By Anthony Horan
Well, it's taken forever, but here's the Steve Kilbey interview I did a couple of months back (02-Aug-1994), finally transcribed and ready for your perusal. Any errors in this transcription are probably the direct result of the copious pharmaceutical products I'm taking to fend off the flu at the moment. :-)
This is the full interview; a shorter version will appear in Beat on Wednesday (02-Nov-1994). The abrupt end was the result of a Telecom person cutting in on the call and telling me in no uncertain terms that my time was up. :)
STEVE KILBEY INTERVIEW
AUGUST 3RD, 1994
By Anthony Horan
BEAT: It's been a fair amount of time since "sometime anywhere" came out; You've been touring to support the album...?
SK: Yeah, we toured America for about a month, and since then I've just been in Sweden, hanging out with my children.
That was an acoustic tour?
Yeah, just me and Marty, with acoustic guitars.
How did it go?
SK: Pretty good. People really liked it. It was in all kinds of different venues - I hate it when people say it's "unplugged" though.
The acoustic format would have been by necessity, wouldn't it?
SK: Well, for us it is, yeah, because there's just two of us left, so we'd look silly if there was just one electric guitar and a bass. I really enjoy the singing aspect, singing with an acoustic guitar you can really get light and shade into the singing, whereas with a group I always found I was shouting just to compete with the racket.
BEAT: The material you cover in your solo shows is quite diverse as well, and it's played in a very casual environment...
SK: I like that. I like the spontaneity of it and I like the intimacy... it's just a whole new world. Being in a group was a very stiff thing in the end, it was like, we're The Church and we do this and make a big noise and then we go off... when you play with acoustic guitars it's a whole new thing, and I really enjoy it. It's funny, because most people start out playing an acoustic guitar and then join a band or something. I was the opposite, I was always just playing electric bass and playing in electric bands, and I never even really started playing acoustic guitar on stage until a few years ago. I mean, I used to play an acoustic guitar to write songs sometimes, but I didn't think I was the sort of guy that could get up with just an acoustic guitar and sing, because I thought I needed to have a band and a whole lot of noise to cover up my lack of ability. And then, to find out that I could actually do it vaguely well, was sort of a revelation. I'm still really enjoying it. Every time I go on it's a whole new thing for me.
BEAT: There seems to be something of a comic aspect to your solo shows, too, in the way you interact with the audience...
SK: Yeah, I was talking to another guy about this this morning. The Church was like performing King Lear or Othello or something. It was a performance, we were all playing characters, it was all very serious. I think that was justified, and if half-way through a Church show it had broken into "I say, I say, I say" or whatever, that would have destroyed what we were going for, what the overall effect was. And I think there was a justification in that we didn't talk to the audience, we just performed our songs. There was no real interaction, we were just there to put on a performance.
BEAT: People have set expectations when it comes to what the church are supposed to be.
SK: Yeah, that's what we were. We were a certain thing, and it was supposed to be a certain thing. That's why really the only people that ever liked us were the people coming along expecting to like us. Occasionally we went out and supported bands like Dire Straits, and we didn't convert one person because people there to see Dire Straits didn't want to like something like The Church. And The Church was very much a mutual thing where, not just in Australia but everywhere we went, we were playing to a certain group of people who wanted a certain type of performance. They didn't want to hear jokes, anecdotes, or "How are you all tonight" - they didn't want to hear all that bullshit. They wanted to hear the songs performed in a certain way, they wanted us to be a certain way. I don't think they wanted an interaction with us.
A bit like theatre?
SK: Exactly - you go along to see a play, you don't call out "hey Rick, do the third act now" - you just sit there and watch what they're doing. That was the whole idea of The Church. I kind of conceived it like that because every time I'd go and see a group, someone would start all that tiresome routine, and I'd think "I've paid my money, I just want to be entertained, I don't want to have to clap my hands or sing along". The funny thing is that at Church shows all over the world, the audience never yell out. They might occasionally yell out a request, but people never throw thing, and we've never had any violence or any trouble whatsoever. People just go there and listen to it.
Have you had any strange experiences with fanatical fans?
SK: Oh. man, I could fill up a book. I've had people stalking me, and I've had lots of strange letters... I've had my share of encounters.
Do you find that sort of thing frightening?
SK: (Thinks). Umm... well, it's mostly in America where people take it really seriously more than anywhere else, and they're usually females, so they're not going to shoot you or anything like that. Just things like reading way more into it than has ever been there, satanic stuff, and "you know we were made for each other, and if I can't have you I'm going to jump out a window" - that sort of stuff. But the whole thing was calculated to bring out that, I think. I sat down a long time ago and figured out all the things I liked, and put it all together; I knew that if it worked, that would be part of it, because those sorts of messages were encoded into the songs, to get people to feel like that.
Is that still the case?
SK: Yeah, i guess so. It's like there's this deliberate ambiguity that's going to hit right home to people, because I could see what was working on me when I went and heard music or read poetry or saw a film. I could see the things that were making me feel like this was invested with meaning. and then I sat down and... saying I figured out a way sounds very cold and calculating, but I could see the gap, what was needed. You know when you write certain words or put certain pieces of music together that it's going to have an effect on the sort of people who are looking for that. So I was expecting it a bit.
BEAT: The new church album reminds me musically of the "narcosis" solo ep from a few years ago...
SK: Well I guess, without Peter in the group and without a producer, I'm getting my own way more and more, and now just Marty and I contributing, it's not being filtered through a whole lot of other people, and the music will swing more and more to what I do on my own. I thought "Narcosis" was pretty good, and it was after I finished that and it didn't do very well, I thought that's it as far as the solo thing goes, because that was the epitome of what I could do on my own. Now I think I'll just concentrate on The Church. And I think The Church will stay together, because Marty and I really enjoy playing with each other, and I have more of a good time making a record with him than I do on my own. And I think he's developed into this amazing guitarist, just playing with him is a real buzz for me, and writing songs together we had a really good time. Rather than do solo records I'd rather make really good Church records, and throw all my ideas into that.
BEAT: Over the last decade or more, every time a church album came out you'd be saying in interviews that if this album wasn't a success, the band was going to break up. This is the first time a church album's been released and you haven't said that.
SK: Maybe it's time to say it! I don't know, man... it felt like that in the group because it felt like we just can't keep going if this doesn't happen - where are we going to go, and then there was always the light at the end of the tunnel. And then "Starfish" did really well, and sold a million copies and stuff, and I guess that kept it going. It always felt like the group just couldn't economically keep going, because it always seemed like we were beset with debts, lawyers closing in, and it just seemed hopeless.
It wasn't so much a creative death as an economic death that was prompting me to say that every time.
And it's all supposed to be about music in the end...
SK: It's supposed to be, yeah, but when you've got bailiffs knocking on your door saying you haven't paid for your rehearsal room two years ago and they're going to take your TV away, then suddenly it's like you get a rude awakening that this is an economic thing. You've got a whole host of roadies and managers and agents and accountants, everybody depending on you to make money.
BEAT: People would assume that after making records for 14 years or longer, and having hit singles, that you must be rich.
SK: Yeah, it's funny. It depends what you mean by rich. It's only the people at the top of the echelon that are the musicians that are people who are rich, and I find that everybody else isn't rich. They're doing okay, they don't have to have an office job, but they're by no means what you'd call rich.
BEAT: Your production work for other artists has been on the increase lately, what with the mae moore, margot smith and stephen cummings albums all turning up within the space of a year...
SK: I do everything anybody asks me to do - so the more that people ask me, the more I do, and I guess the more I do, the more people are going to ask me. I've been lucky that the people who have asked me, I've always liked what they're doing. Steve Cummings just had a whole lot of great songs, and he just wanted me to do my thing, really. He just rang me up and said he'd written all these songs, and I heard the songs and they were good. So I guess if something else like that comes along I'll do it. It's just that no-one was asking me before. I suppose as people hear those albums and they like what they hear, they'll start to ask me to do it. I've got a lot of ideas up my sleeve.
BEAT: You don't have a distinct sound, really, on the stuff you produce, as opposed to the songs that you write...
SK: No, I haven't got a sound. I sort of try and be like a perfume that adapts itself to whoever's wearing it. That's what I would rather do, rather than giving everybody who comes to me my sound, I'd rather help to bring out the more aesthetic, esoteric side of themselves. If someone wants a hit album, don't come to me, but if someone feels they want to do something to extend themselves a bit and they need someone to help them do that, then I think I can sort of fall into that role.
BEAT: Are you going to be doing any more work with mae moore or margot smith?
SK: Margot, definitely, yeah, if Margot wants to do some more stuff, I would. I think Mae Moore and I had a bit of a falling-out towards the end over musical and personal differences, as they say. The relationship is terminated. But Margot, she's just brilliant. It's typical of Australia that they've got someone as brilliant as Margot, and everyone's ignored her. When we did those solo shows, I just stood in the audience and was just absolutely knocked into the middle of next week by how good she is. And she's just got everything that all those others, the so-called big female stars in Australia don't have - mystique, talent, an amazing voice, she writes brilliant songs... she's just fantastic. But that's all the recipes to not do well in Australia.
BEAT: Do you get worried about sales of your records and the ones you've worked on?
SK: Well, I'd rather they sold more than sold less, but even if no-one buys her album, I'll listen to it and get pleasure out of it. But if I had my choice... you only do things to reach as many people as possible. I'd rather everybody in Australia bought one of my records than nobody did, but it does not lessen the value of them for me if nobody buys them.