I know very little about anything else
in this whole fucking world.
One thing I understand is rock and roll.
If there’s but one band who has remained both extremely consistent and deeply engaging over the course of their forty-year tenure, it’s The Church. Known to some as a sprightly, psychedelic jangle pop/post-punk band, the band has evolved over the last few decades, expanding their horizons to explore cosmic psychedelic soundscapes, post-rock tension and release, and dream pop bliss across an extraordinarily rewarding string of albums. Their 26th full length The Hypnogogue is one of our very favorites of the year, and we’re still reeling from their recent stop in NYC, which found vocalist, bassist, and sonic architect Steve Kilbey and his players in fine form, combining a heavy selection of tracks from the LP with a series of fan favorites and deeper cuts.
As previously reported, the band is due back on the road at the end of this month, expanding their US tour and continuing the celebration of their triumphant new LP. The new string of dates includes a stop at Austin’s highly regarded Levitation Festival, where they’ll be right at home with such cosmic alternative acts as Codeine, Brian Jonestown Massacre, Blonde Redhead, and The Black Angels. In addition to the upcoming digital deluxe edition of The Hypnogogue, The Church will also be selling a brand new physical release on this tour – a companion piece to The Hypnogogue. The new album is titled Eros Zeta and the Perfumed Guitars, and will feature fifteen new tracks that expand the story and mythos of the album. We’ve recently shared the lead single off the record, the hypnotic and ever-catchy “Realm of Minor Angels,” and we’re honored to premiere the new video for the track, directed by Clint Lewis and featuring additional footage shot by Danial Willis and Randall Turner. Watch below:
We also had the immense pleasure of speaking to Steve Kilbey about both releases, the band’s legacy, and the celebratory nature of the band’s most recent tour.
The Hypnogogue is your first true concept album. Did you have the concept in mind before recording the album?
It was very serendipitous, it all happened together. The songs started coming, I started singing these words. I didn’t know why I was singing them – these words and these names and these things. As the album came along, I realized we were making a concept album and then, you know, that influenced the music we were making and that strengthened the idea.
Strangely enough, we’ve now made a companion album that is coming out. Fifteen new songs to do with The Hypnogogue. It will be on sale on our tour and some of it will be on Apple Music and Spotify and all that. Also, I’m writing a novella about it, which will be on sale at the gigs as well! While writing the novella, I’ve had to really firm up a lot of vague ideas. It’s very easy to say “we’ve got an album and it’s about a machine called The Hypnogogue and in thirty years time this rock star uses it and it really fucks with his mind,” It’s easy to do that, but when you’re sitting at the typewriter typing it out, you realize that a novel has to have a lot more form and continuity and has to make sense. So I’ve had to spend time developing more of the story and firming up the details, more than I initially ever thought I would.
*Chuckles* So, I know a lot more about The Hypnogogue now than I did when I started this all four years ago. It’s been a bit of an obsession.
The new album, the companion album, is called Eros Zeta and the Perfumed Guitars. Eros is the protagonist – this future rockstar, this flaky, feckless fool who winds up using The Hypnogogue because he can’t write songs anymore. He’s got his own album now that The Church has made…and the story has just firmed up a bit more as this has gone on.
That’s great! I remember at the New York gig you shared a lot of the story between tracks, some of which I had already picked up from the record and the liner notes, but I loved hearing you talk about it all – it seemed like you have such a deep passion for the concept.
Yeah! It’s taken over my life. The people in the story, I really see them and feel and now and so on. I have sympathy for these characters. You know, I’ve done a lot of writing, I’ve written a lot of songs, I’ve written a lot of poems, and I wrote my own memoirs and stuff. But it’s so different sustaining a story over the long haul, a story that has to make a certain amount of sense. Otherwise, people won’t enjoy it. A song can change tense, it can change person, there can be complete non sequiturs that don’t have anything to do with anything because the music is there to support it – it doesn’t have to make any sense. A novel can’t be like that… A novel has to make some sense, there has to be some continuity. You can’t say something earlier and then change your mind about it later on, otherwise people will lose interest.
Right. Only a few authors can pull that off a broken narrative or a surreal concept as such…
That’s right, I’m not even attempting that, I’m just a beginner you know? I’m trying to make my book make as much sense as it possibly can.
I appreciate how much the concept is tangible in that way, because there are so many concept records over the years that just don’t make sense as a narrative. Things like Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, for example, don’t really hang together in reality when you think about it, especially when some key tracks were swapped out or others slapped on before the record was released.
You know, I really was obsessed with that record when it came out. Bowie himself said in the end that it’s not much of a concept, there’s no real story to it. Some of the songs don’t seem to fit in at all. As opposed to say, Tommy, which starts with his birth and his childhood and you see all the things that happened until the very end. That’s a tight concept, which starts at A and ends at B, showing all the stuff in between, while Ziggy to me was more of a feeling.
Of course, then you have Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, which is a concept album but only in a certain state of mind. So there’s a lot of room to wiggle within an album and within a song, and you could have a concept album that isn’t a very much of a concept at all, and people will like it. However, I’m definitely finding that when writing the book, I’ve got to throw all that away – one thing has to follow the next.
Do you feel like The Hypnogogue connects to any of your previous work in any way, do you find any parts of yourself in the concept?
No, not at all. No, I feel it’s a brand new thing. It’s a brand new bunch of musicians. You know, if you followed my adventures over the years, even though my days of drug addiction are long behind me, I still had to abdicate all my power a bit in the wake of that, and it took me until about 2019 to come back around and go “I’m in charge again, we’re doing things my way.” Different people rushed into the void left by me being a junkie and the band was being steered by different people and I was just a voice in the crowd. Things weren’t always going the way I wanted.
In 2019, I put this band together, or this band formed with these people, all firmly devoted to the idea of teamwork and I’ve assumed my position as the leader and the boss and things were going to be done my way. So it’s truly a brand new thing and this record has not much to do with the other records at all I don’t think. I get disappointed when people hear it and say it reminds them of Gold Afternoon Fix. I beg them not to say that, it’s nothing like that, nothing to do with it. I think Priest=Aura, the record we made in 1992 was a beautiful and brilliant record…
…It’s one of my very favorites.
Well thank you. So you see, it was my favorite until we did this one. I feel like The Hypnogogue all hangs together better for me, though I do love some of the things in the past. A lot of them disappoint me now though, especially Gold Afternoon Fix, I find it to be a disappointing record. But I know I’m very enamored of this one and the companion record and the whole thing and the band as it is now and the fact that we’re all working together, instead of being four Johnny Superstars all on a stage together, disregarding each other for our own personal glory. I find this band is very much like a team and everybody is trying to understand what everybody else is doing and accommodate them personally and musically, and that’s really refreshing after years of struggling against other people. Not always their fault, mind you, I know I wasn’t the easiest person to work with either and it was a struggle a lot of the time…
So I’ve had the pleasure of hearing “Realm of Minor Angels” from the companion record, and it’s truly great. I’ve been one of the fans that have absorbed the whole Church discography, you know? I’m not one of those Starfish-only sort of guys, I think the first record of yours I heard in college was Forget Yourself, so I’ve always embraced the later records you’ve done and loved the progression of sound over the years. I feel like “Realm of Minor Angels” and The Hypnogogue have a certain feeling and style that makes them unequivocally your creations, but it’s just so confident and carefully and strongly composed – there’s no chasing past glories or trying to tap into nostalgia – you’re just putting your best foot forward… It’s quite admirable.
Oh, thank you very much for that! Yeah, I’m trying to defy the usual trajectory that most bands follow when they have their glory days and then they fade off into mediocrity and just churn out the same old thing. I don’t see why it has to be that way and I always try to imagine a painter, or a brain surgeon, or architect, or even a jeweler. At my age, with all the experience I’ve had, you would imagine that in those other professions, those people would be doing their very best work. Yet, when it comes to rock musicians, we accept the mediocrity that most of these old guys, they’re so feeble and worn out and they’re not trying hard anymore. They’re not pushing the boundaries. They’re not using all of their experience. I have so much experience. I know so much about rock and roll. I know very little about anything else in this whole fucking world. One thing I understand is rock and roll. I understand recording studios, I understand the way a bass, two guitars, and a drum kit can work together. I understand lyrics, I understand recording techniques, and reverberation and the whole damn thing. With that in mind, why wouldn’t my next record be better than the one I made this year? It SHOULD be!
It should be better and better until I drop off my perch with senility. But while I’m still relatively together, I would want everything I do to be better than whatever I did before. Now I’ve surrounded myself with this cast of absolutely excellent players, not necessarily virtuosos, since musical virtuosity never really interested me…
It’s all about songs to me. It’s all about affecting people, affecting them, putting them in some place. If that place can be found with one chord, with one note, with a very simple thing, then I’m up for that. If it demands complexity then myself and my players are across complexity. I have some players now who just feel like they were born to be in The Church. One of the songs on the new album is called “Sublimated in Song.” That’s what we are – we’re all sublimated in song. None of the musicians are showing off and trying to show what they can do, it’s purely about what the song truly needs. All of my favorite music is like that. It’s not about someone who’s an amazing fucking musician, although they could be… You know, Lou Reed wasn’t an amazing musician, but he wrote a lot of my favorite songs with two chords. It’s not necessarily about that. It’s not a punk ethos about not wanting virtuosity. I just don’t want it when it’s unnecessary and I don’t want people thinking that it IS necessary to be good music. Sometimes the best thing isn’t the most complicated thing.
Photo by Hugh Stewart
You know, I’ve seen The Church live about four or five times now, and I feel like there’s so much pride in this lineup and so much joy on stage together when you are all playing together, firing on all cylinders. I feel like the band feels truly alive on stage these days.
A lot of joy, yeah! You know, I had forgotten about how that can feel. There were many nights coming off stage with all the old guys, there was animosity and resentment and envy and disinterest and boredom. It’s so amazing to walk offstage these days and have people coming up and going, “Oh, you all played really well tonight, Steve.” It’s more like a play. I’ve done a few plays, I’ve done a few musicals, just comparing the live shows to the way that the cast of a play all work together and realize that it’s no good being a brilliant actor if the people acting with you aren’t any good. This feeling of cooperation that we have is just, you would think it was always the case, but it wasn’t always like that for us. Sometimes people were too big for their boots, they didn’t feel like cooperating at all.
So, with such a vast catalogue of songs, forty years worth of material worth to choose from, how do you choose which songs complement the new material in a live setting? How do you land on the setlist while also exploring the new album with this set of players?
It’s mostly intuitive with me. I guess when we come to America to play a concert “Under the Milky Way” has gotta be in there no matter what else is happening, you know? Or “Metropolis,” of course. The trouble is there’s a few songs that we’re obliged to play, I think, and they have to fit in no matter what. Other than that, it’s just a bunch of guys sitting around going, “Hey, what about this song? How would that go?” If everybody was up for it, everybody wanted to do it, we’d give it a try. Some of them work. Some of them didn’t work. They don’t all necessarily fall into The Hypnogogue trip, but just by talking it out, we’ve reached a good compromise. The set we will be doing on this next bit of the tour in the US will be pretty similar to that set we were doing in March, since we’re playing in different places but in the same country, and we want to give people a similar experience.
We’re definitely going to put “Realm of Minor Angels” in there though. That’s my new favorite song. I’m very enamored of that song. I’m not sure why, it just sort of ticks all the boxes for me.
Yeah, that’s great! I do love that you’re able to play things like “Grind” or “Kings” or “One Day” – bits that you all pick out from the catalogue that may not be as well known as those ubiquitous hits. I’m certainly a deep cuts kind of guy. Speaking of celebrating the catalogue, do you have any plans to reissue the 1996-2006 records? Many of those are hard to get, or have never been released on vinyl at all.
It’s a can of worms trying to figure it all out, all the publishing and all that. All I can say is that it would be great if all our records were out and available in the format that everybody wants them to be in. There’s a record company in England called Easy Action that released The Hypnogogue. I believe they want to make everything available on vinyl, every album from every period. Some of those records are very hard to figure out, we need a team of lawyers to navigate that, to figure out labels and rights and who sold what to whom, and so on, and then getting ex-members’ permission and all the rest of it. It’s a long and involved process that I’m not interested in. I’ve got my hands full.
I always say to the band, “I’m the Minister of Esoteric Affairs!” *Chuckles* You know, my job is to write lyrics and write music. Untangling this web of contracts and stuff is just foreboding to me and sort of puts me in a bad mood even trying to figure out. I’m not very good at it.
So hopefully, yes. In theory, I hope all of our old records come out on vinyl. How that will actually turn out and work out and whether that will actually happen, I’m not sure. We’re definitely on the right track. Easy Action is a small label and they seem very enthusiastic though, they want to put it all out eventually.
Is that a T-Rex reference by the way?
It IS! “Solid Gold Easy Action” – I can’t get no satisfaction. All I want is easy action…
Such a fun song. It was one of those songs when they were in decline…
…a last hurrah…
Speaking of being The Minister of Esoteric Sound, I’m also that fan who has dug into a lot of your other work outside of The Church – projects like Hex, Curious (Yellow), Jack Frost, your solo records, and so on… You’ve always been wildly and admirably prolific over the years… Do you have any other material you’re working on outside of The Church these days?
Well, I released an album a few years ago, with an Irish guitarist named Frank Kearns called Speed of the Stars. We went to Italy and made the second album that’s coming out on Easy Action next year. I’ve also made another album with longtime collaborator Martin Kennedy, I think we’ve got our seventh or eighth album together coming out. It’s called Near Death Experience. I’ve got solo records in the can that are waiting to come out and I’ve also re-recorded The Blurred Crusade on my own, just me and one other musician. We’ve reimagined it as more of an acoustic, folky kind of thing. I have so, so many records in the can right now, it’s just unbelievable. I’m confused trying to keep track of it!
Well, with that in mind, looking forward to hearing it all. Have a wonderful tour and long live The Church!
Thank you, thank you, see you around sometime!
Visit thechurchband.net for complete ticket information.
- Sep 28 Seattle, WA Neptune Theater
- Sep 30 San Francisco, CA Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 2023
- Oct 1 Mill Valley, CA Sweetwater Music Hall
- Oct 2 Ventura, CA Ventura Music Hall
- Oct 4 Pomona, CA The Glass House
- Oct 5 Las Vegas, NV Brooklyn Bowl
- Oct 6 Chandler, AZ The Showroom at Wild Horse Pass
- Oct 7 Santa Fe, NM The Lesnic
- Oct 9 Omaha, NE The Waiting Room
- Oct 11 Ferndale, MI The Magic Bag
- Oct 12 State College, PA State Theater
- Oct 13 Covington, KY Madison Theatre
- Oct 14 Atlanta, GA Variety Playhouse
- Oct 15 Birmingham, AL Saturn
- Oct 17 Ponte Vedra, FL Ponte Vedra Concert Hall
- Oct 18 Orlando, FL The Abbey
- Oct 19 Clearwater, FL Capitol Theatre
- Oct 20 Fort Lauderdale, FL Culture Room
- Oct 21 Fort Lauderdale, FL Culture Room
- Oct 23 Pensacola, FL Vinyl Music Room
- Oct 24 New Orleans, LA House of Blues
- Oct 26 Austin, TX Levitation Festival
- Oct 27 Houston, TX Heights Theater
- Oct 28 Dallas, TX Kessler Theater
- Oct 29 Oklahoma City, OK Tower Theater
- Oct 31 Evanston, IL SPACE
- Nov 1 Evanston, IL SPACE
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