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Prolific Without the Altar: The Church

For someone with scant religious inclinations, a declaration of love to The Church may sound somewhat blasphemous, but as I’ve never been too concerned with political correctness hopefully we can let that slide. Given this infatuation, you can imagine my excitement when A. said band released a new album and B. a delicious six degrees of separation scenario gave me the chance to interview guitarist Peter Koppes.

Unlike some of the tragic 80s band revivals we’ve recently been subjected to, The Church has two key things in their favour: A. they never actually split, so it’s not simply a last ditch attempt to relive glory, and B. despite being around for almost three decades, they still make awesome music.

A shining ‘how to’ guide of maintaining artistic integrity in a commercial driven world, The Church has never traded their souls for The Man, which is why their back catalogue is perhaps slightly more extensive than the Aaron Carters of this world. And yes, I did just reference Aaron Carter. Excuse me while I throw up a little.

The key, according to Peter, has been making music they love and want to play, rather than trying to pander to mass appeal.

“We haven’t devoted ourselves to being popular,” he says.
“We play music that we think we will enjoy forever, rather than something that’s timely.

“Our music was always more mature in a sense, because our focus was on longevity. We weren’t about just writing pop music… we had more artistic direction.”

Although the popularity of The Church has ebbed and flowed over the years, the band has always maintained a strong core fan base – an excellent case study for the benefits of keeping a small group of committed fans rather than trying to hold onto a large group of casual ones.

Although some of these Church tragics sadly still refuse to let go of their obsession with the band’s older hits, the great majority have rolled with the punches and welcomed changes with open arms (albeit slowly). Made slightly easier, I suppose, by the fact The Church has never strayed so far as to cause you to shake your head and wonder What the Fuck?

Although their latest album release, Untitled #23 - AKA ‘so anti-commercial we don’t even need a title’ – has been labelled a return to the past by some, but I’d argue it’s closer to past glories than past sounds. Taking the best of those bits that make you love The Church already, plus a pretty pinch of Pink Floyd, the album showcases the best of the band members individual talents, underscored (as always) by Steve Kilbey’s haunting vocals.

Thankfully for those of us who’ve wasted many a nickel and dime on half albums, Untitled #23 also manages to avoid falling into the old ‘let’s try and impress people with our first six tracks and hope they forgive us for filling the rest with shit’ trap. Which although unsurprising for a band of their vintage and calibre, remains pretty fucking unbelievable, considering most bands struggle to produce 23 half decent songs, let alone that many (actually more) albums.

“Unfortunately the legacy is not very good, as there’s very few bands that have been around 30 years and still making good music,” Peter explains.
“And yet for us, our newer records, particularly the latest one, is being regarded as our best record ever.”

As with any family, the band’s time together has not been without the occasional tantrum. To help weather inevitable clashes of temperament and talent, and add to the musical cauldron, the individual members of the band have always explored paths outside the shadow of The Church, inevitably bringing these experiences back home.

“All our independent activities outside the band have an influence on our music. As people and artists in our own right, we certainly bring that back to the band,” Peter says.
“We get a lot of reasons and influences from other activities and it means we don’t get sick of each other. We realise the chemistry of The Church when we do get back together and we really enjoy it.”

Despite their lack of more ‘mainstream’ appeal, The Church has certainly retained plenty of fans within the industry itself, with their songs having been covered by artists as diverse as The Killers, Smashing Pumpkins and Sia.

“The problem we have is that people know Under the Milky Way and they know our hits, but they don’t know the name of the band,” Peter says.
“Hopefully when people hear these covers and see the name in promotional materials they might Google us and venture into more of our material. That way we can connect with a bigger audience when we’re touring, and have people realise it’s The Church, not just ‘that band that does Under the Milky Way’.”

Currently in the middle of an Australia-wide tour, it’s clear The Church has lost none of its live magic. Despite having been down this road for a good 30 years, they still manage to not only convey the love/ passion/ they have for the music, but successfully tread that fine line between keeping themselves and their fans happy. Not an easy task considering their extensive list of potential performance tunes.

“There’s a lot of songs, but some we might like one year and then not the next, and of course some we get sick of playing as well. We really just play what we want, plus those songs that people who don’t come to every show want to hear,” Peter says.

Those heading along to the Factory Theatre this Friday, December 12, may even get the pleasure of a downright rad rendition of the Smashing Pumpkin’s ‘Disarm’. Add to that to their own sweet, sweet sounds and you’ve got a pretty fucking awesome night ahead of you.

Tickets are $32.50 and you can purchase them here.

words: Jacqueline Flint


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