Steve Kilbey of the Church has good days and bad days. Most people, of course, you hope to catch on their good days. But if you have a chance to catch Kilbey on a bad day, I highly recommend it.
“In my childish world, it’s all going up and down all the time,” says the vocalist, bassist and primary songwriter of the celebrated Australian band, who come to the Rio on Friday, May 10. “On one level, we’ve had an amazing run. We’ve made over 30 albums, we can still tour the world, people still like us. On another level, I turn up last night at this gig in good faith and I got my ears blown off. They’re still ringing—more permanent damage. So I’m just feeling like, ‘What am I doing this for?’”
But misery loves company, and get Kilbey going on one of these bad days, and he can go off on some hilariously entertaining tangents.
For instance, although the band is continuing its tour celebrating the 30th anniversary of megahit 1988 album Starfish, which broke them to an international audience, he’s doesn’t really have much to say about it at the moment, except that it never stood out to him in the Church’s catalogue, and he certainly never expected it to define the band’s career to most of the world.
“It was just, like, another record,” he says. “I thought it would probably do the same as all the others.”
Even the details on the band’s biggest hit, “Under the Milky Way,” are a bit vague after all these years, other than the fact that the band wasn’t really that into it—including him.
“Nobody really wanted to do it,” he says. “I had done a demo of it, and gave it to our then-drummer, who ironically didn’t actually play on it. He gave it to our manager, and our manager insisted that we record it. It was probably the only good idea he ever had.”
It isn’t really until the subject of Peter Murphy comes up that Kilbey really gets wound up. Murphy, the lead singer of the goth band Bauhaus, had gone solo by the time he was opening for the Church on their Starfish tour in the late ’80s, and was famously petulant over the fact that he was not the headliner. Kilbey definitely remembers their time together.
“I remember Peter Murphy was a fucking imbecile, and he still is,” says Kilbey. “I’m still baffled by what anyone would see in him. I love to watch the video of the Swedish guys beating him up. Have you seen that on YouTube?”
When I say I haven’t, Kilbey declares it a must-watch. “Oh, go on YouTube and google ‘Peter Murphy gets beaten up in Sweden.’ You’ll have a lot of fun with that.”
Turns out the video comes from last December, when Murphy was thrown out of his own Bauhaus gig for throwing things at the audience, according to reports. The video was taken on the street outside the club afterward and shows Murphy cussing out and taking a swing at a security guard, which results in him being taken down hard by a couple members of the security team. Just talking about it makes Kilbey’s day a little better.
“He really needs a good kicking. He really does,” says a brightened Kilbey. He suggests I put up a link to the video with the headline, “A Complete Fuck-Knuckle Gets His Comeuppance At Last in Sweden.’’
Truth be told, though, his other memories about that time period aren’t that great, either. It was definitely full of record-label pressures, permanent damage to his hearing and touring that dragged on beyond the point of exhaustion.
But he’s carried on with the Church for three decades since, putting out a slew of excellent albums that have carried on the band’s slightly mystical brand of guitar rock. Can it really be that unfulfilling?
“Today I feel unfulfilled. Tomorrow I might feel fulfilled. One day I’m happy, one day I’m sad. It’s like a marriage, I suppose,” he says.
It’s too late for misery now though. He’s laughing as he asks me to deliver a message.
“Just say: I live to come back to Santa Cruz. I live to come back there and walk down the beachfront and have one of those tacos. So I’m just living for that, that will be my medicine. There’s a great hat shop there, a couple of great vegan restaurants. So I reckon Santa Cruz is going to totally sort me out.”
The Church performs at 8 p.m. on Friday, May 10, at the Rio Theatre, 1205 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. $31.50. folkyeah.com.