priest=Aura song, "Chaos", a sort of psychedelic Ravel's "Bolero", Marty begins with and eighth-note bended D chord pattern while Koppes creates gentle scratches in the ether. Gradually increasing in intensity and tempo, the guitars flail at shrieking whammy chords until Daugherty's drums dissolve in a rumble of skin and Willson-Piper's guitar trails off like an antique locomotive filled with regretful ghost. "I've just got this spacey style or something," Marty understates. "I'm always hitting open strings, and I'm into getting all these harmonics happening and other notes coming through the sound. Creating a soundscape - I really like that."
Willson-Piper enhances his soundscapes with and old Ibanez UE-405 effects unit with analog delay and stereo chorus. He runs the stereo signal into a pair of vintage Vox AC30s, adding a Roland JC-120 when he performs with All About Eve, a four-piece Brittish band in which Willson-Piper is the sole guitarist. He uses a custom tremelo-equipped solidbody Rickenbaker and a volume pedal to create his unique swells of reasonant feedback. Other Rickenbakers include a 12-string Roger McGuinn model, a custom- built three- pickup semi-acoustic, and a "load of old Ricks" at home in Stockholm, Sweden, where he writes and records his own material.
On the upcoming album Spirit Level, his third solo project on Rykodisc, Marty bounces from Tudoresque acoustic ballads to chunking rockers, interspersing warbly trills with reverberant tremelo swoops and falling-of-a-cliff-scream chordal decays. On "Even Though You Are My Friend" Marty's piercing slide and stately chorus create a richly layered song reminiscent of George Harrison's All Things Must Pass.
Like Harrison, Marty doesn't discriminate between a songs musical and lyrical content - he plays to elucidate both. "I don't think great guitarists can justify being great if they sing bad words," he says, "Some people don't care about that, but I do. I suppose it's just your taste. I don't read Harold Robbins novels either."