STEVE KILBEY The X-Press Interview

As far as Steve Kilbey is concerned, there’s nothing in his life he doesn’t mind being put out there for the world to see. Something Quite Peculiar is a new film documenting the story of The Church frontman through the dizzying heights of international stardom to harrowing lows of a decade ‘lost’ to heroin addiction. It’s all just part of the experience that has made Steve Kilbey the man he is today. It will be a fitting return to the South-West for Kilbey, attending the screening for a special Q&A session, with footage of The Church’s last tour in the region a strong focus of the film. Directed by Mike Brook and produced by Patti Brook, the WA premiere of Something Quite Peculiar screens on August 26 at The Margaret River Cultural Centre as part of the CinefestOZ Film Festival. When BRAYDEN EDWARDS calls Steve Kilbey he is “sitting in a vegan cafe, eating vegan burgers and a vegan milkshake” in Randwick, Sydney.

At 62, he and The Church are still staying true to the work ethic of their heyday, with a busy touring schedule and an unwaning desire to release records unlike anything they have done before. New single Another Century gave fans a sample of The Church’s upcoming album due in September and a snapshot of where Kilbey is now as songwriter that hasn’t stopped evolving. The film was largely based on Steve Kilbey’s 2014 memoir Something Quite Peculiar, but with a fresh approach to portraying the man himself and the ARIA Hall of Fame group focused on the current day.

There is a part in the film focused on your painting and the good 50 or more portraits of yourself you have created and you admit there that maybe you’re bit of a narcissist. Even still, surely the idea of having a feature length film made about your own life was a little confronting?

Well, I stand back and I see myself as a product. I see all these adventures I’ve had. The journey from being a pop star to being a junkie to coming out the other end. Having loads of children and everything else I’ve done. I see it as a story and I thought it would make an interesting and great documentary and I have nothing to hide at all. Everyone in the world can watch it for all I care. I’ve never really done anything to be ashamed of and my life is an ongoing work of art and an open book for whoever wants to look at it. I think people who like my music would enjoy seeing just what I get up to. What do you think? Do you think the film was too honest or gives too much away?

I imagine for most people if they were to have a camera in their face bringing out the most significant and challenging parts of their life it would make them feel uncomfortable in some way. But I guess it’s different for someone who has been in the media spotlight for so many years…

From the first rock concert I ever saw when I was ten years old I knew I wanted to do this. So I was always completely happy for that to be part of it and actually expected it and wanted it. As Stuart Coupe says in the film, “he doesn’t care what people think of him, as long as he knows that they’re thinking of him”. It’s a very funny moment in the film but he’s exactly right. It’s the nature of who I am and my narcissism, that I want to keep doing new things that I want people to think about, talk about enjoy. I guess that’s what gets me out of bed every morning.

You also say that despite your success you’re not particularly wealthy these days. Do you think that has been beneficial in compelling you to keep recording and touring while others in a more comfortable position might have lost that motivation to do so?

I think it’s been the perfect thing that could happen to a musician who wants to keep being creative. If i had a load of money, if I had a great big house and all this stuff and didn’t have to do it there’s a good chance I wouldn’t. But because I have to keep going and ducking and weaving and doing new things and the band is the same it’s put us in a position where we keep growing out of necessity rather than being some sort of fat cats sitting back touring once a year raking in all the dough. I think it is a better position as far as creativity goes. It’s not good to be completely broke and have nothing but it’s not like that either. I’m just like everybody else I live in a rented flat, I’ve got a bunch of kids, and I have to keep working hard to pay for it all.

There’s a lot of focus on your feelings towards Under the Milky Way and how you feel it overshadows the 750 or more other songs you have written. But if there was any other song that took off and you were to be known best for, what would it be?

I think it would still be Under the Milky Way. I’m not upset with it being that song, only that for many people it’s the ‘only’ song. I think if people like that had a good look at our back catalogue and everything I’ve done there would more songs that they would like as much as that. But it is a perfect representative of what I am distilled into four minutes. I just wish it wasn’t just the one song that people talked about, I wish it was ten – although I couldn’t really say what those other ones would be.

The South West region features a number of times in the film and you seemed to have mixed feelings about the place…

Last time we went there I thought they weren’t going to enjoy us but I was wrong. I apologise to everyone for that. Because we’d been there once before and played and nobody liked it. That was a long time ago when we weren’t as good as we are now. I guess I was too apprehensive for my own good.

As someone who had read the book Something Quite Peculiar I was expecting the film to be a bit more biographical but really it’s more focused on yourself here and now. Why do you feel yourself or the directors went with that approach?

I don’t know. Maybe there’s not much quality archived stuff left of me. It wasn’t my idea. If they had approached me and said the film was going to be made half from archived stuff and half from now or even all archived stuff I would have been fine with that. I suppose you look at other documentaries like the ones for Paul Kelly or Nick Cave, it’s sort of what they tend to be these days.

I felt that your recount of your time as a drug addict in the book was refreshing in that it didn’t seem to romanticise or moralise it the way it often is in rock and roll in particular. Did you need to make point of that when this film was being made or did the writing and directing team understand that mindset?

Well I don’t think anyone really understands it until they’ve done it. I think it’s time the story is told just as it is without all that moralising. Letting people know how good it feels when you first start and how bad it feels by the time you get to the end. Otherwise people don’t understand why someone would keep doing it. It’s not a bad thing. It’s not an evil thing. It’s not like a crime against society if someone likes to use heroin but it is something that changes their relationship with themselves. For people who have had really awful lives or don’t like themselves I think they find this thing that makes their lives more tolerable and perhaps we as a society should consider letting them have it.

I knew a lot of people in Sweden I thought should be able to get that stuff if they wanted to because they’d had such rotten lives right from when they were children and it helped switch that off. Who are we as a society to tell these people they can’t have the one thing that makes those voices in their head stop?

I suppose as difficult as it might have been for you, there was at least another life you knew you could go to or go back to where as for the others their life was all they had…

Toward the end, the people I was hanging out with in Stockholm, I was the only one who had started taking drugs for recreational purposes. All of them were taking it because their lives had been so fucking horrific they were taking it to blot out the horror that they had endured. So I could still observe these people and think “they should be allowed to have this all the time”. It shouldn’t be illegal. They need this and nothing is going to stop them taking it. You put them in jail and the first thing they’ll do when they get out is get back on it. Even if they’re in jail for ten years.

You seem to keep moving at such a pace creatively that they might need to update the film again in a few years time. Your new single Another Century has just come out and you’ve described it as “unlike any songs the Church have done in the past”. Can you explain this new direction you have taken and what we can expect from the album? And when?

I think Another Century is one of the best songs on the album so in a way it’s a little naughty to release that as the first single and have everyone think the whole album will be like that. The whole album is pretty different and we’ve been working on it for some time, with everyone bringing their own expertise. With all the experience between us I think it’s only natural that we keep coming up with good things and that’s how it should be. Over time you keep getting better and better. It’ll be coming out in September so we’re all looking to forward to that too.

If they were to update the film in a few years time what would you hope to be in there? What are you hoping to achieve or what are you looking forward to in the coming year or two?

I hope people go on liking the music I make. I don’t have any more ambition than to keep making records and keep doing tours. If in a few years time I’m still doing that I’ll be as happy as a lamb.