This article/interview appeared in the Review liftout of the West Australian (most likely) or XPress mag, soon after SA was released.

SETTING OUT ON A BOLD NEW CRUSADE

After a strange period of silence The Church have undergone a reformation that has produced and intriguing new album. MICHAEL WYLIE coasts through the new sound with Steve Kilbey as tour guide.

SK adjusts the volume of the car stereo. This is the only cassette player we can find, so we're driving to Fremantle with the new Church album. Its called Sometime Anywhere, see, which makes the setting crucial. Or irrelevant.

Ambiguous? Kilbey would like that.

"This one's like we're starting all over again in a way," says the man in the wrap-around shades as we scoot down the West Coast Highway to the sinister strains of Day of the Dead.

"We've had such a silence that we've never had before. After Priest=Aura, I think for all intents and purposes we disappeared off the map."

Yeah, 1992 was a strange year for The Church. They made the best record of their lives, raced off on one last unhappy concert tour, lost a perfectly good guitar player, Peter Koppes and then - nothing. Gone in a cloud of slightly disgruntled uncertainty. The 1994 reformation marks some dramatic changes. The Church of SA is a trinity: SK, guitarist MWP and one recording studio, Kilbey's own in inner Sydney. Alone together they paint another brilliant mural in an incredibly colourful history.

"The highlights have been The Blurred Crusade, where we threw off the shackles of being a youth club band and established what the Church was.," Kilbey remarks. "Then I think Heyday, where we kind of took that formula to its logical conclusion. Then Starfish, where we threw all the stylistic devices we were using out the window and sort of grew up. Then Priest=Aura and this album."

Gold Afternoon Fix, the "Church-by-numbers" album of 1990 has no place in SK's personal Hall of Fame. In relation to where the Church were headed it was way off the mark but it was an essential lesson in what the band did not want to be: pushed around.

"It was funny, that album," Kilbey says, anything but amused. "We'd just met John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin bassist and arranger) and we wanted to work with each other. We were really taken by him, he had some good ideas. Unbeknown to us, our manager did a deal with our American record company where they all sort of said 'we don't want John PAul Jones, what's he ever done' - you know, apart from Led Zeppelin, who sold 10 zillion records - and they wanted us to record with Scott Litt. I didn't want to sound like REM, I didn't want to know about it."

The eventual compromise with Starfish producer Waddy Wachtel was a disappointment on all sides.

"This is purely us," Kilbey says, gesturing at the tape deck. "No one else to blame. Even if it gets slagged and doesn't sell one copy, I'll still like it."

SA is a spontaneous record. Nothing was written before SK and MWP reconvened in Sydney last year. In fact, no words or music were ever written down; no one "produced" it. It was fuelled by impulse and intuition, one long "unguarded moment".

The eighth Church album is a fascinating and amazingly detailed piece of work. The songs (average length six minutes) are a mind-boggling collision betwwen MWP's intricate, multi-layered and heavily treated guitars and Kilbey's typically ethereal concepts.

Female vocals, violins, a labyrinth of half-decipherable "found" voices, a new-found taste for Middle Eastern scales, even a high BPM number which is just begging for half a dozen club mixes.

"Yeah, a few people said this was a dance track but it isn't really," Kilbey says as Angelica hits its strides, sometime in Fremantle. "I mean, can you hear the club market going for this? I think they passed us by a long time ago."

And they're not the only ones. Even at their commercial peak, with the US Top 20 hit Under The Milky Way in 1987, Church records have never kept Michael Jackson awake at night. While he wouldn't mind another gold record or three, shifting units is a detail SK has very little time for.

So where does all this studio sorcery and one-off spontaneity leave The Church as a live prospect? Somewhere pretty interesting actually.

"What I want to do is a kind of acoustic ensemble," Kilbey says, "With Marty and some other guitarist of his choice playing acoustic guitars, then a violin, trumpet, piano, drums and I'll play bass guitar. Go and reinterpret all our old songs. That's what I want to do anyway," he shrugs as the first single, the ingenious Two Places at Once, brings the album to the 60 minute mark and the round-trip to its Scarborough conclusion. Damn. And there's still another three tracks to go. Another time, another place perhaps.


Return to Interview page