Truly Madly Deeply
With a mammoth 33-year career in their back pocket, Australian rock icons THE CHURCH continue to evolve, exploring new worlds of lush, atmospheric music. The band has a strong Canberra connection. Key members Peter Koppes and Steve Kilbey grew up here and played in their first outfit, Baby Grande, before moving to Sydney and forming The Church. BMA caught up with guitarist Peter Koppes in advance of the tour to launch The Church’s 25th album, Further/Deeper, to find out more about the record and what drives the band.
In a band’s formative years they often evolve to a certain point and then plateau when they find a style with which they are comfortable. That has not been the case with The Church who, while a mature band, are still progressing their sound. Importantly, not only do albums bring their own characters but, explains Koppes, “Every song on a record is different from the others in style and genre, which is typical for our albums.”
Every two or three albums, the band ‘jumps’ in its stylistic development. Having a debut record that was just, as Koppes describes it, “a bunch of songs”, the sophomore was created as a true band effort, with the third LP being much more orchestrated. Later, Priest=Aura was influenced by the band’s drug use. After the they temporarily stopped making music due to internal disputes, the torch was carried by some members under the title The Refo:mation, before The Church restarted with Hologram of Baal involving yet another stylistic jump. The last release Untitled #23 brought about a very mature, jazzy style. As Koppes explains, it’s “not blues or Dixieland jazz, but jazzy in the sense of The Beatles or Jimi Hendrix with their complex harmonies. Neo-psychedelic progressive rock is about the best way to describe it.”
The Church has had its fair share of instability, with major line-up changes over the years, but it never formally broke up. Asked if it was the Kilbey-Koppes-Powles axis which kept the them together for so long, Koppes states that it was more the Kilbey and Marty Willson-Piper bond which had been the key. He also reveals a lesser known feature of the band’s longevity. The Church has been able to pursue its own excellence in music due to a unique team of supporters which other bands can only dream about.
“We have a lot of professionals in our infrastructure who are Church fans, including a litigation lawyer in the US and an accountant in Newcastle who provide their services for free,” reveals Koppes. “Then there’s a millionaire patron in Austin, Texas who paid for the recording process for this album. These people have been overwhelmed by our new record, so that’s a good reflection. We have been able to be very artistic and not kowtow to the forces of the music industry – operating away from the medium level, away from radio.”
Koppes adds that the band’s enduring popularity is largely due to them never being massively commercial, although this has also resulted in them being under-appreciated. However, this seems to be of secondary importance to Koppes because, “as a musician, your greatest hope is that the people who know what they are talking about like it. We have patrons because it is a matter of self-respect to them that they help us and we don’t like to let them down by giving them crap.”
Further/Deeper brings yet another leap and Koppes speaks enthusiastically of the influence of ex-Powderfinger guitarist Ian Haug, who joined the band in 2013, replacing Marty Willson-Piper. “Further/Deeper is more up-tempo and swings a lot more than our records have for a long time. There is a different relationship, guitar wise, between me and Ian and the music is more joyous. I don’t think The Church has ever swung before – you can tap your feet to this,” says Koppes. “It’s possibly made the band more accessible to audiences than before, without diluting the quality at all.”
Koppes urges punters to listen to ‘Pride Before A Fall’, the advance or emphasis track from the new album, available on Soundcloud. “It’s a psych ballad, in the style of The Beatles, a piano driven song in the mould of ‘Hey Jude’, ‘Let it Be’ and ‘Imagine’, all jammed together,” he says. “It also has the same healing aspect, as we don’t do melodramatic ballads.” The record draws its name from lyrics from the track, which is in keeping with The Church’s overall manifesto of “being deep without a meaning” as a surrealist band.
Asked about what drove song themes for the album, Koppes speaks highly of Kilbey’s songwriting talents. “Steve is a prolific artist who can write lyrics for two songs in a day. He doesn’t sit around dwelling on it – it just pours out of his very active imagination and he also loves words, as a bit of a poet.” Koppes admits the new album is a bit dark, compared to previous works, with the theme being given away by the opening words on track one ‘Sinister Bastard’. That being said, he explains that there are two songs that almost fit into the dance music genre. “One’s like a dark, dance pop song and the other is like gothic Euro-disco, with Dr Who undertones,” says Koppes.
In keeping with other recent tours, The Church will play the album right through. “That’s how much we believe in this material,” says Koppes. “Without trying to force it down people’s throats.”
The Church will start their new tour right here in Canberra, at the ANU Bar on Friday 24 October at 8PM. Tickets $52.50 + bf available through ticketek.