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The Church – Steve Kilbey

Story telling dates back many centuries, but Lead Vocalist/Bassist/Songwriter Steve Kilbey and his band The Church have a new and exciting tale to tell with their latest creation THE HYPNOGOGUE (released in February of this year). Since their start in 1980 and their debut album (originally titled of skins and heart, released in 1981) they’ve reached worldwide recognition with their amazing style of psychedelic, rock, punk and Indie, dream pop blend which brought them many hits like “Under the Milky Way” and “Reptile” from their Starfish LP released in 1988 and “Metropolis” from GOLD AFTERNOON FIX released in 1990. They also were inducted into the ARIA (Australian Recording Industry Association) Hall of Fame in 2010. Now, these extraordinarily talented musicians have embarked on a U.S. tour and Florida fans can catch this incredible show on October 18th in Orlando at The Abbey, October 19th in Clearwater at The Bilheimer Capitol Theatre, and in Fort Lauderdale, October 20th and 21st at the Culture Room.

Catching up with band founder Kilbey just prior to their upcoming U.S. tour dates, he revealed some details about the show that he and bandmates Drummer Tim Powles, Guitarists Ian Haug and Ashley Naylor, and Multi-instrumentalist Jeffrey Cain will be performing, some insight about THE HYPNOGOGUE LP, past experiences and what fans can look forward to.

SFL Music: This is your 26th studio album. What was the inspiration behind the concept of THE HYPNOGOGUE?
Steve Kilbey: Well, it all just gradually unfolded. It wasn’t one big blinding flash. It was like, as we started to make the album, as I started to write the lyrics, it all gradually coalesce and I sort of had to figure out the story as I went along. I’m writing a novella about it now, so I’m still figuring out the story. Telling a cohesive continuous story isn’t really my forte. I sort of work more in impressionistic sort of stuff, surrealistic. Songs don’t really have to tell stories. They can just do anything you like. They can go all over the place. So, I’m not really that good at telling a story. Yeah, as I was writing the lyrics, it started to occur to me more and more this could be a concept album, and then the songs that didn’t really fit the concept, I just forced them in because I guess there are concept albums and there are concept albums. I always talk about Tommy which is a concept from beginning to end. It’s a story. We see him get born. We see him all the way through his childhood until he goes deaf, dumb, and blind, and then he becomes a pinball wizard, and then he becomes a gooroo and then it’s all over. Then you’ve got Ziggy Stardust which is sort of like yeah, it’s a vague concept that nobody really knows what’s happening. The songs aren’t in a logical order, nor do any of them really necessarily fit in. A couple of songs don’t seem to have anything to do with it. So, mine’s somewhere in the middle and I always say, you don’t have to dig the concept or delve into it to enjoy the music. The music I think stands on its own. So, the concept’s just sort of a bonus. If you want it, it’s there.

SFL Music: I noticed that the song “No Other You” ties in and then” C’est La Vie”, your second single, did you have to tie that one into the theme?
Kilbey: It ties in. It’s when our protagonist Eros Zeta, the young, thankless, flakey rock singer who can no longer write songs, when he tells his manager, I heard about this process called The Hypnogogue. I’m gonna go and use it. That song is him saying, don’t go and do it. He says, I wouldn’t fuck with that, so good luck with that. That song is kind of part of the narrative, but I can’t remember now how that one worked. I don’t know if I wrote the song to be part of the narrative or after I had written it. Things can work out like that. For me anyway. I write things that don’t always make much sense to me at the time and later on I go, oh, I can kind of see what I was trying to say. Up until now it hasn’t really mattered that much, but with this album, as I say at the end, I’m sitting there, I’ve got thirteen songs and they all vaguely figure in the story, but they’re not in any particular order. And you know, there’s a new album which we’re selling. We made a new album, a companion album for THE HYPNOGOGUE which is actually called Eros Zeta and the Perfumed Guitars and its fifteen more tracks that are the same deal. They’re auxiliary snapshots to the whole story. As I say, I’m writing a novella now to sell at the shows. So, it’s like, if people enjoy this whole story and this whole idea, there’s gonna be a novella on sale, and the novella wanted to do its own thing. It contradicts some of the things that are already on these two albums. So, it’s all just this great big mess, vaguely about a guy in 2054 going and using this dangerous process to help him kick start his writing process again. I’ve read reviews where guys say, I don’t care for the story. I think it’s a load of rubbish, but I really like the songs, and I’ve read other reviews of people going, oh how prescient this is with the advent of AR. It’s the consequences of using artificial means for people to create stuff, and the consequences of that for the people who listen to it, and the people who make it. What does it all mean? So, it’s sort of like, it’s there if you want it to be and if not, it isn’t.

SFL Music: What can fans look forward to with this new show?
Kilbey: Well, it’s a long show. It’s almost three hours, bearing in mind we have so many records. We don’t even have time to play one song from every record, even if we wanted to. So, on that first part of our American tour in March and then we just did an Australian tour, it wasn’t just wishful thinking to see that THE HYPNOGOGUE was going down better than even the old songs. They were really enjoying THE HYPNOGOGUE, and of course on the night, I ad lib about THE HYPNOGOGUE and I flesh out the story of it and I enjoy myself doing that. So, we’re giving a big chunk of THE HYPNOGOGUE. We’re giving you our hits, whatever that’s worth and a few deep cuts. Making sense of it all as we go along. So, if you’re coming along to hear “Under the Milky Way”, yes you will hear “Under the Milky Way” and “Reptile” and “Metropolis”. We are putting those in and some other things you’ll want to hear. I think we’ve got a really good balance. We were really quite delighted with the way there was a continuity between the old things and the new things. We’re making it all work.

SFL Music: I see a lot of concepts with the videos that are out. People can see “No Other You” and “C’est La Vie”.
Kilbey: Yeah, and guess what? There’s a new one. I just saw a rough edit of it last night and it’s the aftermath of the whole thing. It’s a sort of this brand-new song. I don’t know if you’ve heard it. It just came out, the “Realm of Minor Angels”. So, yeah there’s even more Hypnogoguey stuff on its way. I’m enjoying myself with this. I think this character, this rock star, who is obviously, a lot of it’s me. He’s sort of like; he blows anyway the wind blows. He is a thoughtful and kind guy, but he does stupid things. When he can’t write songs anymore, he resorts to this process. So, I’m enjoying that. I’m enjoying the stories that come with it. I’m always trying to picture who Sun Kim Jong is, this Korean. Why she’s Korean I have no idea. I know nothing about Korea. I’m writing the novel now and we’ve got to the bit where he’s arrived in Korea and he’s supposed to be meeting her. I have no idea. I’m still pulling it all out of my head. I don’t know why she’s Korean. I don’t know why it has to be a woman. I don’t know anything, but it’s sort of strange the way my songs and my characters sort of start to possess me and I start to become them and then they start to become me. The one or two people I’ve let look at the story are saying, “wow! This is you and you’re really opening up about yourself.” Even some serious stuff that people wouldn’t think would be in this book, like I don’t know, very personal things. They’re all finding their way in there and its sometimes really funny and sometimes it’s really tragic, but that is my life. One day I’m riding so high; I’m feeling so good. Wow, I’ve written all these songs. I’m in a band. I made a living out of this. I’ve been making a living out of music for fifty years. Even before The Church I was writing and playing in bands. Then the next day, I feel crushed and I feel hopeless. I feel like nobody cares or the people who care are just interested in nostalgia. Like oh, I like your old stuff better than your new stuff. I never saw that coming. Once upon a time I wished for that. Oh, people would love anything I’ve done, but now in 2023, people are talking about stuff I did in the ‘80’s and people say, “oh, you’re that guy from the ‘80’s. It’s like no, I lived through the ‘80’s but I’m not from the ‘80’s. I have no allegiance to the ‘80’s. I have no allegiance to countries either. I was born in England, but I grew up in Australia. I’m not English or Australian. I’m a musician and I’m trying to harvest the great human subconscious or the universe or my muse, whatever it is. I’m in the service of songs, trying to make and write the most intriguing and thought-provoking songs I can possibly write that bring people pleasure with well thought out lyrics and well thought out music. I’ve surrounded myself with absolutely brilliant musicians. There’s a song on our new album called “Sublimated in Song” and we’re all in service to the song. When we play, our aim is to bring to the audience pleasure with our music because certain combinations of words, certain combinations of chords, and notes and sounds can suddenly all coalesce and you get this beautiful point where it brings pleasure and I still don’t know, I don’t think any musician even knows why it works, but I’m always searching for those pleasurable sort of spots and I know that the band at the moment in America and in Australia, the tour we just did, people were saying, “it made me really happy and I was really high for weeks and weeks and weeks. I need it all the time,” and I joke with the audience; I go you know, I’m not making any money out of this, so that applause is very important to me. People say, “why do you do it. How do you still do it?” Why does a doctor treat people? Why does a carpenter nail wood together? This is what I have to do. It’s not my job, it’s my vocation. It’s my calling and it always has been.

SFL Music: Is that what drew you to become a musician? You knew that was your calling?
Kilbey: Well, you know, I wanted sort of girls and money and fame. Obviously, at my age the girl’s bit is no longer appropriate. I’m not very famous and its unlikely I ever will be, and there’s not a hell of a lot of money. Still, I want to do it. Even if my manager says, or our manager says to us Steve, you’re gonna tour America and you might only make five hundred bucks a week, and everybody on the crew is gonna be making more money than you. Still, I want to do it because there’s an overriding thing in my makeup that, get out there and play. That’s what I do, and whether there’s money or not, it’s become irrelevant. I can’t afford to lose money, and I have done tours where I didn’t make any money either. I’m happy just to be able to go out there and play and make people happy.

SFL Music: You’ve done a lot throughout your career. You all are also Hall of Fame inductees. What would you say is the secret to your longevity and success?
Kilbey: Look, I don’t think I’m a really talented musician and I don’t think I’m the greatest singer and I don’t think I’m the greatest bass guitarist that ever lived, but I think I have an aptitude for writing songs. I’ve been writing songs my whole life, even as a boy I was writing songs. I think some people like what I write. I try to write songs like all my heroes wrote songs. They go on inspiring me, the people who have gone before me. They go on inspiring me wanting to push the envelope. I’ve talked about this before in interviews. There’s kind of a strange thing in rock and roll that we accept mediocrity from the old guys and we don’t expect them to use their wisdom and experience to create any good new music, but we expect them to go on regurgitating some song they wrote when they were twenty-three. I on the other hand, at my very advanced age, I bring all the time I’ve spent in recording studios, all the time I’ve spent playing, all the records I’ve listened to, all the books I read because if I was a painter, if I was an architect, if I was a brain surgeon, you would imagine that I’d be at the absolute top of my game with all my wisdom and experience. I don’t know why rock and roll can’t be like that. I don’t know why we accept such mediocrity from old guys doing rock and roll, but when I play on stage, I’m not rehashing my past glories and just knocking out all the old rubbish I used to do. I’m constantly, well the whole band is, we’re constantly looking for ways of combining everything we know to bring even more pleasure. So, upping the ante all the time.

SFL Music: Is that what you would recommend to a new band or up and coming musician?
Kilbey: I don’t know. people always ask what’s my advice? My advice is persevere I guess, and all the stuff you don’t want to hear. If I was eighteen and I heard some old guy and he said, practice and persevere. I’d go, I don’t want to hear that. I want to hear some magical formula that I can immediately, but there isn’t really and it’s a lot of luck. It’s a lot of luck, so you’ve got to persevere. You might be really good and you might be unlucky and you got to keep persevering and persevering. However, there are a lot of good people who never get anywhere, and conversely, there’s a lot of absolute rubbish that gets right all the way up there and they’re playing. You could look right now and see all the people who are playing arenas in America tonight and you have to go, three quarters of them don’t have a shred of originality or talent. They’re ugly. They’re pedaling some horrible stupid selfish message that doesn’t do anybody any good and there they are. They’re in an arena and yet some brilliant songwriter might be sitting at home making a record on his computer that no one’s ever gonna hear. That’s the luck of the draw. You’ve got to get over that and carry on.

SFL Music: That’s great advice. You lived in L.A. to record and went back to Australia. What would you say might have influenced your music living in those places? Did they have any influence on your music?
Kilbey: I have been in L.A. I lived there while I was making an album for five months. I think everything is grist for the mill. I think I could go somewhere and live somewhere and it might not have one shred of influence on me or I could go somewhere and it could totally color everything I do. I might go somewhere and have no influence. I might go in a shop and meet one person that I have a conversation with that’s so thought provoking that I go on thinking about it for years. I’m still trying to be open. I’m trying to be like a whale swimming through the ocean with my mouth open, sucking in all the krill and then filtering out what I need and what I don’t need. I mean, I’m just like everybody else. I get to L.A. and I go, wow! Money, girls, drugs, show biz and you know, wow! I want that, and then there’s another side of me going, this is shallow and not good for you, and out of this inner wrestling comes with me going well, here’s something I want and the same time I can see its bad, but it’s not just L.A. L.A. isn’t all that either. Sydney’s just as bad as anywhere else. You could move to a town in the middle of Australia and still find all that stuff. So, I’m constantly trying to look at what’s around me and seeing how that affects me, and then there are some thoughts and things that don’t have anything to do with where I am. All of my past lives that are still within me which are all bubbling up and coming into my dreams and into my thoughts and into my proclivities of how I want to live my life. It’s all these other things so far beyond the physical. It’s so hard to untangle it all what made this music the way it is. What made that album like that. Some of it’s pretty superficial and you can go yeah, that song is about L.A. You turn up in L.A. and L.A. says to you, of what use are you to me? If you’re very sensitive, you’ve got to deal with that and some people hang in there and they become immediately famous and other people are still working in a sandwich shop saying, hey, you want to read my script when they’re sixty. All of this stuff, all of these physical places, they’re all grist for the mill for a songwriter, definitely. Everywhere I go I’m looking at it, and sometimes I’m standing at the back of service station while the rest of the band are having lunch. I’ll go and stand out there with all the stones and broken glass and all the wrappers and I’ll stand there and it’ll talk to me. It’ll say there’s a story here. Walking down the street, the houses all talk to me. The lives that used to be lived there or the lives that I imagine who live there. I’m often in a reverie about my surroundings. Other times I could walk through the worst part of Detroit I’m going, this should mean something to me. I should get something from this and I don’t. I’m just like, nope. That’s not for you. That’s not anything to do with you. This is the thing. If you have very, very thin skin, you enjoy all the benefits from that. You also suffer from the consequences. So, my skin is so thin, I’m taking it in and stuff really affects me, but the good side of that is it’s helped me keep writing songs because I keep having all these experiences and ideas.

SFL Music: Was there anything else you want fans to know?
Kilbey: I want to say to them, come and see us because I’m pushing seventy right now and I don’t know how much longer I could be doing this, but if you come and see us, you’re gonna fucking enjoy it. I guarantee it. We are an extraordinarily good band and I got to say a lot of people on our last tour in America and Australia said, not only was it the best Church concert they’ve ever seen, it was the best concert they’ve ever seen. I just have some really great players and we have some great music, so I hope you come along and make it worth our while.

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