Few bands enter their fifth decade of making music with all the fierce creative energy of their early years. Few bands can boast twenty six studio albums. Few bands are like The Church. The ARIA Hall of Fame inductees have released highly anticipated 26th studio album The Hypnogogue. Along with their latest cinematic record release, The Church are celebrating forty three years since formation, embarking on an extensive world tour performing new music and songs from their 26 album career. The Australian leg of the world tour will come off the back of a twenty one city, six week US tour and will stop at eight cities across the country, including Brisbane, Gold Coast, Hobart, Adelaide, Perth, Melbourne, Sydney and Wollongong.
A monumental concept album, The Church hone in on their bespoke sound in The Hypnogogue without retreading creative steps. The record features recently released singles The Hypnogogue, C’est La Vie and No Other You, offering a pool of melancholy tones and psychedelic swells, transporting listeners to another realm, guided by its striking science fiction narrative. Hi Fi Way spoke to the legendary Steve Kilbey about the album and tour.
Congratulations on The Hypnogogue album which is awesome. I think it’s epic and I’ve always described you as a modern day genius, but I definitely feel the proofs in the pudding this time.
Oh, thank you. Wow. That’s a great way to start an interview. Um, thank you very much. I really appreciate hearing that. Thank you.
Six years between albums, did you feel any pressure to have to do anything new?
It wasn’t supposed to be so long. It really wasn’t. It was supposed to be, you know, we went in, in 2019 and we thought we’d probably get it out in 2020, but it was Covid that really slowed everything down and meant we couldn’t really get together. The bush fires didn’t help either. It wasn’t meant to be that long and it didn’t really take that long. When it was finished, the record companies said we need this lead up time. So they made it even longer than it was supposed to be. So it wasn’t supposed to be like that, but it is.
Is this the most excited you’ve been about a church album in sort of recent times?
Yes, absolutely. I thought, the last Church album I thought was really good was Untitled #23, which was 2007 where I thought we really, accidentally listened to it in the car the other day I found the CD and was listening to it. I’m thinking, wow, that’s pretty good. It didn’t get as good press as this one’s getting. Before that Priest=Aura, I feel like they’re the three albums where I, where we really hit the mark and I feel all the others out of all those we’ve made, I feel none of them really hit the, maybe The Blurred Crusade hit the mark as well back in 1982. I am really excited about this album. I love playing the songs live and it all turned out really good.
I mean, it’s like you never really know what’s going to happen, there’s so many factors when you start making an album, but it all kind of worked out really well. Serendipity, you know, in the end, Jeffrey Caine, one of the new members found Darrell Thorp, who’s been mixing Radiohead amongst other people. I never foresaw that, that we would have such an illustrious guy doing the mixing and everybody got on the same page, there was a lot of teamwork involved. Ashley Naylor proved to be an incredible guitarist to work with. Ian Haug just keeps on getting better and better with his role within The Church, and is a great driving force to have in the band. It all just fell together in a wonderful way.
It’s funny, you can finish an album and go, ah, like our last album, man Life Death, you know, that one. When it was all over, I was totally underwhelmed and thought, Jesus, you know, I didn’t know what to say. Then this one happens and it all turns out completely different. It’s still this random thing that you can’t control otherwise everybody would make a wonderful album every time, but they don’t, there’s just a lot of factors involved that you, that are beyond our control.
Were these ideas for The Hypnogogue in your a in your head for quite some time? No! Not at all. As we started to make the album, as I started to write the words, as the players started to play, as tracks that we had worked on came back from people who were working on them on their own and then sort of submitting them back again after they had done a lot of work on them. It started to take shape very slowly. I’m still trying to understand what it is, and new things are occurring to me about what the story is and how it all works. It all happened from the ground up. It wasn’t like a master plan, let’s make an album that’s going to be like this. As it started to happen, I just followed along trying to make sense of it and it all sort of coalesced nicely.
Did a lot of it require the band sort of coming in and putting in the remaining pieces of the puzzle for it to take shape? Or was it a lot of it conceptualised before you even got to you having the band come in and start learning the tracks before recording them?
It was like, okay, we went in empty handed and we played for three weeks and then the bush fires happened, and then Covid happened, and then it sort of started a process where people were doing things at home and sending them back to me. Eventually, I thought fuck Covid, I, know that we weren’t supposed to go a kilometre from your house. I just started driving back up to the studio in Gosford and started working on it at the same time Jeffrey in Alabama, Tim Powles working on it in his studio in Ryde, Ian up in Brisbane and Ash down in Melbourne. Everybody was sort of jiggling around things and sending him back in. It all came together like that.
We wrote it all in the studio. Then we went on the wonders of modern, because this could never have happened back in the twenty four track tape days. People took things away and worked on them and then sort of resubmitted them to the band. Some of the album was, their basic tracks were done live in the studio and then people can take it home and the wonders of technology, they could sort of do stuff on it and then send it back. It came together a bit like that and halfway through it all, I said to the guys, look, I think we’re making a concept album and here’s the concept. They were a little bit doubtful at first, they got into it and embraced it.
Is this the most exciting part of the process seeing it all come together and the potential of what could be?
People ask me that. The exciting part of the process is getting a good review when all the work’s done and then the record goes out there and somebody really likes it. That’s the really exciting bit. Um, I like it all. I like to go in with no ideas and just jam around with guys and see things slowly take place. I love it when there’s a piece of music that I can write lyrics for, I really like writing lyrics and recording the vocals and it’s exciting as well when the music goes away to a guy who mixes it and then this kind of fairly rough sound comes back and you’ve got this finished thing. Then there’s the mastering process where they put even more sheen and stuff onto it.
The best part is when it comes out and people can hear it. It was very hard sitting on this record for two years going, I think we made a really good record but I don’t know. You can think of something is really good, but you have to have other people hear it. After I played a to all my close friends and they think this is really good, it was very exciting when the reviews started to come in, especially as I feel like I have something to prove. When Peter Koppes left the band, everyone was going, well, it’s no longer The Church, it’s just the Steve Kilbey band. I felt there was this burden on me to prove that The Church still had what it took and that a guitarist leaving didn’t mean that should be the end of the band.
The Church still had had something to say. I was proud of the guys who had joined and what they were bringing. I really had a bit of a chip on my shoulder, which is now gone, about people going, and they’re not saying it anymore on our social media. They were just going, it’s not even The Church. It’s just a bass player. I’m glad that we have survived the acid test and people are going, wow, this really is one of the best Church albums. Against all odds, it wouldn’t seem like that was going to happen. On paper if you went, oh, there’s a band and now there’s only one guy left and now they’ve made a new album with all new guys, you might think I’m, I would probably go, wow, that ain’t going to be any good. But against all odds, the passion and the enthusiasm of the new guys has won out. I’m really happy with it. I overdid listening to it in the early days. I haven’t listened to it for a while, but I’m looking forward to getting high and sitting down listening to it again when I don’t know every single thing that’s going to happen and sort of try and take it in.
It must be really annoying getting comments like that on social media?
You wouldn’t believe how annoyed I get, annoyed isn’t really the word. It’s like I get furious, there’s a bunch of old English fans, like guys in my age group in their late fifties or sixties who discovered The Church in 1982 when ‘Unguarded Moment’ was played on The Old Grey Whistle Test and we went to England, we hadn’t had some success there. These guys are very much like, oh, it can’t be The Church without Peter and Marty. It just isn’t. It’s just a bass player and a singer, but it’s not The Church and how can you possibly do it? It’s a weird thing to talk about, it always was me and The Church was my idea and was my idea to how it would all work out.
And yes, I was very lucky to have those guys. They were great players, but the idea of The Church can survive, I’m the architect of the sound. I wrote all the songs, I wrote all most of those guitar parts in those early records were all mine. Then I turned it over and said, hey, we should all write the songs together, which is what it is now. I believe even if this current crowd would all leave and I could recruit another lot of players, I believe I could go on making The Church because The Church is my concept. I understand what The Church is and what it isn’t and it’s hard to keep saying that.
When I read those things, people go, oh, it isn’t The Church and people going, no, no way. I’m not going to listen. It was like this one crowd of guys in England were really leading the charge who all thought that the other guys weren’t, I’ve proven that and now I don’t mind anymore when I’ve have the occasional guy say it’s not The Church it’s just Steve Kilby. It was really hurting me. Like, seriously and people go, if I was in a foul mood, my friends and my family or whatever would say, come on, just get over it. I can’t get over it. This is my life’s work. I’ve put forty years into this.
I can’t abide someone saying that I don’t have the right to be The Church and carry on. I could be the fucking Church on my own if I had to be. I could get a drummer in and play everything myself, but I don’t want to do that. Now I’ve got a wonderful bunch of collaborators and they all understand what The Church is. I’m guiding the ship and all suggestions are welcome. At the end of the day, I sit back and go, well, is this what we should be doing? Or is that what we should be doing? They’re happy to defer to me as I’ve been there longer than all the rest. It’s all worked out well. It was really upsetting and it was hard to sit on this album knowing that I thought it was really good and people going, oh, the next album’s going to be terrible without Marty and Peter. But it wasn’t.
All bands evolve and change, people come, people go, life happens. No one can expect any band to be the same version of itself that you were back at the beginning. It is unrealistic for anyone to think that and disrespectful to guys like Ian and Ash. The Church are like a well oiled machine and the last show at The Gov was proof of that.
Well-oiled machine is exactly what we are, it really is a machine and the interplay between everybody, everybody listening to each other and playing with each other instead of standing there just doing their own thing. Sometimes the old band was more like that. You can imagine a bunch of guys being together for a really long time, there’s going to be arguments and disagreements about everything. Sometimes with the old band, as great as they were and as great as they were individual players, sometimes they didn’t want to be a team. Towards the end they all got tired of being in a team and they’ve wanted to go out and do their own thing and good luck to them. The new guys are happy to be there. It really shows when see a band who are happy to be playing together, which we are and a lot of respect for what everybody’s doing. After the last US tour, what you saw at The Gov is now I think amped up even more. It’s tighter, slicker, and more well-oiled than ever before.
Interview By Rob Lyon
Catch The Church on the following dates, tickets from TEG Van Egmond…