Interview: Steve Kilbey and Peter Koppes

The Church was founded in 1980 in Sydney, Australia. Their first album, 1981’s Of Skins and Heart, included the song “The Unguarded Moment” which enjoyed some success as a single in Australia and New Zealand. Other early Australian hits included “Almost With You” and “Electric Lash”.

Things really took off for The Church with the 1988 album Starfish, featuring “Under The Milky Way” which became a hit in the US and elsewhere, plus other notable songs like “Reptile” and “Destination”. With this, their sixth album, their lush, neo-psychedelic sound finally resonated with the worldwide masses.

Other albums followed, and while they didn’t enjoy the commercial success of Starfish, The Church stayed true to its musical vision. Their latest release was 2017’s Man Woman Life Death Infinity.

The following interview with Church co-founders Steve Kilbey (singer/bassist/primary songwriter) and Peter Koppes (guitarist/multi-instrumentalist) was done by email, with answers received on 4/23/19 and 4/24/19, respectively. This was for a preview article for for their concert at SOhO in Santa Barbara on 5/4/19.

Jeff Moehlis: We’re excited that you’re coming to Santa Barbara as part of the Starfish 30th Anniversary Tour. Looking back, what are your reflections on that particular album?

Peter Koppes: The writing and recording of the album evidenced a simpler distillation of our musical development together as co-writers. Therefore the overdubs were minimal rather than as embroidered as the previous primarily co-written album Heyday.

JM: How did the song “Under the Milky Way” come together?

Steve Kilbey: Ah, I just banged it out on a piano one night.

JM: Peter, when Steve first brought in the song “Under the Milky Way”, what did you think of it, and did you have any idea that it would be such a big hit?

PK: We heard the demo and listened closely as it was recommended for us to record it by our management. It seemed a bit of a novelty but not inappropriate and not considered a hit at all. It was not rehearsed along with other material due to the acoustic guitar basis of the backing track and as a consequence the track was built up as an experiment on the newly invented Synclavier music computer in a special dedicated suite of the studio. We only added guitars later in the whole album process.

JM: Can you tell us about the origin of the song “Reptile”?

SK: Many origins. A real chameleon in a girl’s bathtub. A nasty little snake. A slimy character.

JM: Starfish was produced by Waddy Wachtel and Greg Ladanyi. What was it like working with them, and how did they influence the album?

PK: Greg had been the producer of “Boys Of Summer” by Don Henley which I liked a lot, and I had seen Waddy playing live on Stevie Nick’s live videos and enjoyed his passion too. Their partnership as producers was unusual but the relationship produced some good results obviously. We didn’t spend much time in their company as we would play several versions of each song from which parts were edited together by the engineers while everyone else went away for the rest go the day.

SK: They were quite rude and brutal. Maybe that was good for us. They trimmed all the fat off I guess.

JM: What are some of your memories from the original Starfish tour of America?

PK: The Starfish tour was an exciting new opportunity to headline in large sold-out theatres around the USA. We spent a lot of time capitalising on the attention, but some personal relationships suffered and my marriage ended.

SK: You think I can remember stuff from 31 years ago?

JM: That tour included shows with Tom Verlaine and Peter Murphy. How well did those pairings work?

SK: Murphy was a dud. Tom was great and came on and jammed with us.

JM: Steve, what did you learn about yourself from writing the book Something Quite Peculiar?

SK: That I am just a human bumbling along like all the rest.

JM: What are some great Australian bands that people who live in the U.S. might have missed?

SK: Underground Lovers. Powderfinger.

PK: It can be difficult to recommend bands because not all their material might be reliable. We have excellent 60’s band’s like The Easybeats and The Master’s Apprentices, but my favourite tip is a song by Australian Crawl called “Unpublished Critics” which Guns N’ Roses appropriated the verse and chorus melodies for “Sweet Child O’ Mine”.

Of course Australia is also responsible for the biggest disco band Bee Gees, biggest blues band AC/DC, and Nick Cave has now taken the singer-songwriter mantle from Dylan. I would like to think The Church is the biggest psychedelic band, too.

JM: What advice would you give to an aspiring musician?

PK: An artist who wants to have a long career in music should have the courage to not comply with trends but to anticipate a reasonable music approach that will be accessible to enough audiences to be able to achieve a financial feasibility and be aware of maintaining those finances astutely.

Contrary to some beliefs, the current digital industry is actually an artist-oriented business not requiring the finance of big labels to underwrite costs which are much less without hard copies of CDs and photos as well as costs for advertising and promotion, especially TV.

SK: Persevere and never give up.

JM: What are the plans for The Church for the near future? Any new recordings in the works?

SK: We’ve got a world tour. No recording plans at this moment.


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