To say Peter Koppes of The Church is a complex, intelligent man is bordering on understatement. He hasn’t yet claimed to be bigger than Jesus but he’s happy to analyse popular music outfits such as The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix without batting an eyelid. Koppes is a musical scientist it seems, on the verge of releasing a music theory book. ‘I do teach music theory in fact at University and stuff like that…it’s a science like quantum physics…the reason the Beatles were a phenomenon I’ve realised is they were doing naïve chord progressions that no one else could harmonise…they were doing a classical form of blues’.
I asked Koppes about the process for their latest studio album Man Woman Life Death Infinity and whether there were tensions in the studio like the early days. ‘It’s always the same pretty much we just get in the studio, we’re good conversationalists…Ian [Haug, guitars, ex Powder Finger] for the last album Further Deeper was feeling like he was the new kid on the block whereas this album he felt he belongs in the band…he could walk in on this one and just go for it, we all just go for it, but every song is different…we want to be like the Beatles… young people these days don’t like the Beatles because the cool ones think they are too cabaret, and I say, no that’s just Paul McCartney’.
Koppes’ speaking voice sounds similar to the pop scientist Dr Karl (Koppes’ hero incidentally) and mid-interview I was convinced I was actually talking to Dr Karl on a special music science program (that’s a great idea Triple J!). ‘You probably realised that the blues scale is a minor pentatonic over a major key…if you shift it forward frets it becomes the major pentatonic…there’s two other modes the dorian and phrygian modes that also become the major modes as well’.
After some initial success for The Church in the early 1980s there seemed to be a number of years in the wilderness for the band and I asked Koppes what he thought of that period. ‘I never thought it would be easy in Australia but I thought there was a lot of venues, a lot of people playing music, there might be enough for us, if people like Ice House they might like our style of music…we’ve just been hanging on a thread the whole time…we were always thinking in American terms actually’.
Arguably the most well-known song from the band is Under the Milky Way which was more of a ‘fluke song’ according to Koppes. ‘Steve [Kilbey] was going to sell it as a Frank Sinatra cover for somebody and we recorded it ourselves on a sync-clavier as a joke…that became a novelty hit…novelties is what you need to have a hit’.
There was a great influx of new technology in the early 1980s and I asked Koppes if he thought The Church was a ‘victim’ of this invasion. ‘Everyone was, I think Iggy Pop suffered more than anyone because he was a punk and that was supposed to be organic…whereas we were with Bob Clearmountain who defined the sound of those drum machines…everyone was trying to blend dance music with rock music to try and keep that connection’.
The live shows on the current tour will have a full band line up, ‘It’s pretty full-on, it’s a rock show, quite confronting for people who think they’re a sedate shoe-gazer inspiring group…when you come out to see us we’re more like the Rolling Stones now’.
The Church has played Adelaide a number of times over the years and I quizzed Koppes on his memories of the ‘City of Churches’. ‘Richard Ploog [ex-drummer] came from Adelaide and he also fell off the back of the stage once in Adelaide, Masters Apprentices one of my favourite Australian bands of all time are from Adelaide, City of Churches, that’s supposed to work for The Church …we’ve had fantastic shows at the Gov, we’ve done shows with Devo and Simple Minds there that we were getting standing ovations… it’s one of the worst selling shows and we don’t understand why because we’ve done great shows there whenever we’ve been there’.
If Adelaide’s The Church fans want to see the band return to it’s doors in the future I suggest they all get on the blower this weekend and get their mates down to The Gov on November 16 for what is sure to be a memorable, under the Milky Way kind of night.
by James Hickey