Front man and creative muse for Australian music institution The Church, Steve Kilbey has experienced and delivered plenty in his 35 plus years in the music caper. The Church have been one of those blessed bands that have successfully straddled the oft divergent tangents of critical and commercial success, and it’s the latter that’s bringing Kilbey to the Gold Coast in December as part of the Gold FM Live concert extravaganza at NightQuarter.
With other artists on the bill including Ross Wilson, Richard Clapton, Eurogliders, 1927 and Rose Tattoo, the event is billed as 1 night, 10 artists, 30 massive hits’ and involves each act delivering three of their most iconic and best loved crowd pleasers. I ask Kilbey, a renowned creative re-inventor, how such an event, with it’s focus on delivering just the radio hits, sits with him and his renowned ‘ever forward’ outlook.
“I’m happy to do these type of shows and I throw myself into them with everything I have,” he said. “But I have a career beyond 1982 and beyond Australia. I’m moving forward all the time. I’m making lots of records, I’ve just toured America again, I collaborate with other artists, I write soundtracks.”
“Playing these type of shows is a bit of fun, I enjoy hanging out with the other artists, and it pays well. Every one of these type of shows I’ve done have been hugely successful when it comes to audience reaction. But it’s just an aspect of what I do. I don’t condone nostalgia nor am I anti nostalgia. I think a package tour is a good thing. It was the first thing I ever saw as a kid. As long as people don’t think that’s all I do.”
Kilbey has long been renowned as a highly prolific songwriter. When I put the question to him as to how many songs he’s actually written across all of his band and solo guises, he puts things into staggering perspective.
“I have more than 800 songs out there that are available and published,” he told Blank GC.
To put that into some perspective, Nick Cave and Paul Kelly are up to about 350. Not that Steve is saying quantity is necessarily quality.
“But I’m probably one of the most prolific songwriters in the world, and I’m still knocking out songs all the time,” he said.
The flip side to The Church’s more radio friendly material is the sprawling body of work the band has put out under the broadly defined ‘psychedelic’ moniker.
Maverick Brian Jonestown Massacre front-man Anton Newcombe has been known to name-check The Church as being an important influence, both on his own band and on modern psychedelic music in general. Kilbey wryly observes that the influence of The Church has always exceeded their actual success. He then delivers an eye opening insight into the Church-inspired spark that led to the formation of seminal English act The Smiths.
“I’m playing at a Smiths tribute shortly. Not many people know this, but three of The Smiths formed at a Church gig in 1982 in Sheffield on our first UK tour. If you look at (Smiths guitarist) Johnny Marr in the early days and you look at (original Church guitarist) Marty Wilson-Piper… the guitar, the hair cut, the single earring, the way he played guitar…They came along that night and saw us play, and that’s where they said, we can do this, let’s put a band together.”
Kilbey is a man of many talents. In addition to his music you can add male model (“for grannies who like looking at older men in suits” chuckles Kilbey), poet, artist… and even tarot card deck designer. It’s known as The Tarot Of The Time Being and features a tarot deck with his paintings and lyrics.
24 albums across 35 years and still incessantly treading the boards (they’ve done two American tours already this year), I asked Kilbey if he could ever have envisaged this longevity for The Church back in his youthful paisley days.
“No. When we started my ambition was to go on a tour to Melbourne. And after we did that, my next ambition was to make a single.”
“My ambition was always just to do the next thing that came along. So I never foresaw this longevity, sitting here in 2016 still talking about rock and roll. When I left school I actually wanted to learn ancient Greek and be an archaeologist. So it surprises me where I’ve ended up.”
Another interesting fact about Steve Kilbey; he is the father to five daughters, including two sets of twins. The first set of which are pop stars and models in Sweden who go by the name of Say Lou Lou. Kilbey states wryly that they’re better looking, more successful and make more money than him.
And as for the trials and tribulations of The Church sticking to their artistic vision across the decades..
“The hardest thing about being in The Church was resisting the ridiculous zeitgeist of the 80’s. You had to be like this and you had to look like The Thompson Twins and you had to play electro-pop. We were fighting that all the time. We wanted to make albums that sounded like The Beatles. We liked Dylan, we liked Bowie. There was a lot of arguing and fighting with people all the way along the line. It hasn’t been easy to maintain this course. But in the end I’m pretty happy with how it’s all turned out.”
Steve Kilbey will be performing as part of Gold FM Live at NightQuarter on Saturday 3 December, where you’ll hear him play three of his most iconic numbers. Church fans probably won’t have to rack their brains too much to come up with at least two of the tracks that he’ll be throwing himself into on the night.
Also on the line up are: Ross Wilson, Richard Clapton, Eurogliders, 1927, Rose Tattoo, The Radiators, Wendy Matthews, Glenn Shorrock and Shannon Noll.