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An Introduction To: Australian Alternative Rock Band The Church

“An Introduction To…” is a blog series whose purpose is to introduce certain selected artists to a new and broader audience regardless of age groups. This first installment focuses on the prolific and iconic Australian Alternative Rock band The Church. Formed in Sydney in 1980, they’ve released a wide range of albums and EPs, all of which have been of a consistently high quality. In 1988, The Church scored a worldwide hit single with Under The Milky Way, but since then, the band’s commercial success has been on a steady decline, whereas their creative ambitions have continued to reach impressive new heights with albums that are nothing short of masterpieces: Priest=Aura (1992), After Everything Now This (2002), Forget Yourself (2003), and Untitled #23 (2009). This is Volt & Volume’s Q & A with singer, bassist, lyricist, and founding member Steve Kilbey.
 
[Listen to the introductory playlist further down the page].

The Church Band An Introduction

Photo: Malcolm Viles

1.
V&V: How would you describe, in your own words, the music of The Church to someone new to the band in terms of sound, style, genre, influences, chemistry, and distinguishing characteristics?

SK: I would say that we are Psychedelic Rock as epitomized by The Beatles’ “Psychedelic period”. We have literary lyrics and intertwining guitars.

2.
V&V: I didn’t discover The Church until 1990. The single Metropolis (and the album Gold Afternoon Fix) was my introduction to the band, and it was a revelation, a refreshing new sound: Your unique, hypnotizing voice and bass playing, and the formidable guitar interplay between Marty Willson-Piper and Peter Koppes, opened up a whole new world to me. I heard exciting, exhilarating sounds I’d never heard before, and I was fascinated by the mysterious lyrics that painted evocative images. I presume that’s what you’re singing about in songs such as 2007’s Song To Go (“I hope somebody listened / And heard another world”), and 2009’s Operetta (“Music Plays / Space between the notes full of haze”)?

SK: Yes, I guess I am referring to the fact that I put out songs across nearly four decades, and people all ‘round the world at various times and places will pick up on what we are doing. I want the music to be a world that they can dip into, where they can close the door and put the headphones on and it opens a world in which that person and I collaborate. Hopefully, I’ve left it ambiguous enough to include them and specific enough to guide them, wherever they would like to let their mind wander. I’m sort of standing there with my words and music pushing them in the right direction.

3.
V&V: Take us through the writing and recording process for a new Church album. I know that you guys jam and experiment a lot, bouncing ideas off each other, but do you start from scratch or do each of you bring song sketches, which are then fleshed out by the whole band?

SK: We mainly just jam until we have something cooking. Then we stop and arrange the jam into an instrumental I can sing over. And then I sit down and see what words may come. I’ve usually got it all nailed within half an hour or there’s something wrong; i.e., I never labor over my words!

4.
V&V: The Church have been making records since the band’s debut album, Of Skins And Heart, was released in 1981. Your music has received an abundance of favorable reviews over the years -– including your latest album, 2009’s Untitled #23 –- but these days one rarely sees a review in the long-established printed music magazines such as Mojo, Uncut, and Q. Why do you think that’s the case, and why aren’t you guys as widely revered as you should be?

SK: I really don’t know. In my opinion we are fucking amazing, but obviously those mags don’t think so. Or we have slipped between the cracks. Having said that, a Kilbey/Kennedy record just got a four star review in Mojo, so there you go!

V&V: Yeah, I read the review. A very pleasant surprise. Well, it is a fantastic record (You Are Everything). But then, so were recent Church releases, both albums and EPs. Hopefully, Mojo –- or another respected music magazine –- will write an equally positive review of the upcoming Church album.

5.
V&V: Most critics and fans agree that 1992’s Priest=Aura is The Church’s magnum opus. You’ve made no secret of the fact that you guys recorded this dark, intense, fearless, and adventurous album in an opium haze and -– in your case –- on heroin, too. This druggy, spaced-out state of mind permeates Priest=Aura from start to finish. What did you guys set out to accomplish with this seminal album? And did you fully realize the magnitude and magnificence of the music you were creating?

SK: We didn’t know what we were doing at the time, but these great songs came tumbling out of the universe. When it was done, I thought it might be too good for immediate acceptance. For example, Rolling Stone magazine at the time gave it a two star review and said we should try to be more like R.E.M (HA HA!), but in a book of new reviews Rolling Stone give it four stars and declare it the masterpiece that it actually is. You can trust me. That is a very special record.

V&V: It is indeed a very special record. A nuanced, detailed, intricate, and intoxicating masterpiece. An Alternative Rock classic. I still listen to Priest=Aura to this very day, and I’ll listen to it for the rest of my life, that’s how drawn I am to this album. 

6.
V&V: Forget Yourself is another undisputed masterpiece. Both Hologram Of Baal (1998) and After Everything Now This (2002) were the most accomplished albums you’d recorded in quite a few years, but 2003’s Forget Yourself was even more impressive. Timeless ballads and exciting Rock songs drenched in inventive, reverb-heavy Psychedelic guitars. You guys sound like you were on a roll, totally revitalized, during those sessions. Can you share some interesting recollections/information?

SK: Yeah, well, I got off heroin, and I moved back to Australia, and I started swimming and doing yoga and smoking the incredible Australian weed at the time. Me being energized re-energized everyone else, I suppose. But there was a lot of fighting and fucking around making that record. Lots of music. Lots of arguments. I walked in one day and one of the guys was threatening another of the guys with violence. I just walked in and started uncontrollably weeping. It was hard work!

V&V: It’s a shame that it wasn’t a good experience. At least some truly brilliant music came out of all that hard work. I absolutely adore Forget Yourself; it’s one of my all-time favorite albums.

7.
V&V: In 2001, three of The Church’s ‘80s EPs –- Sing Songs, Remote Luxury, Persia –- were re-released as a single-disc compilation. How about doing the same thing with later/more recent EPs: a physical release including rather “obscure” songs such as Anyway, Lizard, Leverage, Dakota, Stardust, So Love May Find Us, The Coffee Song, Locust, and Moon In Black. This collection would constitute an excellent album in its own right.

SK: Yes, mate, that would seem to be a good idea, wouldn’t it?

V&V: It sure would. It’s amazing how an otherwise “wordy guy” as yourself can be such “a man of few words”, ha-ha. It would be a GREAT idea, Steve. Please make it happen! Those mesmerizing songs deserve much more exposure and recognition.

8.        
V&V: The Church recorded some as-yet-unreleased songs sometime after the release of Untitled #23, when Marty Willson-Piper was still a member of the band. Where does that leave this material? In the vault for good –- unless Marty returns? And do you think he ever will, or do longtime fans simply just have to accept the fact that this is a case of “irreconcilable differences”?

SK: The music wasn’t worth working on. It surprised me how mediocre it was. We are shelving it indefinitely, I suppose. Marty is not available for The Church at the moment. And that would take at least one year to type out the whole story from each person’s perspective. We all simply have to accept that he is not available. If he became available again, then nobody knows what might happen. But I can’t see it happening anytime soon.

9.
V&V: The Church have always been extremely productive, resulting in lots of bonus material on various EPs and re-releases. How many unreleased songs are there in the vault?

SK: I dunno. There’s a few good ones and loads and loads of instrumentals.

10.
V&V: Of course, Marty Willson-Piper’s contribution to the band’s guitar sound cannot be underestimated, but were you still surprised that some fans reacted as harshly as they did, when you chose to continue as The Church without him? After all, you and Marty credited Sometime Anywhere to The Church after guitarist Peter Koppes had left the band in the early ‘90s.

SK: Yes, but Peter and I started the band, and we did a few gigs before he joined. So if Peter can then leave and Marty and I carry on, why can’t Marty leave and Peter and I carry on? The Church is now more than the individuals involved. It is a body of work. We have over 35 years taken Psychedelic and other various influences from Rock’s golden days, and we have churned out album after album of songs that have integrity and charm. That legacy can now go on even if individuals opt out. If I was to die and my nephew, who resembles a young me, should join and become the new singer, well, that would have my blessings. Or whatever. The Church is The Church. With or without Marty.

V&V: I think that’s a pretty cool way of looking at the ongoing legacy of The Church. However, I will admit that I can’t seem to imagine The Church without that unique, distinguished sing-speak vocal of yours.

11.
V&V: In 1997, you, Peter Koppes, and drummer Tim Powles released the album Pharmakoi/Distance-Crunching Honchos With Echo Unit under the moniker Refo:mation. The only band member “missing in action” was Marty Willson-Piper. What was he doing? Was the album always intended as a side project, or was it originally supposed to have been a Church album?

SK: I dunno what he was doing, but he wasn’t in Australia. It was a way for the three of us to let off steam. It was never gonna be The Church.

12.
V&V: In late 2013, you announced that guitarist/founding member Marty Willson-Piper was “unavailable” and that ex-Powderfinger Ian Haug had joined the recording sessions for the next Church album. It marked an interesting/exciting new chapter in the history/career of the band. In which ways do Marty and Ian differ as guitarists?

SK: Completely and utterly. Nothing about them reminds me of the other. And personality-wise Ian has brought in an extraordinarily naive enthusiasm, which re-energized a sluggishness, which was creeping in. His drive and his willingness to work was refreshing to say the least. He is inventive and easy to work with. He jumped in, and we wrote a song, which closes our new album, in about five minutes flat. And Ian initiated that. He was the prime mover in that song, which is called Miami.

V&V: I’m excited to hear Ian’s contributions. He sounds like a great addition to the band.

13.     
V&V: The upcoming album is titled Further/Deeper and will be out October 2014. Will there be a single or an EP, perhaps download only, prior to its release? What else can we expect from the new album?

SK: There will be stuff “dropped” out there. You can expect a beautiful, complex, multi-layered, powerful, noisy, intricate bunch of songs that will increase your delight at every new play.

V&V: Do you have a particular favorite among the new tracks?

SK: Miami. And a song called Pride Before A Fall.

V&V: Thanks, Steve. I really hope that Further/Deeper will be well-received by fans and critics alike.

Volt & Volume’s introduction to The Church:

V&V: As a longtime fan, it was a daunting, near-impossible task to pick the songs for inclusion in this article. Initially, I wanted to create an introductory playlist consisting of 15 songs -– as if I was ever going to pull that off. Of course, I set myself up for failure. Out of all the songs that my all-time favorite band ever recorded, there are very few songs I don’t care all that much for and only one that I dislike. Thus, this playlist featuring all of 60 songs (in no particular order) only represents a fraction of the band’s greatest works. The music of the Church is best appreciated when listened to through headphones and with the sound turned up loud. Enjoy!

INTRODUCTORY PLAYLIST

1.
Reptile
[Album: Starfish]



[Purchase from Amazon or iTunes]

2.
Under The Milky Way
[Original album: Starfish]

[Purchase from Amazon or iTunes]

[Re-recording: El Momento Descuidado]



[Purchase from Amazon or iTunes]

3.
June
[Album: Forget Yourself]



[Purchase from Amazon or iTunes]

4.
Metropolis
[Album: Gold Afternoon Fix]



[Purchase from Amazon]

5.
When You Were Mine
[Album: The Blurred Crusade]



[Purchase from Amazon or iTunes]

6.
Grind
[Original album: Gold Afternoon Fix]



[Purchase from Amazon]

[Re-recording: El Momento Siguiente]

[Video by David Duchow]

[Purchase from Amazon]

7.
Ripple
[Album: Priest=Aura]



[Purchase from Amazon or iTunes]

8.
Paradox
[Album: Priest=Aura]



[Purchase from Amazon or iTunes]

9.
Appalatia
[Album: Forget Yourself]



[Purchase from Amazon or iTunes]

10.
Destination
[Album: Starfish]



[Purchase from Amazon or iTunes]

11.
Myyrh
[Album: Heyday]



[Purchase from Amazon or iTunes]

12.
Louisiana
[Album: Hologram Of Baal]



[Purchase from Amazon or iTunes]

13.
Lustre
[Album: Priest=Aura]



[Purchase from Amazon or iTunes]

14.
Tantalized
[Album: Heyday]



[Purchase from Amazon or iTunes]

15.
The Awful Ache
[Album: After Everything Now This]



[Purchase from Amazon or iTunes]

16.
Nothing Seeker
[Album: Forget Yourself]



[Purchase from Amazon or iTunes]

17.
Two Places At Once
[Album: Sometime Anywhere]



[Purchase from Amazon or iTunes]

18.
Reversal
[Album: Forget Yourself]

[Purchase from Amazon or iTunes]

19.
Numbers
[Album: After Everything Now This]



[Purchase from Amazon or iTunes]

20.
Pangea
[Album: Untitled #23]       



[Purchase from Amazon or iTunes]

21.
Antenna
[Album: Starfish]



[Purchase from Amazon or iTunes]

22.
Telepath
[Album: Forget Yourself]



[Purchase from Amazon or iTunes]

23.
After Everything
[Album: After Everything Now This]



[Purchase from Amazon or iTunes]

24.
Film
[Album: Priest=Aura]

[Purchase from Amazon or iTunes]

25.
Hotel Womb
[Album: Starfish]



[Purchase from Amazon or iTunes]

26.
Night Friends
[Album: After Everything Now This]



[Purchase from Amazon or iTunes]

27.
Anchorage
[Album: Untitled #23]

[Video by David Duchow]

[Purchase from Amazon or iTunes]

28.
You’re Still Beautiful
[Album: Gold Afternoon Fix]



[Purchase from Amazon or iTunes]

29.
Mistress
[Album: Priest=Aura]



[Purchase from Amazon or iTunes]

30.
The Disillusionist
[Album: Priest=Aura]



[Purchase from Amazon or iTunes]

31.
Pharoah
[Album: Gold Afternoon Fix]



[Purchase from Amazon]

32.
Sealine
[Original album: Forget Yourself]
Re-recording: Psychedelic Symphony]



[Purchase from Amazon or iTunes]

33.
You Took
[Original album: The Blurred Crusade]



[Purchase from Amazon or iTunes]

34.
The Theatre And Its Double
[Album: Forget Yourself]



[Purchase from Amazon or iTunes]

35.
Happenstance
[Original album: Untitled #23]      

     

[Purchase from Amazon or iTunes]

36.
Block
[Album: Uninvited, Like The Clouds]      

[Video by David Duchow]

[Purchase from Amazon or iTunes]

37.
Field Of Mars
[Album: The Blurred Crusade]      

     

[Purchase from Amazon or iTunes]

38.
Already Yesterday
[Album: Heyday]      

    

[Purchase from Amazon or iTunes]

39.
Buffalo
[Album: Hologram Of Baal]      

     

[Purchase from Amazon or iTunes]

40.
All I Know
[Album: El Momento Descuidado]      

    

[Purchase from Amazon or iTunes]

41.
Lizard
[Album: Louisiana EP]      

[Video by David Duchow]

[Unavailable]

42.
Laurel Canyon
[Album: Further/Deeper]      

    

[Purchase from Amazon or iTunes]

43.
It's No Reason
[Album: Seance]      

    

[Purchase from Amazon or iTunes]

44.
Stardust
[Album: Deadman's Hand EP]      

    

[Purchase from Amazon]

45.
Anyway
[Album: Louisiana EP]      

[Video by David Duchow]

[Unavailable]

46.
Swan Lake
[Album: Priest=Aura]      

    

[Purchase from Amazon or iTunes]

47.
Shadow Cabinet
[Album: Sing Songs//Remote Luxury//Persia]      

    

[Purchase from Amazon or iTunes]

48.
Snowfaller
[Album: Back With Two Beasts]      

    

[Purchase from Amazon or iTunes]

49.
Feel
[Album: Priest=Aura]      

    

[Purchase from Amazon or iTunes]

50.
Let Us Go
[Album: Further/Deeper]      

    

[Purchase from Amazon or iTunes]

51.
Pantechnicon
[Album: Back With Two Beasts]      

    

[Purchase from Amazon or iTunes]

52.
Day 5 (Alternative Version)
[Album: Uninvited, Like The Clouds]

[Video by David Duchow]

[Purchase from Amazon or iTunes]

53.
10.000 Miles
[Album: Sing Songs//Remote Luxury//Persia]   

    

[Purchase from Amazon or iTunes]

54.
Old Coast Road
[Album: Further/Deeper]      

    

[Purchase from Amazon or iTunes]

55.
Electric Lash
[Album: Seance]      

    

[Purchase from Amazon or iTunes]

56.
My Little Problem
[Album: Sometime Anywhere]      

    

[Purchase from Amazon or iTunes]

57.
Dakota
[Album: Deadman's Hand EP]      

    

[Purchase from Amazon]

58.
A Month Of Sundays
[Album: Sing Songs//Remote Luxury//Persia]   

    

[Purchase from Amazon or iTunes]

59.
Miami
[Album: Further/Deeper]      

    

[Purchase from Amazon or iTunes]

60.
Old Flame
[Album: Priest=Aura]      

    

[Purchase from Amazon or iTunes]

Even though several of the greatest songs included in the above playlist are missing, the following 2-CD compilation is still a pretty solid introduction to The Church:

Deep In The Shallows: The Classic Singles Collection
[Purchase from Amazon or iTunes]

Career Spanning Compilation The Church

 

 

 

 


Also read:
An Introduction To: Australian Alternative Singer-Songwriter Steve Kilbey's Solo & Side Projects

Purchase Steve Kilbey’s new autobiography Something Quite Peculiar here.

Purchase the new Church album Further/Deeper (Amazon, iTunes)

Posted by Thomas Thomsen on Monday, November 10, 2014
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