Interview: Steve Kilbey of The Church

SteveKilbeyPhoto
Steve Kilbey (Photo courtesy the artist)

The indefatigable Steve Kilbey is best known around the world as frontman for the fantastic neo-psychedelic ensemble known as The Church. And in his homeland of Australia, Steve also keeps busy with a variety of projects, releasing solo albums, collaborating with other musicians, and writing poetry, among other pursuits.

On Sept. 4, Steve is releasing a new solo album, Eleven Women, via Foghorn Records. And he’s working on a new album with The Church. He’s meanwhile collaborating with musicians like Gareth Koch and performing concerts, live and virtual, including an upcoming performance with supergroup The Winged Heels (along with Gareth, Barton Price, and Roger Mason)

Parklife DC’s Mickey McCarter had the pleasure of catching up with Steve Kilbey via email to ask him how he spent his lockdown days in Australia, what’s new with The Church, and his plans for the future.

Mickey McCarter: How have you spent your lockdown days this year? Being so prolific, have you found it a good opportunity for your writing?

Steve Kilbey: It has been a good opportunity. I’ve done a lot of writing and painting. I’ve recorded a solo album and two collaboration albums and made a movie as well as done a lot of paintings. I started doing IG concerts. Perhaps I was one of the very first in the world. My very kind viewers have supported me financially and somehow I’m making it through.

MM: Is there a new album by The Church pending? Wikipedia suggests it is called “In the Wake of the Zeitgeist?” What can you tell us about it?

SK: There is a new Church album pending. It will not be called In the Wake of the Zeitgeist, as that was the name of the tour. The album is almost recorded, it just needs some overdubs and mixing. It’s probably 3/4 finished. It will probably come out toward the end of the year or early next year.

Watch the official music video for “Metropolis” by The Church on YouTube:

MM: I’ve had the pleasure of catching The Church in concert several times when you’ve visited the Washington DC area over the past decade, and I must say that I’m always more and more impressed. You personally have a commanding stage presence, and you always seem self-assured and confident. In addition, you always make smart sartorial choices — you’re consistently among the best dressed touring musicians! So, I’m curious as to whether stage presentation is something that you think about or something that comes naturally to you. Do you plan or do you just do it?

SK: I’ve been obsessed with clothes my whole life after I went to my first school social at the age of 10. I think musicians should look the part and give people something to look at. We had a lot of discussions in the beginning over how The Church should look and eventually we drifted into tight pants and paisley shirts and Beatle boots. Our hair got longer, and we got skinnier and scruffier as we went along, but we always tried to dress unlike anybody else at the time, especially in the ’80s. These days, I go for a faded dusty gunslinger look, like a modern day pot smokin’ Doc Holliday.

MM: After one of your shows some years ago, I visited the band’s merch table and became aware that you write poetry in addition to recording other projects. The sum output of this art seems to me in one way to speak to a man who explores different facets of life and someone who is always thinking. Do you find one medium best for exploring certain feelings or topics over another? Or do you not segment or parse them in that way as an artist?

SK: I paint, I write music, and I write poetry, but I’m always trying to say the same thing, and I think that is, to find the marvellous in the mundane, and to find the triumph in the tragedy, and find the God within the machine. I’m a much better lyricist than a poet, and I’m a much better poet than a painter, but it all comes from the same place and it’s all flowing to the same end.

Watch Steve Kilbey perform a solo show for Instagram on Aug. 17, 2020:

MM: My blog Parklife DC is primarily a live concert review blog. But we cannot review concerts for a bit while they are on hold. So, I was wondering if you might share a favorite concert experience of yours, wherever or whenever it may have been — a performance of The Church perhaps that is particularly memorable?

Steve_Kilbey_1SK: The best gig I *never* did was in 1988 somewhere in Michigan. We were due to play a concert and the roadies turned up and said the gig was electrically unsafe and refused to work there and so at the very last moment we had to cancel the gig. However, a local journalist was caught out by having already reviewed the gig as he imagined it was going to be and had submitted the review and it was printed the next day in the newspaper saying we were predictable and that we were exactly as one would imagine, and he gave us a lukewarm 3 star review. Gee, that must have been embarrassing for him.

MM: As I tell every artist who was recording in the ’80s, I was a big MTV Gen X kid, and that’s how I first discovered The Church. A lot of musicians say that they felt the ’80s was a very demanding time with monolithic record labels demanding releases regularly and little room for artistic growth — but as a fan, I look back upon it quite fondly as there was this incredibly *good* output of music and music video. What are your thoughts on making music then as opposed to now?

SK: Although I owe everything to the ’80s ( obviously), it was not a good time to be a musician. The record companies were very bossy and demanding. They had a lot of stupid ideas, and they were always five years behind the times. Why did those record companies sign bands like us then the moment they had signed us, do everything they could to change us? It’s mystifying. Meanwhile in the studio, the producers got all obsessed with have a snare, huge snare drum sound, which monotonously punctuated every sound. And, everybody was trying to sound like everybody else. It was the worst time to be an individual.

Watch The Church perform “Miami” (one of our concert faves in recent years) live for KEXP in 2015:

MM: Your daughters have a very cool band — Say Lou Lou. Do they consult you or have you ever offered them guidance?

SK: No, they don’t listen to me. And that’s as it should be.

MM: On a lighter note, you bonded with one of our photographers during a show at The Birchmere one time. Our friend Jason Nicholson raises sheep, and you were apparently impressed with his skills as a shepherd. Have you raised sheep yourself or had some other involvement with sheep herding?

SK: No, but nevertheless many times I’ve had the wool pulled over my eyes and now people probably describe me as mutton dressed up as lamb.

Thanks for having me on Parklife!

**

Check out Jason’s powerful pix of The Church at The Birchmere in 2019!

Need more Steve Kilbey?

Visit Steve’s website.

Catch up with him on Instagram.

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