Steve Kilbey is Glad The Church Stuck to Its Guns
For the current 17-city tour, Aussie rockers The Church plan to play two full sets. The first will feature the classic second album, The Blurred Crusade, in its entirety. Only released in the States as an import, it features the psychedelic rock overtones for which the band would be known. The second set will consist of selections from the band’s most recent album Further/Deeper along with other classic tracks. Singer-bassist Steve Kilbey recently spoke to us via Skype from his Sydney studio.
What’s it been like to revisit The Blurred Crusade?
You know what? I was bored with it about one minute after someone thought of the fucking idea. Seriously. And then, it was just going to be for Australia and then it was just going to be for a few shows with the Psychedelic Furs. Someone said, “Let’s do The Blurred Crusade again.” I was like, “Ah, yeah, alright.” And now we’re coming back to America.
At least it doesn’t require much prep.
That’s the upside. I know I’m supposed to be getting people to come to our shows so I shouldn’t say that. I guess I should say, “Oh, I can’t wait to play the album. It’s what my life has been leading up to.” Let me put it this way. People who haven’t heard it in its entirety will probably like it. For the band, it’s pretty easy and we have moved on a lot. It was 35 years ago when we recorded it. In those days, we aren’t as good as musicians as we are now. Having said all that, we do it pretty faithfully. Sometimes being a musician is about doing what people want to hear. It’s not doing just what you want to do. A lot of people get pleasure out of it. It didn’t even come out in America. It’s a weird and random choice. But it was a good album for its day. The audience will get more of out of it than I do.
Your first album had been a commercial success. Was there some pressure when it came to writing the songs for The Blurred Crusade?
I was writing all the songs in those days so the pressure was on me. There wasn’t any pressure. A lot them were hanging around. I was writing songs all the time. Just like now, I had my own studio with a four-track. Writing songs was my hobby. Whether I was in a band or not in a band. I was writing songs for ten years by that point. I was just knocking out songs. It was a matter of “What’s he got now?” I didn’t like the drummer on the first Church album and the orientation toward heaviness. It wasn’t quite what I wanted to do. When The Blurred Crusade came along everything fell into place. Richard Ploog became the drummer so we lost that drive to be heavy that we had with our first drummer, who was an AC/DC fan and thought everything I was doing was wimpy. The guitarists settled into their roles more. Peter [Koppes] really defined his echoing chorus-y beautiful lead thing. Marty [Wilson-Piper] hadn’t been playing that long. He took up his role as 12-string electric. There wasn’t a lot of 12-string on the first album. There were acoustic guitars and I experimented with keyboards. Bob Clearmountain was the number one guy in the whole world and somehow someone talked him into working with us. I don’t know why he did. He was an amazing producer. When the album was finished and mastered, EMI rang me up and said there was a cassette waiting. I went and picked it up and went back to the market and my friend had a brand new invention called a Sony Walkman. I put it on and I couldn’t believe our album sounded like that. It sounded like a million dollars. I remember other bands telling me, “How did you bastards get it to sound like that?” It was rich and warm and organic. Clearmountain did a wonderful job. It never came out in America because Capitol thought Americans wouldn’t like it.
They demanded that you write more radio-friendly material. Is that true?
They said go away and write some more songs and let’s see what you got. My heart wasn’t in it because I thought The Blurred Crusade was a quantum leap forward. The whole band had taken this leap and we made a classic fucking album. My heart wasn’t in it and when they said, “Can you write hits?” I was like, “No, it’s not going to happen. “ There’s no way I would write a hit they would like. You have to imagine what a guy working at Capitol Records in 1981 was like. There was no R.E.M. There was nothing. There were a few things, but he was already stuck in 1979 anyway. They’re always two years behind. That’s what Robyn Hitchcock said to me. He said, “These guys sign you up in 1984 and they’re in 1982 and they’re idea of what 1982 is 1980 anyway. So by the time the record comes out, they’re five years behind the times.” These guys were hopeless. They’re like women who see a guy and want to change a guy when they get him. Capitol looked at The Church and saw what we were—young scruffy indie guys playing psychedelic music. They wanted to turn us into the Thompson Twins. Why would they want that?
And you toured Europe with Duran Duran in the wake of its release. That didn’t go so well either.
Why do you have to mention shit like that? Their audience hated us. It was 1982 and there was no reference to this. There was nobody else out there with long hair playing 12-string guitars trying to invoke psychedelia, whatever that is. It was like a One Direction crowd. It was like putting Fleet Foxes on before One Direction. That wouldn’t go down very well. We were supposed to do a whole tour and after 10 gigs, I said, “That’s it. I’m not putting myself or my band through this.” We couldn’t convert. There was no conversion going on. When we played with Echo and the Bunnymen in 1986, we didn’t steal their audience but they could dig it as well. That’s the idea of an opening band. You won’t blow them off the stage but their audience finds something they can dig as well.
With all the problems you had in getting record label support, what kept the band from disintegrating?
Although there was no solidarity within the band on a personality level, we felt so oppressed by the outside forces that were constantly trying to change us. Why don’t you get a haircut? Why don’t you wear clothes that American kids would like? Why don’t you do get a synthesizer? There was so much of that that. We were held together by the forces that were oppressing us. We were fighting the zeitgeist in 1981 and 1982. A guy from EMI took me aside and showed me Spandau Ballet and said, “If you didn’t do that within a year you’ll be finished.” It’s easy to laugh now but when you’re in the time and era, you can’t say that you are right to keep doing what you are doing. When breakdancing came out, a guy said, “Look at this.” I had never seen it before. He said we should start incorporating it. It’s like, “What the fuck?’ Now, it’s easy to say The Church was right in sticking to our guns, not bowing to pressure. Now, people can write that. But back in the day everyone was hounding me and fucking arguing, “Why can’t you do stuff more like this?” I guess it was some stubborn belief. I couldn’t put it into words. I just had a stubborn feeling that what I was doing was what I wanted to do. I couldn’t take my songwriting and apply it to writing pop songs. I didn’t know how to do that.
Talk about the show’s second set.
That’s when we play a lot of Further/Deeper and more recent things as well as stuff from Starfish. It’s like a journey through the past. That’s when we play the songs we like to play. There’s a couple of things we might do off The Blurred Crusade even in a normal set. The challenge with the band is to maintain continuity. As you go through your career, you meander and take in interesting things without completely selling out. Sometimes, it’s a paradox and contradiction to try to do that. The second set is a lot of Further/Deeper and songs fans are hoping we are going to play like “Reptile” and “Under the Milky Way”.
Upcoming 2016 Shows
Northampton, MA – Iron Horse Music Hall
Londonderry, NH – Tupelo Music Hall
Sellersville, PA – Sellersville Theater
Buffalo, NY – The Tralf
Cleveland, OH – The Music Box Supper Club
Evanston, IL – SPACE
Evanston, IL – SPACE