THE CHURCH'S PIPER
INTERVIEW WITH MARTY-WILLSON PIPER
By Gerry Galipault
What you always wanted to know about the Australian rock quartet The Church but were afraid to ask (well, maybe you were afraid ...):
They're not all Australian.
The group, oddly enough, is separated by several continents and uses fax machines to communicate quite a bit.
They really are "contemporary intelligent rockers," as Musician once described them.
And at least one member, singer- guitarist Marty Willson-Piper, doesn't like to be bothered with credit cards, driving licenses and checking accounts, but sports an enviable collection of 10,000 vinyl albums.
Taking time out from touching up the cover art for his forthcoming Rykodisc solo album, Willson-Piper - in a phone interview from his home in Stockholm, Sweden, of all places - helps to dig a little deeper into the mystique of The Church, currently enjoying positive reviews for its latest Arista album, "Priest = Aura."
What's been the secret of the band's 12-year career? Willson-Piper has plenty of reasons.
"Belief. A strength and the courage of your convictions," he says. "The strength to be together but apart. Intelligence. Openness. And good friends. We don't hang out together ... we're the kind of guys that are so good friends that we don't actually talk about it. Nobody admits to being friends in The Church, but whether each other likes it or not, we are. Our lives and careers don't revolve around each other."
Separation brings them together, Willson-Piper says, and the freedom of outside projects and life away from the musical hotbeds help as well. "I'm so busy all the time, the last thing I want to do is live in Los Angeles or New York or Sydney or London. It's stupid to live there, living in the middle of a frying pan," he says. "You don't have to live in those cities ... all you've got to do is sort of make people realize that if you don't live in those cities, that it's still feasible for you to work together. I've got a solo deal, and I'm working with my girlfriend, who also has a record deal. And I work with a group in England (called All About Eve), as well as a group in Australia, and if somebody calls me up and says, 'Well, are you going to come? We need to do some writing.' I say, 'Fine. I'll be over next week.' Then I get on a plane, and it takes two and a half hours to England. It takes a day, of course, to get to Sydney."
Willson-Piper passes the long air time away by reading a good book, most recently "Don Quixote."
"If you try to talk to people about reading," he says, "or try to encourage them to read pieces of great work, the word 'pretentious' comes up, as if intelligence is pretentious. To understand and be inspired by art is the greatest inspiration there is, along with love and other things."
Willson-Piper calls himself "a doer," who doesn't know the meaning of the word procrastination. And he's not weighed down by "capitalistic accessories we don't really need, like a driver's license, a credit card or a checkbook. I'm very interested in what world has to offer, but I don't believe I need those things."
Born in Manchester, England, and raised in Liverpool during his teens, Willson-Piper was "weaned on the Beatles" and fortunate enough to have an older brother to influence his early tastes.
"When I was 14 and looked at his record collection, he had 'Disraeli Gears' by Cream, 'Wheels of Fire' by Cream, 'Fresh Cream.' He had all the Beatles and various other records from the '60s. Of course, he strayed and started digging into this kind of MOR, schmaltzy crap. One thing I've tried to do for years is try and talk him into giving me the original copies of all his early albums that he doesn't care about or play anymore. I try to get him to realize that, for me, they're gorgeous pieces of art in themselves. With what they represent to him now, why not let them come to a home where they would fit in a beautiful, wonderful library and be appreciated with love and affection? ... He won't listen and hangs on to them and plays his Donald Fagen 'Nightfly ' CD. He still believes in that CD myth, that CDs are better."
Willson-Piper says pure coincidence hooked him up with Church founders Peter Koppes and Steve Kilbey in 1980. He had left for Australia to avoid England's rough political climate, and through a friend of a friend, one of the first people he called was Koppes. He invited him to watch his new band, The Church. Four weeks later, Willson-Piper was a disciple as well.
The Church, rooted in dreamy guitar rock and folk, recorded six albums before finally catching mainstream America's attention in '88 with "Starfish" and the Top-30 single "Under the Milky Way. The '90 followup LP, "Gold Afternoon Fix," solidified their spot, as does their latest effort, the harder-edged "Priest = Aura" and the single "Ripple."
"It definitely has more of a bite," Willson-Piper says. "For a start, we've got a new drummer, Jay Dee Daughtery, who's with the Patti Smith Group and still is when Patti Smith decides to do something. He really added a new dimension. He's enth usiastic and a historic figure. Our old drummer (Richard Ploog) was kind of losing the plot. Jay Dee put some new life into the group. I don't mean we were creatively stale before ... we never were that. What I mean is that Richard wasn't really putting into the group creativity and the rest of his work, and consequently with the album before this, half of it we used a drum machine. That was really difficult for us because we're not that kind of group. We need a sort of human touch."