When the Church released their first-ever hit single, "The Unguarded Moment" (off 1981's Of Skins and Heart), the Aussie band also issued their most dishonest lyric: "It's so hard/Finding inspiration." I get a hearty laugh from guitarist/songwriter Marty Willson-Piper when I ask whether his band have ever had a hard time finding inspiration.
FADBUSTERS Willson-Piper, Koppes, Powles, and Kilbey never worried about being "of the times" — or about reacting against them.
"No, never. Never." Willson-Piper is relaxing in a Denver hotel room in the midst of the Church's tour (which brings them to Showcase Live in Foxborough next Thursday) in support of Untitled #23 (Second Motion). This release is the 22nd long-player in 28 years for the band, whose line-up has remained constant: Willson-Piper, original bassist/vocalist Steve Kilbey and guitarist Peter Koppes, and, since 1996, drummer Tim Powles. Allowing his laugh to give way to his thick Liverpudlian accent (he joined the band in 1980 after emigrating to Oz from England), Willson-Piper continues, "If somebody would pay for, you know, a big house where we could go and jam and play every day, with no other concerns, we could make, easily, 15 or 20 albums a year. That's just how we are — there's no end to the formula for writing songs, you are only limited by your own limitations, right?"
Don't be put off by that use of "formula" — the Church's output is one of the least cookie-cutter of any band of their time. Sprung from the fertile post-punk pop scene of late-'70s Australia, their music has moved through entire eras of categorization while always managing to elude genre limitations. Too blistering for the serene New Psychedelia of the early '80s; too conscious of pop-song conventions for punk or no-wave; too sunny for goth, but too dark (for the most part) for the pop charts, the Church have carved out a niche — or assembled a cult — that sets them safely apart from their largely dated early-'80s peers.
"We may be a cult," agrees Willson-Piper, "but lots of things are cults. Christianity is a cult! We've always done it the hard way. I mean, it's like this: some bands are show-biz, some bands are dedicated to the song, some bands are dedicated to the exploration. I think that with the Church, we sort of live in our own world, you know? People try to find the words to suit what we do, but long ago we hit on some kind of chemistry between us, and it really defies that."
The Church also defy (and deny) the notion of being an '80s band. Although they will likely forever be known (especially to American ears) for their lone US Top 40 hit — the romantic ballad "Under the Milky Way," from 1988's Starfish — you shouldn't confuse them with the legions of '80s one-hit-wonders who are milking the teat of nostalgists. "Everybody who knows anything about us knows that we completely transcended the '80s," Willson-Piper continues. "We might have been the most successful at that time, in terms of sales, but creatively, there's nothing '80s about us! Our subsequent records show that. And honestly: if we started around the same time as another one of those bands, so what? What does the temporal aspect have to do with anything?"
This way of thinking is important in understanding why, when you comb through the Church's dense discography, there's such consistency. It was never a matter of sounding "of the times," or reacting against them. "We have never, ever, ever catered to the public taste. We just never considered it an option! I mean, we've been called 'progressive,' we've been called 'neo-psychedelic.' You could call our music psychedelic, but I think it's more . . . moody. It needs you to come to our party. It's both jagged and dreamy — but at the same time, if you see us live, you're going to see a quite powerful rock band. We have moments of atmosphere and beauty, but lots of heavy moments and wailing solos."
Perhaps this is the miracle of the Church — lasting nearly 30 years with the visage of a million moods while continually refining their sound, even when casual fans might be satisfied with the same 10 warhorses over and over. "The amazing thing about music is that it creates magic at all different levels. You can have poetry, you can have incredible technique that can stimulate you, you can have a beat that drives you crazy in the streets, or you can have a guy singing very clichéd lyrics that brings tears to your eyes. For us, our focus, our drive, is in generating art, generating innovation, eclecticism — anything that isn't gray and banal and bland and repeating itself."
THE CHURCH + ADAM FRANKLIN | Showcase Live, 23 Patriot Place, Foxboro, MA | July 2 at 8 pm | $25 | All ages | 888.354.7042 orwww.ticketmaster.com