From Contrast, date unknown, 1987.

Steve Kilbey interviewed by Randy Bookasta

It was a Sunday afternoon and Steve Kilbey, founder, vocalist, and bassist for the Church, was fresh from adding a special guest guitar part to an upcoming Sky Saxon record: "I basically just walked in, plugged in, they started the tape, I played, an d I left." The situation was probably quite a relief for Kilbey -- during the last three months he's been in L.A. recording, "nitpicking and agonizing" over the next Church record, due out early '88 on their new label, Arista Records.

But Steve Kilbey didn't do the following interview to promote the new Church album. Amongst his other projects, he's just released a solo LP, Unearthed, on Enigma Records. Recorded over a four-year period in his "Bedroom Studios," the album mixes flo wing acoustic guitars, subtle keyboards, and pop harmonies to provide an impressive showcase of his songwriting ability in unadorned form (it was recorded on four- and eight-track equipment). Here's a brief chat with Kilbey, discussing both his solo work and the Church.

So, this solo album was recorded in your bedroom?

SK: Yeah, well, in a spare bedroom.

A lot of the pieces on it sound like songs you would've written for the Church, though obviously due to the recording situation they're more raw. What's prevented these songs from becoming Church songs, and how do you separate the two?

SK: The thing is, with the Church we've now got this democratic scheme where I don't write all of the songs anymore, so I maybe get one or two of my own songs per Church album. Seeing that I write one or two songs a week, I quickly become stocked with songs. And a lot of the songs, as soon as they've got a synthesizer, drum machines and stuff, then they don't like it or, actually, we don't like it. The Church have certain latitudes which we work in, which is sort of organic drums and lots of guitars and things. As soon as I do anything outside of those perimeters then it's not for the Church.

When did this "democratic scheme" come into effect?

SK: It was actually my decision. When we were making Heyday I just felt that it would be better for so many reasons if the band wrote the songs together.

You're in the process of finishing up an LP now. How's it coming along?

SK: Slowly and painfully.

What's to be expected?

SK: Although I hate the analogy, it's a lot like the latest R.E.M. album, though more straightforward rock and roll.

Who's producing it?

SK: Waddy Wachtel.

Do you mean the Waddy Wachtel (the man responsible for those breezy guitar licks on so many '70s records by SoCal artists: the Eagles, James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt)? How strange.

SK: Yeah, it is. The record company wanted the LP produced by a southern Californian producer in southern California. It's crazy. We'd be telling him "yeah, this guitar part here should have sort of a Tom Verlaine sound to it" and he'd be all "what, Tom who?"

How dedicated have you found Church fans to be?

SK: There's not many people that like us; but there are people who do seem to really be into it, and wait out in the snow and rain and that type of thing. Since we're small and obscure people like us, but a lot of those people might not like us if we got popular. I think people like to like a band that nobody else has heard of or nobody else knows anything about. The Church seem to fill that function because we're very low-profiled. We just keep to ourselves. Some people like that.

Where are your fans most fanatical?

SK: I guess there's about 500 to 1000 people in any big city in the world who would come to see the Church. The NME doesn't like us, but when we play in London we get huge enthusiastic crowds. They really go nutty over us. Sometimes you turn up somewhere in the middle of Pennsylvania or something and some guy's got all of your records, knows what size shoe you're wearing, knows your middle name, and all kinds of stuff.

How do you react to this?

SK: I'm sort of bemused by it. I'm getting very humble here, but I know what an ordinary bloke I am, and I know how ordinary the rest of the guys in the band are. When I see someone who's like "oh my lord, it's Steve Kilbey!" it's just like, O.K., big deal. When I was a lot, lot, lot younger I suppose I would have been like that if I met someone I found great. I would still be like that if I met Brian Eno. I would be speechless!

What do you listen to?

SK: I listen to a hell of a lot of Eno, because he's so soothing. When you've spent two or three months recording you just don't feel like listening to much. But I like all kinds of things; I like everything from the Sisters of Mercy to more mainstream stuff. I like a lot of '70s music: Roxy Music, Bowie's Diamond Dogs.

To coincide with your record, Earthed (released only on Australia's Red Eye Records), you also released a book. Can you tell a little about it?

SK: It was self-published in an edition of 2000. It's basically prose poems, there's about 70 of them. They are just kind of pieces of prose with this story buried in it. It's kind of like a jigsaw puzzle of a story.

And it's meant to accompany the album?

SK: The album is the soundtrack to the book. It's a very, very loose arrangement. Everything I do is very loose. It's like, if you like the book here's a record with some possible musical sketches of what you've found in it. You're not supposed to just sit there and listen to the record and follow along with the book, although you can if you really want to.

A while back you toured with Echo and the Bunnymen. How did their audiences respond to the Church?

SK: We got an O.K. reaction. I don't think it made much difference one way or another. I don't think we were converting a lot of their fans, if that's what we were supposed to be doing. I was surprised that a lot of their fans were severe yuppies. I thought their crowd would be all of these people in black -- not that I think that's great either -- but I was really surprised to see a lot of pink sweaters, and very neat boys and girls with their moms and dads waiting after the show to pick them up.

What do you think of Ian's Jim Morrison kick?

SK: Everyone wants to be someone. David Bowie wanted to be Anthony Newley. Ian McCulloch wants to be a cross between Bowie and Morrison. Everybody's trying to be someone else.

Then who are the Church trying to be?

SK: So many things that it's just ridiculous. If you have one main man it's too obvious. I guess when you're really successful you can start indulging yourself. If we become mega-huge I might let my Marc Bolan fetish come out, and start jumping around the stage hitting the guitar with my tambourine. When you don't do well commercially you sort of stick to your guns and principles and all. Do you know what I mean? Just look at Simple Minds. I absolutely love Sister Feelings Call and New Gold Dream, but I wouldn't touch their new stuff. I'd rather buy a Kenny Rogers LP.


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