After More Than Three Decades, the Church is Still Making Music That Matters

Concert Preview

Few bands survive the kind of upheaval that has characterized the career of the Church. Founded in Sydney in 1980, the band has had its ups (its biggest hit was 1988’s moody alternative rock ballad “Under the Milky Way”) and downs (founding guitarist Marty Willson-Piper left the band in 2013), but has somehow soldiered on. And now, with its 25th studio album, Further/Deeper, the band explores “unchartered sonic territories,” as it’s put in a press release. And that isn’t just empty hype.


After being signed and dropped by a handful of labels, the band now releases its own damn albums on its own damn label. That situation suits guitarist Peter Koppes just fine.

“Everyone said we were difficult,” says Koopes when asked about the band’s DIY approach. “[Record labels] had a strong sense of what they thought an artist should do. That’s what’s kept us alive. When the record labels gave up on us, we had millionaire patrons pay for us. We’ve gotten to this stage with money from patrons. We’ve been un-intimidated by record labels and make our music the same way we always have. We’re a unique entity in the world. We have a high level of complexity harmonically and we have a retro sound that looks back to the golden age of the ’60s and ’70s.”

Right from the opening notes of the album's first track, “The Vanishing Man,” the band offers up a kind of sonic density that suggests shoe gazer but with definite pop sensibilities. New guitarist Ian Haug (formerly of Powderfinger) fits in perfectly and even helped write the songs as the band pounded them out during and eight-day recording session.

“I have definite manifestos,” says Koopes when asked about the band’s approach on the album. “My manifesto for this record is that it should be 2/4 in terms of its time signature. It’s like a march. It would be funny to see an army doing a swinging march to the music. I had that manifesto. I always wanted to use jam chords like Burt Bacharach and the Beatles use these jam chords. They couldn’t play piano so they played chords that were accidental jazz chords.”

A song such as “Pride Before the Fall” has layers and layers of sound to it.

“I used more piano on that song,” Koopes says. “I was pushing a Burt Bacharach and Beatles piano chord progression. They had that jingle jangle sound, which is a harmonic trick. [The song] ‘Reptile’ is a staccato or very strident jangle. It’s got one note but still has a harmonic device. It’s jangling on a very strident level. You look at [1992's] Priest = Aura and that was a quantum leap in terms of its dark sound. You go into a thing like [2009's] Untitled No. 23, which is like a jazz record. Most bands play the same notes whereas we play different notes. With the new album, I was hoping to be more rock but still melodic. Something like Neil Young.”

He promises the live show will be sonically charged too.

“It’s not going to be dull meat and potatoes rock but this is sophisticated rock," he says. "Neil Young doesn’t have harmonic jangling. He just has chords and lead guitar. We have embroidered soundscape throughout the songs. There’s an aspect to our music that I don’t hear in anyone else’s music except maybe Thom Yorke. It’s the greatest feeling to feel that at as we approach 40 years of musical endeavors, that we’re still excited. It’s a satisfying thing to be self-respecting musicians who respect the art of making music. It’s sacred to us. It’s ceremonial. It should be that way to all people.”

The Church, The Sharp Things, 9 p.m. Saturday, March 7, Grog Shop, 2785 Euclid Heights Blvd., 216-321-5588. Tickets: $25, grogshop.gs.

About The Author

Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected]
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