The Church’s Steve Kilbey Talks About Revisiting the Band’s Second Album

For the current 17-city tour, which includes a stop at the Music Box Supper Club, Aussie rockers the Church plan to play two full sets. The first will feature the band’s second album, The Blurred Crusade, in its entirety. Only released in the States as an import, it features the psychedelic rock undertones for which the band would be known.

The second set will consist of selections from the band’s most recent album, Further/Deeper, along with other classic tracks. In a recent interview, singer-bassist Steve Kilbey didn’t ooze with enthusiasm when we asked about the decision to revisit The Blurred Crusade.

“You know what — I was bored with it about one minute after someone thought of the fucking idea,” says Kilbey, an admirably straight-to-the-point guy who says what he thinks rather than what he should. “Seriously. And then, it was just going to be for Australia and then it was just going to be for a few shows with the Psychedelic Furs. Someone said, ‘Let’s do The Blurred Crusade again.’ I was like, 'Ah, yeah, alright.' And now we’re coming back to America to do it.”

He backtracks a bit when we remind him that at least it doesn’t require much prep to learn the songs.

“That’s the upside,” he says. “I know I’m supposed to be getting people to come to our shows, so I shouldn’t say that. I guess I should say, 'Oh, I can’t wait to play the album. It’s what my life has been leading up to.' Let me put it this way. People who haven’t heard it in its entirety will probably like it. For the band, it’s pretty easy, and we have moved on a lot. It was 35 years ago when we recorded it. In those days, we weren’t as good as musicians as we are now. Having said all that, we do it pretty faithfully.”

Kilbey admits that it’s “a weird and random choice” to play an album that didn’t come out in the States. But he recognizes that playing it in its entirety will appeal to the hardcore fans.

After the Church’s 1981 debut became a bit of a hit, the band went in a different direction for 1982's The Blurred Crusade, replacing its hard-hitting original drummer with Richard Ploog, a finesse player.

“When The Blurred Crusade came along, everything fell into place,” says Kilbey. “Richard Ploog became the drummer so we lost that drive to be heavy that we had with our first drummer, who was an AC/DC fan and thought everything I was doing was wimpy. The guitarists settled into their roles more. Peter [Koppes] really defined his echoing, chorus-y beautiful lead thing. Marty [Wilson-Piper] hadn’t been playing that long. He took up his role as 12-string electric. There wasn’t a lot of 12 string on the first album. There were acoustic guitars, and I experimented with keyboards.”

And with producer Bob Clearmountain handling production, the band has a guy who could bring out the nuances in the band’s moody music.

“He was the number one guy in the whole world and somehow someone talked him into working with us,” says Kilbey. “I don’t know why he did. He was an amazing producer. When the album was finished and mastered, [the record label] EMI rang me up and said there was a cassette waiting. I went and picked it up and went back to the market and my friend had a brand new invention called a Sony Walkman. I put it on, and I couldn’t believe our album sounded like that. It sounded like a million dollars. I remember other bands telling me, ‘How did you bastards get it to sound like that?’ It was rich and warm and organic. Clearmountain did a wonderful job.”

But it never came out in America because the higher-ups at Capitol Records thought Americans wouldn’t like it. 

“There’s no way I would write a hit they would like,” Kilbey says. “You have to imagine what a guy working at Capitol Records in 1981 was like. There was no R.E.M. There was nothing. There were a few things, but he was already stuck in 1979 anyway. They’re always two years behind. That’s what [singer-guitarist] Robyn Hitchcock said to me. He said, ‘These guys sign you up in 1984 and they’re in 1982 and their idea of what 1982 is 1980 anyway. So by the time the record comes out, they’re five years behind the times.’ These guys were hopeless. They’re like women who see a guy and want to change that guy when they get him. EMI/Capitol looked at the Church and saw what we were — young scruffy indie guys playing psychedelic music. They wanted to turn us into the Thompson Twins. Why would they want that?”

An ill-fated tour with Duran Duran only added insult to injury; Kilbey pulled the group off the Duran Duran tour after only a few dates.

“Their audience hated us,” he says. “It was 1982 and there was no reference to this. There was nobody else out there with long hair playing 12-string guitars trying to invoke psychedelia whatever that is. It was like a One Direction crowd. It was like putting Fleet Foxes on before One Direction. That wouldn’t go down very well. We were supposed to do a whole tour and after 10 gigs, I went, ‘That’s it. I’m not putting myself or my band through this.’ We couldn’t convert [the fans]. There was no conversion going on. Not one girl wetting her pants over [Duran Duran drummer] Roger Taylor would go home and buy the Church’s album. It’s not happening."

Last year’s Further/Deeper finds the band in good form. On “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.

“The challenge with the band is to maintain continuity,” says Kilbey. “As you go through your career, you meander and take in interesting things without completely selling out. Sometimes, it’s a paradox and contradiction to try to do that. The second set is a lot of Further/Deeper and songs fans are hoping we are going to play like ‘Reptile’ and ‘Under the Milky Way.’”

The Church, 8 p.m. Sunday, April 24, Music Box Supper Club, 1148 Main Ave., 216-242-1250. Tickets: $35 ADV, $40 DOS,

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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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