Personnel change ignites The Church’s creativity

By MIKE CHAIKEN

EDITIONS EDITOR

Some bands take years and years to come up with eight to 10 songs to fill out an album.

But on its most recent album, “Further/Deeper,” the Australian band The Church pulled together 26 new songs in a mere eight days.

The arrival of a new member of the band, and the exodus of a veteran of the group, sparked the sudden burst of creative energy, explained the group’s singer and bassist Steve Kilbey.

The album saw the arrival of guitarist Ian Haug, who took over for long-time member Marty Willson-Piper.

And Kilbey, calling from Sydney, Australia prior to the tour that brings the band to Fairfield on April 16, said Haug was a “breath of fresh air.”

Initially in his interview, Kilbey didn’t mention Willson-Piper by name. Instead he said, “One guy was behind a lot of bitching and moaning and one guy was gone.”

Haug arrived at the studio, and he wasn’t interested in arguing or bringing up old hurts. Instead, Kilbey said, “We would write songs.”

“Ian’s energy and fresh take on everything enabled us to be so creative,” said Kilbey, who is also joined in the band by guitarist Peter Koppes and drummer Tim Powles. “We had a lot of new ideas and some new chops.”

As the band’s lyricist, Kilbey said he had no problem with keeping up with the group’s new burst of creativity.

“Lyrics are never a problem,” said Kilbey. “I write what I want to write about.”

Backing up to talk about the band’s ex-member, Kilbey said Willson-Piper had become more of a burden to the band in time leading up to his departure. Writing the music became a struggle for theband.

“We had writing sessions with Marty and didn’t get anything done,” said Kilbey. Although the pair had been long-time bandmates (The Church has recorded 25 albums over 35 years), Kilbey said the chemistry between the duo had dissipated.

By the time, The Church arrives in Connecticut, it will have been three years since The Church began recording “Further/ Deeper.” Sometimes, bands will grow tired of material in that time period—especially if it’s not up to snuff. But Kilbey said this isn’t the case with the tracks from “Further/ Deeper.” He said he’s definitely enjoying playing the five or so songs from the new album the band has included the set list. And the songs mesh well with the band’s extensive catalogue.

Being in a band, said Kilbey, you’re in a bit of a conundrum. You want to maintain continuity with your past, he said, but you still want to progress. And the songs of “Further/Deeper” represent a progression for the band, but they still sound like The Church.

On some stops of the tour (including the Connecticut date), The Church also has been playing from beginning to end its second album, “The Blurred Crusade.” It’s something the group has done previously with some of its other early albums as well, said Kilbey.

“The Blurred Crusade” was issued in Australia in 1982, 33 years ago.

“We were a lot more naïve (on ‘Blurred Crusade’),” especially musically, said Kilbey when he was asked to assess his younger self. “I wrote that myself,” said Kilbey of “The Blurred Crusade.” “It’s a little bit too clunky.”

However, he added, “it doesn’t sound like 1981. It  has a classic rock feel to it.”

“It’s a pretty damn good album,” said Kilbey, noting the band lucked out in attracting Bob Clearmountain, who was a producing legend at the time, to help steer the record.

When the band plays “Blurred Crusade” don’t expect them to “fix” mistakes or rearrange the songs, said Kilbey.

The band is under orders to play the songs exactly as they did in 1982, said Kilbey. So, the notes—even the bum ones— will be the same, he said. And he will sing the same way as he did then.

“It wouldn’t be fun to an audience (otherwise),” said Kilbey.

Since “Blurred Crusade,” The Church has gone on to record many more than two dozen albums over its 35 years.

Did Kilbey ever think he’d still be playing in The Church three decades on?

“Absolutely not. Never,” said Kilbey. “When you’re in your early 20s, one of the last things you’re looking for is longevity… You’re thinking, ‘Burn bright and have a glorious career.’”

“I’ve known Peter Koppes since he was 18, and I was 19,” said Kilbey. “We’ve been together 42 years.” It would have seemed “ludicrous” as teenagers to consider they would have been together all this time.

But, Kilbey said he’s never considered another career but being a musician. For Peter and himself, said Kilbey, playing music is their vocation.

One reason the band has survived, said Kilbey, was The Church never sounded of its time. “We’re not like the Thompson Twins or Men Without Hats (associated with one particular era).”

“We styled ourselves on classic rock,” said Kilbey, citing the Rolling Stones, The Beatles, David Bowie, and Marc Bolan of T. Rex as musical touchstones for the sound of The Church.

“(Classic rock) can never go out of fashion,” said Kilbey.

And, Kilbey said, the band continues as a going concern because the members still feel they have “unfinished business.” He said, “We can still make art. I still feel when Pete plays guitar and I play bass, we will do something interesting.”

Given that The Church recorded “Further/ Deeper” in 2013, is the band “squirreling” away new songs for a follow up?

“We never squirrel away songs,” said Kilbey. “We never have songs up our sleeves (when we go to the studio).”

All of the songwriting begins, he said, when the members gather in the studio for the first time for a new record.

Although, Kilbey said, he does see the value of trying to write songs on the road and trying them out on a stage, slowly improving them, before you head into the studio.

In the case of The Church, since they don’t get to hone the tracks on the road before recording them, Kilbey said new tracks end up improving after they are recorded and become part of the set list. In many cases, Kilbey said the live versions of The Church’s songs are actually better than the recorded ones.

The Church performs at Stage One of the Fairfield Theatre Company, 70 Sanford St., Fairfield on Saturday, April 16 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $38. VIP tickets are $140. For more information, go to FairfieldTheatre.org

The Church comes to Stage One in Fairfield on Saturday.

The Church comes to Stage One in Fairfield on Saturday.