“MARTY WILLSON-PIPER chats with DERMOT CLARKE about keeping things vital after thirty years of writing and performing with the church.
the church have never easily fit into any of the established canons of Australian popular music. Their history is one of stand-alone independence, where their existence over the past three decades has stood apart from contemporary Australian independent rock outfits.
“the church were a band who were outside of everybody,” Marty states, “because we were never in the indie set and we were never in the corporate commercial set.”
The band recent decision to commemorate their thirty years of music industry survival with a retrospective acoustic tour was capped off nicely by an induction into the ARIA Hall of Fame. This award was received in a tongue-in-cheek manner by Steve Kilbey, whose ten-minute acceptance speech had a Ricky Gervais feel about it, peppered with subtle barbs.
“Steve does that, sometimes. It’s hard to get meaning out of an award. You know what the ARIAs is like? It’s like a massive exaggerated version of somebody coming backstage and saying ‘hey guys I really like your band’, but without the drugs,” Marty says.
This unaffected attitude reflects the ephemeral nature of their creative output, as well. With Steve and Marty’s kind of Hawkwind-inspired method of jamming things out until songs take some form that they’re happy with, being able to define what they’ve come up with has proved evasive.
“We fall through the cracks of it all,” states Marty. “It means something that’s got some kind of lyrical intrigue, some kind of unfathomable mood, something that will take a left-turn without you expecting it, and fits into mainstream very rarely and sorta stands outside conventional genres.”
Such a sliver of insight hasn’t come cheaply. While smarting from the outside pressure that came from the high sales of 1988’s Starfish, they adopted an attitude while recording Priest = Aura in 1990 that they’ve stuck to ever since.
“If you’re on your way down, whatever you do, do not try to float yourself back to the top by doing something accessible. That record, instead of it backfiring on us it actually made us survive, because it showed that in times of adversity what we were actually interested in was the art and music. We’re lucky, because although we’re not flush, we have the legacy and we’re still creative now. We’ve managed to maintain a discerning audience and keep them interested.”
Such an audience will have a chance see the church perform a very specific set-list with an acoustic set-up, which Marty is adamant will be a once-only tour.
“We had the idea that to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary we might not want to go for all the bombast of a big electric tour around the world,” Marty explains.
“We decided to do it low-key, but what’s actually happening is that the shows are all selling out. I had this idea that we should play a song from each album in reverse chronological order, so you get an overview of the whole thirty years. Because what happens with us is when we play a set we end up playing two songs from one album, three from another… sometimes we’ll miss out on ten albums. This was a way of playing something from each album.”