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Left to right: Peter Koppes, Marty Willson-Piper, Steve Kilbey, Richard Ploog (1985)
|Genres||Post-punk, new wave, alternative rock, gothic rock, neo-psychedelia, dark wave, jangle pop, dream pop, progressive rock|
|Labels||EMI, Mushroom, Festival, Liberation Blue|
|Associated acts||Baby Grand, Precious Little, The Tactics, Isidore, Hex, Limosine, The Reels, Grant McLennan, The Well, All About Eve|
|Past members||Nick Ward|
Jay Dee Daugherty
Left to right: Peter Koppes, Marty Willson-Piper, Steve Kilbey, Richard Ploog (1985)
|Genres||Post-punk, new wave, alternative rock, gothic rock, neo-psychedelia, dark wave, jangle pop, dream pop, progressive rock|
|Labels||EMI, Mushroom, Festival, Liberation Blue|
|Associated acts||Baby Grand, Precious Little, The Tactics, Isidore, Hex, Limosine, The Reels, Grant McLennan, The Well, All About Eve|
|Past members||Nick Ward|
Jay Dee Daugherty
The Church is an Australian alternative rock band formed in Sydney in 1980. Initially associated with new wave and the neo-psychedelic sound of the mid-1980s, their music later became more reminiscent of progressive rock, featuring long instrumental jams and complex guitar interplay. Glenn A. Baker has written that "From the release of the 'She Never Said' single in November 1980, this unique Sydney-originated entity has purveyed a distinctive, ethereal, psychedelic-tinged sound which has alternatively found favour and disfavour in Australia". The Los Angeles Times has described the band's music as "dense, shimmering, exquisite guitar pop".
Founding members are Steve Kilbey on lead vocals and bass guitar, and Peter Koppes and Marty Willson-Piper on guitars. Drummer Nick Ward played only on their first album; through the 1980s the band's stable drummer for eight years (1982-1990) was Richard Ploog, who left the band after Gold Afternoon Fix. Jay Dee Daugherty (ex-Patti Smith Band) played drums for the band 1990-1994, after which Tim Powles became the longest-serving drummer; having played with the band, since 1996 he has now been a member for 18 years. Three of the members recorded material as The Refo:mation in 1997.
The Church's debut album, Of Skins and Heart (1981), delivered their first radio hit "The Unguarded Moment". They were signed to major labels in Australia, Europe and the United States. However, the US label was dissatisfied with their second album and dropped the band without releasing it. This put a dent in their international success, but they returned to the charts in 1988, with the album Starfish and the US Top 40 hit "Under the Milky Way". Subsequent commercial success proved elusive, however, and the band weathered several line-up changes in the early 1990s. The last decade has seen them settle on their current line-up. On 27 October 2010, The Church were inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame in Sydney.
From the early 1970s, lead vocalist and bass guitarist Kilbey (ex-The Tactics) played in covers band Baby Grand in Canberra, Australia. He first played with guitarist Peter Koppes in glam rock band Precious Little in the mid-1970s. By 1977, Kilbey had purchased a four-track reel-to-reel tape deck. In March 1980, they formed a three-piece band, Limosine, in Sydney, with Nick Ward recruited to play drums, and began performing with a few low-key gigs. A month later, Willson-Piper (originally from Liverpool, United Kingdom) joined on guitar, at which point they were named The Church, a shortened version of the original name selected by Kilbey, "The Church of Man". Supposedly, the name was chosen as it was unclaimed, but later allusions to spiritual interests by Kilbey hint that it was less coincidental. Initially, only Koppes was a fully proficient musician, Kilbey was an erratic bass guitarist and Willson-Piper was searching for his guitar style. Both musicians would later refer to this period as the "wilderness years."
A four-song demo was recorded in Kilbey's bedroom studio. Thanks to contacts from his former band Baby Grand, they sent the tape to Australian record label ATV Northern. The song "Chrome Injury" attracted the attention of publisher Chris Gilbey who heard it played to Don Bruner, his professional manager. Gilbey signed the band to his recently formed record production company in association with EMI Records in Australia and the resurrected Parlophone label. The recording/publishing deal with ATV/Northern Songs[clarification needed]. Gilbey went to band rehearsals and helped shape their sound – he bought Willson-Piper a 12 string Rickenbacker guitar and equipped Koppes with an Echolette tape delay. These purchases assisted the development of the musical direction of the two guitarists and complemented Kilbey's vocal and bass guitar style. Of the batch of first four demos, only "Chrome Injury" was officially released (on the first album).
Their debut album, Of Skins and Heart, was recorded late in 1980, produced by Gilbey and mixed by Bob Clearmountain. Seven of the nine tracks were written solely by Kilbey and two co-written with others. The first single, "She Never Said", was released in November, but did not chart. At the start of 1981, Ward was replaced on drums by Richard Ploog. He was recruited by their manager, Michael Chugg, after hearing of his reputation in Adelaide, Ploog's arrival established The Church's first stable line-up. The second single "The Unguarded Moment", co-written by Kilbey and Michelle Parker, was issued alongside the album in March 1981, but only in Australia initially. "The Unguarded Moment" became an Australian top ten hit, reaching No. 22 on the Australian Kent Music Report Singles Chart, while Of Skins and Heart went gold, achieving the same position on the related Albums Chart. To promote their releases, the band undertook their first national tour.
The first recordings with Ploog were released as a five-track double single / extended play (EP), Too Fast for You in July. It included the first collectively written track, "Sisters". Another track, "Tear It All Away", later released as a separate single, showed a development towards more elaborate guitar structures – regarded as typical The Church sound. Their image and sound evoked comparisons with 1960s psychedelic groups with tight jeans and paisley shirts, and Byrds-style jangly guitars.
Of Skins and Heart's commercial success enabled Gilbey to present the release to Freddie Cannon of UK label Carrere and Rupert Perry of United States label Capitol. Both labels released the album in 1982, renamed as The Church, with repackaged and altered track listings – including songs from Too Fast for You. The Church peaked at No. 7 in the New Zealand Albums Chart and No. 13 in Sweden. Ploog was incorrectly credited as the sole drummer on the US release, despite only playing on three tracks. Capitol also released an edited single version of "The Unguarded Moment" which was a minute shorter – a decision which displeased the band.
The second album The Blurred Crusade, issued in March 1982, was mixed and produced by Clearmountain. Stylistically more complex than their debut, it is "a smoother, fuller release". "With its mystical lyrics the second album ... brought the group's own style more into focus". The album peaked at No. 10 and its first single, "Almost with You" resulted in a second Top 30 hit, peaking at No. 21.
The Church undertook a second Australian tour, while Carrere released the album in Europe, bringing enough sales to tour there in October. Capitol declined to release The Blurred Crusade in North America and demanded they write more radio-friendly material – as exemplified by stable mates, Little River Band – which horrified group members. After another recording session, five demos were offered but the US label was unimpressed and dropped the group. Chugg arranged a UK tour supporting pop band, Duran Duran, but after five gigs The Church pulled out – he later recalled, "They were hard work. All four of them were strong-willed and had their own ideas of how things should be". The band also toured Scandinavia and Europe in 1982, and both their albums were released there to critical acclaim.
After their return to Australia that year, rather than see the five demos disappear, Kilbey pushed to have them released in December 1982 as an EP, Sing-songs, which charted into the Top 100 of the Albums Chart. The Church produced all five tracks and included their cover version of Simon & Garfunkel's hit "I Am a Rock" which was co-produced with Clearmountain. Compared with The Blurred Crusade, the EP was recorded and mixed quickly and sparsely. Public reception was cool and it was deleted from their catalogue to became a collector's item until re-released on CD in 2001.
In May 1983, the band released their third album, Seance, co-produced by The Church with John Bee (Hoodoo Gurus, Icehouse, The Divinyls), which peaked at No. 18. It used more keyboards and synthesisers and was described as "That stark release explored the band's darker side, and tracks ... were awash with strings and other effects". The accompanying live shows included a guest keyboardist, Melbourne-based session player Dean Walliss.
For Seance the band employed mixing engineer, Nick Launay (Midnight Oil). The result was a distorted, noise-gated drum sound that particularly stood out on the staccato-like snare. Unsatisfied with the sound, the band asked Launay to redo the mix, but the effect was only lightened. The first single, "Electric Lash," featured this sound prominently – some fans likened it to a "machine gun". Despite dissatisfaction over the mix, Seance featured a lusher, more atmospheric The Church with highlights, "Now I Wonder Why" and "Fly." Internationally, the album sold poorly, being considered dark and cryptic, and the general public seemed to lose interest. Some critics in Europe and US liked the album, with Creem hailing them as "one of the best in the world".
Seance was dominated by Kilbey's song writing. Some 20 songs were put together on his home 4-track with other band members presenting material. However, only one band composition made the album: the experimental "Travel by Thought". Kilbey and Willson-Piper had co-written another track, "10,000 Miles", but the label rejected it. Kilbey was upset by the label's interference, finding the track essential to their set – it was included on their next EP, Remote Luxury. Despite the difficulties, the album yielded two minor hits - "It's No Reason" and "Electric Lash" - and stayed in English independent charts for several months.
The band had built a devoted fan base with their paisley shirts, catchy melodies ("Electric Lash", "Almost With You") and solid live performances. Following the release of Seance, the band toured Australia and New Zealand for the rest of the year to pay off debts incurred on the European tour. Meanwhile Capitol records released their first album in the US and it Canada it reached the Top 20. The Sing-Songs e.p. also became one of the bestselling Canadian imports of 1983.
Foregoing a full album, in 1984 the band released two EPs, Remote Luxury in March and Persia in August, but only in Australia and New Zealand. Both EPs reached the Top 50 on the Australian Albums Chart. Again, almost all tracks were written by Kilbey, but compared to Seance, the atmosphere was lighter and less gloomy. Persia had the band's trademark guitar sound complemented by the keyboards of guest musicians Davey Ray Moor (from The Crystal Set, which included Kilbey's brother Russell) and by Craig Hooper (The Reels) who joined as an auxiliary member. Hooper left to form The Mullanes by early 1985.
The band then signed to Warner Brothers. Internationally the two EPs were repackaged as a single album titled Remote Luxury. Its US release on Warner Bros. Records was the first there since the band's debut – though The Blurred Crusade and Seance had sold on import. Due to the interest raised in the US, they left Michael Chugg Management in Sydney and signed with Malibu Management's owner John Lee. The band toured the USA in October and November. Venues in New York and Los Angeles saw audiences of about 1000 people, but other gigs had as few as 50. In financial terms the tour went poorly and the band lost thousands of dollars a week.
The band seemed to reach a nadir in 1984. Unable to repeat the commercial success of the first two albums, there was a perception that their creativity was declining. Kilbey later said: "I think we released a few dud records that weren't as good as they should have been, after The Blurred Crusade ... The band was just drifting along in a sea of apathy, I was writing not-so-good songs and the band wasn't playing them very well, so everyone's enthusiasm just waned".
The start of 1985 was quiet for the band as different members spent time apart in Stockholm, Sydney and Jamaica. Kilbey's debut solo single "This Asphalt Eden" was released by EMI Parlophone and he was producer on a single, "Benefit of the Doubt", for The Crystal Set. The band did reconvene in mid-1985 to prepare for and record Heyday, their first full album for two years.
After a short hiatus, The Church reconvened at Studios 301 in mid 1985 to work on their next album. The album was recorded in two months, July and September and was produced and engineered by Peter Walsh, who had produced Simple Minds' New Gold Dream. Their first single in almost two years, "Already Yesterday" appeared in October and just made the Top 100. Unlike previously, the resulting recordings were more of a group affair. Released in November 1985, Heyday, produced by Peter Walsh (Simple Minds, Scott Walker, Peter Gabriel), brought in a new stylistic element with the addition of strings and horns, creating a warm, organic sound. The songs "were among the richest moments in The Church canon". While Kilbey wrote all the lyrics, the whole band wrote music together, such that most of the songs were band compositions (exceptions were Koppes' "As You Will", Kilbey's "Disenchanted" and "Youth Worshipper" (the latter co-written with Karin Jansson) and Willson-Piper's "The View").
Released in Australia, New Zealand, Europe and the US, the album was warmly received by fans. In Australia it peaked at No. 19, and appeared on the US Billboard 200. A promotional tour started in April 1986, with concerts both at home and abroad. Unexpectedly, Willson-Piper suddenly quit mid-tour after rising in-band tensions. On 10 July, The Church performed as a three-piece in Hamburg, Germany; Willson-Piper returned within a week after Kilbey agreed that future releases would contain more group efforts.
Despite the charged atmosphere and warm press, low sales for the album's singles in Australia prompted EMI to drop them. Plans for a double live album, Bootleg were also scrapped. Since the band had greater sales overseas than in Australia, they decided to record in a studio abroad and opted for a four album deal with US label Arista Records in 1987. For Australian releases they signed with Mushroom Records / Festival Records.
In 1987, a 2CD compilation album, "Hindsight" was released. This contained selections from their albums to date, together with hitherto-uncollected singles B-sides.
Recording sessions in Los Angeles, with producers Waddy Wachtel (Bob Dylan, Rolling Stones, Robbie Williams) and Greg Ladanyi (Warren Zevon, Jackson Browne, Fleetwood Mac), were a new challenge according to Kilbey, "It was Australian hippies versus West Coast guys who know the way they like to do things. We were a bit more undisciplined than they would have liked". Personality clashes occurred as the two sides bickered over guitar sounds, song structures and work ethic. Under pressure from the producers, Kilbey took vocal lessons, an experience he later regarded as valuable.
The stress of living in the US influenced their recording, and left Kilbey feeling out of place:
"The Church came to L.A. and really reacted against the place because none of us liked it. I hated where I was living. I hated driving this horrible little red car around on the wrong side of the road. I hate that there's no one walking on the streets and I missed my home. All the billboards, conversations I'd overhear, TV shows, everything that was happening to us was going into the music".
Album tracks such as "North, South, East and West," "Lost," "Reptile" and "Destination" bore the imprint of the faces, scenery and daily life of the group's new, temporary home.
Four weeks of gruelling rehearsal resulted in Starfish, which focused on capturing the band's core sound. Bright, spacious and uncluttered, the recording was a departure from the layered orchestrations of Heyday. The group wanted as live and dynamic an album as possible, Willson-Piper said that trying to record a live atmosphere lacked a real gig's sense of "being there". They found the results bare and simplistic; however, the public reception was unexpected.
Released in February 1988, Starfish found its way into the mainstream, it reached No. 11 in Australia and Top 50 in the US. The album was awarded a gold record in December 1992 by the Recording Industry Association of America. Also released in February, "Under the Milky Way" reached Top 30 in Australia, Canadian Top 100 and US Hot 100 – it peaked at No. 2 on Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks. The track was written by Kilbey and then-girlfriend Karin Jansson (ex-Pink Champagne). The warmth of the melancholic melody shone through on the 12-string-based progression, accented by light keyboards and minimalist electric guitar. Kilbey's baritone vocal, "Wish I knew what you were looking for, might have known what you would find" made the chorus distinctive, providing an abstract, but striking emotional centrepiece. A near-five minute video received airtime on music television programs. "Under the Milky Way" won an ARIA Award in 1989 for 'Single of the Year'. In 2008, readers of The Australian voted it the best Australian song for the last 20 years, in response Kilbey said, "it's not really about anything at all. I just wanted to create an atmosphere and I didn't even put a lot of thought into that. History has given it something that it never really had".
A second single from Starfish, "Reptile", charted on the Australian Top 100 in August and Billboard Mainstream charts. EMI issued a greatest hits double-album, Hindsight 1980–1987, which peaked into the ARIA Top 40 Albums Chart in July.
The Church promoted Starfish, with a nine-month tour before they returned to the studio for a follow-up. With a US Top 50 album under their belt, there was pressure from Arista to create another. The band started negotiations with former Led Zeppelin keyboardist and bass guitarist, John Paul Jones, who had a reputation as a sophisticated producer. Despite enthusiasm by all four members, the company and management vetoed their suggestion. To duplicate Starfish’s success, The Church returned to LA with Wachtel producing.
While the previous sessions were tense, these were volatile. Already unenthusiastic about the forced pairing, they had the stress of having to create another hit album, and the external demand for perfection took its toll. All members were outspoken about the role that drugs played in The Church’s creative process, but drummer, Ploog, began to retreat further into his own habit as pressure increased. Recording takes numbered into multiple double digits, Ploog's relationship with Kilbey deteriorated - accentuated by Wachtel's demands for a consistently reliable tempo. Eventually Ploog's isolation led to exclusion, his drum tracks were sampled out and replaced by a rigid, but meter-perfect drum machine. Initially intended to last for a year, his "temporarily excommunicated" status became permanent.
The resulting album, Gold Afternoon Fix, while different from its predecessor, reached No.12 on Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) Albums Chart. While Starfish focused on a raw, live sound, Gold Afternoon Fix employed more ambient aspects, including piano, acoustic guitars and keyboards. On some tracks, the music was punctuated by clanging metal, rustling wind or sharp, industrial sounds. It "was a disappointment, despite heady moments with the singles".
Gold Afternoon Fix was heavily backed by a marketing and promotion campaign from Arista. The band went on tour for almost two years, hiring Patti Smith's drummer Jay Dee Daugherty to replace Ploog. With the company push, the album spawned a hit single "Metropolis" (No. 19 in Australia, No. 11 on Mainstream Rock) but no charting for "You're Still Beautiful". In the US, sales fell noticeably short of Starfish. Strong commercial pressure and private affairs left their mark. Press was mixed and interviews tended towards incoherence or peevishness. The band – particularly Kilbey – would later dismiss the album as "lousy", "hashed together" and "hideous".
After the dust had settled following the Gold Afternoon Fix misadventure and subsequent tour, The Church returned to their old haunts at Sydney's Studios 301 to commence work on their next album. With lowered commercial expectations and pressure from Arista, the atmosphere was more relaxed. Bringing in Scottish producer Gavin MacKillop (Barenaked Ladies, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Straitjacket Fits) to supervise the sessions, the band began to improvise the framework for the next set of songs. From fragments and chord changes, songs crystallised and were elaborated upon. The relatively stress-free environment and free flow of ideas (as well as drugs - allegedly opium was a favourite mind-enhancer during the recordings) saw the material take on a far more expansive and surreal quality. New influences took effect: Daugherty's jazz-like approach on drums brought a fresh change, with his contributions extending to keyboards and other instruments. Willson-Piper, having recently worked with All About Eve, had expanded his own sound with his guitars now soaring in crescendos from his new volume pedal.
Priest=Aura titled from Kilbey's misreading of a Spanish fan's English vocabulary notes ('priest' = 'cura'), contains fourteen songs, many over six minutes long, its length surpassed all previous releases. With song concepts derived from cryptic, one-word working titles (an idea originally proposed by Willson-Piper), the lyrics leaned towards the abstract and esoteric. Emphasising free association and undirected coincidence between music and motif, Kilbey declined to define their meanings. Sonically, the music had numerous layers, courtesy of guitar overdubs and MacKillop's rich production. The interplay between Koppes and Willson-Piper dominated throughout, especially on tracks such as "Ripple," "Kings," and the epic, aptly titled "Chaos". The lyrics to the latter were a reflection of Steve Kilbey's rocky lifestyle at the time.
Upon its release on 10 March 1992, however, Priest=Aura was given a mixed reception. It peaked in the ARIA Top 30, reviews were varied, some critical, with many uncertain how to react. The band went on only a limited tour, confined to Australia, as Kilbey prepared for the birth of his twin daughters by Karin Jansson.
Adding to the decline in The Church's outlook was the announcement by Koppes of his departure. Koppes' decision reflected two main factors; the badn earned zero dollars for the two-week week tour of Australia after all expenses had been paid, and secondly, he continued to feel shut out of the creative process - a long-standing complaint that stretched back at least as far as the Seance (album) days, if not further. Despite a completely sold-out tour, increasing personality conflicts within the band especially with Willson-Piper and frustration over the band's lack of success made the situation intolerable. Despite its muted reception at the time of release, Priest=Aura is considered by both the band and fan base to be an artistic climax. The later 2CD release of Priest=Aura includes a disc of rarities, some dating from the Waddy Wachtel sessions in L.A., A Quick Smoke at Spot's: Archives 1986-1990.
The band later released a VHS video recording of a show from the tour, played at Sydney's Enmore Theatre. However, it is a poor recording of a bad night's performance. A better recording, made by an anonymous fan, of the show at Melbourne's National Theatre, a high quality recording of what Robert Dean Lurie calls "one of their best performances ever" exists only as a traded bootleg.
Drummer Jay Dee Daughtery requested to be kept on a fixed wage, which was cost prohibitive, so he was let go, and returned to the USA, after recording only on the one Church album and tour.
With The Church's future uncertain, members took time off to focus on other projects. Koppes began to establish a solo career with his new group, the Well (including former band mate Ploog). Kilbey turned towards another Jack Frost collaboration with Grant McLennan (of The Go-Betweens) and Willson-Piper returned to the studio with All About Eve to record their album, Ultraviolet.
Despite the loss of Koppes, Arista stood by their contract and backed another recording session. Upon finishing their side projects, Kilbey and Willson-Piper decided to write new material. Initial attempts to recreate 'The Church sound' with Daugherty bore little result, and it became clear that he had no intention of staying on as a permanent member. Parting ways after the fruitless sessions, the remaining two began to approach their music from a different angle. Abandoning the long-established roles and stylistic elements, Kilbey and Willson-Piper started a creative process more based in experimentation, spontaneity and electronica.
Early in 1994, the two hired additional musicians and brought in Willson-Piper's childhood friend Andy Mason to produce, and expanded their sound into hitherto uncharted areas. New Zealand drummer Tim Powles was hired for the sessions, after having already played on Jack Frost's project with Kilbey. Song structure was freer, with each musician playing multiple tracks on various instruments, to be cut down and refined as pieces later. The two likened the approach to a sculptor's creative process, gradually taking shape as work went on. Although considered temporary at the time, by 1996 Powles became a permanent band member.
The resulting album, Sometime Anywhere, released in May 1994, was generally well received and peaked into the Top 30. It is described as a "rich, dark, epic release picked up where Priest left off with lush, lengthy tracks". Gone were the guitar-based soundscapes, replaced instead by Eastern tinges, electronic effects and experimental fusion. Sales, however, were paltry and the first single, "Two Places at Once", went nowhere. Promotion fell flat as Arista saw no commercial promise in the release. With yet another consecutive flop on their hands, Arista refused to renew The Church's contract and pulled financial support for a tour. Ambitious plans to have fully accompanied, electric shows were quickly scaled back by Kilbey and Willson-Piper to a short run of acoustic gigs as a duo.
Without a recording deal, the band's future looked bleak, Kilbey and Willson-Piper began work on new recordings in 1995. Although under the concept of a two-man project, the new material saw input from drummer Powles and hired violinist Linda Neil. Renewed contact between Kilbey and Koppes led to the latter agreeing to guest on several songs - a welcome surprise for fans. Simon Polinski (Yothu Yindi) was drafted in to produce the sessions, leading to a sound more akin to an ambient project. The music saw a return to guitar-based material, this time infused with definite krautrock and art rock influences. A 15-minute atmospheric piece called "Magician Among the Spirits" (its title presumably taken from Harry Houdini's biography) dominated the sessions, featuring split Kilbey and Willson-Piper vocals (as previously on "Two Places at Once"). Additional contributions by Utungun Percussion added a new, primal aspect to several songs.
The album was released on the band's own Deep Karma label as Magician Among the Spirits (inspired by the 15-minute, epic title track). Due to financial constraints, the band had to arrange outside distribution for markets in North America and Europe. This limitation almost doomed the album from the beginning, but worse events were to come. Within a short time, the U.S. distributor went bankrupt, leaving the band stripped of its earnings from North American sales. Although exact figures remain unknown due to disputes, up to A$250,000 worth of merchandise (some 25,000 discs) was lost. For a band already on shaky foundations, this was nearly the death knell. Comments by Kilbey in May of that year summed up the situation: "There's no immediate future for The Church.....Our management, the whole thing is broken down.....We don't really have a label. We're owed lots and lots of money and we're broke. We're trying to pursue lawyers to get our money back. Marty and I aren't having any communication. There's no one really managing us so.....that could have been the last record."
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Kilbey later went on to disown Magician Among the Spirits as "a load of tripe." Though now viewed largely as a transitional album, it received mixed reviews by the fanbase, despite the guitar rock hook of its single, "Comedown." The album also showed a re-emerging band, with Powles now adopted more as a full-time member and Koppes dabbling with the group again. Nevertheless, the circumstances following the album's release unfortunately led to perhaps the lowest point of the band's career.
After Koppes' departure in 1992, the band members turned their attention to outside projects in 1996 and 1997. Willson-Piper remained a full-time member of The Church but spent time on collaborations with Brix Smith (The Fall), Adult Net, Linda Perry (4 Non Blondes) and Cinerama, while also beginning a side project with ex-All About Eve bandmates (titled Seeing Stars) and writing new solo material. Kilbey wrote the score for Australian film Blackrock (assisted by Tim Powles, Russell Kilbey and Sandy Chick) and recorded an ambient, instrumental album, Gilt Trip, with brother Russell P. Kilbey.
In the absence of any new work as 'The Church', Kilbey, Powles and Koppes spent some studio time together as well. The resulting material - released under the guise of The Refo:mation (initially The Reformation, but altered upon Powles' request as a courtesy to Willson-Piper) was largely put together in a few quick recording sessions. Loose in feel, but richly atmospheric, the eccentrically titled Pharmakoi/Distance-Crunching Honchos With Echo Units saw a greater focus on concise, guitar-dominated songs, rather than the uncontrolled experimentation of Magician Among the Spirits.
Group tensions for the Church proper were still simmering, however. More than anyone else, it was new drummer Tim Powles that tried to alleviate the outstanding disagreements. While Koppes and Willson-Piper had already had differences for some time, Kilbey and Willson-Piper's relationship was also strained from recent problems. Kilbey began to declare a formal, impending end to the band: after a final, worthy swan song (with the working title Au Revoir Por Favor), the Church would be put to rest. Despite this, the four agreed to play a string of fully electric concerts around Australia, which were extremely successful. The roaring success of the intended "final concert" in Sydney put a quick end to talk concerning the band's demise.
The results of new recording sessions saw a return to the band's roots. Incorporating 1970s influences as well as ambient, radio effects, the material was thoroughly based around Koppes and Willson-Piper's guitar interplay. For the first time also, the band completely produced itself (under Powles' aegis). Originally given the name Bastard Universe, the forthcoming album was retitled Hologram of Allah after Willson-Piper found the former too negative. Concerns about fundamentalist Muslim reaction to a potentially blasphemous title made the band opt for the more neutral Hologram of Baal (from the Canaanite god). Released under a new contract with UK independent Cooking Vinyl, the album was distributed in the U.S. under agreement with Thirsty Ear. A limited edition of the album featured a bonus disc with a nearly 80-minute, continuous jam session (given the shelved title Bastard Universe).
The newly rejuvenated (and reformed) band went on their first fully electric tour of the U.S., Australia and Europe in years. A plan to release a live album called Bag of Bones was put into motion and then later cancelled.
Instead, a collection of cover songs was recorded, shedding light on the band's influences. Arriving in August 1999 - less than a year after Hologram of Baal - A Box of Birds contained an unusual selection of songs from Ultravox and Iggy Pop to The Monkees and Neil Young. The insert to the CD was designed as interchangeable, with 10 separate sleeve designs created by fans. As with Hologram of Baal, a tour followed the album's release. New drama hit the band mid-tour in New York City when Kilbey was arrested for trying to purchase heroin. The band was forced to improvise a set after he failed to show, with Willson-Piper covering vocals. A night in jail and a day's sentencing to community service in the Manhattan subway resulted from the bust. "A drug bust is something every aging rock star should have under his belt," Kilbey was later quoted as saying.
Recordings for a follow-up album turned out to be painstakingly slow due to numerous side projects and simple geography (with Kilbey in Sweden, Willson-Piper in England and the others in Australia). While taking time off in between to focus on solo efforts and other engagements (including a brief reunion with All About Eve for Willson-Piper), the bandmates met across several separate sessions. Partially recorded in both Sweden and Australia, the resulting After Everything Now This in January 2002 saw a focus on the softer elements of the band. With only three obvious "rock" tracks out of ten, calm soundscapes predominated. The successive world tour had the band in a more subtle setting as well, with most tracks performed primarily acoustic alongside guest David Lane on piano.
Fans would not wait long again for another group release - by late 2002, a double-disc set called Parallel Universe hit stores. Unique among the band's catalog, the first disc, subtitled 'Mixture', featured a reshuffled, remixed version of the After Everything Now This album, the result of Tim Powles' collaboration with Sydney musicians. The second disc was an added bonus, compiled from the remaining songs of the After Everything Now This recording sessions.
Around the time of Parallel Universe's release, the Church returned to the studio to record another album, eventually entitled Forget Yourself. Rather than fleshing the songs out over a long, gradual process, the band decided to keep the music as close to the original jam-based material as possible. Stylistically, this made for a much rawer sound, primarily recorded live and with minimal overdubs. As had become routine since Sometime Anywhere, songs saw numerous instrument changes between members, with Powles playing guitar on "Sealine" and Willson-Piper switching to drums on "Maya." Forget Yourself was released in Australia in October 2003, and in the U.S. in February 2004.
The band's prolific output continued through 2004. Under the guidance of manager Kevin Lane Keller - an American fan and marketing professor who had been working with them since 2001 - the Church began capitalizing on the advantages offered by the internet and independent music industry.
Following up on Hologram of Baal's bonus Bastard Universe, the band released the first of a planned series of jam session CDs, Jammed, through its website in September.
A compilation album followed soon after, with the tongue-in-cheek title Beside Yourself. As well as outtakes from the Forget Yourself sessions, the album combines the iTunes Exclusive Tracks EP, the Forget Yourself United States bonus disc, and tracks from the Australian "Song In Space" single,
Within about a month's time, another album was released, on which the band decided to revisit past material in an all-acoustic setting in addition to several new songs. They also recorded a modified version of "The Unguarded Moment", an early Church song that had not been performed in many years. In reference to the song's reappearance, the band named the album El Momento Descuidado, a rough Spanish translation of its name. A short all-acoustic tour followed the release in late 2004, and the album was eventually nominated in 2005 for "Best Adult Contemporary Album" at the Australian ARIA Music Awards, although it did not win.
A second ten-song collection was released in 2005. Initially, the album Back With Two Beasts was only available on the Internet, but it was later released as a CD in December 2009 on the Unorthodox and 101 Distribution labels. Back With Two Beasts is part of a series of jam session recordings that the band intends to release in its entirety and is the companion to their 2006 studio album Uninvited, Like the Clouds, released on 17 April 2006.
In March 2006, the band performed "Under the Milky Way" with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra as part of the 2006 Commonwealth Games opening ceremony. Also in 2006, the Church released a compilation called Tin Mine that was limited to 1000 copies and housed in a tin case with a clear plastic window. Of the 13 tracks, three were unique to this album: "The Awful Ache", "All I Know" (recorded live in Newtown, Sydney, Australia on 11 December 2005) and "Leverage".
El Momento Siguiente, a second album of acoustic re-interpretations of earlier songs and several new compositions, was released on 13 February 2007. The album, released with the Liberation Blue record label, also features a cover version of The Triffids song "Wide Open Road".
In early 2009, Second Motion Records released multiple albums from Church band members in North America. Singer Steve Kilbey's record Painkiller was released on 17 February (preorders starting in mid-Jan), and Marty Willson-Piper's album Nightjar was released (on digipak) on 3 March.
2009 also proved to be a busy year for the band as a whole. In 2007, new music had been recorded to soundtrack a short film based on Jeff Vandermeer's book Shriek: An Afterword; the band released Shriek: Excerpts From The Soundtrack on their own Unorthodox Records in January 2009.
In February 2009, The Church released the EP Coffee Hounds, essentially a double A-sided single featuring the original composition "The Coffee Song" as well as a cover of Kate Bush's classic "Hounds Of Love".
The following month (Mar 2009), the band released the Pangaea EP, the title track serving as a teaser for their upcoming album; the remaining three tracks - "LLC", "Insanity" and "So Love May Find Us" - are unique to this release.
Unorthodox Records and Second Motion Records released the album Untitled No. 23 through MGM in March (Australia) to coincide with Australian tour dates. Second Motion Records released it rest of world shortly thereafter. Technically the 23rd Australian Church release of original studio material (counting EPs), Kilbey has also alluded to the mystical significance of the number 23 in a recent interview with music publication Music Feeds.
Coinciding with the "Untitled No. 23" US tour, a book titled "No Certainty Attached: Steve Kilbey and The Church" by Robert Dean Lurie was published in Australia, the US, and the UK by Verse Chorus Press. While primarily a biography of Kilbey, the book also traced the evolution of the band from his perspective. This was not an official band project but Kilbey, Koppes, and various friends and family members participated.
On 27 November 2009, the Church released another EP, Operetta; its title track was taken from "Untitled #23" however the remaining tracks - "Silhouette in Meltdown", "Moon Hangs in Black", and "Particles Matter" were unique to this release (they are jams and outtakes from the "Untitled #23" recording sessions).
In February 2010, the band announced a string of U.S. tour dates, calling it "An Intimate Space 30th Anniversary North American Tour 2010". In a unique and unusual execution, the band chose one song from each of their considerable album releases and performed them in reverse chronological order. This original show opened with a track from "Untitled No. 23" before embarking on a fantastic voyage through time ultimately arriving at their first Australian album, "Of Skins And Heart".
In April 2010, the band performed "Under the Milky Way" on KUSI News in San Diego, CA. The group was inducted into the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) Hall of Fame, on 27 October by media commentator, George Negus, while young pop singer, Washington, performed "The Unguarded Moment". After their acceptance speech, the band performed "Under the Milky Way" and "Tantalized".
In October 2010 Second Motion Records started to re-release the entire back catalog of The Church with extensive liner notes from guitarist Marty Willson-Piper. Deep In The Shallows is the first ever 30 year singles collection (2xCD) and was released in October along with reissues of their debut Of Skins & Heart and The Blurred Crusade (all with bonus tracks). In November 2010, Seance and Heyday were released also with liner notes from MWP and extra tracks.
In 2010 the band released the "Deadman's Hand" EP in North America (Second Motion Records), with the track "Deadman's Hand" from "Untitled #23", together with four new compositions unique to this release—"Stardust", "The Kicker", "Dakota" and "The Gardener" (these tracks also originate from the recording sessions for Untitled #23). While the EP can be purchased from the band's website, the recording was also distributed free-of-charge to attendees of the band's '30th Anniversary North American Tour 2010' (2 April-1 May 2010). The Australian release, on Unorthodox Records, was released in March 2011 and coincided with the band's 'Psychedelic Symphony' concert at the Sydney Opera House on April 10.
In early 2011 Second Motion will reissue Starfish (2xCD), Gold Afternoon Fix 2xCD, Priest = Aura and Sometime Anywhere as well as a limited edition "EP" Box Set.
The band toured the US in Feb 2011, a tour dubbed the "Future Past Perfect" tour, playing select cities and performing three albums (Untitled#23, Priest=Aura & Starfish) in their entirety. The band played this set in a series of dates in Australia as well, including at Waves in Wollongong. Their Sydney 17 December 2011 "Future Past Perfect" show at the Enmore Theatre was recorded and is streaming here.
On 10 April 2011 The Church celebrated their 30th Anniversary with a special show entitled "A Psychedelic Symphony" at the Sydney Opera House. They were accompanied by George Ellis (conductor) and the Sydney University Symphony Orchestra. The concert was filmed for a future release on DVD and also televised on MAX TV during October 2011.
In November and December 2012, The Church played a major series of concerts across Australia, together with Simple Minds and Devo. As part of the tour, they also played several 'A Day on the Green' events with The Models, as well as some other side gigs in Sydney and Melbourne (with various support bands).
In 2013, Kilbey issued a series of statements that indicated he was leaving The Church, due to disputes over royalty payments derived from the band's recordings.
In late 2013, the royalty issues apparently resolved to Kilbey's satisfaction, Kilbey announced on the band's Facebook page that former Powderfinger guitarist Ian Haug will replace Willson-Piper in The Church. Kilbey explained Willson-Piper is "not available" for the recording of a new album and subsequent touring, and praised Haug as a "a brilliant guitarist". Kilbey also provided a preemptive response to disgruntled fans: "... if you cant dig it I'm sorry. this is my fucking band after all and it has existed at times without Peter and in the beginning without Marty. and for times in between while he went AWOL." He also promoted sixteen "very very fucking cool" new songs that are ready to be recorded for the next Church album.
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Most of The Church's lyrics are written by Kilbey, who was the sole songwriter on all albums up to Remote Luxury. Until then, Kilbey brought basically completed/demoed songs to the sessions while the arrangement was a group effort, mostly done by Koppes. This changed since with Heyday in 1985. Now, the songs are results of expanded jam sessions. The music is first written in the studio, after which Kilbey writes the lyrics. His lyrics and poems are often described as surreal, though Kilbey flatly rejects any fixed meaning of his poetry, categorizing them as art pour l'art. (Despite this, certain of his lyrics have a fairly distinct narrative throughline, such as "Is This Where You Live" from The Blurred Crusade and "Aura" from Priest=Aura). Several recurring themes can be noticed in his oeuvre: myths, legends, dreams and nightmares, visions, drug fantasies, orientalisms, biblical (not exclusively Christian) motifs. These thematic circles are linked, using numerous word plays and references. More recently, Kilbey has stated (about his latest collection, "Eden") his poetry questions "the fabric of love and fear, temptation and creation and our eternal quest for meaning." Often he tries to sketch with few strokes and hints a complete epic course, leaving the details to the listener's imagination.
The Church handle their lyrics to some extent subversively. Strikingly, since the release of 1988's Starfish they have refused to provide lyric sheets to the albums, on the basis that sung lyrics should be listened to, not read. Kilbey likes the idea of a lyric emerging in a person's head, spawning lots of new and unforeseen meanings. This intent notwithstanding, complete collections of Church lyrics can be found on the internet.
Most Church albums have at least one song in which the lyrics and vocals are written and sung by either Koppes or Willson-Piper.
A number of other Church releases contain otherwise-uncollected original compositions and/or remixes and variant edits. These include:
The EP/single version of "Easy" (splice mix) was backed with three old numbers performed live:/2.It's No Reason (live and acoustic @ newtown 2005) (6:24)/ 3.Day 5 (live and acoustic @ newtown 2005) (4:42)/ 4.Constant In Opal (live and acoustic @ the fiction club 2006) (5:28)
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