Publication Date: Sep 17, 1998
Publication DateMDY: 09/17/1998
Day of Week: Thursday Edition: 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8
Section: ENTERTAINMENT Page: NIGHT & DAY-20 Length (in lines): 88
Title: POP MUSIC |
DATEBOOK Headline: Thanks to mom's divine intervention, CHURCH is recording, touring again
Byline: James Hebert
Credit: ARTS WRITER
Behind every great male rock band stands a woman. A 70-year-old woman. Goes by the name Mom. When the Church and its leader, Steve Kilbey, were about to hang up their guitars for good last year, Kilbey's mother turned up backstage on the final night of the final tour. "We almost had the place levitating that night," the singer and bassist recalls of the concert in Australia, where the Church formed in 1980. "And my mom broke into the dressing room (afterward) and said, `You can't give up.'
"It was like Paul on the road to Damascus," added Kilbey, a lyricist with a weakness for the literary. "The muse came to me and said, `Don't give up.' "
Thus was it ensured that an 18-year career of making atmospheric, label-defying rock would last at least a little longer. The Church's 11th and latest album, "Hologram of Baal," comes out next week, and tomorrow the quartet launches its first U.S. tour in eight years with a show at Solana Beach's Belly Up Tavern. On the phone from Stockholm, Sweden, where he has lived for about a year, Kilbey cites a couple of reasons for the long absence.
For one thing, longtime guitarist Peter Koppes had left the band in 1992, and "I just didn't want to tour without him." For another, the Church had gone through a series of drummers since founding member Richard Ploog departed in the early '90s, leaving the band without a consistent rhythmic base. One factor Kilbey doesn't mention: The Church has not had a notable single since "Metropolis," from 1990's "Gold Afternoon Fix" album. Indeed, it has released only three albums since then. After 1992's ambitious and difficult "Priest=Aura" and 1994's more scattershot "Sometime Anywhere" (essentially a duo project of Kilbey and guitarist Marty Willson-Piper) failed to attract much attention, the Church also lost its deal with Arista. The 1996 album "Magician Among the Spirits" never even saw a U.S. release. At the time, it seemed to be the Church's swan song. But fate -- and Mom -- had other plans.
Koppes had guested on a couple of the album's tracks. And on the ensuing five-show "farewell tour," with Koppes and new drummer Tim Powles along, the Church was suddenly the band Kilbey always had dreamed it could be.
"Finally it was happening, the kind of music I wanted to play," he says.
"We've hit some new musical peak where we're really quite transcendent."
The idea of transcendence seems much on Kilbey's mind lately. Though he still sings with a detached world-weariness, his lyrics on the shimmering, richly textured "Hologram of Baal" sound both more hopeful and more urgent.
"We want to go beyond," Kilbey says of the band's mindset. "We want to go where no rock band has ever gone. We'll be quiet, we'll be loud, we'll drift. Whatever we can do to make the audience feel that (uplift)."
Lest that sound grandiose, let it be known that Kilbey has a sense of humor, too: "You might come backstage at the Belly Up and say, `What happened to the transcendence, man? That was the most boring load of tripe I've ever heard.' "
Whether "Hologram of Baal" will find the commercial success of 1988's"Starfish," the million-selling album that spawned the hits "Under the Milky Way" and "Reptile," seems of scant concern to Kilbey. "We've reached the point where it almost doesn't matter," he says, pointing to the Church's small but solid fan base. "We've sort of gone beyond the whole schmozzle. We can do what we want now.
"We can make the audience go out with the hair on the backs of their necks standing up. I don't think there are many bands that can do that anymore."
DATEBOOK The Church, with Sixpence None The Richer 9:15 tomorrow, Belly Up Tavern, 143 S. Cedros Ave., Solana Beach. $12; (619) 481-8140 or (619) 220-TIXS.
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