By David Konjoyan
With a name like the Church, you'd expect someone to be watching out for you from above. Or maybe lady luck just rides shotgun with the Australian-bred band. Certainly that was the case on a recent Ensenda-bound driving trip through Tijuana one day before the assassination of presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio. Then, they left Ensenda right before a 5.0 earthquake rocked the resort town.
Good fortune also smiled on the band not long ago when original member Peter Koppes decided to excommunicate himself. Down to a duo-- vocalist/ songwriter Steve Kilbey and guitarist/ songwriter Marty Wilson-Piper-- the band ingenously asked their label, "Do you really want a band like us?" With no manager, no A&R rep at the label, no songs and essentially no group, Kilby and Wilson- Piper had good reason to think Arista had visions of contract termination dancing in their heads.
But not only did Arista want the Church, they wanted them on the band's terms, allowing them plenty of creative slack to make the new _Sometime, Anywhere_. Good luck? Perhaps. Or maybe the label didn't have so monumental a decision to make as it might have seemed. To hear Kilbey and Wilson-Piper tell it, any references to the Church as a band were purely coincidental.
"Once upon a time," intones Kilbey, "we were four young fellows starting a band in Sydney in 1980, and we all ate the same things and looked the same way and wore the same clothes." Since that time, not only has the band reduced its numbers from four to two, but Wilson-Piper has moved to Stockholm, where he's lived for eight years.
"It's never been a problem," says Wilson-Piper (SIC) succinctly. "We're not the kind of band that's trying to promote ourselves by doing a gig every Saturday night at the local disco. We meet, we work, we write, we create, we finish a record and we go home." For 14 years, through nine albums, the Church has been creating lushly atmospheric Gregorian rock, breaking into the US top 40 in 1988 with the graceful "Under the Milky Way." Over the last few albums, the Church has deliberately strayed even further toward epic, soaring anti-pop.
"I think there's more wild stuff on the album thatn we've done before," suggests Kilbey. "I think Marty and I have a far more anything-goes attitude toward music. I think Peter wanted things more rehearsed and worked out. On this album we broke out of a lot of the restraints we might have thought we had. We abandoned a lot of structure. A song like 'Angelica' doesn't have any sort of conventional structure--there are no verses or choruses."
Wilson-Piper concurs that reducing the Church to a duo proved a freeing experience. "It's meant we're able to spread ourselves more freely through our ideas. Now I can do whatever I like. I can play more instruments because nobody's precious about what they play. I can play the violin or conga drum."
That sense of freedom built an impressively ambitous record which explores arch extremes in structure and dynamics. According to Kilbey, it was a purposeful attempt to make things "a bit more jagged, where things go down to almost nothing and then sort of come up and explode. We really tried to push the envelope with this record."
They pushed it so far that they recorded nearly a triple album in the process. As a result, the first 25,000 copies of _Sometime... will be shipped with a seven-song bonus CD which stretches almost 40 minutes itself. Of course, such ambition can also lead to missteps, like the Moody Blues-style pomp of "Business Woman." Says Kilbey: "Marty and I have gone on record saying we never wanted that song on the album. We should have never let [the label] hear it.
Despite the fact that Koppes departure left Kilbey and Wilson-Piper in a short- term directional quandary, neither ever though of abandoning the Church. "After all the nonsense we've gone through" offers Kilbey, "there doesn't seem to be any reason to break it up."
"The Church is like life," Wilson-Piper excitedly agrees. "Why should we ever split up? Why can't I work with Steve forever? It doesn't stop me from doing other things." Wilson-Piper's other porjects have included four solo albums, two records with All About Eve and even a disc with Jules Shear, among others. "There's so much to do out there-- the world is so interesting!" he says. "So many ideas. Look, let me show you."
Wilson-Piper draws out a stack of newly purchased vinyl albums. They're a small addition to this confessed vinyl junkie's collection of over 15,000. He starts spreading the records out on the table, revealing the first four Claudine Longet albums, several Martin Denny selections, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Melanie, Leonard Bernstein and others. "I put one of the Claudin Longet albums on in the store and it blew my mind," Wilson-Piper confirms seriously. "You tell me I can't get an idea listening to that." Running his hands through the discs, Wilson-Piper muses: "How will I ever run out of ideas to make music? It's impossible."