posted on June 20, 2011 at 3:13 am

June 19, 2011 by Andrew Watt
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“the church are one of Australia’s most enduring bands simply because the never went away. It’s a definitional thing. But for their many fans it’s also a devotional thing. Especially for one professor in America. In this interview Steve Kilbey explains what all that means and why his ARIA Hall of Fame speech was a happy accident.



HHMM: Firstly let me ask you about the benefit show The Church are doing. It’s called a Universe Within and it’s being held at The Red Rattler in Marrickville in Sydney on June 23, and will donate money raised to the not-for-profit organisation, Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect). Is Aspect and Autism a cause close to the bands heart?

SK: It is our cause. We have an Executive Producer/Patron. He’s a professor from America, he’s rather wealthy and 12 or 13 years ago he popped up at a gig at a time when we were struggling a bit and he offered to help us finance projects and tours and underwrite costs. He was as good as his word and really The Church would not exist without this guy at all. We wouldn’t have gotten through the hard times. One day we said to him, “You’ve done so much for us, what can we do for you?”.  And he said that he wanted us to get involved in the Autism cause because he had a very autistic daughter. Sometime after that my brother had a son who has Asperger’s Syndrome, so now there is a double connection for me into this. Autism is a strange problem. I’m not an expert but I believe the incidence of it is on the rise and I believe we don’t understand a lot about it. I also know that families have a lot of problems when autistic and Aspergers kids come along, and siblings often have a lot of problems, because you have to be very understanding and all the old rules suddenly don’t apply. You can’t often reason in a normal way with these kids and Aspect has been doing some re-education of siblings and helping them to live with this. Just because an autistic kid arrives in a home doesn’t mean the family knows how to deal with it.

HHMM: I guess there’s the problem of the siblings not understanding why the autistic child gets special treatment…

SK: And these do get special treatment. You cant say, “No, its’ not your turn now”, because it doesn’t work like that. So it’s great that if you are having troubles adjusting to this thing that you can go away and learn all about it.  I know that by brothers son has a younger brother and an older sister and they’ve been very understanding but they have to sacrifice a lot. The whole family does. If the kid wants to sit in the first seat in the car, he sits there. It’s not because he’s naughty, it’s just because that’s how his mind works. So there is a real need for re-education, I think.

HHMM: You remain very busy. Is being in The Church a constant process of re-invention or is it not as deliberate as that?

SK: We are always plotting our next move. There are fucking emails every day from and about The Church every day.  I stopped reading them and replying to them and then I find myself saying “Why are we doing this?” and I’m asked “Didn’t you read the email?” If you don’t read the emails then don’t complain! It takes up a lot of time and a lot of work just keeping track of The Church and all our creditors and debtors and merchandise and all our records and publishing deals. It’s like this huge on-going load of malarkey and it takes up a lot of time and energy. And that’s forgetting the actual creative process of playing guitars – that’s just running the industry of it. It takes up lots of time and nothing’s ever easy with The Church. It’s never a simple thing. It’s not like we are Mental As anything who are happy just to turn up and play whenever someone asks them.  With The Church there’s always a lot of second guessing and it always involves a lot of complications.


HHMM: Does it amuse you to see other bands announcing reunion tours and album anniversary shows, when The Church have never actually gone away?

SK: Some of those tours when the band gets back together are very lucrative and because we didn’t stop it’s no so lucrative for us, because it’s not that unusual to see us play.  When Divinyls  got back together a few years ago we ended up opening for them because they had a novelty value, but I think The Church were a far more important and superior band. They were like a pop band with hit singles but because they were getting back together they had the novelty that we couldn’t compete with. If we had broken up in 1985 we’d probably be doing the Megadome now! But you can only do it once.

HHMM: At what point in that process did you realize or accept that The Church was a life sentence?

SK: That’s an interesting question. I think it is now. I think we will all do it until we die. And when someone dies we might even replace them and keep going, unless it’s me. But I’ve always said to them that if I die they have my permission to replace me and please don’t stop. So it might end up being like Phantom and in 300 years time The Church will still be playing gigs with all these new members. So I don’t know about it being a life sentence. I know that if someone had said to me when we got together that we’d still be together in 30 years I’d have laughed, but it just seems to go on and on and on…

HHMM: Is the creative process a lot different know that you don’t have to give a thought to which song is going to be a the single or which song is going to get radio airplay?

SK: It’s much easier now that that whole pressure has gone out of it. Back in the 80’s you could have a brilliant album and if it didn’t have a hit no-one would hear it. Everything was about that one song that was going to be a hit. Now we know that we are never going to have a hit and that none of our singles are ever going to be played on the radio and its kind of a great relief.


HHMM: You know how people post videos on their Facebook pages? Well someone posted the video to Under The Milky way and described it as “The Church’s biggest hit so far.” I thought that was optimistic!

SK: (laughs). That’s  unbelievable optimism and naivety!

HHMM: You are also a serial collaborator. What do you look for in a collaboration?

SK: Usually when I collaborate its as a lyricist and a singer and I look for a brilliant atmospheric piece of music that I can sing over. When I first heard what Martin Kennedy was writing, it was just obvious that it had been written for me. So I look for something that I can do my thing over the top of. Sometimes people send me stuff that is good but there is no room in there for me. I need something that will spark my imagination so that the images for the lyrics start coming to me and with the people that I have chosen to work with, that’s always been the main reason.

HHMM: So could you explain “The Wilderness Years by David Neil”?

SK: I started writing on my blog – for no real reason – about my adventures with this dead Canadian folk singer. He’s called David Neil because he’s a cross between David Bowie and Neil Young.  He existed for a short time in the 1970’s and he died, shot by a jealous husband in a plane crash while having an OD, all at the same time. He left behind some tapes that because of my association with him back in the 70’s would be left to me to curate. So Rick Maymi (from the Brian Jonestown Massacre) and I decided to sit down and actually create this record that I had been writing about. When I write about him in my blog I always put snatches of lyrics and snatches of songs, so we actually sat down using those as bases, to create this record that could have been made in the 1970’s by this guy who had no fame or fortune. I sing in a totally different voice and it’s not normally the kind of music that I normally do. It’s very poppy and rocky and I reckon it’s interesting.

HHMM: You mentioned your patron earlier. For a number of bands and artists of your vintage, everyone is finding their own way to survive.

SK: You have to. The old ways don’t work anymore. There’s no big record company out there to pay for everything. For a while we were on big labels and when you tour they pay for it.  We had a record company underwrite a tour of Europe in 1990 that lost 200,000 pounds. Our record company paid for it but we will never get any royalties from any record because of that 200,000  pound loss and others. They would pay you to make records and they would fly you round everywhere and suddenly that all ended and you have to find another way of doing things. We would not have been able to make any records, or do anything without our patron. He is everything to us.


HHMM: It’s come the full circle, because that’s how arts used to be paid for. The term, “a patron of the arts”, exists for a reason.

SK: Exactly. It’s not a bad thing. If I was a zillionaire and I met and artist I really admired, I’d be happy to say “here’s 10 grand, go and make another record”. What else do you do with your money once you’ve bought the Ferrari and the yacht then you can look around and realize you can help a favorite singer or a favorite band. It’s a great thing and its an age old tradition. I would be completely happy if some geezer turned up and said, “Hey Steve I’m going to put you on a hundred grand a year and you are going to write songs and paint and write poetry for me.”. And usually the bolder and more original and strange you are the more you need a patron. Thank God they are out there.

HHMM: I had to ask about your speech at the ARIA Hall of Fame. People’s reaction to that speech has been fantastic and they found it so refreshing. Was it simply a case that people weren’t expecting the unbridled enthusiasm from someone like you and it was just time to shatter the serious elusive mystique?

SK: I didn’t expect it either. I didn’t know what I was going to say, what I was going to do. It was just like being on a bus. You sit there and get talking. That’s the sort of bloke I am. When I find a subject I’m interested in, I just let it all out. That’s what happened that night. On another night I could have tried to repeat that form of stand up and it wouldn’t be funny and I would be insulting people or I would be too highbrow or too aloof. Luckily for me that night all the stars came together and I just stood there like a naive guy and gushed it all out without any kind of mask. I was just saying things that came into my head and I just got on a role and I’m just very, very lucky. I think that speech impressed people more than my thirty years of music.

We had agreed that we wouldn’t have a speech and that we’d “let our music do the talking, man”. And as each person got up and thanked people and I realized it would be churlish to get and award and just stand up and mumble ‘thank you’.  At a thing like that somebody wants to hear you talk about your career and the people who helped you do it and you adventures and your take on the whole thing and as the evening wore on that I had better think of something to say and that our plan of not saying anything was not going to work at all.  But I was incredibly lucky. It was like pulling a poker machine and I got a payout. On any other night I might have got two lemons and an orange.”


UNIVERSE WITHIN Autism Awareness Benefit Gig
Thursday June 23. Red Rattler.
6 Faversham Street, Marrickville.

Doors Open at 8pm

Entry via recommended $60  donation to Aspect being collected at the door.
Exclusive items for silent auction on the night.








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