The Church / Peter Koppes - Joann D. Ball

INTERVIEW / CONCERT REVIEW: The Church / Peter Koppes

- Joann D. Ball

The Australian-based band The Church has always followed its own psychedelic muse. That muse has inspired the band to produce some of the most ethereal sounds this side of paradise, and has also moved the band to generate a host of catchy, irresistible jangly pop songs during the past 18 years. Of course, such greatness has been balanced by an album or two that missed the mark, and a handful of songs that didn't quite click. But apart from all that, The Church has never stopped using and celebrating the wonderous power of recorded and live music to share energy, expand minds and bring beautiful people together.

Consumable Online caught up with The Church on the first two dates of the American tour in support of record number eleven, Hologram of Baal (Thirsty Ear). It's been eight years since The Church toured Stateside as an all-electric quartet and much has transpired for singer/bassist Steve Kilbey and guitarists Marty Wilson-Piper and Peter Koppes. Kilbey and Wilson-Piper kept the Church going in addition to a variety of other projects while Koppes took time off to develop and further his own musical and entrepreneurial pursuits. It was just a matter of time, though, before the muse reunited the trio and joined them with new drummer and fellow spirit Tim Powles. And so, The Church has returned with a new record and a new label, and fortunately, the same inspired vision reigns supreme.

The Church's live revival took place at The Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach, California, a few miles north of San Diego. And an almost full house of mostly twenty- and thirtysomethings gathered to hear the power and glory of The Church's trademark sound. Completely outfitted with a six-string bass, poetic sage Kilbey took his place at center stage. On his right, Koppes secured himself in the middle of all the technology, hardware and gadgets that allows him to recreate those complex and intricate studio sounds through his guitar. Fellow guitarist Marty Wilson-Piper set up shop at the other end of the stage with a collection of trusty Rickenbackers within arms reach. And drummer Powles climbed to his perch behind the drum kit, prepared to lay down the pounding beats that would propel the words and swirls out to the crowd.

What was to be a long and sweaty night began with "Aura" from 1992's Priest=Aura, right through "Myrrh," the sonic assault from the still-brilliant Heyday, and back to "An Interlude" from early release Blurred Crusade. Then the band fast forwarded to "Ripple" before finally arriving at "North, South, East and West" from the hugely successful Starfish. With "N,S, E &W" securing the bond between band and audience, The Church introduced "Louisiana" as the new single. "Buffalo," another great song from the new record which also happens to be named for an American locale, followed several songs later.

There was the predictable swell of cheers and applause for the smash hit "Under the Milky Way," but even the epic "2 Places At Once" from Kilbey and Wilson-Piper's mystical 1994 release Sometime Anywhere capitvated the crowd. By the set closer "Reptile," the crowd had been whipped up into a frenzy reflecting the guitar mania Wilson-Piper was generating from all parts of the stage. The Church then returned for two stellar encores, first delivering "Destination" and a sizzling version of "Tantalized" and then finally ending the spirited show with the power jam "You Took." On its first gig ever featuring the new songs, The Church was in superior form and treated this Southern California crowd to the kind of blistering two hour set that Australian fans have come to know and love so well.

Consumable Online caught up with guitarist extraordinare Peter Koppes the day after the triumphant tour opener. Backstage at an outdoor festival on the Pacific Ocean in Orange County, Koppes was surprisingly rested despite only a few hours of sleep. He was also excited and eager to talk with Consumable about all things Church related. In what was more a wonderful conversation than a typical interview, Consumable found out what Koppes had been up to during his sabatical and discussed what makes The Church such a powerful, progressive force in rock music.

CO: How are things different this time around on tour, ten years after Starfish?

Koppes: Well, a year ago we did a tour in Australia, and a year before that we did a tour of Australia. So we did like two-and-a-half hour shows with a complete variety of all of the albums. But we haven't played the last three albums in America, so in a way we're wanting to play some of those songs here and also some of the songs from the new album which we haven't even played in Australia.

CO: How do you think the reception is going to be here rather than from a native crowd in Australia?

Koppes: I think music is the great leveler and I think that you get a situation where the people who like our kind of music become those kind of people in every place, wherever it is.

CO: What is your kind of music? How do you describe it?

Koppes: Um, progressive music for music aficionados, you know, who like the exotic and esoteric and like intelligent pop.

CO: Is that something that you guys consider at all. . . in terms of what kinds of fans might be out there?

Koppes: I think that there's a lot of nostalgia these days. A lot of people in Australia. . . [that] is the only indication I can go by but around the world it seems to be the same.

CO: Nostalgia for the eighties or for yesterday generally?

Koppes: Yeah, for music they are familiar with.

After describing how Australian fans have followed The Church over almost two decades, the conversation shifts to why Koppes temporarily stepped away from one of Down Under's most beloved bands.

Koppes: I left the band to identify with myself outside of the role that was imposed on me by the circumstances of being in the band, which include the public's identity which they associate with me as being a part of something, you know. And we're all staunch individuals as you know by all of the solo records. Even the drummer's got a solo record out there.

Koppes then began to list his solo projects, a process which is only completed by the end of our meeting. Obviously, he was an extremely busy man during his few years away from The Church. Not only did he play a variety of instruments on the solo projects but he also formed his own Australian record label. Koppes is obviously very proud of his musical accomplishments and explains his entrepreneurial venture as an extension of his genuine love of music. As for the records, Koppes mentions Water Rites credited to his band The Well and reflective of his fascination with water and a release under his own name called Love Era/Irony. .

Koppes: And I recorded stuff that Steve was producing with artists. You know, it'd be writing or playing guitar on some tracks on some things of his.

CO: So it was always a friendship [with Steve Kilbey]?

Koppes: Oh, yeah. When I left the band I said to Steve, you know, we could do some stuff together. It's just that I didn't want to be in the band as part of that big, that monster.

CO: That friendship goes back how many years?

Koppes: Twenty-umm. . . 1974. . . twenty four years.

The conversation then shifts to what originally inspired Koppes to pick up first the Hammond organ, then the drums and finally the guitar.

CO: Influences for you?

Koppes: Songs, songs . . .

CO: And artists?

Koppes: Ultimately Jimi Hendrix, not just as a guitar player but as a songwriter and as a human being. I think more importantly, like John Lennon, he was an amazing human being. I've always regarded myself as a human being first and a musician second as well. And I identify with people of that politics in their music as well.

CO: On this new record, Hologram of Baal, it doesn't really say who does what in the liner notes.

Koppes: (laughing) We didn't have time, I swear! We did everything. Our new drummer plays bass on tracks...he's critical to the band now, the impetus of the band, because he engineered the album and he produced it with us. But being an engineer he actively produced it on every, well, when we were doing over dubs he'd be working together with Steve closely, with Marty closely. And with me, he's an essential part of my soundscaping because he intuitively does what I want him to do. In fact, he played drums on my last solo album.

Koppes: There's another album [by] The Refo:mation that Steve, myself and Tim did previous to the Church reforming which was another stint towards us deciding that The Church is just gotta get back together in that format. It would be like something to really come back together for. It was a big, big evolution in our songwriting style and relationship, musical relationship, that worked toward the new album.

CO: A lot of times people are trying to find a hook. So, if a band disappears for a while, as they think [The Church] might have and comes back after a certain number of years' absence, they are trying to find out where the band left off. So, are you picking up from Seance or from Heyday or just going forward?

Koppes: We never pick up. We're a psychedelic band, nothing to do with the drugs, but psychedelic meaning the mind expanding. And we splintered in so many different directions in our music that we have styles of songs that we sometimes go away from and then come back [to] a couple of albums later. There's our soundtrack kind of instrumental songs, then there's the pop jangly ones and then there's long songs. We have experiments with long songs.

CO: Speaking of long songs, there's the bonus CD "Bastard Universe." [available as part of the limited edition double CD version of Hologram of Baal_]

Koppes: (laughing) That's a pretty long song! That was a spontaneous creation. Not mapped out, but our writing process is like that. It's just a particular style of creating music that we couldn't really get a particular song out of any of the pieces. But they were an evolution. And in a way it shows people how we write at the same time.

It's a very interesting piece of music that's very satisfying 'cause you've got four producers in the band, four songwriters, four multi-instrumentalists who've done it for so long now that you know when something is supposed to change.

In fact, that ["Bastard Universe"] happened the night after a gig where we really tuned in. It was really a great gig. And we were setting up in the studio again afterwards. . . we probably wouldn't be able to do it again like that either because it was just that head space, that communion of the concert the night before and being all producers.

The conversation shifts to what Koppes looks for in a band. An avid music fan himself, Koppes cites the Verve and Oasis as a few of the newer bands that he enjoys because the have personalities that he's interested in.. With that opening, Consumable asks Koppes to view The Church from a fan's point of view.

CO: With the Church who do you think the average fan would target or zoom in on?

Koppes: It's always been a variety. A lot of people like Marty because he's good fun and energetic and exciting. A lot of them like Steve because he's a poet and very serious. You know, he's of the great songwriting ilk. In fact, he gets emails from English musicians of the new generation thanking him for his inspiration. And a lot of them like me because I'm a guitarist who's always coming up with something new and I'm quite capable on my instrument.

At this point, Kilbey, Wilson-Piper and Powles enter the large RV that the band is using as a dressing room. Kilbey briefly comes over to the table where Koppes and Consumable have been talking before moving up front to help write the set list for the band's upcoming performance. Sensing that Koppes will soon need to prepare for the gig, Consumable Online brings the conversation to a close. Before sharing some final words about the relationship between The Church and its devoted followers, though, Koppes reminds Consumable about the Refo:mation record Pharmakoi/Distance Crunching Honchos With Echo Units that he, Kilbey and Powles released last year. He feels so strongly about this crucial precursor to the reunion, that he offers his Immersion Records website as the source for more information about it, his other solo projects and a new release by Margot Smith called Taste on which the trio also played.

Koppes: Going back to your earlier question. . . We just draw out a certain audience anywhere in the world and it's usually the most beautiful people in any city, And I love that. I love going and seeing the beautiful people in any city.

The Church's American tour continues until mid-October. Thereafter, the band will tour Australia and Europe.

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