The Church - Biography
The Church could have called it quits at so many points in their long and often trying career. They began as a perfectly promising, semi-psychedelic pop band that slowly marched toward a more gothic and almost prog-rock type of sound. But as success came knocking, the creativity that was expected of the Church ended up suffocating them, resulting in a lackluster album and a cold shoulder from the mainstream audience that had just started warming up to them. Fortunately, the band found freedom in that failure, releasing one of their best albums, Priest=Aura in the early ‘90s. Even since then, it hasn't been easy for The Church, but they kept on well into the next decade, where they managed to release a couple of albums that rivaled their glorious ‘80s output.
The band was formed in Canberra, Australia (southwest of Sydney) in 1980 by Steve Kilbey (vocals/bass), Peter Koppes (guitar), and Nick Ward (drums). To flesh out their sound, the trio soon brought in a second guitarist, Marty Wilson-Piper, rounding out their lineup later in the year. Of these four musicians, Koppes was the only one who could pass for a professional at the time of the band's inception. The Church (who claim to have taken their name only because no one else had already done so) recorded a four-song demo which was then sent to Australian record label, ATV Northern. They released a full-length debut in 1981 called Of Skins and Heart (Arista), a terrific first album by any band's standards. Most of the songs live up to its best track, “The Unguarded Moment,” which received a considerable amount of airplay.
Ward was replaced with Richard Ploog following the album's release and the band returned in 1982 with the Bob Clearmountain-produced The Blurred Crusade (Arista). The Church had clearly grown more sophisticated since their last outing and their new single, “Almost with You,” peaked at 21 in the Australian charts. In 1983, the band put out their third album in as many years, Séance (Arista), which they produced on their own. They needed help on the mixing boards, however, so they brought in Nick Launay. The result of Launay's mix was a harsh, staccato drum sound and an all-around cryptic effect on the music. The band was unhappy with this and although the album was well-reviewed overseas, it sold poorly. Two back-to-back EPs, Persia and Remote Luxury were released in 1984 to a lukewarm response in Australia beforeWarner Bros repackaged them as one album called Remote Luxury (Arista) for release in the States, where The Church had a swelling fan base. They went on their first tour of America that year, a jaunt that proved to be a disappointment for the band.
After an album and two EPs that failed to match the excitement and creativity of The Blurred Crusade, the band's energies were understandably low. They took a break for most of '85 before reentering the studio together. The break must have provided them with a total rejuvenation as the new songs they were coming up with were the best they'd yet recorded. Kilbey, who was more or less the sole architect of the band's back catalog, encouraged the other members to bring in their own ideas and they acquiesced, giving the album a jam-based feel. Reception of the Peter Walsh-produced Heyday (1986-Arista) was absolutely tremendous, giving the band their best reviews up to that point. Australia, however, was still semi-indifferent toward the band, so much so that their label EMI reactively dropped them. Sensing that they'd do better overseas anyway, The Church signed with major label Arista Records.
Now finding themselves in the foreign jungle of Los Angeles, the band began to feel the pressures that come with a major label. Kilbey was urged to take vocal lessons. The band was paired up with a couple of session guitarists, Danny Kortchmar and Waddy Wachtel, who produced the album with Greg Ladanyi and argued with the band about their choices. Worst of all for The Church was the city in which they were living, a place they hated and couldn't wait to get away from. The good news was that while LA provided them with a level of sickness it also gave them plenty of inspiration, as the negative feelings it caused them were explored in the songs they created there. Starfish (Arista), the most ambitious album by The Church and the one that proved to be the most successful, was released in 1988. It gave them their biggest hit, “Under the Milky Way,” a gothic, slow-burning ballad that shot up the charts, peaking at number two. It was followed by “Reptile,” which broke the top 40.
Unfortunately, The Church would quash all the positive things being said about them with their next album. Arista again forced the band to work with Wachtel in LA and the atmosphere was even worse than the last time. Drummer Ploog was delving deeper into drugs, driving a wedge between himself and Kilbey. Also, he couldn't keep a straight tempo and so he was cast away, the band replacing him with an infallible drum machine. 1990's Gold Afternoon Fix failed to continue the commercial success that the Church had finally earned. “Metropolis” was the only song to do well, becoming a number one modern rock track, but interest in the band was fast on the wane.
Jay Dee Daugherty, formerly of the Patti Smith Group, joined the band on drums for the subsequent tour. He then went to Australia with them, where The Church would record an album their way, without the pressures of commercial success, Los Angeles or Waddy Wachtel. The new lineup recorded Priest=Aura (Arista) for a 1992 release. Largely seen by fans as the best Church album and their creative peak, the LP was neither a hit with critics nor audiences upon its release. Tensions were growing within the band and Koppes quit, as did Daugherty. Kilbey and Wilson-Piper were all that was left.
Luckily, the duo found a permanent replacement on drums, hiring Tim Powles, who was as good a drummer as The Church ever had. Although the album they recorded, Sometime Anywhere, stood up with a lot of their best material, The Church were now officially out of the public conscious and the album undersold badly enough to get them dropped from Arista. The band bounced back soon enough. In 1996 they were able to release a new album, Magician among the Spirits (Griffin Music). Koppes returned to the band on the ensuing tour.
For the next ten years, the Church experienced another set of ups and downs, including in-fighting, missteps in their songwriting and commercial disappointment. At one point, Kilbey was even busted for trying to purchase heroin. But they kept putting out albums all the same. In 1998, the band released Hologram of Baal (Thirsty Ear), followed by a collection of covers called A Box of Birds (Thirsty Ear) in 1999. In 2002, two Church albums hit the shelves, After Everything Now This (Thirsty Ear), and Parallel Universe (Thirsty Ear), a reworking of many of the band's older songs. Forget Yourself, a terrific comeback album, followed in 2003 after the band had signed with Cooking Vinyl. The self-released Jammed followed in 2004, followed by Back with Two Beasts (also self-released). An unplugged album of old songs, Momento Descuidado, appeared in 2005 for the Liberation Blue acoustic series followed by El Momento Siguiente (2007 Liberation). Uninvited, Like the Clouds (Cooking Vinyl) followed in 2006. Untitled #23 (Second Motion) was released in 2009.