The following interview is from Cincinnati's City Beat magazine, October 1-7, 1998 It was written by Brian Baker and was the 'Critic's Pick'
This year's Church tour differs greatly from last year's Australian jaunt, particularly in that the band was in the midst of writing and recording Hologram of Baal, their first release as The Church since 1996's Magician Among the Spirits, and fitting Australian dates in between. The disparity in sonic quality is another issue altogether.
"We played so well last year in Australia that we set this horrible, unattainable thing that we have to try to get back towards," Powles says. "There's a good thing happening in the band, so it's not hard. It's just that we want to play new stuff from the album, and that's where we haven't had a lot of time to get things happening. The old stuff is automatic."
The fact that Magician Among the Spirits was never available as a domestic album in the States may account for the confusion that some people are having with The Church's name on their local venue marquees. The band hasn't exactly helped their own cause. As a matter of fact, the Church's last American tour was actually just a series of acoustic dates by Steve Kilbey and Marty Willson-Piper, and even last year's Aussie mini-tour was only five dates total.
In noting all of this, Powles makes a startling observation. "Tonight at the Fillmore is our sixth night out," he states. "But we've already played more nights consecutively as a band than we have in eight years."
Fans may find that difficult to believe, but it was indeed 1990 when The Church last assembled in more or less its original form to take to the road. And last year's handful of dates made it clear why they haven't done more recently.
"It's hard when you've got 11 albums to choose from," says Powles of the set list selection. "There's so many good songs. Basically, no one can be totally satisfied. We were playing 2 1/2 hours in Australia last year, and that was without the new album, because we were still writing it at the time."
Longtime fans may be disappointed to learn that the band's moratorium on one of its biggest hits, 1981's "The Unguarded Moment," is still in effect - although the band rehearsed it in Los Angeles before the start of the tour and rejected it outright. Powles said the opinion was unanimous.
"It has been played once in America this decade," he admits. "It was heard by two friends of the band. We all just turned around about halfway through, and went, 'We're not doing that.' We tried. It's a good song. It just sounds kind of dated now."
The Church's 17-year history is fraught with tales of dissension, internal strife, and dissolution, so it's not surprising that any number of casual listeners might be tempted to assume that they are no longer a touring/recording entity. Powles is in the Spinal Tap chair, as the band (Kilbey, Willson-Piper, and Peter Koppes) went through their original drummer Nick Ward after recording their first album, Of Skins and Heart. Richard Ploog took over and remained for eight years, until 1990's Gold Afternoon Fix. After veteran Jay Dee Daugherty sat in for a world tour, and then drummed on 1992's amazing Priest=Aura album, Powles came in as a semi-permanent replacement and never left. His previous exposure to the band made him a perfect candidate for the job.
"I came from New Zealand in 1981-82, and arrived in Sydney, and one of the first records I heard on the radio was 'The Unguarded Moment,' Powles remembers. "So I bought Blurred Crusade. I was quite impressed with it, of course I had no idea that I would be playing all that stuff. Then one day I was driving past a gig, and saw a flash of someone onstage and thought it looked interesting, so I parked and went in, and The Church were onstage in their full outfits. There was a time when they were kind of dressy, and that's what caught my attention."
It was during Powles' tenure as the drummer for The Venetians that he received his most vivid impressions of The Church. Although they had little in common, The Venetians' brand of synthetic Pop seemed to effectively counterpoint the Church's dark, jangly guitars, and The Venetians found themselves opening a lot of shows for them. Powles had actually seen one of the shows with Daugherty on drums and wondered to himself why he wasn't up there doing that. "I always thought that someone very sympathetic to Richard's drumming should be there".
On the eve of their Australian tour for Priest, Koppes shocked fans by announcing his intention to leave The Church at the conclusion of the circuit. With Koppes departed, Kilbey, Willson-Piper, and Powles combined to create Sometime Anywhere, an album which bore The Church's name and atmosphere, although it was missing a vital component.
After the acoustic tours of Europe, Australia and the U.S. in 1995, work began on another new album, and Koppes was invited in to guest on a handful of tracks. The sessions went so well that Koppes decided to return to the fold. Although they had been dropped in America by Arista Records, they were still a powerful force in Australia, and the resulting release, Magician Among the Spirits, made plenty of waves in their home country.
Last year the reunion with Koppes was cemented with the limited tour of Australia, during which the band conceived, wrote, and recorded the album which became Hologram of Baal. The album was originally titled Bastard Universe, but Willson-Piper wouldn't sign off on the idea, and Baal was born (Bastard Universe was salvaged as the name of the 70-plus minute space jam disc that accompanies a limited number of commercial copies of Baal).
Powles has become an integral part of the The Church's sound for a number of reasons, and chief among them is his production and engineering experience. Equally important is Powles' songwriting chops, which are considerable. (Powles has a solo album out currently under the name tyg, called tygs's in space, and he collaborated with Koppes and Kilbey on a project/entity called The Refo:mation).
Powles' outside activities fit well within The Church's standard mode of operation. Kilbey, Koppes, and Willson-Piper all have extensive solo careers and releases to their credit. Koppes owns and operates his own independent label, and he and Kilbey have a number of solo discs on their resumes, as does Willson-Piper (who collaborated with Jules Shear nearly 10 years ago on the disc that launched the "unplugged" craze, The Third Party).
In addition to his outside production work and his solo recording, Powles has worked for the past four years as a consultant to Creative Youth Initiative, a program in Sydney channeling the potential negative energy of street kids into a positive creative outlet by allowing them to make music on donated equipment and pressing CD's of the finished product. He credits this program and meeting Steve Kilbey as the two defining moments in his musical career, and the reasons he considers himself a success.
Although the Church are not technically reuniting, and this tour is not considered to be a literal reunion, get your tickets if you want to see this version of the band. Powles says the group has already begun to discuss a new album early next year. But the reality is that Kilbey has recently relocated to Sweden to be near his two daughters, Willson-Piper currently lives in England but may relocate to America, Koppes lives in Sydney, and Powles is considering a move to England. With that much geography between them, the likelihood of working together again on a consistent basis seems remote. But then, this is a band that has been bucking convention and expectation for nearly two decades.
"When we played last year and did this album, Steve was feeling that this could be the last record and we might not play again," Powles says. "But the record turned out really, really well, and we got a good deal in England. We felt it would be silly not to tour to support this record. And now we're even thinking about another record next year. So it's not like a revival/reunion tour. It's really just a growing thing that's happened. I was concerned that in America some people might think that The Church was on an '80s revival wave, whereas we're totally relevant. We've been playing the whole time. I think the band can still sound dangerous now. It's just a bit more grown up danger."