This is part 2 of my interview with Steve Kilbey. Click here to read Part 1, where we discussed his new solo album ‘The Idyllist’ and his upcoming projects with Martin Kennedy and Greg Dulli.
For this segment, we discuss what keeps his creative fires burning, working solo versus collaborating, blogging, and the tenuous future of The Church.
SLIS: You always have so many projects that you’re working on. Do you ever get writer’s block?
Kilbey: No, I never get writer’s block. It doesn’t exist for me. Not when it comes to music…I never stagger away defeated, I always come up with something. I’ve had painters block ( laughing), where I felt like I couldn’t do any painting, but writing songs is so easy for me…If someone said y’know “you gotta write 5 songs today and they better be good or we know where your family lives“, I’d go ‘I reckon I can do that‘.
It’s like a load of processes, I can always get it started and going. And Logic makes that so much easier. It’s like an endless source of things you can do to jumpstart a song; a little sound or a little effect or a little something you can do.
But even without Logic, if you just gave me a guitar, I would reckon I could sit down and just keep writing songs.
SLIS: So when you’re working with Logic and recording by yourself vs working with another artist, what do you like best about working by yourself? Do you find you’re missing input from another musician, or how does that work for you?
Kilbey: I think there are plusses and minuses. The thing I like about it most is that if I have an idea; because a lot of my ideas are non-verbal. And I wrote this on the Idyllist cover, that I get ideas that are non-verbal, even to myself. So not even to myself do I go; “I’m doing this“..it’s just working on a feeling …and I don’t even put it in words to myself what I’m doing. As soon as you’re working with someone else they say; “well, what’re you doing with this song?” Then you have to say “well I’m doing it and its going to be blah blah blah, and it’s going to be a bit like this and a bit like that” and then they might even choose to argue with you, and then you’re kind of in this verbal world, of talking about this song you haven’t even written and you might not even be doing it justice.
So that’s what I like about working when I’m completely on my own, even without an engineer, cause you don’t have to verbalize anything, you can just follow a feeling, you just hear a sound and like that sound, not even knowing why and just follow it. And I like playing all the instruments myself and doing it however I like.
I found out with Greg (Dulli), I was doing some engineering, and I made some mistakes, and he was sad y’know that I’d erased his vocals and some of his piano parts (both laugh). So there’s a bit of a responsibility when you’re the engineer and you’re kinda getting things wrong and not recording things.
On the other hand, you don’t have that excitement, you don’t have that bouncing back and you don’t have that telling you what’s good or what’s bad…sometimes you need it, y’know? So its a thing that has its upsides and downsides…but it’s less hassle and I can get a lot more done when I don’t have to explain myself.
Often, when I have to explain myself, I become exasperated. I remember once the Church were doing something and I heard something and I went “stop the tape!”, and I said “play me this one minute of music” and they played it and I’m going “this is it, we’ve got to all follow this” and they’re going “well what’s this going to be?” And I’m saying “just trust me.”.. And by the time I’d try to explain it to everyone and enlist them and get them on my side, to follow it, I was like, ah fuck it (both laugh)…just let it go. So that’s the problem of having to explain everything y’know?
And sometimes when you explain it, the clumsy terms you use, like “this should be like Pink Floyd” and then you start working on it and someone else goes “this isn’t like Pink Floyd” and you go “well yeah, don’t worry about it” and they say “no you said you wanted it to be like Pink Floyd and this isn’t Pink Floyd!” and I’m like “well forget fucking Pink Floyd”…you see what I mean? So that’s why I like working on my own.
But I like working with other people…because the people I work with are gifted people, and their input is good, so there’s plusses and minuses to both.
SLIS: I really enjoy your blog. Do you like being able to communicate with your fans so directly?
Kilbey: Yeah I really do. I love having a blog and I guess that’s why I’ve written one for the past 7 or 8 years…I like the community of the blog and the instant feedback. I mean, once upon a time you wrote a poem, and maybe it took you 2 years to put out a book and maybe it took 2 years for someone to read the book and maybe it took 2 years to find you and to tell you that they liked what you did…and nowadays I can sit here and write a poem and 5 minutes later, someone in Cairo goes “Wow! I love this poem“, and you’ve got to like something like that instant feedback on what you’re doing…I love that part of it.
SLIS: I notice when I read your posts, there’s a lot of strong statements like “this is really great” and then at other times you’re dismissive of your work, and I wondered if you have a fan that likes a song that you had a hard time working on or one you’re tired of hearing, when they give you positive feedback, does that make you reevaluate it and enjoy it again?
Kilbey: Oh, absolutely, I crave that. Sometimes I don’t know what I’ve done myself, I really don’t. Sometimes I know I’ve written something good, other times I think I’ve written something bad…and sometimes it’s helped me completely go back and reappraise things…I love to read people’s interpretations when it’s all done…I’m very interested in their interpretations, to see whether they think I’m on the right or the wrong track, so I’m very much in symbiosis with my fans.
I mean if everyone had gone, “look, the Idyllist is really bad mate, you shouldnt do this“. I would really take that on and the next time I was sitting down and turning on Logic and my inner voice is saying “just go anywhere you like” …I’d be going “hang on, I have a lot of people who aren’t enjoying this, this kind of going wherever I like.” But because it’s had such a great reaction I feel that’s a valid thing…not trying to control it…just trying to have a great variety in what I do.
So I’m very much interested in reading reviews and opinions of what people think about what I do. Especially people who are long-term serious fans…I was really delighted to find your review one day (click here to read). I googled “the Idyllist Steve Kilbey” and I came across your review and I was really happy. I was like “Hey! Someone in Texas has reviewed my album!” And it’s a great review and it really made my day.
SLIS: Oh thanks! [sidenote: and he just made mine!]
Kilbey: Y’know I don’t exist in a vacuum going “I don’t care what the world thinks of what I do!” To read that people are enjoying it really does make my day.
SLIS: I’m so glad! I’ve been a fan of your’s ever since “Heyday” came out when I was in high school. I was into the whole 120 minutes era and have been into your stuff ever since.
Kilbey: So you as a long-term fan, what you have to say means a lot to me, much more than some critic who doesn’t really know who I am. Someone who’s been listening all along and knows the things I do ….if they still like what I do, then that’s really important to me, because it’s hard to keep people interested for that long..so I’m still working on it y’know.
[amazon_image id=”B0013AUUVA” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Sometime Anywhere[/amazon_image]
SLIS: I remember reading a magazine interview with you guys back in the 90’s for the Church album “Sometime Anywhere“, and you and Marty Willson-Piper were talking about the songs “Authority” and “Business Woman.” And it said you both wrote those songs to keep your record company happy but that you hated those songs , and I was like “Hey, I like those songs! What’s wrong with those songs?”
Kilbey: Yeah, I think “Authority” was a good song, and I think we were being a bit harsh, but I think “Business Woman,” y’know it was a bit cheesy.
SLIS: But it has such a good hook though! I think as a fan you start questioning your own tastes, like if they hate it, do I have bad taste for liking it? (laughing)
Kilbey: Yeah that’s not fair, making people feel like that. But you know, we are our own harshest critics. I think we feel like, nothing we do is really bad, it’s just some of it is average in comparison to the really good things that we’ve done. I think “Business Woman” is very average compared to some of the peaks we have scaled.
SLIS: Speaking of The Church, I know back in October, you were saying you might be leaving the band due to some business issues, and then I saw on your blog that you wrote “cue strains of the last time” regarding an upcoming show with them in March…But then I read in the Sydney Herald that things are improving, so I wanted to see where you’re at with them today?
Kilbey: (sticks a finger in air) Hmm, what direction is the wind blowing?
(turns to his girlfriend)
Hey Sam, what’s happening with the Church?
She says she doesn’t know darling.
I don’t know either darling.
I don’t know what’s gonna happen. It’s like we’re such a democracy…that often it foils us all..so it’s like nothing happens, something doesn’t happen or someone doesn’t like something that’s happened …and we don’t really know what to do because no one’s kind of steering the boat anymore.
It looked to me like this gig in Canberra was going to be absolute curtains for us, because of a break down in the personnel, and I think that’s been averted…I think we’re all friends again. Relatively.
But even though we’re still friends I don’t know if we can get over this kind of inertia that we’ve been in. We’ve made an album that not all of us have really heard properly, and it doesn’t seem like that’s going to be our next album, so nobody knows when we are going to do our next album and how we’re going to do it.
So it isn’t as bleak as it looked, but it’s not as hopeful as I would like. I wish I was sitting here going “in April or May we’re making an album and then we’re going to tour America in December“, but it’s not like that at all. Nobody knows what’s going to happen and nobody in the band seems to have the clout to make anybody else do anything. I certainly don’t. This is what I wrote the other day as well, I said I don’t cause everything, and I’m also not the cause of things that don’t happen. People would imagine that I ring the Church up and say : look, we’re going to make a new album, look we’re going to do a tour… they would think that I’m the prime mover, and that I can make this happen, but…I can’t. I can’t make them make it. And nor can they make me.
And everybody’s got other things on the boil. Marty’s like an itinerant minstrel wandering the world with no fixed address, Peter’s lecturing in music on the Sunshine Coast in Australia. Tim’s got his own recording studio and is a very in-demand producer and session drummer …and I’m me doing all the things that I do…and it’s getting harder and harder for us all to agree on what we should do and how it’s all going to be paid for. I really wouldn’t be surprised if nothing ever happens again, even though it could happen, and all the gates are open for it to happen …on the other hand, I wouldn’t be surprised if something does happen, but I haven’t got the energy to make it happen by myself. It’s been such a long time since our last record..and I’m kinda embarrassed and a bit angry. I wish we had made another one since Untitled #23…It’s just as much my fault I guess, as anybody else’s that we haven’t.
[amazon_image id=”B001UXJQHY” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Untitled #23[/amazon_image]
But that’s why I’m saying, don’t wait for the next Untitled #23, as far as I’m concerned, here it is with the new Kilbey Kennedy (which you can pre-order by clicking here). If you liked that tradition of what that album is about, here’s more of it. It’s not The Church, but this is what I’d be doing with them if we were still making records…’The Idyllist‘ is like a hobby album, but my next big shot as far as my next statement of where I’m at as a musician and a singer, it’s Kilbey Kennedy. That’s it. Don’t wait for the Church cause it ain’t coming, but if you liked Untitled 23…here’s this one.
SLIS: Do you think with the Church, it’s really just the business issues that makes it such a grind? I’ve read over the years that you have these continual hiccups where you get disenfranchised with the band.
Kilbey: I get sick of the business issues. And I get sick of the other guys in the band and they definitely get sick of me. It’s not like them versus me, it’s like four of us all versus each other really. There’s no power block in the band or gang of people who are always aligned.
But the one thing we don’t have a problem with is music. Playing together is really alive, healthy and vibrant. We did that tour in December…we were better than ever. We were more powerful and wild and I felt like I was doing some of the best playing and singing of my career. And we were in an adverse position because we were opening for Devo and Simple Minds, so it wasn’t like our own people we were playing to…but we still went on and really acquitted ourselves…getting encores and big responses from people who weren’t really there to see us. Which made me proud, because The Church has never been traditionally good at supporting other bands. We were always a bit half-hearted when opening for another band. It’s just not the same as when people are coming only to see you.
So…the musical side of things is very healthy, the personal side of things is mediocre, and to me the business side of things sucks. That’s my take on it.
Which is better than the other way around; Yeah the business is great, we’re all good friends, we just can’t write a song anymore!
SLIS: A line in that interview stood out to me. You said “if we do keep playing, it won’t be in the nostalgia circuit” and I thought that might be a comment about being on that Simple Minds/Devo tour. Is that what you meant?
Kilbey: No, I wasn’t talking about that, but that is a nostalgia circuit. There’s 2 band that are kind of not moving forward at all.
I mean Devo is different cause they sprang to life like that and they’re still kind of doing “We are Devo.” I guess one doesn’t really want them to go anywhere else. It’s a bit like Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck. You don’t want them to be more than what they are.
Simple Minds are definitely a band that’s on the nostalgia circuit, doing kind of pale, bombastic reworkings of their old material…there’s no real feeling you’re still seeing a band that is firing on all cylinders. It’s just like…they’re just kind of posing around on stage…pretty empty and sad really.
I don’t feel like The Church are like that. I feel like we’re kind of like Neil Young or something. We’ve still got an edge.
SLIS: I was talking to my wife the other day and I was saying, I have many bands that I love, but The Church is the most consistent. I can’t think of an album that you put out that I didn’t like. I like some more than other’s but they’re all good. And I think that’s a testament to how good you guys play together. You always make something memorable.
And you’re one of the few bands I can listen to any day of the week. Some bands you have to kind of be in a certain mood for. But with the Church, it can be in the car, winding down to go to sleep, or wherever. It always fits.
You’ve had a huge impact in my life.
Kilbey: Well, thank you Michael.
SLIS: Going back to the business stuff; if you could go back to a pre-internet business model would you? Or do you like having more contact with the fans and having more control via your website? What are your feelings about that as far as now versus when you were on a major label.
Kilbey: I think there’s really good things to be said for both.
I liked being on big labels and having things paid for and having them underwrite tours and give you big advances. I liked all that, but I didn’t like their interference, and I like the internet age with having lots of contact with fans and all that, but I miss making expensive videos and having clout when going to radio stations and getting my singles played, and all that.
*Speaking of music videos, click here to read my review of the work of John Morrison, who directed Kilbey’s ‘African Jesus’ video as well as some Kilbey/Kennedy material.
I guess I miss those sorts of things. So yeah, there’s mixed blessings. There were some good things about the old days. But there were some bad things. Just like now. It’s not all one way or the other I don’t think.
SLIS: Now on your March show with the Church, you’ll be performing with an orchestra, is that correct?
Kilbey: Yes, I’m gonna appear with an orchestra a few hours before the Church do our set…George Ellis who conducts the orchestra at the Sydney Opera House…he’s doing a set in Canberra and he’s asking me to sing some of my songs just with the orchestra. So I’m doing that, and the Church unfortunately aren’t playing with the orchestra.
SLIS: I just had visions of “Heyday” when I heard that..imagining hearing “Happy Hunting Ground“.
Kilbey: If only, but no we won’t be doing that unfortunately.
SLIS: As far as new artists, what new music do you like these days?
I had my period in my teenage years when I was seeking stuff out and took everything in. I was constantly seeking new music and had to be abreast of it all. But I’ve relinquished that and pretty much just listening to all the old stuff I was ever listening to.
SLIS: I feel that way. It seems like when you’re in high school and college, that’s when music has an all time importance in your lifestyle and after you get older you kind of stick to that stuff you always liked. You may find some new stuff here and there but it’s the stuff from those years that seem to stick.
Kilbey: Yeah. You have your period where you take it all in. and as you get older it gets harder to take anything new in. I have a sort of resistance to new stuff…I don’t know why that is, but its harder for something to make an impression on me these days.
SLIS: A lot of stuff I hear today is kind of pale imitation of what’s come before. You hear a lot of bands that have the 80’s sound. And I hear a lot of artists that sound like they were inspired by you guys. I hear your sound seeping into other artists. And you may never get quoted a lot, but I think that you were certainly influential.
Kilbey: Yeah I wish one of those bands would put one of our songs on their next trillion selling album.
But a lot of people go “this song reminds me of the Church and that reminds me of you” and y’know the Killers did ‘Under The Milky Way’ as a cover, and Smashing Pumpkins were doing “Reptile.” And Matchbox 20 of all things were doing ‘Milky Way’. So I guess we’ve had our influence. But I would just like to actually make something out of it.
But good luck to them y’know? That’s what it’s all about. take your influences and run with them.
SLIS: So any chance you’ll come to the States anytime soon for one of your various projects?
Kilbey: Greg was profusely inviting me to work with him in America. So I guess its in the cards. I’ve got 3 children who are still going to school, so it’s sort of hard for me to go off for months like I used to. I have to temper those invitations with the duties of a Dad.
The Church might come to America this year or they might not. At the moment there are no plans.
SLIS: Yeah I was kicking myself that I couldn’t make it to your last tour when you were doing Starfish, Priest=Aura and Untitled 23 in their entirety. I just wasn’t close to any of those cities.
Kilbey: Yeah, that was a really good tour. We were hitting a stride there.
SLIS: I bet. I was so upset that I couldn’t make it. I was like come to Texas please! But I know we aren’t always a convenient stop you can get to.
Well Steve, I’d like to thank you for the interview. It’s been such a pleasure talking to you. And I look forward to hearing/reviewing the Kilbey/Kennedy album upon it’s release!
Kilbey: Alright Michael, Thank you.