Steve Kilbey is a songwriter, musician and author.
Steve is best known as the songwriter and frontman of Australian rock band The Church, a role which he has inhabited for 35 years across the band’s extensive and respected career. In 2014, he became a published author with the release of his memoir, Something Quite Peculiar, which explored his history working as a professional musician, from his first job playing in a popular cover band in Canberra as a teenager, through to more recent years as he approaches 60.
I first met Steve in February 2013, when I interviewed him for my book Talking Smack, about his experiences with illicit drugs in general and his addiction to heroin in particular. The Kilbey chapter opened the book, not only because it was the most immediately engaging and transformative story, but because Steve is such an articulate and fascinating interviewee that I was tempted to just publish the transcript in its entirety, and leave it at that. (An edited version of the Kilbey chapter from Talking Smack was published in The Weekend Australian Review, which you can read here; there’s also a funny YouTube clip filmed at our first meeting here.)
This conversation took place on a Sunday afternoon in a downmarket hotel room in inner-city Brisbane in early July, when The Church were playing two shows at The Triffid. This was billed as a double-album tour, where the 1982 album The Blurred Crusade and the band’s most recent album, Further/Deeper, were intended to be played in full, but as we discuss here, the band soon realised that wasn’t such a good idea. While we spoke, Steve and I sat on the floor of the hotel room, with the microphone between us. There were a couple of other blokes in the room while we recorded: fellow journalist Michael Dwyer, and Mike Brook, who filmed our interview as part of the documentary about Kilbey he’s currently working on.
Our conversation touches on the experience of writing his memoir, and Steve’s response to my review published in The Weekend Australian; the differences between his on-stage and off-stage personalities; how he went about learning the bass guitar; how his artistic career is dictated by money, and how he enjoys being lean and hungry; the origins of his remarkable blog, which is named The Time Being; and how he prefers to write lyrics in a stream-of-consciousness style that’s rarely edited between the page and finalised albums.
Steve Kilbey began his professional music career when he was 17. He played in several bands before forming The Church in Sydney in 1980. After some initial success, Kilbey and The Church shot to international fame in 1988 when their album Starfish, featuring the song ‘Under the Milky Way’, rose to the top of the music charts in both Australia and the US. Kilbey has collaborated with a vast array of musicians on various projects and has produced a number of solo works as well. He is also a painter, poet and music producer. In 2010 The Church was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame. Steve Kilbey currently lives in Bondi, Sydney and continues to evolve through his craft as a vocalist, songwriter, poet, artist, actor, writer and guitarist bringing all his talents together for unique and instinctive performances.
Show notes and links to Steve's writing and music discussed in this episode: http://penmanshippodcast.com/episode-9-steve-kilbey/
Steve Kilbey on Twitter: @SteveKilbey
Penmanship on Twitter: @PenmanshipAU