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Steve Kilbey

Steve-KilbeySteve Kilbey of the Church and Robyn Hitchcock of The Soft Boys combine their staggering songwriting talents and weighty back catalogues for one night only at Fly By Night on Saturday, April 26. TRAVIS JOHNSON talks with Kilbey about art, writing and spreading yourself too thin.

Ask Steve Kilbey what he’s been up to lately and you’d best take a seat; the answer could take some time.

“Well,” he says, drawing in breath to answer what seemed to be an innocuous enough question. “The Church have made an album (their first since 2009’s Untitled 23) and I’ve been working on that and I’ve been working on a couple of other collaborations. I’ve done some shows with Mark Gable from The Choirboys, which were really pretty funny, actually. We’re playing all my favourite and slightly obscure Aussie songs. Not all of them, but a lot of them are slightly obscure hits from the past. Me and Mark Gable and Richard Ploog, The Church’s old drummer – we’re doing that and we’re having a lot of fun.”

Plus there’s this: “I’m writing my memoirs – I’m finally getting behind the eight-ball on that. The contractual date when I’m supposed to deliver that is looming and I’m trying to get it all in.”

Kilbey is constantly on the move, either touring, recording or, if nothing else, posting on social media. He admits that sometimes the hectic pace of his life takes its toll. “I’m overcommitted and I just hit a bit of a chronic fatigue thing at the moment. Everything’s piling up and I’m feeling really worn out. It’s been a bit of a hard slog. But I am very busy and I would be more busy if I could manage it. I’ve always been busy – I’ve always been knocking out things all the time, doing paintings and doing gigs. I can’t say no to anything, so anything anyone suggests I go, ‘Yep! I’ll do that!’ I’ve got a lot of need to create and I’m always working on something. I don’t know, it’s what I am, I guess. It defines me to keep working. I want to keep working! I mean, what I do isn’t really work; it’s not like digging a ditch. It’s what I enjoy. I’m just sort of driven on by a sense of trying to be an overachiever, I guess.”

His music aside, Kilbey is quite proud of the general reaction to his paintings, which were exhibited here in Perth when he last toured solo. “Yeah, I reckon I’m in a strange position in that because I’m sort of saying to people, ‘If you like my music, you might like my paintings.’ Somebody who’s trying to do everything at once can be a bit, I don’t know, just a bit pretentious, so I’m always glad when they come and see the paintings and they’re happy with them. I was very happy with what people were saying. I don’t think my painting is as good as my music, because I’ve been working at music a lot longer, so I’m really happy with whatever I get.”

When next he heads our way, it’ll be in the company of Robyn Hitchcock, perhaps still best known for his work in The Soft Boys. You’d expect the pair, both heavily influenced by the paisley psychedelia of the ‘60s, both veterans of iconic bands, both well travelled on roads high and low, to have an epic and storied relationship, finally culminating in a co-headlining tour. Disappointingly, the truth is far more prosaic.

“A promoter said to me, ‘If I bring Robyn into Australia, would you play with him on the tour?’” Kilbey reveals. “And I said, ‘Yeah, of course.’ So I guess he ran the idea by Robyn. It’s been a long time coming. A lot of people have been suggesting to me for a long time, ‘Oh, you should meet robin. You should do something with Robyn.’ and it’s finally happening, so I’m very happy.

“He’s got a lot of stuff out there,” he continues. “He’s a bit like me. You’d have to be kind of a mega-fan to keep track of everything he’s ever done. I think, between us… I saw someone said we had over a thousand songs, but it must be a lot more than that, because I’ve got almost a thousand songs on my own and I know Robyn’s been going as long as me and knocking out albums. Yeah, I definitely like The Soft Boys and, over the years, the things that Robyn’s done that have pierced my foggy consciousness, I’ve always enjoyed. I’ve been just checking out a few things on YouTube, checking out his later stuff, and I really like what he does. I think that, theoretically, on paper, it should be a good match.”

And if you’re worried that delving into those thousands of songs won’t bring up any classic hits for the fans, rest assured that Kilbey is aware of that issue. “I imagine there’ll be some familiarity, otherwise you get lynched after the show if you play all totally obscure things.”

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