The occasion is the release of Australia's greatest dream musicians, The Church's excellent new record Hologram Of Baal. Their most organic production in years (that doesn't necessarily mean the best - but it's certainly up there), Hologram… represents their rebirth in many ways. At the very least it presents another fork in the road. I'm scheduled to speak to one of the primary motivators of The Church, despite his momentary absence as a full time member for two of their records from this decade, the guitarist Peter Koppes [pronounced Cop-pes]. Hologram Of Baal is the first album with Koppes back as a full time member.
I'm preparing my tape deck for the interview and suddenly my phone rings and, on picking it up, I hear, "Hey this is Peter Koppes from the Church here." Surprised that not only is the interview running early, but I don't have to go through the usual screen of telecom operators or record company reps, I don't even have time to try to contain my excitement.
His voice is less clipped or as eloquent as Marty [Willson-Piper, guitars, amiable UK accent] or Steve's [Kilbey, vocals, bass, with a voice approaching what you'd imagine for Australian nobility]. It's a much more earthy tone, friendly yet thoroughly zero-bullshit-tolerant. That's good.
Hey Peter how are you!
"Not bad. How are you doing? Wasn't I supposed to be talking to you from New Orleans last time, when my hotel fucked things up and my phone didn't work? Sorry about that. The first thing I knew about it was when I was waiting and my message light came on and then I knew there was something wrong coz my phone hadn't rang. The phone didn't have a ringer in it! So sorry about that falling through the cracks there. But I'm here now."
Firstly, I must congratulate you on a tremendous album. Hologram Of Baal is excellent. Should I ask about how you went about choosing Tim [Powles, also the drummer for the Church] to mix and produce the record?
"It's all a pragmatic thing actually. We had nobody else but ourselves. There's a big misunderstanding about the last time we toured here. It was spoken of as being our last tour. Coz, on actual fact, we had no record company, no management, no infrastructure and we just got Marty to come to Australia. We used Steve's studio and Tim was the engineer. We made a record while we were touring here in the hope that maybe it would be a good record and a record company would release it. Then, as you can see, that's all happened but Tim mixed some other records. You know Margot Smith's record, Taste? He mixed that, I played guitar and Steve produced it and wrote some of the songs. We did The Refo:Mation album where Steve, myself and Tim worked on it as a side project and Tim mixed that. So it was an obvious progression. He also mixed my solo albums which he played drums on as well. All those records are on my record label, Immersion, which Phantom work with me on.
"Out of that, that's why The Church record really evolved. Tim got the feel for what we're really doing, or what my part in The Church was, coz he'd already played on the Magician Among The Spirits album, which I guested on as well. It was just obvious that we should do the whole record inhouse, using Steve's studio and all of our energies. We just pooled all of our resources and came up with, as you say… in America, they reckon it's the best album we've done to date."
That's really good. I hear America is still very interested in The Church.
"Yeah well, what's happened in the street press side of things is, all the people who are working in the street press were our fans from the '80s. They've grown up with the band and are now working in street press all around America. We've still got the aficionado fans that we had before - but we haven't got the publicity to get all of our fans back… or break new ones yet."
A US solo artist I've got a lot of time for, named Jason Falkner [ex-Jellyfish and The Grays], is really into The Church.
"I remember him."
When he came out for a tour, we got talking about music and you came up and he just flipped. He credits you as a major influence and one of the most impressive bands he ever saw. Actually, he tried to get out to my house just to watch the video compile. He had a funny anecdote about climbing a lamp post outside your hotel room, after a show in the US just to try to get your attention to let you know how blown away he was. Apparently Steve popped his head out and told him to climb down before he killed himself - which he did and went home happy.
"I heard a story like that, sort of."
You know, something that really pisses me off is that the Australian radios hardly ever give The Church their due.
"Yeah. I reckon The Church and Bob Dylan should get together, coz they never played Bob's last Grammy award winning album on Australian radio either. We should get together with Bob Dylan and go and… cane their arses [laughs]!"
It's not even like they've got a decent excuse. Fuck! How good do the records have to be?!? They were delivered what I considered to be THE single of the year with MATS' Comedown, and it only got minimal play.
"Yeah I know. The guy I just spoke to from Inpress in Melbourne said the same thing. Well… not that it was his favourite single but that he couldn't imagine why it wasn't a hit."
It's their duty to break quality. Where they'll play god knows how much fly-by-night shite quality bollocks. Like, who gives fuck about the Barenaked Ladies?!?
"Yeah. I thought it was a great single too - and I didn't even play on it [laughs]!"
How did you… come to leave… did you just decide you needed a rest?
"I just didn't want to be a part of an industry… it was a lot of things. I didn't go off in a huff or anything like that. I'd been considering leaving the band for a long time and in fact, I'd left the band in 1982 after we recorded the Blurred Crusade and only came back to tour with that album coz they needed to promote it and didn't have anyone to replace me. I actually just… stayed on.
"And in fact, when I left in 1991, Steve said 'You can't leave coz you've never really rejoined!' [We both laugh] And that's pretty much the way I've always been. I'm a loner really. An individual that doesn't like to be a part of any institution. I don't approve of any institution, I never had a good time at school with that 'authoritarian institution'. I don't like governments. I don't vote. I vote with the dollar and I think everybody should. I just don't approve. Apart from… I think Christmas is a nice ritual, but physical institutions I don't really don't like belonging to.
"And I felt like I was being imposed upon to be a certain identity by being a part of The Church, coz it was the most public part of my career. I resented it. And it was imposing on me something that… I had to leave it so that I could find out who I was outside of it, y'know? Now that I'm still independent, I'm a part of it. It's not as if… I don't think I have to leave at any time, but we're all individuals who just operate together as The Church. We have so many outside activities that, the institution doesn't seem to be as strong as it was."
Steve told me that, now you're back, he couldn't imagine The Church recording again without you.
"Yeah, well I'd hope so - as humble as that might not sound. The other thing is, Steve and I have always been working together outside of The Church, and outside of me leaving The Church. I'd been working with him on… well… the Margot Smith album when she was on EMI and now on my label, with Tim. We worked on Stephen Cummings' album. I played on one track but I was possibly going to do more on that. It's like… I didn't run off in a huff, I just wanted to be independent."
Well I believe that. At the end of the day, you really DO have to feed your soul and 'To thine own self be true' etc. False camaraderies present destruction impositions. False images suggesting you're something you're not - and that doesn't speak to human being and the human urges in anyone. "Well the whole Church has been based on that [following your true instincts - Nazz], so I don't think I did anything out of character by leaving it [laughs]! That was the character of The Church, to be fulfilling in whatever way you needed to be. Self fulfilling, y'know?"
So what do you think of Hologram Of Baal?
"Probably IS the best album we've ever done," he answers matter-of-factly. "It's got a lot factors; the celebration of us deciding to get back together again, the fact that we didn't have a record company or a manager at the time [evidence the lure of big bucks had very little to do with it], that we recorded it and had to prove something to ourselves and anybody else, and that natural chemistry that always existed there - and it all came together. I really think The Refo:mation was a stepping stone towards it as well, coz Steve started writing 'romantic' kind of songs for it, that he felt less exposed to doing it for The Church after that.
"Louisiana is a very romantic song and I'm a romantic from way back. If anybody can do a romantic thing without being corny - I tip my hat to them. Nick Cave being one of the best protagonists in the world today for it. Mmm…"
Even one of the titles for your solo album was Love Era wasn't it?
"[laughs] Yeah - slash Irony. It was a double title."
So that was the full title? I'm a little confused. Didn't you have one cover with Love Era and one with Irony?
"That's right. See, I made the mistake of asking a whole lot of people whose opinion I cared about, which title they liked. And I got a complete split down the middle. In the end, I couldn't even decide which one I wanted anyway. I even went to get hypnotherapy to try to find out what title I'd forgotten was - I think it ended up being Irony.
"I swear… never EVER put Love and Irony in the same title coz I just manifested some very strange occasions out of that which took all my compassion to survive," he sighs. "I swear."
It's amazing how, when love's the base, how torturous or painful people can become over any confusion.
"Well, without love there's no point being alive. It's a massive intensity that people either want or are afraid of - and anything inbetween. It just makes everything worth while."
Now I've got to ask this: you've never come back to Adelaide, even though you've had tours booked here… is it something we've done?
"Well, I thought we were going to go there this time as well. It's just been coincidences and a couple of very unfortunate ones. We did a couple of rough shows… we did one of our first shows in a tour about 10 or eight years ago in Adelaide and it was really, really rough. We've played a couple of shows there that weren't well promoted [Had to censor to deeper explanation here, at Peter's insistence - Nazz].
"But we don't have any dislike toward doing Adelaide whatsoever but it seems like a series of unfortunate incidents might've made it hard for us to go there. I don't know," he exclaims in disdain. There are business people standing in the way of the public and music, whether it's agents, promoters, record companies or radio stations. The only people who seem to be standing their ground are the public, the bands and the street press."
Well I can tell you right now Peter, you're more than welcome to contact us at any time. We're VERY Church friendly here. We'd be ecstatic at the very thought of a Church tour.
"Most people have left Adelaide though haven't they? It's not just us. There's no clubs there anymore. My friend from Adelaide has gone to Melbourne for that reason. So it's not necessarily a manifestation we're taking any responsibility for either. I think it's just something that's happening in that city."
Maybe. I think you'll find there ARE clubs, but because they're fewer, you have to look more specifically. If you need info or whatever for friendlier clubs who actually DO the promotions required, give us a call. We'll line you up with some very reliable people.
"I DO feel bad that Adelaide has felt some prejudice - but it doesn't belong there. It's been a combination of accidents and it seems as though the music scene in Adelaide is dying. I know you guys have to do something about getting fucking radio to play us coz you can't do it just by yourselves can you?"
I want to see how Tim Powles is working out in a live context.
"Aww, people love him. Even the diehard Richard Ploog fans have become endeared to him. He's got personality y'know?"
I was pretty impressed by your first post-Ploog drummer, JD Daugherty, being a huge Patti Smith fan.
"Yeah? JD was great. He worked well. Doing Priest=Aura was a really important album, but I don't think he was really the right drummer for The Church ultimately - although he took us to a new level in concert, that's for sure. But ultimately I think he's Patti Smith's drummer, not The Church's drummer."
Tim's got an awful lot of character in his playing. He really seems to have brought a lot of himself to the role and though it's different to Richard Ploog's style, it really seems to fit with the new material.
"It's good that you notice that coz he's an integral figure in the band. He's also a bit of a counsellor being a producer in his own right. He does have that thing where he's got good communication with Steve and he helped produce him, Marty's work and he definitely works together with me to get my guitar sounds. That Refo:Mation and The Church stuff… half the sounds are him, y'know? And on a personality level, through working with him like that, he knows us really well and he knows our problems with each other - so he is a counsellor as well.
"He's very, very important now. Not just as a drummer. He's a very important member of the band. It's good that you noticed his input coz I'm afraid that people don't. I got quite upset when people didn't recognise my input."
That's what really compels me to HAVE to see The Church. To see how you pull this stuff off live.
"Are you going to come to Melbourne to see it?"
I can't. My first child is due any day now.
"Ah well. We might be doing concerts on the Internet soon. That's the whole future isn't it? It's a pity coz we haven't peaked yet and it's a pretty shocking tour. Go on the Internet and read the reviews. The Shadow Cabinet review every show."
I actually posted an interview with Steve there around the release of MATS. Hopefully I'll be able to do that with this and my Marty interview. By the way, could you tell me what the Hologram Of Baal title pertains to?
"Well Hologram Of Baal was the result of a long procession of titles. Starting with Au Revoir Por Favour which was Steve saying 'Goodbye, Please'. I sort of like that one coz I could see the compassion of it, 'Goodbye, If You Please'. Then it progressed to Bastard Universe, which is now the title of the jam album - have you got that?
"Then it got to Hologram Of Allah, then we all kinda thought it wasn't wise to mess with Islamic Fundamentalism in any way whatsoever - especially being a band called The Church. Steve decided Hologram Of Baal, who's one of his favourite Pagan gods - he's a fertility god from Biblical times that wasn't at the top of his pantheon but the most popular one, the farmers used to worship him coz he brought fertility to their harvests. That's how it arrived. Hologram Of Allah was a title that Marty had written down in his address/ phone book and Steve was looking for a number. We needed a title… so that's the evolution of that."
What about the jam record? It's six stages right? How did that come to be?
"It's not six stages really. The six stages are really indexes we put on it in case people didn't want to start it right from the beginning. It IS 80 minutes long but is was a spontaneous recording of us after we did a really great gig and we were really connected and basically comfortable thinking together after a show the night before.
"Our gear was just being put back together in the studio and you can basically hear Marty plugging in and Tim starting to play drums at the beginning and it's just the song writing process of four producer/ song writers working together intuitively and trying to write songs. The process was something that, when we played back, we found entertaining in its own write. We thought, well we should give this to our fans - through the two fanzines, one in England and one on the website of course - but too many people enjoyed it so we ended up deciding to give it away as a bonus disc. We had to edit about five minutes out, to fit it onto a CD."
It's great to hear a band you love and care about being that natural. I always like having my intelligence given credit.
"Imagination is more important than intelligence I believe. They often go hand in hand but y'know… spirituality is just as important as intelligence I think."
Priest=Aura was a great record for that very idea. It's probably my very favourite.
"Yeah, that's a great record. I love it when people say that's one of their favourite albums. That really was a good one… but that's Rock'n'Roll isn't it?
You've got to open doors. That's the definition of Rock'n'Roll.
"That's what 'Rock'n'Roll is dead' means. It means you always have to close the book and open up another one, y'know."
Damn right. You've got to be able to deconstruct a great monument if you're ever going to be able to construct something else. Otherwise it never escapes of the shadow of what came before. Warped memory of the past casts its own daunting shadow.
On this record, The Church sound very organic. Was that on purpose.
"I think it's probably a revival of the organic. Priest=Aura was a bit of a dark fantasy. There was definitely an opiated physical environment. that was where it was beginning. The new album's kind of an adjustment to all of those factors and still got a bit of that in there, but the romance of life and love has brought it out of there. We're heading into a new element, away from that opiated-ness as well, but that was a transient thing, out of opiated-ness on the new album. Obviously it can get a little corny, like a Hollywood scenario or something like that but I really do think that romantic-ness is there.
"Funnily enough, on Priest=Aura, you've got Paradox which is like an romantic fascination with Opium embodied in that song, I think. It's a strange thing… have you ever had Opium or anything like that?"
I've had hallucinogenics, weed, a few select hard drugs, pharmaceuticals and the usual but never Opium, no.
"Opium's different. It's a romantic drug. It's strange thing. You develop a romantic fascination for it and a lot of the great romantic writers had a great fascination with that drug."
Poe, Shelley, Byron and a lot of the symbolist poets…
"Aleister Crowley's Diary Of A Drug Fiend is about how he survived Opium, using true love and genuine respect for humanity and people. I think that's a beautiful thing right there."
No exaggeration, I had my favourite Ecstasy experience ever to Priest=Aura. It was actually Aura itself. I was with a friend and I climbed up and stood on the spine of the roof in this house part for Gotham studios (which is in the bush in the middle of the far Melbourne suburbs) and got into a crouched bird position with arms stretched out like wings and imagined I was swapping spirits with the birds that flew over me, in the direction I was facing. It actually seemed as if I could see through their eyes. This whole time, Aura primarily (then the rest of the album) was playing really loudly all around me I was going through a fairly intense Carlos Casteneda period at the time.
"[laughs briefly] Yeah? I've heard about that place. I bet nature had a lot to do with it too. Nature's very important."
True actually. I've never had an experience that pure in the city. The song made so much sense under those circumstances. This doesn't sound too stupid does it? It sounded like the story of a dream.
"Mmm. Dome's like that too. Dome's a beautiful dream. I love that album. I'm really happy when people like that album."
It's so fully realised. Did it make a difference that Richard wasn't in the band at that point?
"Nnn… No. Well obviously not. We'll work with whatever elements. As song writers, you work with whatever elements you've got. Film is one my favourite songs we've ever done, y'know? But you know I wrote with Richard on my solo record. You know Apex Farmer[?] He's still a very creative force. He's probably still the most artistic drummer that we've ever had. He's a great creator. It's very tough for a drummer to be very 'creative' and 'eccentric' coz they've got such a physically disciplined job as well. Everybody else can be very undisciplined but a drummer has to be very disciplined. It's very hard to be artistic and regimented at the same time. That was his downfall in a way."
Steve was very dismissive about Richard. He didn't have many nice things to say about him.
"No I think Steve's a little bit hurt by the whole thing in a way too. They had a very close bond in some ways. And they had a falling out… A personal falling out really… helped cause the problem. Coz Richard lost confidence and he didn't have Steve's support there any more because of the falling out and he kinda lost it. As things go on, once you've taken different paths it's very hard to bring it all back together again.
"Now Tim's a part of it so y'know… It's not my business anymore. There's a rift between them. I'm still good friends with Richard. Probably better friends than we were in the band. I wasn't as close to Richard as either of the other guys in the band at the time. It's a funny one isn't it? Hmmm. Life is strange."
Do you want to tell people about the songs of Hologram Of Baal? For instance, Anaesthesia, Another Earth and Tranquillity all seem to have a thread…
"Let's just say, it's an opiate for the masses, hopefully, and leave it that."
OK. Well with the songwriting, is it just whoever comes up with whatever, or is there a more pre-organised structure to the songs before they even come to rehearsals?
"I've got another interview coming so I'll just quickly try to squeeze this in: the songs that you mentioned obviously have a fascination as the opiate for the masses coz I think the world does need to slow down and find some peace. That's why a lot of people go for laid back drugs or they need some excitement and go for exciting drugs to stimulate them but life itself should be stimulating - in and of itself. There's love songs on the album which are really genuine love songs like Buffalo and Louisiana. Oops… there's the operator Nazz. Gotta go."
OK Peter. Thank you very much.
"Thank you mate. See ya soon, maybe."
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