Unlike the current crop of iTunes single-obsessed bands, The Church, one of Australia’s greatest musical exports, has always concentrated on churning out entire albums of solid music. From 80’s classics like Starfish up to their critically-adored 2009 effort Untitled #23, The Church have always sacrificed flash and fads for strong songwriting.
Thirty years into it, the band has reached that rare status shared by folks like Bruce Springsteen, Lou Reed and Sonic Youth, where fans will turn out to hear classic albums played live in their entirety.
Dubbed the “Future Past Perfect Tour,” The Church will celebrate three decades of music by playing the complete albums of Starfish, Priest = Aura and Untitled #23.
Front man Steve Kilbey spoke recently about the tour, the band’s long running manifesto and why they nearly broke up several times in the past.
Innocent Words: Three decades into this band, was there ever a point when you thought the band might break up?
Steve Kilbey: There were many points at which the band seemed like it might break up. Peter (Koppes) left a couple of times and came back; Marty (Willson-Piper) quit once in 1986 and came back. We have been drummer-less a few times, and even I, myself, have muttered about quitting, but my resignation was apparently never accepted.
Innocent Words: So, why do you think you’ve been able to stay together for so long when most bands don’t make it 10 years?
Kilbey: We have always very much respected each other as musicians, and we have always pretty much realized that each member is irreplaceable. Also, we have done many outside projects, which have kept egos satisfied, plus we all write the songs together, which promotes stability. Another factor is that we have never been huge enough for too much outside interference, but we have always been able to eke a small living out of the band.
Every year has had its hard times, but there was a period in the 90s, just before the Internet took off, when things seemed fairly gloomy for us, when it seemed we were just banging our heads against the metaphorical wall.
Innocent Words: You continue to churn out great albums, but as a fan, I still have a great affinity for records like Starfish and Gold Afternoon Fix. Do you ever feel like you’d rather not have to play some of your older songs like “Under the Milky Way” when you’re touring?
Kilbey: Of course as a musician and writer I prefer playing newer material, but I don’t mind doing the older stuff either even (“Under the Milky Way”). It’s kind of expected I suppose, and there are still some songs which seem relevant to today.
Innocent Words: What can fans expect on this latest U.S. tour?
Kilbey: We will be playing the three albums (Starfish, Priest=Aura and Untitled #23) in order and in their entirety trying to be as faithful to the originals as possible.
Innocent Words: Obviously, a lot has changed over the past 30 years. Have you changed where you get inspiration for your songs or the topics you write about?
Kilbey: Strangely enough, the topics and the inspiration remain the same: life, love, the marvelous in the mundane, etc., etc.
Innocent Words: SecondMotion Records recently reissued some of your older albums. Are their plans for more reissues?
Kilbey: I suppose eventually we will rerelease everything and make it all available at some stage.
Innocent Words: The band has been prolific when it comes to solo albums as well. How do you decide whether a song is better suited for The Church or solo records? Do you initially write for one project or another?
Kilbey: Easy to answer: the band only writes songs together these days. Solo songs are for solo albums; band songs are for the band only.
Innocent Words: So, how far are you into the follow up to Untitled #23?
Kilbey: We have a load of pieces of interesting bits of music to start shaping into songs. I’d say we’re about a third of the way into it, and I guess it will be ready early 2012.
Innocent Words: What other plans does the band have in 2011?
Innocent Words: You are capping off your 30th anniversary at the Sydney Opera House. Does it feel like you’ve been doing this for that long?
Kilbey: Time is a strange thing isn’t it? Being in a band for 31 years now, sometimes it seems unreal. We’ve been in this band for more than half our lives, haven’t we? Sometimes it feels like an eternity, other times it feels like it’s flashed by in the twinkling of an eye…I dunno. It does certainly seem like a long bloody time.
Innocent Words: Is there any advice for other bands that envision a career as long as The Church?
Kilbey: Well, I mean who would put a band together and envision a 31-year career? We certainly never did, but if somebody really wanted that, I would suggest that the band has a manifesto. The Church had a kind of unwritten manifesto that always guided us and that was a certain honesty and a certain adherence to high quality, which necessitates a brutal examination of everything we do and consequent rejection of things that aren’t appropriate. You need to be friends but not too friendly, and you need to be aware of the business side without getting too caught up in all the showbiz bullshit. Don’t believe all the good and bad things people will say and write about you either!
Innocent Words: Anything else you would like to add?
Kilbey: We’ve been together 31 years. We no longer offer the chaotic hot headedness of youth, but we offer an unmistakable quality of master craftsmen who play with a kind of gestalt that can only come after much experience and much service in the field!