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The Church

Australian psych-rock guitar masters The Church enter their fifth decade of
making music with all the fierce creative energy of their early years. With new
members introduced, the band are deep into recording the band’s 25th studio
album, 40 years after their formation.

A ringing 12-string guitar introduction. A dreamlike lyric that seems to hold the cosmos in its hands. It’s still the most recognisable, covered and widely beloved song in the catalogue of a band that’s released a remarkable 26 albums.

 

And it’s 30 years old this year.

 

The song is Under The Milky Way, from The Church’s most successful album, the undisputed classic Starfish.

 

In 2018, the Australian paisley underground pioneers are enjoying a year of unique celebrations, which started with a sold-out appearance at the Meltdown Festival in London on the personal invitation of curator, The Cure’s Robert Smith, on 15 June.

 

Followed by a string of dates in the UK – including a sold-out fan convention in Shepherds Bush which saw the band perform their second album The Blurred Crusade in its entirety for the first time in that country – The Church arrive in the US on 30 September for a month’s worth of shows, with a return early in 2019 planned to complete the US circuit.

 

For these shows, Starfish will likewise be performed in its entirety, along with a selection of other gems from the band’s career, which now spans an incredible 38 years.

 

The band will return briefly to the UK in late October as very special guests of Fields of the Nephilim, a band whose music displays similar spectral soundscapes and whose leader, Carl McCoy, remains a big fan of the band.

 

From there a flight home to a fast selling Starfish 30th Anniversary National Tour of homeland theaters in Australia awaits to conclude the year.

 

Starfish remains best known for its iconic singles Under The Milky Way and Reptile. But like all classic albums, it’s a journey – and it starts with Destination, the six-minute epic that opens the album. In between it takes you to all point of the compass: North, South, East and West.

 

The sound of Starfish is open and uncluttered. That was a change for the band after the dense orchestrations of the previous album, Heyday. All 10 songs are individually memorable, yet speak to one other, making for an entirely cohesive, satisfying listening experience.

 

From there, the list of hits, band and fan favourites is long. Myrhh, which leader Steve Kilbey described in his memoir Something Quite Peculiar as the definitive Church song. Ripple, from the masterful Priest=Aura. Almost anything from 1982’s The Blurred Crusade.

 

Expect songs from Hologram of Baal, itself celebrating its 20th anniversary. And, of course, there’s The Unguarded Moment, the single that launched the band onto world stages on its release on its release in 1981.

 

But this is not just a nostalgia trip. The Church have been revitalised since 2014 with the addition of guitarist Ian Haug, formerly of another iconic Australian band, Powderfinger. Haug’s first outing with the band was on the acclaimed Further/Deeper, which yielded a new dynamic set-closer,  the infinitely pyschedelic and earth shaking Miami.

 

Last year’s Man Woman Life Death Infinity strengthened the bond, cementing Haug’s place with long-time fans, as well as with the rest of the band: singer, bass player and songwriter Kilbey, fellow guitarist Peter Koppes and longtime drummer Tim Powles. “Ian is a big part of the band now,” Koppes says. “He’s a consummate, intuitive musician with fantastic tones.”

 

Koppes goes on to sum up the band. “Music is like inner space and we’re astronauts,” he says. It’s a spellbinding thing, it’s hypnotising. That’s why people like it. It takes them into another world and we’re here to open those doors.”

 

The Church’s strange journey remains an endless sea of possibilities. In 2018, it’s time for the band to celebrate one of their crowning glories, but always with an eye to the future. Further. Deeper. The Church truly are a rock band for the ages.

 

 

IT’S A UNIQUE BAND that finds itself cherished as a bona fide legend in the ARIA Hall of Fame while remaining a virtual enigma to the world that knows its name. But maybe that’s no more remarkable than the mystery that continues to unfold within its own ranks.

the church’s accidental signature tune, Under The Milky Way, is like a lighthouse on the brink of a continent forever to be discovered: 25 albums over 35 years and countless diversions that have almost destroyed them a dozen times, yet always reaffirm a mutual commitment to an uncompromising and unparalleled act of creation.

At this stage of the journey, FURTHER/ DEEPER seems both unimaginable and the only option on their endless quest from chaos to resolution. It’s an album of breathtaking new vistas and intense emotions, of sinister black caskets and gorgeous caverns of light, a work born of immense struggle and effortless expression.

“The magic started on day one,” says singer and bass player Steve Kilbey. “Someone strummed a chord or struck a drum or plucked a note and we were off. We wrote and recorded like demons and it was inspiring to feel every member using all his resources in the service of this record.”

Twenty-six songs were born over eight days of exploration in Sydney in late 2013. Guitarist Peter Koppes, recalibrating his personal canvas in the absence of his long-time foil Marty Willson-Piper, drew palpable inspiration from the quartet’s remixed chemistry.

“This new incarnation of the band with Ian Haug has brought a joyous energy to the music we’ve written together,” he says. “The rhythm swings more than usual yet the moods still range from melancholy pop to our modern version of heavy psychedelic rock, as in Laurel Canyon, to the epic gothic-progressive dance track, Globe Spinning.”

From the ominous allure of the lead track, Vanishing Man, to the beguiling tippy toes of Pride Before A Fall; the chiming keys of Love Philtre to the sheer hammer horror Toy Head; the exhilarating breeze of Old Coast Road and the ultimate, panoramic drama of the mini-screenplay that is Miami, FURTHER/ DEEPER delivers on the promise of its title in a combined blossoming of melody, rhythm and audacity.

For Haug, transitioning from the multi-platinum ashes of Powderfinger to join “one of my favourite bands of all time” was an utterly surreal experience, audibly expressed in fantastic new dimensions of the church’s fabled “guitarchitecture”.

“The first song we wrote was Miami, and from there we splintered off into several styles of surreal to intense psychedelia — and songs to make you drive fast,” he says. “It was a trip. And an incredible honour to be accepted so readily into a songwriting as well as guitar-playing role.”

Drummer Tim Powles was again instrumental in the painstaking alchemy that boiled the explosion of ideas down to 12 potent pieces in the early months of 2014, a process that often saw members working simultaneously in separate studios across multiple instruments to produce a work of singular cohesion.

“After an eternal twenty years in the church I marvel more than ever at how we’ve become masters of our own freedom,” he says. “No strings attached, no view to winning a prize. How lucky are we? Or have we earned it? We’ve got better at it too. Or maybe it’s got the better of us. It seems to devour us. Like magic.”

Like magic. As Kilbey sings in the desperate, beatific throes of Delirious:

“These pieces

Are easy

Try to put them together

It’s impossible…”

…and yet…