Steve Kilbey is always busy doing something. Looking over The Church’s previous releases you can see he’s been very goddamned busy.
“There’s a load of stuff all coming out in a short space of time.” The Church have been solid Oz Rock mainstays for decades, what keeps them coming back?
“I couldn’t get a job doing anything else. Most old rockers eventually get absorbed into some other industry but I wasn’t fit for any other industry so I just had to keep rocking and rolling, waiting for some career opportunity to come along. A few friends of mine who are in bands and stuff, they teach music at TAFE. I asked them for a job and they said no. They said I couldn’t do it, I’d be hopeless, so that’s it, I’m stuck rocking and rolling forever.”
Poor Steve Kilbey, stuck in a rut. He and the rest of The Church have rocked so hard they’ve worn grooves into the Oz Rock floor. The guys have released over twenty albums in almost thirty years, and you simply can’t do that without some variation.
“I think The Church was a reaction against the times. I don’t think any of us had conceived of having a reaction against the times until we’d gotten together. Up until that point in 1980 I was recording music at home on a domestic four track and I was doing all kinds of things. I was doing some electro-pop, psychedelia, prog-rock and folk music, whatever I could think of.”
“When we got together we just sort of reacted against the stuff that was around in 1980, guys with plastic pants and skinny ties. I guess it galvanized us into wanting to be more organic. From the moment we got together we’ve been de-evolving all the time, trying to get more organic all the time, with some stupid detours I guess, but most of the time we’re trying to get back to that sound: the prog-rock, psychedelic, space rock ethic, which is anything goes.”
Birthed in the shallow seas of the 80s, the horrible decade of last century we all wish we could just forget.
“People didn’t realise it at the time, just like fish in an ocean. They couldn’t see how fucking terrible it was. We had a manager from America who came over to sign us up and he said ‘well, what are you guys going to wear? You should get an image.’ We said ‘this is our image’ and he said ‘the kids in America won’t like that image.’ He took some of the members of The Church out and one of them came back in pink pants.”
Steve displays savoir-faire over Capitol’s decision to drop The Church’s second release. “What idiots. What morons. But nothing affects my writing. Nothing like that. If I got dropped by a record label it wouldn’t affect my writing. It’s a different world. There’s the inner world of the band and its music and then there’s this outer world of these various mechanisms that release and distribute our music. Occasionally that has come in and completely ruined the music. The Church always had this incredibly fierce self-belief that got us through bad times and also kept our egos relatively smallish during the good times. Capitol dropped us and all we thought was that they were fucking idiots.”
Staying strong in the face of commercial opposition is an obvious credit to the band’s will.
“That’s what you’ve got to do. I mean, Van Gogh sold one painting in his lifetime. Imagine that. Imagine being that man, knowing you’re a fucking genius painting this stuff. Any fool looking at that stuff will go ‘Jesus Christ, the paintings are vibrating’ and yet in his day the ninnies and the turkeys that were around couldn’t fucking see it. Maybe you or I wouldn’t see it either. It’s very hard to recognise something that’s brilliant in your very midst. The Church, being a very specialist band and in some ways a subtle band, I don’t expect that we’re going to be the biggest and most popular thing on the planet. We’ve already limited ourselves by the nature of what we do. I haven’t been too disappointed by all the ups and downs, I’ve just sort of taken it as it comes.”
“I Mean, Van Gogh Sold One Painting in His Lifetime. Imagine That. Imagine Being That Man, Knowing You’re a Fucking Genius Painting This Stuff.”
The Church’s earlier albums were primarily written by Steve, but these days he relinquishes some control.
“I’m at the helm but instead of me concocting it all on my own we get together and jam, muck around on instruments until we pick up on something. When that instrumental piece is finished then I usually take that away on my own and put vocals on it. I think writing together is easy. In some ways the other people cramp your style and in other ways they’re there to pick up the slack when you don’t make it. “I like collaborating, I don’t mind doing things on my own either.”
The days of old, when bands became megastars and were put up in five-star hotel rooms to trash as they please, are long passed. The indie label is the new black and the freedom to explore new musical realms is there, despite the lack of overwhelming luxury.
“The really great bands achieved success through freedom. The Beatles were the epitome of that. If they just kept on knocking out I Wanna Hold Your Hand, people would have given up on them. When The Beatles started experimenting with recording, no one had even thought there was really any experimenting to be done. The whole idea of the album went down the tube, but that was only an artificial thing determined by how long a piece of vinyl was.”
We pine for the days of vinyl records, inner sleeves and album artwork. “That’s disappeared.”
Steve confides that he’s listened to “a million records” and he has no idea what the artwork or cover is. “They’re on my iPod, I play them all the time but I’ve never seen the record itself.”
His nine year old twins hadn’t even seen a vinyl record before the other week. The age of large plastic music-containing product is well and truly over. “The things you can do in a home studio would have been impossible in the best studios in the world fifteen years ago. But is anyone making any better music because of that freedom? That’s the question. I think a good musician should be able to produce something good with the most basic stuff as well. I prefer to keep concentrating on the music and the words.”
The Church’s new album, Untitled 23, is out now. Check it out to see the fantastic gems musical freedom can create.