BETWEEN WAKING AND DREAMING
A CONVERSATION WITH STEVE KILBEY OF THE CHURCH
“That was a hit in Canada,” Steve Kilbey remembered about their single “The Unguarded Moment”, when we sat down for a conversation via Zoom. “They flew us to Canada, to do some press, but by this time it had kind of dried up. They put us in this little town, it was winter, and I remember walking outside with the guy who was doing the interviews and we could not believe this wind was blowing through our vastly inadequate clothes. I could not believe how fucking cold it was! And we were in the middle of nowhere and no one was interested. That was my first experience.
“You know we never really cracked it in Canada, they are a bit uninterested in us. We are not coming during our current tour. I thought they would have liked us, but for some reason Canada has never taken us to their bosom. It is a bit like New Zealand, although we were doing well in Australia, Canada is a bit the same. It never really happened for us properly.”
And the conversation starts. This is an honour, because although they may not have been welcomed by many Canadians, this Canadian has been a big fan since “The Unguarded Moment”. Kilbey formed the Church with Peter Koppes, Marty Willson-Piper and Nick Ward in 1980. Steve Kilbey and The Church are getting ready to release their 18th album (The Hypnogogue) since their debut album Of Skins And Hearts in 1981.
“I have always been fascinated by the hypnagogic state, which is the state that exists between waking and dreaming. You’re lying there, you are going to sleep and your thoughts start turning into something else, where they are no longer thoughts that you are thinking ‘I gotta pay the bill tomorrow’ or ‘I wonder how my Auntie Maureen is doing’. The thoughts take on their own colours, lights, and the thoughts are elusive. And just before you start dreaming properly, there is a brief hypnagogic state,” Kilbey explained about the title track and album title. “There is no such word as ‘hynogogue’, however I have been thinking for a long time, imagine if there was a place called The Hypnogogue where they can induce the hypnagogic state. I have been thinking of that idea and this place.”
In writing and recording the album, Kilbey and The Church made the decision to turn the album into a concept album. “We started making this album, and as we were making it, it occurred to me that I would like it to be a concept album. Because I am not really a novelist or a real storyteller, I am a songwriter, all of the details of the story didn’t come to me. So I just got a brief outline of the story which is that there is this place named The Hypnogogue, and a singer/songwriter goes there to use the Hypnogogue to drag the songs out of his head while he is in the hypnagogic state and it all goes wrong. He falls in love with the lady who invented it and the songs they get out of the process are toxic and have a bad effect on the people who listen to them. That is the extent of the story I have, and I stretched that pretty flimsy framework of the story around a whole album and tried to make it all make sense.”
And part of the process for Kilbey and the band was letting the process dictate what the album would become. “When the band reassembled in 2019, I didn’t know what was going to happen and I didn’t have a single idea. But as it was all unfolding, I am open to feel what wants to come down the tubes, what it is out there that wants to be born. Pretty much like sitting down with a piece of paper and starting noodling away and while you are noodling away a horse appears. And you go, ‘Oh, I am doing a horse’. As we started to record, as we started to jam, the idea of The Hypnogogue slowly formed in my mind and when it was all over, I took the recordings away to figure out how all of these songs fit into The Hypnogogue. It wasn’t all planned out, it happened slowly and I was open to it. I was open to the contributions the other guys made.”
But for Kilbey, a concept album does not have to be a straight ahead story, as some of the classic concept albums of the past, but rather leaving space for the listener to add their own story and ideas. “I like the albums best where the storylines are left up to you , where you fill it in yourself and not someone spells it all out for you at every turn. There is a little booklet that comes with the record and has vague pointers as to what is going on, but it doesn’t really matter if you don’t understand or want to know about it. The songs will, hopefully, stand on their own.”
In many ways, The Church has been producing music that one could say exists in The Hypnogogue. Kilbey agrees,
“I thought the greatest purpose of music is to lie down in a room, put the record on and drift off to sleep with it and listen to it while you are in this shallow state of being half asleep and half awake listening to the music. I love that idea. That’s how I used to listen to my favourite records. Putting them on, in my bedroom when I was a kid, lying down on the bed, and falling asleep listening to it and it all going so deep. If someone says to me your music puts me to sleep and they mean it in that sense, I think that is a wonderful compliment.”
While The Hypnogogue is a new Church album, Kilbey has a healthy solo career as well. Over the years he has released numerous solo albums along with albums with The Church.
“It’s whatever I am working on. If I am working on The Church, anything I do will be for The Church. If I am not working on The Church, anything I do is not for them. Every now and then I write a song that I feel I have to give to the Church. The last time that happened was with a song “All Coast Road”. It was on an album called Further Deeper. I was writing for something else and I wrote that song and I thought ‘this would be really silly if this song did not end up with The Church because it is so fucking Churchy’. But, it is determined by what I am doing.”
As an established artist, who has a significant history, The Church, in a sense, competes with itself. Fans have expectations and at times it is difficult to move fans along with the new music and albums.
“It is a contradiction…that is kind of what I want from the artists I like. I often don’t want a radical departure from what they were doing before, so what you want is constant change and yet retaining what you like about it. That is a contradiction to straddle right there. I guess I sort of figured out a way to do that. I think I know what people like about it and want things a certain way and as we move forward we try to make sure that remains and yet at the same time take in some new things that are available.”
The Church continues with a tour planned for the year and a new album that fans will love and may gain them some new listeners. The Hypnogogue is a brilliant album and another home run for Steve Kilbey and company. New members have joined the band (Jeffrey Cain and Ashley Naylor) and have fit in perfectly with the band. Cain has been touring and performing live with the band but this is the first studio recording on which he appears. And the end result is a brilliant new album that is a welcome addition to The Church catalogue.
Kilbey has a little advice when listening to The Hypnogogue, and having listened to it, I agree.
“Once upon a time, you get an album you listen to it all the way through. You listen to side one and you flip it over and listen to side two the way nature intended. I would hope that is how people apprehend this album. I think the best experience would be to listen to it from start to finish”