An Interview With THE CHURCH

by C.B Prescott

This is the first interview for which I have Official Permission to make public :-) Thank you very much, Chris, for making this available to those of us who don't have access to Spirit magazine (Vol 5 No 11 Summer '94)


With the departure of guitarist Peter Koppes, "cult-alternative" band, The Church, found themselves taking a new direction for their ninth studio album, Sometime Anywhere (Arista Records). Critics are hailing the album as the best music to come from the group since its popular 1987 release Starfish. Now a duo, founding members Steve Kilbey and Marty Willson-Piper have definitely taken a new approach to writing and recording that is definitely leading their music to new places. Arguably one of their best albums, Sometime Anywhere is likely to bring back Church fans of yesteryear as well as hopefully entice new listeners into the fold.

Marty spoke to me from Los Angeles (where he's recording songs with Brick Smith of The Fall) about the new album, his approach to music and the industry myths.

The New Church

What happened when Peter Koppes quit and where did that leave The Church ?

I don't know what everybody expected when Peter quit, I don't really believe everybody thought, "Well, Pete's gone, that's the end." And Steve and I were sort of left as the core and we just looked at each other and went, "Oh, well. Pete's gone. When do we start recording ?" We kind of didn't even worry about it. We got together and we didn't know if we were going to use drums or what kind of songs we were going to write. But we just got together and started writing a few months after Pete quit and it went really well, because we had no doubt we could do it. And then when we made the album everybody seemed to think that it was a really happening record. Of course we haven't sold as many records as Starfish but I don't think Pete being in the band would've made any difference.

When he was in the band for Priest=Aura you didn't sell as many albums and most Church fans and critics thought it was an excellent Church album, but everybody else thought, "Well, no pop hits, so..."

Yeah, no pop hits so can't be any good.

How do you feel about that attitude; obviously you guys aren't killing yourselves to make Top 40 tunes ?

No, if I wanted to do that I probably wouldn't be as a creative person in a group. I mean I'm not in it to do that. I'm in it to write interesting music. And obviously I want to sell records but I don't want to sell records by being an idiot. The thing with [Priest=Aura] was that it was just too introspective for people. It's the kind of record that Church fans would go home and listen to twenty times and finally understand and love forever.

Yeah, like myself

Well that's an achievement. That's a bigger achievement than fucking, you know, Missing Persons. They might have a couple of hits but so what ? Who would you rather be in, The Church or Men Without Hats ? They had a number one single, and yet people talk to us as if that is a goal. It's a side effect of being good and you kind go, "Good, oh great, " if it happens. But as a primary goal it's ridiculous even just to discuss it. I'd rather be in a million fucking Church's and bands less successful than us than ten billion Wang Chung's or Men Without Hats.

Do people really walk up to you and go "Hey man, what happened after Under The Milky Way"? What happened to you guys ? How about another hit ?

Yeah, right, they sort of judge us by our visibility and not by the quality of our music, which is just pathetic. I mean you can be upset that we don't do better because we make good records. That's one thing.

But at the same time there's a couple of songs on Sometime Anywhere that could fit into a radio format, don't you think ?

Yes, but are we hip this week ? Is it to do with being, first of all, successful or not successful; second of all, good or not good; or thirdly being hip or not hip ? There's been times when bands just don't make it because they're just not hip. Whether they're good or not just doesn't come into it. I don't think that we're really hip at the moment. We're kind of one those groups where the core fans really, really like us and always will and we're really grateful for that and we love that. But I don't know if a sixteen or seventeen year old from Detroit who's just got Pearl Jam's new record is going to be interested in The Church. That's not to say they wouldn't like it. They would like it. But I don't see why they would go and buy it. What inspiration is there for them to do so ?

Did you just say that because I'm from Detroit and so is this paper ?

Oh are you really ? [Laughter] That's classic !

The Church On Tour ?

You just recently did something like twenty acoustic dates ?

Yeah, we just went around and did sort of a promo-tour where we played clubs, festivals, radio stations and recording studios with audiences for later broadcasts - just kind of a quirky little tour to kind of get a bit of visibility, just to make sure that we showed people that what we were doing as a band was completely opposite to what we were doing in a record, just so we could confuse them as much as possible.

That was just you and Steve ?

Yeah, and we did a few old Church songs and a couple of covers.

And you have a tour coming up in the fall ?

Well...if the record does well. If it doesn't we're not going to push a lead horse up hill. If it's kind of galloping down we might jump on it and continue...It's dependent on sales and of course radio and MTV play which we're not getting. All the things that are kind of shallow but which kind of add up to all the important things for sales itself.

Back to that hipness...

Yeah...the thing is, if you went around the world and gave people copies of the record, I reckon that we'd probably end up selling a lot of records. But what makes them go and buy the Church record Alice In Chains or The Cranberries is the single and the image and the radio and MTV play. So all the things which make you successful are nothing at all to do with the quality of what you do. All I can do is make [the music], do my best, do a little promo-tour, play my guitar as well as I can and then maybe talk to guys like you so that somebody who's looking in a magazine's gonna go "Oh, The Church, well, they sound interesting." What can I say to Spirit Magazine so that people read it and say "Wow ! This guy sounds so interesting that I'm going to rush out and buy his record." I mean, what the fuck am I go to say that hasn't already been said ?! [Laughter]

Perfect ! I'll run that quote with an 'f-*-*'

The Myth

There are more songs on Sometime Anywhere and they're fairly long as is the album itself. Did the openness with just you and Steve affect that length when you went into the studio ?

Yes. We walked in and we recorded for three months. There's only one thing we didn't use out of everything we did and that was when Steve was playing a bit of keyboards and I was playing a bit of a bass line and it got a bit wacky so we cut it. But everything else we used. We make music and we use it. There's nothing there which we wouldn't have wanted to use except for Business Woman, which we can't stand because it's just so unadventurous.

Well, it is very poppy, not to mention the kind of cheesy chorus...

Yeah, it's just ridiculous. We should never have put that on the record.

So what do you consider the second CD that's in the limited edition issue of Sometime Anywhere ? Are the songs b-sides ?

No, we consider those to be songs which should have been on the record but there was no space. This is the thing; there's two songs that Arista wanted on the record that we didn't; Business Woman and Authority. We wanted Cut In Two and The Time Being on the album. So you've got two tracks on the extra CD which we consider more important than two tracks on the album itself. The only reason it didn't go on there is that Arista didn't want to put out a triple vinyl album and a double CD. So they're not extra tracks, they're tracks that wouldn't fit.

Are certain songs more you (than Steve) like The Myths You Made ? That song sounds like some of your solo work...

Well, yeah, it's a bit poppy for The Church. That's why we put it on the extra CD; although it's a really cool song with a good melody and the words are pretty interesting. If I've got a poppy side which comes out, I don't necessarily like to jam it into a record of moody songs. That's why it appeared on the extra CD. You know, for me, Spark probably shouldn't have appeared on Starfish because it's too poppy. The other song which I sing on this album, Fly Home, which I love, is one of the moody songs on the record. I sing the techno ones, like Angelica...you know. But, here we go, I'm singing four songs on this record; a techno one, a Van Morrison ballad, a Pink Floyd [muse ?] and a pop song. So I'm doing all kinds of things on this album.

So what about Angelica ? It has no typical pop structure or chorus. Did it just come out that way ?

Yeah, all the songs came out that way. You see there's a big myth. Let me tell you about the myth.

Tell me the myth, they myth you made...

...all right, the myth is: you go into a studio when you've rehearsed your songs. So when you've got it all sorted out you get a bloke who's a producer who you've never met, who tells you how to put your music onto tape and tells you when you've done it right and when you've done it wrong. Then you get it all built up until it's all smooth and lovely and then you go in there and you sing it twenty times until there's no flaws and then you have a record. Then you write Trevor Horn on the bottom of it and everybody's happy, right ? [Laughs]

Now that is not the way we want to make records. What we did on this record is we said to the record company, "Look, we're not going to work with a producer. If you want us to work with a producer then drop us because we won't do it. We're not going to rehearse. We're not giving you demos. And no, we don't have any songs before going into the studio. And everybody's going (in a dumb voice) "Uh, well you guys, uh, you sure you know what you're doin' ?" And we're going, "Well, it's not a matter of that, it's a matter of this is the way that we're going to create our music now. This is our ninth record. What do you think we're going to do ?"

So we went in there, wrote the songs directly onto tape, hardly touched the arrangements, and made the lyrics fit the arrangements that we wrote. And if we'd had a producer he'd have said (nerdy voice) "Oh, you can't do that That's a bit long. Oh no, wait a minute, you've got to cut that out and..." Yeah, right ! For instance The Maven is the song with the 67 minute guitar solo on it. You know, one of those songs where you're not allowed to do that.

Yeah, you just kind of go off

Yeah, the song was that long, so I played the solo in one take for that long and that was it. Two lead guitars: I did one take on the Les Paul and one take on the Jazzmaster and that was it. And do you know all those notes which are going (in a nasal crescendo) dei, de-de dei, de-de-dei, all that kind of stuff ? If it was going to hit a bum note, I went "Yeah, so ? What was wrong with that ?" What am I supposed to do, go (in a boring monotone) de-da, de-dum, de-da, de-dum so it's all perfect ? Fuck that !


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