There are few people who could get away with the saying “I’ve probably written more songs than any other Australian songwriter and I’ve got to be up there in the world rankings somewhere”, but with Steve Kilbey, you know he’s not exaggerating.
With almost sixty albums under his belt, lead singer of The Church (who penned ‘Under the Milky Way’ Kilbey has plenty of room to reflect as he begins rehearsals for a series of shows with the Sydney University Symphony Orchestra.
Kilbey considers his relationship with Grant McLennan, the late co-founder of the Go-Betweens, “a real eye-opener”, marking a shift in his approach to song writing to this day, in a way, highlighting the degree to which one person can completely shift the way another perceives what they do.
“I often think, when I’m writing something, what would Grant do? How would he sing this? What kind of lyrics would he write?”
Despite viewing himself as a very introspective and inward-looking figure, Kilbey poignantly asserted that he “learned more from Grant than I’ve ever learned from anybody else.”
The Australian music scene in the 80s, and the association The Church has with the scene, is something that deeply bothers Kilbey. “People always say to me ‘you’re from the 80s’ – I fucking hated the 80s – what it represented, its aesthetic, and its music – I really fucking hated the 80s.”
It seems like a lot of this is integral to the Australian scene at the time, where again, The Church were very much loners. “The way we kept the band together was by hating everybody else.”
“There was very much a blokey, pub-rock – a Chisel, ‘Barnesy’ kind of thing.” At the same time, the Church were under a constant imperative to change, with their refusal heavily constricting where their career could go.
“It’s easy to look back on the 80s and say ‘look how stupid these fucking idiots look with their haircuts’, but at the time it was very hard to resist this in the industry.”
Mutual resistance, however, wasn’t enough for The Church to consider working with other Australian groups at the time. I was jealous of those doing better than I was and contemptuous of those doing worse than me.”
Kilbey reflected, “I wanted to live in my own very dark corner and didn’t want anybody coming in there.”