Marty Willson-Piper

by Dennis Wollnik

The Church are one of my favourite bands for many years now and on August 15th I had the pleasure to do an interview with Marty Willson-Piper @ Popkomm in Köln where he did the promotion for the german release of Church's new album "Hologram Of Baal". The article I wrote for a magazine named Orkus (for all Germans, Swiss and Austrians visiting this page: you can find it in issue 10/98) is only an extract, the following text is nearly (!) a literal and complete record of our conversation! If there are any grammatical mistakes please be indulgent...

D: I heard Steve had an accident!?

M: Yeah, he broke his arm when he got knocked over by a mercedes...

D: What were the reasons Peter has returned?

M: Well, he had enough of being in the band and now he has enough of not being in the band - as simple as that really, he wanted to be back and that's fine! And he already played a couple of songs on "Magician Among The Spirits"...

D: Where are you living now?

M: I've been living in England for the last four years, but I'm thinking about leaving. Tim and Pete are in Australia, Steve is in Stockholm...

D: Is the distance not a problem sometimes?

M: No, it doesn't work like that. You know, we don't need to be sitting around philosophizing about what we're gonna be doing. We get together and then we create...

D: Do you meet spontaneously?

M: Well, we sure make some kind of plans, we have some kind of basic idea what we're gonna be doing - although not to distant future - and we try to work it around that. It's not so difficult really, this is use of aeroplanes, telephone and internet...

D: Of course, but I think it takes nearly one day to go to Australia...

M: That's right - but that's nothing!

D: Are you writing all songs together?

M: Yeah, we write songs in the studio - we don't do demos, we don't rehearse, we just create pieces of music and then we arrange them into sort of versions of songs and put the lyrics and melodies on.

D: How's the relationship between you and the other guys? Is it a friendship?

M: Oh, sure!

D: Are you often in contact with them?

M: Yeah, I've least contact with Pete, because he's living right in the middle of nowhere, but with Steve I'm in contact all the time.

D: After 18 years, have you ever thought about breaking up with The Church?

M: Nope, why!? You know, if I'd thought we make crap records then I wouldn't do it, but I think The Church is a great group and sometimes we have a hit and we do really well and sometimes we have three albums when nobody cares - but I don't believe what anybody says: I don't believe it if anybody says that was fantastic, because we had a hit and I don't believe it if anybody says that was a lot of crap, because we haven't had a hit and haven't sold any records - all I know is that we get together and make music and I always enjoy it...

D: So you can imagine to play with The Church for the next 18 years?!

M: Yeah, sure! I can imagine doing till the day I'll die!

D: Do you think the other guys can imagine that too?

M: Ah, they probably wouldn't say that - I mean, I've been the one in the band who always said: why shouldn't we not do it...

D: I'm asking because of the rumour that Steve said this album could be the last one!

M: Yeah, of course he did! He's the lead singer in a rock group - what do you want him to do? Be rational??? (Marty grins ironically)

D: This time you're not singing - why?

M: Because there's no rule saying that I have to. If I'd wanna sing three songs on this album I'd probably could've, but I don't care! It really doesn't matter if I sing three songs or not, I don't even think about it...

D: Some time ago you compared "Starfish" and "Priest=Aura" and you said: "Starfish" is more simple structured, straight and down to earth whereas "Priest=Aura" is moody and obscure - how would you describe the new album?

M: Moody and obscure! But the new one's got that kind of what I call accessible obscurity in a similiar way that "Priest=Aura" has - I think it's a very typical Church record!

D: So you'd say the new one's close to "Priest=Aura"?!

M: Ehm..."Priest=Aura"...well, J.D. Daugherty played drums on that record and he's kind of a solid drummer, Tim's got more finesse - not to say J.D. isn't a great drummer, he's fantastic - but Tim's got more finesse for the sort of strange little thing that Church has and consequently the new album benefits greatly from that. Tim's a real find for us: he engineered the record and mixed it and played drums on it and played bass on a couple of tracks - he's a lovely guy and he's very talented...

D: For what reasons did J.D. leave?

M: Well, because Pete left and we couldn't afford him: he wouldn't join the band as a member who takes all the money if we do well and none of it if we do not - he always wanted to be paid as a session musician and this meant he always wanted three times as much as anybody else...

D: Are you still in contact with Richard?

M: Haven't spoke to Richard for years, but I haven't lived in Australia for 13 years - guess Pete's sometimes in touch with him...

D: Any clue what Nick's doing?

M: I think he lives in Canberra, but no idea what he's up to...

D: "Sometime Anywhere" was quite experimental, you used stuff like samples and drum loops. The new album seems to be played and recorded live!?

M: Yeah, that's right! When we made "Sometime Anywhere" we had to create something from what we had and it was just the two of us. We had no drummer, we had no guitarist, so we worked in a different way - but with the new record we had a full band, we walked to the studio and started playing. We couldn't do that on "Sometime Anywhere"...

D: So is it now a kind of going back to your roots!?

M: Well, we never go back! But we do trying develop what we have: "Sometime Anywhere" was developping what we had as "Priest=Aura" was. The only record we didn't succeed developping what we had was "Gold Afternoon Fix", because we lost our drummer during that record and consequently didn't make a record we wanted to make. But every other record we made was pretty much developping what we wanted to do, but not in a contrived way: we could've made any record, because everything in The Church is totally random based on the fact of the members that are involved!

D: What can you tell me about the title of the new album? Is it a concept album?

M: If you want it to be...(he grins)...the album is like a hologram and I always think of holograms in terms of pornography: I'm whatever you want me to be! Or see the holodeck in "Startreck" and what these gorgeous birds create out of that: Chicago 1936 - bing!

D: Isn't that cool!?

M: Indeed...(he laughs)

D: And why Baal?

M: Well, Steve's the resident god expert in the band, he's interested in pagan gods. The record was originally called "Hologram Of Allah" - I thought out the title, but everybody in the band said: oh no, we really like the title, but we can't call that, because we're gonna cause offence on this - and I said: that's a lot of crap, it's not gonna happen and everybody's freaked out and then Steve said: what about "Hologram Of Baal"?

D: Do you have any favourite song on that album?

M: No, I don't have favourites in general. You know, each song lives in a parallel universe, it's a theme, a whole thing - it's like if you'd be saying to me: what's your favourite part of a film? do you like the beginning part or the middle part or the end part? You know, but the film doesn't work without the beginning, the middle and the end...

D: Well, 10 years ago you had your biggest commercial success with "Under The Milky Way" - do you still like that song?

M: Of course, because we had a hit with a good song, we didn't have a hit with a stupid song that we contrived to have a hit...

D: Don't you fear now that everybody could only search for another single hit when he listens to your records?

M: Ah, that doesn't matter to me - what matters is that we're going to the studio and we make records and we enjoy it. And what anybody thinks or says or where we'll release it or if it comes out on Martian Fucking Intergalactic Records or on Bob's Records round the cornershop - none of it matters! Who cares!? The Church had a big hit with their sixth album! You know, it wasn't like it was our first album and then we never did a hit again, we made five records before we made that single. And by the way we do have a hit on our first album which was as big: "The Unguarded Moment" was Top 10 in Australia, Top 10 in Sweden, Top 10 in Canada...

D: ...and I think "Almost With You" was a hit as well!?

M: Yeah, Top 20 in Australia! But it really doesn't matter: we don't make hits, we make music! People who are concerned about hits are people who are concerned about Billboard Magazine, they care about sales and marketing...

D: So you don't care about sales!?

M: No, I don't give a flying fuck! I don't care about it at all!

D: Then I'd like to know your personal definition of success!

M: Well, I don't think about things in terms of success, I think about things in terms what I like! You know, if The Church would be playing Retro-70ies-Funk and we'd get 50,000 dollars a week by doing it I wouldn't be doing it, because I don't like it! And I don't need to be famous, that's the last thing on my mind! My motivation comes from sitting in a room and plugging the guitars in and searching for sounds that I like - that's it!

D: It seems that you still feel a kind of enthusiasm, don't you?

M: Absolutely! I mean, that's the whole point! If I wouldn't feel that I wouldn't be doing it! I've complete, total, ridiculous enthusiasm for it! Sitting there with the guys in the band making music is the most brilliant feeling in the world - especially when you don't have to care what anybody says and you dont't have to be concerned about record companies. The reason The Church has got a great new album out it's not with anything to do but ourselves and it's just to do with the four of us sitting in the room - nothing else matters!

D: Do you feel like belonging to a special kind of scene?

M: Nope, I don't need scenes! The Church has been existing through so many different scenes! You know, we were around even before New Romantic started. When New Romantic came along people told us that we were finished, because Duran Duran had made a record - can you imagine that!? We were never influenced by anything to do with any of the scenes which supposed to be important to the eras in which we existed. I was always influenced by obscure things that anybody ever knows like Amon Düül or Can...

D: I heard you have a huge record collection!?

M: Yeah, I have round 20,000 records: 12,000 LP's, 4,000 CD's, 3,000 singles and a couple of thousands cassettes...

D: What's going on with "Hanging Out In Heaven"?

M: I got an offer for it to be released on January 1st on Heyday Records...

D: ...Heyday Records!?!

M: Yeah...(he laughs)...believe it or not! The guy called me up, because he read about it on the Shadow Cabinet and he was interested in hearing it, so I sent him a tape and he loved it and he said he wants to put out - so I said o.k. with me and I talked to the guy I've made the record with, who engineered it, mixed it and co-produced it with me...

D: Is it Andy Dare Mason again?

M: No, it's the guy who engineered "Starfish": Shep Lonsdale

D: But you did work together with Andy when you played guitar for Cinerama, the new project of David Lewis Gedge from Wedding Present!?

M: Yes, I played nine or ten tracks on that album...

D: Are you still in contact with Ann Carlberger and do you know what she's doing?

M: Yeah, she's putting photographs together of promo-shots on Photoshop - she's working with computers...

D: Is it true that there won't come out a second album by Seeing Stars?

M: Yep, that's history! Mark Price is the new drummer in Del Amitri and Andy Cousin has got his own band called Hallucination (?) which is signed to Maverick...

D: ...oh, that's Madonna's label, isn't it?

M: Yeah, they're gonna be popstars with their own groups now...

D: And what are your further plans?

M: Well, I got a phone call from Warner Bros. and they asked me to produce one of their new bands which even hasn't a name yet...

D: Is it now for sure that you'll produce the next album by german band The Convent?

M: Well, maybe...I really like their singer Carlo van Putten, he's one of my favourite human beings in the universe: he's just a big-hearted, generous, friendly and talented guy!

D: After 8 long years you're now gonna play a huge worldtour!?

M: Yeah, we're doing 22 shows in America, 9 shows in Australia and 10 shows in Scandinavia...

D: ...hope you won't forget Germany!!!

M: Well, we'd like to tour Germany in December: Berlin, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Köln... - I don't know yet, but nothing would make me happier to play as much as i can... - where do I sign, man?


interview & text by Dennis Wollnik
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