What are you up to at the moment Steve?
"I'm mixing an album with Peter Koppes called The Reformation - which is basically The Church without Marty. It's really good, people who've heard it really like it. It's me, Peter and Tim the drummer from the last Church album and Jack Frost. He used to drum for The Venetians, who weren't a very hip group or anything - they used to support The Church. When Ploog left The Church, he wanted the job but we already had Jay Dee (Daugherty the one-and-only drummer of The Patti Smith Group). As soon as we stopped working with Jay Dee, Tim seemed like the logical choice. You'll see him on The Church tour - and Peter of course. I wouldn't tour without Peter. We may even bring the girl who did strings on Magician Among The Spirits."
"Our last gig (as the two-piece Church) in Adelaide was good, I thought. When there's only two of us, it becomes revealed how good a guitarist Marty Willson-Piper is. He's amazing. We played well together; it's hard getting through all those songs. Some of them I didn't think would work that way. I think we made it."
The band is evolving all the time, but a lot of old-time Church fans are protesting. I read recently in a magazine from SA someone requesting a return to more Unguarded Moment's... "I read that. "Let's sing Unguarded Moment and get him angry', that thing?" Yeah, well that got me angry. You've done that already. What's your response.
"It did make me angry. I've actually got that review sitting right here. (Reads it out with great feeling and humour) Yeah that's right. One critic is going to change the whole f*#king course of what I do because he quotes a song I wrote 15 years ago to me. Now I'm never going to do this again. What are you going to do? This has been the harshest received Church album of the lot. People either love it or hate it."
You are asking a lot more from the listener.
"Absolutely. It is an extraordinary journey. Some people don't want that from their record. They 10 catchy songs they can do the washing up to. Someone who buys a comic book doesn't want an epic f*#king story... They want comics - and some people want comics from Rock'n'Roll, like the Hoodoo Gurus. They don't want to go inside their mind, they don't want to do any work or surrender to the record."
I've had some mind-blowing experiences to some of your songs. I was listening to Aura [from the album Priest=Aura] with a friend and it made a very significant impact on the way I think about music. We were standing on the roof as the sun set in the middle of the bush, and it showed me the possibilities of what can happen when you surrender to music.
"What were you on?" I laugh. "What were you on?" Err... Ecstasy... "Yeah, there you go... I met this friend of mine recently and he said "I saw God last night.' I said "What did you take?' He went "That's got nothing to do with it!' I said "What did you take?' He said "That's got nothing to do with it! I was in this bathroom and there was a blue light. He appeared and said everything's alright, everything's love.' I said "Did you take anything?' He said "Yeah! I had three Eccies, so what?' That's great! That's a valid experience. So what happened? You took an Eccy and...?" I stretched out like a bird and had the feeling of my spirit leaving my body and soaring over the woods. Like, I imagine, astral flight. Subsequently, the feeling returns whenever I hear your new material. "Wow... I wish it could be like everybody. I wish people would stop analysing every word and just do exactly what you did. That would be fantastic." I'm glad you approve! "Aww yeah. That's what it's made for. It's made for people who want to do that. It's not made for people who poke around looking for some petty gripe. You can find all those things. The record's flawed in every way! If you do wanna lie on the roof and take ecstasy, that's what it's for. It's probably a great record to do that to, better than some of our other releases."
"I know it's an amazing feeling when you... I remember once, on acid, I heard this song and it was saying everything I felt. You feel this incredible feeling of not being alone? When someone's saying what you think set to music, it can seem very important. I dunno." I could be wrong, but I thought that was what music was all about. "Me too."
Anyway, if Comedown doesn't satisfy "pop' lovers - there's got to be something going wildly astray. It's clocking up lots of air-time on the stereo at my house. It's been our July single of the month. And quite rightly so. "I'd imagine the track Magician Among The Spirits would be a good hallucinogenic/ ecstasy track too..." I didn't realise we were still talking about that. Since you brought it up though - my vote goes to It Could Be Anyone. "Yeah! That was the first song we worked on and (producer, Simon) Polinski was engineering. I said I wanted something weird. He said "Do you want something weird or something weird? I said "Something weird...' and that was how we built that track. We got all these things pulsing in time together. There's people wailing, guitars screaming..." I suppose I'll be finding new things in that for a while to come. "I hope so. That's the idea. The record doesn't give itself all up in one go. You're not going to get everything on your first time, and people who review records [Hey! That's me too!] only listen to it once. Then they go "Oh, just what I thought. More Church garbage.' You've got to listen to it three or four times before you're really going to discover what's on there. It's like a cigarette! You don't enjoy a cigarette the first time you smoke it. You've got work at it. You've got to smoke about 30 cigarettes before you find out what people like about "em. That's a silly analogy but The Church is a bit like that. What may not make sense the first time, will reveal itself if you hang in there."
Can you see an end to The Church?
"I think we'll keep going for a while yet. There's definitely life in The Church. The only way we'll stop is if outside circumstances wouldn't allow us to. Like, if no one would release our records anymore, or wanted to see us play. Then we'd have to call it a day."
Do you ever get the urge to knock off a few "pop' songs ?
"I don't know how to do it. If I knew how to do it, if I could write a million seller, I would."
I dug your version of Rimbaud's A Season In Hell from the Brett Whitely Songs Of Inspiration.
"Did you? Good, I'm glad. That was the only one. The guy rang me up and said "We need you to do this.' I had an idea to do this play I'd been working on with music. It'd be an awful lot of work coz it's like a radio play for voices. It's all ready to go, but I just haven't done it yet."
Why did you do Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel' Ritz? "We've been doing it for a while live - as just the two of us. I thought we could really embellish it in the studio. Which we did. It's always been a favourite song. Steve Harley & The Cockney Rebels' have always been a far greater influence on me than the Byrds ever were. People go on and on about The Byrds and us but Steve Harley & The Cockney Rebels were much more of an influence. Ritz is a good three chorder."
It looks like you'll be playing here on your birthday, September 13. It's Friday too. "Good isn't it? I was born on a Friday 13. The tour'll be one show in each city. I'll be having a lot of fun on this tour coz we haven't played for such a long time."
Did you get "ya rocks off', for want of a better term, with Jack Frost?
"Yeah... The tour was a little under attended. Especially in Adelaide. But we had a great time elsewhere. We had Tim, the drummer, in Sydney and Brisbane and it was great. It's a lot looser. I'm reacting to the tightness and precision of some of those earlier records. Working towards improvisation, not running around correcting all the little mistake."
How did Peter come to be involved this time? "Peter's been playing on a few things I've been doing and when I've been producing other people, he's come in and played. It just seemed like a natural thing - and he didn't jump in at the deep end. He only plays on three or four tracks. What he did was very modest, he wasn't aiming to completely change things; but I think this tour will see him back in as a full member [YES! - excitable Ed] and, on the next album, will be contributing as much as Marty."
Why did he leave in the first place? "He was just tired. He needed a break. That's all it was. In this business it's very easy to get tired or disillusioned." I'm a die-hard Patti Smith fan - I don't know if you are. "I am. Of course I am." Thought so. I'm going to ask this for myself: What was it like to work with Jay Dee? "
Fantastic. It was like a dream come true. We were touring America with Tom Verlaine [of Television fame]. A lot of people don't know this, but in 1988 Tom Verlaine was opening up for us. He was on our bus with us, and we all became good friends. He actually started coming up and playing with us live. We were doing Is This Where You Live?, You Took and Cortez The Killer [Neil Young. Duhhh - Ed] - like a 40 minute long encore with these three songs. Verlaine was trading guitar with Marty and Peter. (Brief and respectful silence while I absorb that idea.) He always said "If you lose your drummer, get Jay Dee. He's the best drummer in the world.' When we booted Ploog out, everybody thought "Who do we want? Jay Dee.' It was just amazing to get him."
I heard Richard (Ploog) lost the plot - is that true? "Yes, he just lost it." I'd heard stories that he was telling people he was still in The Church a year or so afterwards... "I don't think he realised he was out. He's like a man who's died but doesn't know he's dead. He just lost interest in playing drums and playing in The Church." I heard a bootleg from the Heyday tour... "It was too fast." Yes! He was playing like a madman. "He was playing everything fast to get it over with." That's very sad news...
May I ask something tangential? The question is entirely relative so feel free to answer it how you wish. Do you think The Church are as recognised as they should be here?
"I don't know. You'd have to answer that, that's your game not mine." I know what I think. "Sometimes I think "Yeah, we've got our just desserts.' Other times I feel nobody is aware of everything we've achieved. Other times it seems, "Yeah they are. It was all worth it after all.'"
Right now seems to be one of the quietest periods (public-wise) for The Church. I believe there will be a turnaround - it seems inevitable. Your influence is so pervasive and thorough. When the shift comes - and I believe it will be sudden - the public won't be able remember life before The Church. I'm pissed off because I haven't heard much from Comedown on the radio - and, in my humble opinion, it's one of the best singles of the year. I'm 26 so I'm neither an older fan or a young one... "Yeah, you're right in the middle there." All I know is: your legacy is incredibly wide spread. Despite what anyone may say, I know you've changed the face of music - and not just Australian. I do spoken word performances. In one piece, called Come And Get Me, I'm railing against my personal heroes and demi-gods and their achievements (including Brando, Gauguin, Kandinsky, Rollins etc...). I'm going off at a poster of Morrissey and I say "Come on Morrissey. I'll show YOU a good time, I'll get YOU laid. Come on Johnny Marr, I'll have you AND Willson-Piper - on a plate!" For me, that was a huge statement to make.
"Yeah, yeah (laughs)! Marr came and saw us in '82 when he was 16 at a gig we did in Manchester. And he even tells this story in one of the biographies... the next week he had the haircut, the earring and the Rickenbacker guitar. I keep reading things like: "The Church are influenced by The Smiths, Lloyd Cole, James, REM', y'know. These things make me really angry when I read them. "This group, heavily influenced by Lloyd Cole and The Smiths.' Yeah!?! We had three albums out before those guys were even f*#king going, y'know?"
It gets to me too. Especially when you consider that you're a band whose B-sides outstrip most bands A-sides... "Well, yeah. I dunno. You know what I need? Another million guys like you in the world and I'd be happy."
They are there! I bump into rabid Church fans all the time... "Go and breed." Errr, OK. If you twist my arm.
Next question. Did you ever hear any of the stuff Marty did with Linda Perry?
"I haven't heard it. We don't listen to what we do outside The Church. I never listen to anything he or Peter does - and they don't listen to what I do. We're just not interested - we only intersect with The Church and apart from that there's... nothing. No reason. I remember someone asking Marty what he thought of the Jack Frost version of Providence - because we were doing it on the tour. He said "I've never listened to it.' He hasn't." You're not bothered by that at all? "No. I really don't care what they do. I'm not interested. I don't want to hear it."
How are you as "friends' then? "No, no! We're all good friends in The Church."
It's just a musical understanding?
Busy Guy !! Thanks for your contribution Paul !
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