By Dino Scatena
The schism has passed. The Church is alive and well, holding up the faith in Surry Hills. The establishment, now reduced to a core of Steve Kilbey and Marty Willson-Piper will tell you it was never at threat; last year's departure of guitarist and founding member Peter Koppes merely signalling the start of another stage.
Russell Kilbey, the former frontman of the Crystal Set, answers the door of his older sibling's three storey terrace house. Through the long corridor to the to the center of the first floor sits the small home studio, a five-step stroll from the kitchen sink. The walls of the room are lined with a 24 track desk, a couple of synthesiser workstations, a computer monitor, a couch and a selection of Marty's instruments. There's hardly enough space left to swing a guitar.
Steve comes in from the backyard and invites me into his electronic lab. Marty sits on an office chair, struggling to adapt his fretboard agility to a mandolin which - along with other exotic instruments - has been borrowed from an ethnic music shop down the road. Also present in Andy "Dare" Mason, a long- time cohort of the band and engineer on these sessions.
"How do you want to do this ?" asks Steve. "Do you want to hear some of the stuff ?" Sure. "Okay, let's take the last five." he tells Andy, telling him to skip the other 15 or so tracks already put done over the past month.
As Steve lights a small hash pipe, Marty explains that the Koppes-less Church is "a whole different beast." When you're a group, you all stick to the instrument that you always play. On this stuff we're changing around; I'm playing bass, Steve's playing guitar, we're both playing keys. Suddenly it's opened up a lot of creative avenues which is an interesting side-effect of being less than we were."
"I think we're a lot wilder without Peter, " adds Steve, "because he was very sort of musical and he liked things to be in scales and in tune. He very much likes pop music. I think Marty and I are no longer bowing to the tyranny of the pop song structure." He pauses to pass the pipe to me. "That'll frighten Mushroom when they read this, won't it !" he says, causing the room to explode in laughter.
I take my place on the couch and take in a polite portion of the smoke. "Have some more if you like, " Steve offers with an inviting hand gesture. "You like your music loud, don't you ?"
As the first track booms throught the boxes, Marty jumps out of his chair. "I know you have to take notes, but let's have a little mood lighting, hey ?" he says with a keen smile, dimming the room to fog- like visibility.
The music is raw; heavy, rigid guitar chords giving way to full-bodied synthesiser washes. It sounds nothing like Priest = Aura. If anything, it recalls the more conventional elements of the band's earlier work. The second track is more Church-like. It's based on an intricate staccato guitar loop with strings moving in and out, giving it a melancholic mood. Like all the other pieces it's still lyricless. Later, Kilbey suggests the band is still open to the option of releasing an instrumental album. Of the five pieces the third comes closest to where you would imagine (or naively expect) the Church to be at this point of its creative development. Constructed around a joyous Willson-Piper solo and a driving rhythm, it's the aural equivalent of, um, running through the bushes at high speed. (Sorry, the hash has taken hold.) The next track, "Day of the Dead", is a deeply texttured work, set to a samba beat. Long sustained riffs blend with jungle effects into a chaotic zenith.
I turn to Steve, who's stretched out beside me on the couch, for some
reassuring eye contact but his but his eyes are closed. With the beard
gone, he looks exactly like the youth who told us about "the Unguarded
Moment" over a decade ago, perhaps a touch heavier. Marty on the other
hand, in all black with scrubby facial growth and fringeless hair down
past his shoulders looks like he belongs in an anti- Nam march. (
Along with Koppes' departure, which the band insists was completely
amicable, the band was jarred in 1992 by the commercial failure of
Priest = Aura. Kilbey describes the album as the best record the
Church ever did as the Church. Marty theorises that it was "too bent"
even for fans. "Instead of seeing it as an interesting rock record,
the critics saw it as a pretentious record. And the public saw it the same way."
The two men - who are adamant that the Church will not play live again
outside the odd acoustic showcase - remain undeterred. The new record,
not planned for release until early 1994 will be, according to Steve,
"the wildest and most emotional thing we've ever done.
Most people think we're going to get more and more mellow. It's going
to be the exact opposite."
The two men - who are adamant that the Church will not play live again outside the odd acoustic showcase - remain undeterred. The new record, not planned for release until early 1994 will be, according to Steve, "the wildest and most emotional thing we've ever done. Most people think we're going to get more and more mellow. It's going to be the exact opposite."