Last time he was here with the Church, prior to that as a solo artist. Now Steve Kilbey, Australia's most credible musical chameleon, returns with Grant McLennan in his project band Jack Frost. Kilbey spoke to SCOTT HOWLETT.
Speaking from Grant McLennan's Brisbane home, where he and Grant were busy rehearsing their national tour, Steve Kilbey says he looks forward to returning to the stage after a long absence.
Never what you'd call passionate about the prospect of an arduous month-long run of dates, he has not played for around 12 months, the last time with Marty Willson-Piper in the pared to two Church, which will release a new album April (more on that later) and says he looks forward to performing with the slightly rockier Jack Frost.
Renowned for his lyrical imagery and word play, SNOW JOB, Kilbey and McLennan's second album as Jack Frost, is the least complex and rawest sounding offering Kilbey has yet given the public. Lyrically, one of Kilbey's undoubted strengths, less emphasis has been given to the richness of his vocabulary and more on the straight story telling. In addition, the production is a lot more understated than, say, a Church LP.
"I haven't put out lyrics to my songs for years", Kilbey told the X-Press Magazine. "Also, on this record, there's not a lot of clever-dickery with the lyrics. Its pretty straight forward. We didn't use a word with five syllables when a word with one syllable would do. Some of the lyrics Grant wrote, some of them I wrote on my own, but on most of them we wrote together".
For two such strong writers (Kilbey with The Church, McLennan with the Go Betweens and now as a solo artist), how was it possible to write by consensus? Were there wars over the word play?
"Yeah, I wouldn't say arguments - thats a bit strong - but we did have a few disagreements, obviously. You can't create something with someone without having some kind of disagreement. Its impossible. You're going to have to push and pull each other to get where you're going".
Unlike other projects, Kilbey says a lot Snow Job was written while it was recorded.
"It was bass, guitar and drums bashing away in the studio - turn on the tape and start recording. Thats the way it was done. And I think that way you capture all the excitement, all the roughness of what rock 'n' roll is supposed to be all about. It was the first time I've recorded with a band in a studio and we just started writing as we went along. It was a different approach for me. Usually, we rehearse, but sometimes if you do that you lose a certain spontaneity. By recording live, you get as close to the source as we could get".
Interestingly, Snow Job was finished in 1993.
"I have forgotten a lot of the recording side to it, but its good because when I listen to it I don't hear the way its made", Kilbey says. "Often when you listen to records you've just made you remember exactly when you did this and how this happened. So its good, because I kind of listen to it like its been made by somebody else".
Snow Job: An attempt to distract attention away from certain aspects of a situation by supplying an overwhelming amount of extraneous information; a cover-up. - Maquarie Dictionary
A great title for a Jack Frost LP, you'd have to say. Would Kilbey, a long term critic of the ins and outs of the recording industry, be referring to some of the less moral workings of the game?
"No", he says with a chortle. "Its just a title we've had for a long time".
Like much of Kilbey's work, Snow Job improves with repeated listenings and refuses to date. He hopes so, he says.
"I think if you get the best things in any field, they are going to be things that don't necessarily reveal themselves on the very first listen and that would improve as you go", he says. "I think what I do is an aquired taste and probably the first time you listen to one of my songs it doesn't club you over the head and is something you have to listen to a few times. I hope the stuff that I have done in the past does still sound good".
A new Church album will be out in April. Contrary to a report in this magazine some weeks ago, Peter Koppes has not returned to the fold on a permanent basis, but has joined with the two existing principles of the band, Kilbey and Willson-Piper, to play guitar on the new album
"I wouldn't say he's back in the band, actually I wouldn't say there's a band at the moment. Its a very loose thing. The album is completed and Marty's as involved as he was on Sometime Anywhere".
Once again, Kilbey says the sound is quite unlike anything previously associated with the Church, which formed in 1980.
"Its completely different again", he says on the Church's new direction. "Its more like Snow Job. Its more like a band in a studio jamming, whereas Sometime Anywhere we were playing around with drum loops and sequencers. There's none of that on the Church album".
You love to change, almost in spite of yourself, don't you?
[Laughs] "Oh no. Just trying to figure out new ways to keep creative and to keep myself interested. I think you get bored if you always use the same methods to write songs".
And the same people. Kilbey, either as a producer or musician, has collaborated with tens of musicians, and sometimes with musicians who don't even reside in the same country (Marty Willson-Piper, for example, lives in Sweden). [No longer true - he's back in London now.] In respect to Jack Frost, Kilbey lives in Sydney, McLennan in Brisbane.
Does the separation help or hinder the music?
"Well, the whole scene's changed, hasn't it? Now its just like you get together in the studio, do an album and then everybody goes back to their own house. Its not like the days where everybody had to live in the same house and you all wake up in the morning... four heads pop up in bed together and you're all eating Rice Bubbles together. I think thats a real 60's concept of what groups are all about".