the AUSTRALIAN CHURCH
by David Marx
Debut Magazine #5, p. 34
The Church are a much underrated Australian band that have a reputation for playing moody hypnotic ballads over a heartbeat rhythm. Get the picture? Or does this do more to conjure up caricatures of a cross between Talking Heads, REM and The Byrds?
Firmly establishing themselves in the UK as a cult band, their third album 'Seance' along with next month's nationwide tour should see them appealing to a wider audience. Something which The Church rightly deserve. They have been influenced by the talents of John Cale, Robert Wyatt and Lou Reed, as well as a plethora of bands that the press love to hate such as Julian Cope and Patti Smith. The foursome never had any predetermined ideas about what they wanted to do. As guitarist Marty Willson-Piper explains:
"Generally, both Steve (Kilbey, the band's major lyricist) and I use reel to reel four tracks, which is how we do all our writing. Steve had a four track years before it was fashionable and has been writing on it ever since. The whole of Seance was written at his home without any preconceived ideas of what could happen in the studio.
"We are forever changing, particularly in the studio and it's that which has most probably kept us together for four years. Every time we enter the studio we come up with something far superior to what we've ever done before."
The Church have often been compared to [the] American band REM. I asked Marty how he felt about this.
"REM are a really good band. I like them, but I wouldn't compare Steve's voice to that of Michael Stipe or Jim Morrison. However I think they're heading in a similar direction to us, even though they're a lot more basic than we are. They've got a country thing about them which we haven't. This is due to Richard (Ploog) playing drums in the rhythmic way that he does."
'We'll walk and be like giants, we'll all be honest men.
I go back to my blindness so that I might see again.
A woman on a hill gazing out to sea.
Dreaming of a new age waiting there for me.
I call her from a distance and she smiles into the sun.
And men and gods begin their dance, for their time has begun.
And holy waves extended and battlefields of pain washed away forgotten.
In the perfect rain.'
With lyrics such as these ('One Day'), I asked Marty if Steve Kilbey's words were poetic by chance.
"I think Steve has always put great emphasis on the lyrics but without really thinking about the subject matter too deeply. They are just as important to him as the music and should be taken in the context of the music. That's the problem in a live situation you can't hear a bloody word he's singing, which is disappointing not only for Steve but for the rest of the band too. Maybe we should hand out lyric sheets, but that would be a really corny thing to do."
The guitar sound on some of the band's albums I find reminiscent of those on The Beatles' 'Revolver'. As a Liverpudlian does Marty cite the Beatles as an influence?
"I don't see how anyone who is into melody can't be into The Beatles. Of course I like The Beatles and I'm not saying that just because I come from Liverpool. When I was still at school I used to go to Liverpool Stadium every week and watch all those '70s underground bands like Caravan, which may or may not have influenced my playing."
When I asked Marty what he thought of the Australian music scene, he at first became annoyed and then excited.
"They like American bands. They like you to go on stage and shout, jump up and down and encourage them to drink beer, throw up and occasionally move the PA!
"However there are some great bands out here like The Johnnies, Lighthouse Keeper, Celibate Rifles, Triffids, Sekret Sekret etc. Some of them are signed to small independents such as Hot Records who are the equivalent of Rough Trade. The trouble is none of these bands get any exposure."
The exposure desired by the majority of aspiring bands is reserved only to be the lucky few throughout the world. In Australia's case, apart from the already established bands such as Men At Work, the privileged few happen to be The Saints, The Moodists and of course, The Church. They have certainly matured since I first saw them on 'The Old Grey Whistle Test' a couple of years ago. Sounding far more confident and open in their overall approach, I believe The Church can only go from strength to strength.
"We've always developed especially where songwriting and playing is concerned. The whole concept of The Church has come together really well. I'd like to see more songs written by the band as a whole. On the album, there is one such song which to my mind has turned out really well. I suppose we're just broadening our scope. These days we are far less predictable."
The band's new album 'Remote Luxury', released this month on Carrere Records is well worth a listen and the soundtrack on the DEBUT album should whet your appetite.
The unguarded moment takes revenge with a vengeance.
Words: David Marx
'One Day' written by Steven Kilbey
Copyright 1983 ATV Northern Song Pty
Removed by kind permission of ATV Music.