Under the Milky Way – The Church

The Church is an Australian rock band formed in Sydney in 1980. Initially associated with New Wave and the neo-psychedelic sound of the mid 1980s, their music later became more reminiscent of progressive rock, featuring long instrumental jams and complex guitar interplay. Founding members are Steve Kilbey on lead vocals and bass guitar, and Peter Koppes and Marty Willson-Piper on guitars, while Tim Powles has played on drums since 1994. Three of the members recorded material as The Refo:mation in 1997.

From the early 1970s, lead vocalist and bass guitarist Steve Kilbey (ex-The Tactics) played in covers band, Baby Grand, in Canberra, Australia. He first played with guitarist Peter Koppes in glam rock band, Precious Little in the mid-1970s. By 1977, Kilbey had purchased a four-track reel-to-reel tape deck. In March 1980, they formed a three-piece band, Limosine, in Sydney with Nick Ward on drums and began performing. A month later Marty Willson-Piper (originally from Liverpool, United Kingdom) joined on guitar, they were named The Church. Supposedly, the name was chosen as it was unclaimed, but later allusions to spiritual interests by Kilbey hint that it was less coincidental. Initially, only Koppes was a fully-proficient musician, Kilbey was an erratic bass guitarist and Willson-Piper was searching for his guitar style.

Most of The Church’s lyrics are written by Steve Kilbey, who was the sole songwriter on all albums up to Remote Luxury. Until then, Kilbey brought basically completed/demoed songs to the sessions while the arrangement was a group effort, mostly done by Peter Koppes. This changed since with Heyday in 1985. Now, the songs are results of expanded jam sessions. The music is first written in the studio, after which Kilbey writes the lyrics. His lyrics and poems are often described as surreal, though Kilbey flatly rejects any fixed meaning of his poetry, categorizing them as art pour l’art. Surveying his body of work, several recurring themes can be noticed: myths, legends, dreams and nightmares, visions, drug fantasies, orientalisms, biblical (not exclusively Christian) motifs. These thematic circles are linked, using numerous word plays and references. More recently, Kilbey has stated (about his latest collection, “Eden”) his poetry questions “the fabric of love and fear, temptation and creation and our eternal quest for meaning.” Often he tries to sketch with few strokes and hints a complete epic course, leaving the details to the listener’s imagination.

The Church handle their lyrics to some extent subversively. Strikingly, since the release of 1988′s Starfish they have refused to provide lyric sheets to the albums, on the idea that sung lyrics should be listened to, not read. Kilbey likes the idea of a lyric emerging in a person’s head, spawning lots of new and unforeseen meanings. This intent notwithstanding, complete collections of Church lyrics can be found on the internet.

Most Church albums have at least one song in which the lyrics and vocals are written and sung by either Peter Koppes or Marty Willson-Piper.

Under the Milky Way

“Under the Milky Way” was written by the band’s vocalist and bassist, Steve Kilbey, and his then-girlfriend Karin Jansson. “Under the Milky Way” featured a 12-string acoustic guitar melody along with a solo composed with an EBow on a Fender Jazzmaster. According to a press release issued with Starfish, the song was written about an Amsterdam music and cultural venue called Melkweg (Dutch for “Milky Way”), which Kilbey used to frequent.

Sometimes when this place gets kind of empty,
Sound of their breath fades with the light.
I think about the loveless fascination,
Under the milky way tonight.

Lower the curtain down in memphis,
Lower the curtain down all right.
I got no time for private consultation,
Under the milky way tonight.

Wish I knew what you were looking for.
Might have known what you would find.

And its something quite peculiar,
Something thats shimmering and white.
Leads you here despite your destination,
Under the milky way tonight

Wish I knew what you were looking for.
Might have known what you would find.
Wish I knew what you were looking for.
Might have known what you would find.

Under the milky way tonight.

And its something quite peculiar,
Something thats shimmering and white.
Leads you here despite your destination,
Under the milky way tonight

Wish I knew what you were looking for.
Might have known what you would find.
Wish I knew what you were looking for.
Might have known what you would find.

  • Audio from the 1988 album, Starfish:
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About DJ Allyn

DJ Allyn is a burned out radio guy who went on to become a burned out sound engineer for a few Seattle area grunge bands in the 1980s and 1990s. Left the madness of worldwide tours with bands, cleaned up my act and went into the relative sanity of sound engineering for television series. Currently working as the Director of Sound for a television series being filmed in North Vancouver, British Columbia. I am always on the lookout for interesting videos, old music, and fun.

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