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The Church

The Church

Interviewed by
Kiran Dass
Thursday 15th November, 2012 9:54AM

Emerging from Sydney's vibrant post-punk scene in the early 1980s, The Church created their own unique sound which coalesces an intoxicating concoction of swirling paisley underground neo-psychedelia, riffy post-punk and chiming pop influenced by an interest in esoteric magic and literature. Kiran Dass spoke to lead singer-songwriter and bass guitarist Steve Kilbey as the group gears up to play A Day on the Green at Auckland's Villa Maria Estate with other post-punk luminaries Devo and Simple Minds.

There was a lot of great music happening in Sydney in the late 70s and early 80s. You know, groups like Voigt/465 and Scattered Order and Pel Mell who were from Newcastle. Were you all part of a similar community?

No, we felt very much deliberately not a part of a community. We just used the isolation that we imposed upon ourselves. We cultivated a paranoia and mistrust of other bands. Well, the other guys were friendlier than I was. I was much more uptight than they were.

Most people are seduced by the zeitgeist. Do you know what I mean? We were examining the zeitgeist. We thought, ‘we don’t want this sound, we don’t want this look or these clothes.’ We aimed for a classic rock & roll sound. The Stones, the Beatles, Dylan.

So were you in the group Tactics (Sydney post-punk group)?

When Tactics first formed in Canberra I played bass in rehearsals and me and the guy whose band it was clashed. Plus, at the time I was a real idiot anyway. I believe I was a real pain in the arse!

Tell me about the instrumental track ‘Golden Dawn’. There’s a definite mystical connotation in both the song and your band name. What angle were you coming in from with that? It’s actually one of my favourite Church pieces.

(Says with disbelief) Is it really?! I haven’t listened to that track in so long. We had a bit of a jam... We used to smoke dope and go into this bookshop. We would get titles and lyrics from the books we were reading. We were reading a lot about esoteric magic. When I’d done this track I was mucking about and then I just put the talking on it.

Some of my other favourite Church songs are ‘Shadow Cabinet’, ‘A Month of Sundays’, ‘Tantalized’, ‘Reptile’, ‘Chrome Injury’, ‘Electric Lash’... I could go on. The thing that strikes me about these songs and The Church is that right from the early 80s through to now, you can’t pin a time or place on these songs. I mean, with a lot of your American or British contemporaries, like Wire or Devo you can totally pick where they come from. What is this placeless, timeless thing about The Church? Does it tie into being from Australia and observing all that post-punk music from a distance?

I think Australia superimposed itself on us against our will. As you say, the strangeness of Australia and the good parts. The Church set off in life trying to be a European sounding band and gradually the fact was that I actually love Australia and two of the other guys love Australia too.

While you’re very connected with the post-punk aesthetic, right from your first album Of Skins and Heat in 1981, Blurred Crusade, and Remote Luxury are all so diverse soundwise: Psychedelic, atmospheric, melodic but still with a bit of a rough spirit. Is this a reflection of the music you were all into?

Yeah everybody in The Church is into different music. Everybody likes Dylan, The Beatles and the Stones, but outside of that you’ve got Marty with his prog rock, Peter loves Hendrix and Santana. And I like weird and wonderful people who nobody’s really heard of.

Oh is that right? Like who?

Bill Nelson, Be-Bop Deluxe, Steve Harley. Odd people.

You’ve worked with producer Peter Walsh who by the time he got to you had worked on some really significant albums – notably, Penthouse and Pavement by Heaven 17 and New Gold Dream by Simple Minds, as well as working with Scott Walker. Were you into those records and is that why you recruited him?

In the 80s there was the whole emphasis on the sound, you know, like the splashy drums on New Gold Dream. We had pretty much avoided that. At the time it might have been to our disadvantage. (Changes track) Do you know what a gambit is?

Ahh, I don’t actually.

It’s in chess. It’s taking a piece and sacrificing it to use it to your advantage later on. Now, we are the winners. Our albums sound current now. But yes, I really liked the sound on New Gold Dream! I liked it. It was a wonderful mixture of the New Sound and classic values. I like the feeling of it and the songs.

The reason I ask is because you’re playing in New Zealand with Simple Minds and Devo. People keep saying what a strange line-up it is, but come on, it makes perfect sense. They’re three groups who were all around during the post-punk period but who all came in from really singular angles, almost on the periphery of the obvious.

(Laughs) One man’s variety is another man’s glaring clash.

You know even Roxy Music , who I love, couldn’t drag me to a daytime, outdoor show on a vineyard. But I can’t miss this show you’re doing. Usually, I don’t like the idea of an outside daytime show.

Nor do I, so I can totally join in with you on that!