Sue Campbell's 2001 Peter Koppes Interview
The fans of The Church have been always eager to hear Peter Koppes' opinions on how he sees his place in the band, let alone what type of guitars he prefers, what equipment he uses and how he gets those amazing effects... not to mention getting down to the nitty-gritty of the persona of Peter Koppes—e.g. what he reads in bed! :)
Peter, who is a brilliant guitarist, has always stayed in the background, usually allowing the lead singer, Steve Kilbey, to be the voice of the band.
In Nov. 2001, I was offered a chance to interview Peter. This came from the many questions being asked of him by the Seance mailing list (a fan-based mailing list for The Church).
Not being able to make a studio check in Sydney, I went to the following gig and we decided when I got home to do the interview by email. As it turned out, we could get a lot more down on paper than I could ever have managed in a few minutes backstage. Anyway, here is the result. Thanks to the fans who contributed from Seance and the members of The Hotel Womb bulletin board. Enjoy!
What is your history with the guitar?
Father played guitar but I wasn't interested, I preferred Organ and Harmoniums but got a set of drums due to cost of formers. Joined a rock band at school and watched the guitarist. Got a guitar and later, while playing in a band with Steve, an amazing guitarist in Canberra joined who played left-handed upside down, and I owe him for a lot, too.
Were your parents musicians? Did they encourage/discourage you?
My father played guitar semi-professionally. He encouraged but generally had my own motivation.
What artists/bands do you listen to these days, and who inspires your creativity?
I am afraid I still get more and more out of nostalgia and beyond. I am watching documentaries on the Jazz greats, too. PJ Harvey's last two albums are good and Air are great and I also find Sinead O'Connor's last two very special. I look out for personalities to find good music but I don't search too hard.
Who is your favourite guitarist(s)?
Hendrix was a divine master (the best thing he did was the smooth blues song on Woodstock) but Santana was very lyrical and Neal Schon was on some of his records too. Blackmore was a great for awhile (how do they lose it?), Mick Taylor lovely, Clapton clever, Knopfler deserving of credit for being noticed after the rest and of course Dave Gilmour who I try to not sound like due to similarities in our music styles sometimes.
Have you found any musicians to be influential on your style? Are there any players or bands in action today that you like?
The Ministry album identified as Psalm 69 has no bearing on what I can use in the Church but the guitars playing, rhythm and sense of humour have had an influence on me personally, Also Bob Dylan's Time Out Of Mind album has been an inspiration in many ways. Sege Gainsboug is my Serge influence although I pity his alcoholic demise.
How do guitar parts come to you? Do you come up with parts while playing, or do parts occur to you away from the guitar, which you then have to figure out on the guitar later?
Parts are a process of mechanical approach (tricks like open string jangles or how it springs from a wholetone movement of 3 notes on one string and 4 on the next above or below) combined with intuition and tracking a direction instigated by the preceding sounds (either me or in combination with the band), immersing oneself in an atmosphere that gets conjured and trying to remain conscious of the process to remember how to recreate it.
What do you do when you're not being Peter Koppes of The Church? What do you do for a living?
I am a person first and a musician second. I am very acquisitive and find interest in almost any subject, situation or person. I have done many things to support myself and my family including painting, print-media advertising, installing sound insulation, and teaching (songwriting and music business) which is the more rewarding. Although the exchanges with the real world can help an artist from becoming disassociated, they can also interfere with creativity.
When not on tour, what's a typical day like?
Wake up early mostly at my girlfriend's place in Sydney, macro breakfast, internet/phone business, macro lunch, walk/rest/play music hopefully (try to spend time with family - but my daughters have their own band too), macro dinner (diet is very important), TV/film, bed. But the most important thing is thinking about or writing a song even if I don't get the opportunity.
When composing, do you have any specific images or shapes or locales or what-not in mind? Your music really does conjure up lots of atmosphere and scenery.
Visual associations are definitely aspects of the music creations and also physical feelings such as gliding out from a cliff etc. Images are prevalent but not distinct. "Radiance" from the new album was working-titled "Majestic" because of its regal atmosphere.
In interviews, Steve Kilbey has said that he goes for "sadly triumphant" in his music. Do you have a particular feeling you are going for with your music?
Celebration of all things in life - sometimes melancholy.
Are there any principals or ideas you feel are being expressed through yours and The Church's music?
Mine has always been a spiritual and sharing objective - The Church could be but Steve does it differently and sometimes accusatively.
Do you have a muse?
Love, as corny as it sounds, is the great power that manifests itself in compassion and sharing.
Would you care to comment on the role drugs have taken in your and The Church's music?
Drugs are a way of changing perspective and gaining objectivity. The same thing is achieved by children whirling to make themselves dizzy, and travel can broaden the mind more cheaply and effectively than drugs (and can also hide the pain that seems to accompany some habitual drug users). But life is painful at times and that is when drugs can help....this is getting serious but I believe Occupational Health and Safety in music colleges should teach the real dangers (and use of) drugs. I have got a lot out of drugs and not suffered many consequences but many have.
Any songs by other artists that cause you to think, "gee, I wish I'd written that!"
"She Moved Through The Fair" (Traditional), "The Rain Song" by Led Zeppelin, "Round Midnight" by Thelonious Monk.
Poetry - any favourites?
Steve's Remindlessness on the sleeve.
What's in the CD player? On the night stand? In the VCR?
101 Classical Hits. Nick Cave's The Ass Saw the Angel. Red Dwarf and Brideshead Revisited.
Could you recommend a good book? What sort of books do you read and who are your favourite authors?
I am interested in the history, evolution and nature of mankind and there are some pretty astounding theories to consider from the evidence. I like fiction when it deals with relationships and personality more than just sheer fantasy. I like biographies although the perspective of the writer must be taken into account. I can recommend Nick Cave's The Ass Saw The Angel which I am thoroughly enjoying at he moment and hope it ends well. I love Anthony Burgess but I wouldn't recommend to many people his fantastic last novel Byrne. He also wrote A Clockwork Orange and Earthly Powers (but beware that it is an autobiography of a homosexual when he is not himself!). The Master and Margarita is well recommended to anyone (Marty recommended it to me, and Mick Jagger wrote Sympathy for The Devil because of it). And of course The New Testament of Jesus Christ might be fiction or not but the character therein has not been eclipsed. Did the cock crow once twice or thrice, how did Judas really die? Read John first. But Shakespeare is my fave at the moment and for a long while.
If you feel ok about sharing this with the readers - what other interests in life do you spend time on these days?
No hobbies but will try to get some swimming/boogie boarding in this summer.
Favourite holiday destination?
Egypt, Mexico, Russia, Middle East but these would be excursions. Caribbean yacht cruise is probably the answer for a relaxing holiday.
When is your next solo album coming out?
I'm completing it this month for a release this year.
Will your new album be in a similar vane to any of your previous work, or another departure into new musical territory?
The new album has many piano written songs and is very sincere and direct (not dangerously hopefully). It has come full circle production wise and may end up very simple production wise.
I finally got to hear the hidden track on Love Era/Irony (though I still can't access it on my own CD) and love the direction it takes. Have you ever considered doing an instrumental album, or perhaps a soundtrack?
A soundtrack would be great but the control is usually with the filmmaker. I did the logo for a great current affairs watchdog show on TV called Media Watch. An instrumental album will definitely happen I expect one day.
On the subject of Manchild & Myth - it has a very timeless sound and I find it difficult to fit it into any period (although I'll always now probably associate it with Autumn in Scotland). Was this intentional?
It was written and recorded in a spare room of a beach-side flat in Tamarama, Sydney (but my excursions can be very Gothic).
Were some of the songs originally intended for use by The Church? A lot of the songs sound like church songs. (In fact, Peter, a lot of your music is very Church sounding, wouldn't you say?).
It has been a constant source of intrigue for me that our music can be similar or different and how different or similar they would have been had we not met. I know Steve has credited me with the guitar style that he incorporated in writing for the band and I know that he inspired me in a style of writing also. It does not surprise me that my albums sound more similar to The Church in some ways due to the production in which I have a big hand in both.
There are myriad sounds and instruments used on Manchild & Myth - it's full of surprises. Would you like to re-record some of it again?
I was going to re-record "Into The Bright Light" as a single and can't remember why I didn't pursue it unless it was because I did Melodie's song instead I think. Generally I am happy with the original and would rather write and record new material.
Manchild & Myth is totally different to your latest album Love Era/Irony - how do you feel that you have changed musically since then?
I don't think there is much difference - half the songs were written on keyboards and half on guitar where as From The Well and Water Rites were sequencer created mostly. Also Love Era/Irony has many more co-writes which stretches the writing into different field sometimes. Open tunings on guitar experiments too.
You don't have any singles out really and yet there are many great songs of yours which could've been released, i.e. "Sublimation," "On The Wings of Love," "Sound" (which had a great video), "Oblivion & Beyond," etc. Do you have a song which you think should've been released or could've been popular given the right circumstances?
A couple - "Desert Flower Bride" (From the Well), "House Afire" (Water Rites) and "Two In a Million" (Love Era/Irony) and in a pure world "Make A Move," a favourite of mine and many.
Is there any chance of recording "Make a Move" with Margot Smith singing in French maybe?
She has been learning French and she wants to record it!
Will The Well ever record again?
I will probably not have the opportunity again, sadly. That was a great band.
Do you write your solo music in a different vein to say when you're recording with The Well for instance?
The Well recorded Water Rites which was pretty similar to the demos.
How do you feel about your work on the Refo:mation album? Many fans consider it among their favourites and it seems to have a real Peter Koppes feel to it.
I am very proud of it and am very happy it is appreciated.
Are there plans for anything like another Refo:mation? How about another Bastard Universe style disc?
Or even something else.....maybe!
Do you play with any musicians besides The Church?
I have been recently jamming with Richard Ploog, Clyde Bramley, Margot Smith, and previously with The Well guys and the Celibate Rifles' Damian Lovelock's associates outside his band. And my songwriting students who are very eclectic and various in their tastes. I have asked my publisher to be striking up partnerships for me in the future.
Is that an E-bow you're using on the amazing "Spirit March" [from The Well's Water Rites]?
E-bow with slide ("Under The Milky Way" had ebow with wah-wah and one day I might do all three).
On which tracks on Water Rites did you use drum machines? I have read somewhere that 2 tracks are not Richard and I can't figure out which ones.
"Arabia" and "Liberation Dance" (Richards samples were used though) and I played the cymbals on the latter.
Has your sound or approach changed since A Box of Birds? Are you using any different guitars, amplifiers, or effects in the studio or on stage? It did not go unnoticed that you adopted a maple Rickenbacker 12 string and used the red Tele [Fender Telecaster] quite a bit on recent tours.
The sound is always developing but the new album is more of a development of BOB with more delicate playing probably due to the songwriting which is always the driving factor. Unusually, many of the new songs have major 7th and dominant 7th chords, not explored by us or others for awhile. We found the technique of strumming with our fingers was required on several songs to deliver their subtleties also. Rickenbacker 12 wise - it has actually been me playing most of it on the albums from Gold Afternoon Fix, although I use Marty's guitars (FYI: he used my Jazzmaster so much on Priest=Aura that I sold it to him). The red Tele is a slabneck 1959 which sounds more like a Gibson than a Fender and I love it, but used the new Strat on most of the new album.
What effects do you use to get that keyboard-y sound from your guitar? When I saw you last (in Denver), you played the opening keyboard chords for "Aura" on this guitar, and I would like to duplicate that sound as much as possible. (I think I've asked you this one before).
And it will not be told!
How is the tour going so far? The band seems to be getting a little more publicity than with the last album tour. It's a totally different type of tour - was that planned to suit the album or does the band feel that they wanted to change their style this time around?
The tour in Australia was a great success in many ways apart from attendance, including great reviews but most importantly for ourselves in that a new approach has evolved with different dynamics in presentation the songs (not what is played so much as the space between the notes) and also performance wise with us being able to be seated as well as the intimacy with the audience. It was planned for both the reasons you suggested (as well as protection of our hearing).
Is there any chance The Church might do some acoustic gigs in the US?
We are undertaking to present at least some if not most or all semi-electric (as it has been) for this next tour.
Tim called The Church's music "Art Rock." Is that how you'd describe it?
Definitely, but unpretentiously.
How would you describe your role in the band (musically and non-musically) and how would you describe the other members' roles? In addition, what are your favourite "Church" musical moments? And how would you characterize the changes in your style over the year? It seems like the band has gotten a lot more complex in their music over the years?
My role is to be a part of the prolific creative process and respond to the ebb and flow of ideas and emotions that combine our talents that is the unique chemistry of the band. Favourite moments have been the orchestra performing on Heyday tracks especially "Happy Hunting Ground." "Louisiana" is a very moving song and Hologram of Baal was a very moving experience. "After Everything" from the new album is as good as it ever got. The music has gotten more mature but the new album has threads linking it to various of our previous genres of songs.
Which songs on Magician Among The Spirits did you play on? What are your feelings about Sometime Anywhere/Somewhere Else (which you did not play on for the most part)?
MATS and Some has me on the songs I am listed as a co-writer including the title track and "Grandiose" which are my favourites apart from "Gypsy Stomp" from the same sessions which is available on a fan mag single through NSEW. SA/SE has me on "Drought" only, and I think I like that bonus disc better than the actual album, but it has some nice songs in "Loveblind," "My Little Problem," and "Business Woman" is a good pop song. I am a big fan of the band and compromises have existed in all our records so I won't pretend to like everything, but I hope we do a record with the same approach as SA/SE using sequences as the backing someday.
What were your reasons for leaving The Church after Priest=Aura, and why did you return?
I felt stifled. I left to realize my own identity outside of the public one and role I found as a member of The Church. I only returned as a stand-in, and not much changed then apart from them feeling more threatened by my disloyalty I suppose. And it was very interesting to hear their retaliation in the press after my departure. Relationships in business and friendship are very complicated and I do not give up easily as the friction can be a very good learning process for everyone. I maintained an occasional working relationship with Steve, and I returned when I was accepted to do so by the band as a whole, for whatever reasons you might ask them. Recently, we have made great progress with our personal relationships and are looking forward to the advantages as a result of this improved communication and understanding. (The medication is working wonders thank you!!!!)
What were the reasons for Richard Ploog's departure? Do you know if Richard is still drumming?
Richard was temporarily un-instated in the band following a personal clash with Steve which combined with his inability to satisfy stringent recording requirements to play in time with a computer. But we all agreed that he was becoming difficult to work with due to his distraction of concentration and we decided to try a different drummer for the GAF tour which resulted in his never being returned. He still plays with various bands and we get together sometimes, too.
How are songs being written in The Church today? Does someone bring in a lyric or riff, or is it group jamming? Or...?
Jamming, but Steve says that he has sometimes had a few chords arranged in his mind beforehand. Sometimes one or two of us might be in the room at a time that a song starts to happen. We now share all the songs whether people contributed to the writing or not.
Would you care to identify any riffs or guitar parts that are particularly Koppes-ish?
"Transient" lead solo is an early example of the scale mentioned previously which has become a new direction for me in changing the nature of the guitar for chord creation. "Swan Lake" and "Feel" are open string jangle tricks, as is the chorus in "Buffalo." "Numbers" and "After Everything" is a new approach but I don't know why or where it is leading... but it's leading me!
Now that EMI has remastered Sing Songs, do you know if they have plans to remaster other CDs? Do you or the band have any say in the matter with EMI back on board? Could we see the possible release of the long lost Church live album? If EMI wasn't interested, would the band consider releasing it via the web site? How is the anthology going?
The Blurred Crusade coming up including CD-ROM of the featurette film The Blurred Crusade incorporating "You Took/Almost With You," Seance and an anthology with rarities. A long lost live album is possible from several eras, but not decided yet or found in the earlier case.
Do you feel that sometimes your guitar work goes unappreciated/overlooked because of Marty being so extroverted on stage?
Definitely, but more people probably like the band because of Marty's showmanship.
The Church's vocal harmonies are one of the things I love most about the band. What is your most comfortable range to sing in.
Don't know particularly.
When all 3 sing together, how do you decide what part you sing?
Don't usually all sing together but I try first to pick a harmony a 3rd below main line.
About the band's website, www.thechurchband.com, does this way of communicating with your fan base appeal to you? Do you have any thoughts or wishes on how it could be used? How would you like it to evolve? Are the members of the band going to be personally involved in the website?
The members will not really have a big input to the site apart from providing material for the curator of whatever new pages are coming, e.g., T-shirt gallery, poster gallery, magazine covers/photos gallery, etc. Each member will be responsible for maintaining their members sections and discographies which are soon to be added.
Is the band pleased with the feedback they are getting from their fans via the net? Have you curiously got into "The Womb" (and other sources) to see what your fans have to say?
The band is very happy that the net has provided an opportunity for people to share their interest. I don't have the time to look too often but sometimes I are told of things discussed or activities.
Is the band's fan base sufficient enough for you to keep going on?
Exciting isn't it?
Linda Neil? Who was she? Work with her again? Tour with her? She brings so much to the band, even when subtle like on "Lizard." If there was a 5th member, who would you want to work with?
Linda is a session singer. The fifth member is called Gusto and he is the mysterious ghost of sound that occurs when the band sounds like more than the sum of the parts. Seriously a keyboardist like David Lane who is touring with us this year.
What is it that keeps making music and touring with The Church interesting for your part?
The process that leads to new music through the combination of our experiences in the studio and on the road.
Are there any older songs you personally would have liked to include in the set or in future gigs?
"The Unguarded Moment" in a de-constructed form, but don't ask for it please.
Church, religion - Did any of the band members come from religious families? Were any of you ever altar boys or Jehovah's Witnesses or such? Maybe talk about your spirituality now as you see it.
I think organized religion or any institution creates hierarchies that sometimes destroy the good intentions of its members and they differentiate people causing rivalries and wars sometimes. However the world might be worse for the lack of them. Wishy-washy or what! The best approach is, "Everybody should be free to do as they please". This has been similarly expressed by someone called Frater Pater I think. Desiderata is also a great code of living. I like my own "You do to yourself what you do to others."
Any weird experiences/stories about fans?
Someone threw a bra up on stage at my feet once during the quiet part of "Is This Where You Live?"
Is that you on lead vocals on a great acoustic version of "Under The Milky Way"?
No, but I have entertained playing some of The Church songs in a live band (but not UTMW).
Is being with The Church your ultimate passion?
No but it seems destiny is stronger and learning comes from places we do not choose.
Why, after 20 years, and in a time today with such millions of bands, is there no other band that sounds like The Church? I don't mean better or worse, but "like" The Church?
Actually, I am surprised how many bands do sound like us.
The New Church Album
How do you feel about the new album? Are you pleased with it or do you feel there was more that could be improved with it? Does it sound totally different to the original recording, or is it close to what you wanted to achieve? Have the band been back in the studio since the original penned date of release of After Everything Now This? Have you added to or changed the lineup for the album. Is what we're getting what was originally intended, or have the band found time to improve songs/production, etc.?
The song "After Everything" was the only one re-recorded. The original release date was passed several times as recording new songs and extensive over-dubbing continued up until April last year. Improvements - you tell for yourself comparing to Cooking Vinyl samplers of "Radiance" and "Seen It Coming."
Did Tim produce and engineer again? If not, who?
Tim engineered mostly, did most of the production with the band and mixed it with me in attendance a lot of the time.
In what studio(s) was the new album recorded?
Tim's studio for the over dubs and backing tracks at The Blueroom in Gåvle, Sweden and Garth Porter's studio Botany, Sydney.
Did you guys bring in songs individually, or were the songs written together in the studio? or a combination?
Jammed up with one, two or three or four in the studio.
Is the record company sending the single/album to radio stations in the USA? (so we can call in requests)
A publicity organization has been contracted to promote this album in the USA this time. I am looking forward to the results.
The banner on the cover reads: "Manufactured by The Church in Botany". Could this be in lieu of an inner groove message?
It originally said London on the material used to glean the idea. BTW, there is a message on the inside groove of SingSongs//Remoteluxury//Persia.
Who did the album/single cover designs?
Tim has driven these with the help of various people in the graphic design and fans submissions which lead to the final album cover photo being decided - I gave up along the way.
What guitars, amps, keyboards, microphones and effects did you use on the new album?
American Standard Fender Strat, 1959 Tele, Burns 12 String electric, Taylor Steel string acoustic, nylon string acoustic, Wurlitzer piano, grand piano, electronic keyboard on "Invisible" only, vox amps, Marshall combo, Fender amps, Mesa, Princeton amp, Leslie speakers, Zoom fx, Digitech fx, Sony fx, Sans amp, Big Muffs, Fuzz face, Boss pedals galore including flanger, wahs, volume pedals, ebows probably. Ask Tim for mic and more.
Did you do any vocals this time?
Not on the album but there might be a track that is unfinished that we are working on.
Was there enough material to spill over into EP's or another album?
Quite a few and especially a beautiful 11-minute song called "First Woman on the Moon."
What's your favourite song off the new album, and why? Also did you, Marty or Tim write lyrics for the new CD?
"After Everything" is sublime but I love "Night Friends" too. Marty sang his own lyrics on a song called "Chromium." Tim and I have songs we might do yet.
Do you like any of the "Modern Rock" coming out of the States these days?
I don't like a lot of the "tantrum rock" being produced in the world and a lot is coming from the US - why are you guys so unhappy? Just joking! I hear a lot of masquerading in modern music but I could be getting old, although I feel a new generation is about to come through with more melodic sensibilities.
What is your perspective on the events of September 11 and afterward?
I love the USA's constitution and I think the American people when given the correct information, uphold it fairly (sometimes it takes money like in Larry Flynt's case). And the powers of government are corrupted in every country but whatever the reason for the terrorist acts of Sept 11, they killed innocent civilians and even their own Muslim people so it is contemptible (although this activity has been excusable in war since WWII). Bin Laden has said that his reasons were that USA has supported Israel but Palestine has not supported his views. The truth is that these terrorists are more a result of the chronically bad distribution of wealth in the Arab world whereby the richest people on the earth allow their own people to suffer! But they really shouldn't shoot their rifles in the air because the bullets come down and kill people.
Finally, I asked Peter about Vic (Warrnpeace's) idea of setting up an Official Bootleg Club, like King Crimson's excellent Collectors Club where they release a concert, practice, demos or studio jams every 2 months, etc.
There's a good amount of quality audience recordings, radio interviews, and a few soundboard recordings that just our little tarot list has, and I know there are others out there closer to the band that have more great stuff... and I'm sure the band members themselves must have some gems in their closets. I don't know how we could go about getting professional pressings of CDs, but we could do CD-R releases easily, and we have enough web-savvy people to set up an ordering website. Pricing could be either very cheap, to cover costs of materials and mailing only, or slightly less cheap so the band gets a cut.
What are you offering? A lot of the stuff is traded among fans and we have been surprised that they have stuff that our sound people must have provided.
Copyright 2001 Sue C.