Interview: The Church's Marty Willson-Piper Hates Irony, Digs Beauty and Affection

| 16 Feb 2015 | 04:55

    The Church Irony was the great curse of the late 20th century. I'm not talking about criticism. There's nothing wrong with having a switch in your head, an ON/OFF button you can press when encountering such supreme dullards like Smashing Pumpkins, the Cure and whatever other purveyors of mope-rock happen to be passing. I'm talking about Beck, the Beastie Boys, Boyzone?bands who think there's something smart in creating crap music and then throwing us a wink?hey, we know this is crap, too. What, like that excuses your fundamental banality? Knowing that you're crap and remaining crap means you're even more crap. The Church write music like their CDs should be stamped THIS IS IMPORTANT. Pop music should not be important?it's there to be listened to one moment, digested, enjoyed and thrown away the next. The whole purpose of popular culture is that it's transient. Isn't it? And yet, listening to their covers of songs like Hawkwind's magnificent, brooding "Silver Machine" and Television's intricate "Friction" (which still sounds vital, 23 years on), I can't help feel myself warming toward them. The Church put so much passion into one, supremely meaningless line, like, "Oh man, who needs tv when I've got T. Rex?" it makes you almost want to reevaluate your whole core value system. It's the insignificant details that matter. Always. The big picture is out of our reach. Always has been, always will be. In the main, we can only affect and be affected by what is immediately around us, the trivialities.

    It's true that all of the songs the Church cover on A Box of Birds were recorded by artists in the prime of their youth (Neil Young, George Harrison, Ultravox, Bowie/Mott). It's true that by recording them 20 years on, Steve Kilbey and the Church are betraying the values that rock was built on?loosely, sexual tension and naive passion. But it's so fucking refreshing to hear a band so totally lacking in irony. Love is still the motivating factor.

    I spoke to guitarist Marty Willson-Piper not long ago.

    Was irony the great curse of late 20th-century culture?

    I don't care. It's just an aspect of culture. The 60s was about optimism. The 70s was people getting sick of that, with the punks telling us we're all a bunch of bastards. The 80s was the punks failing. The 90s was the corporate takeover. Now it's a constant battle against the suits. So if you have a band like the Church going round making the music they want, it's great. Irony's harmless, really. Where would the world be without the NME? Funny thing is how fat Julie Burchill is, but she still keeps using that picture of her when she's young.

    A Box of Birds is totally lacking in irony.

    There's nothing wrong with liking something for the pure reason of liking it. Why does everything need an angle that's meant to impress some pseudo-intellectual? If you carry on with that negative thinking, people aren't going to fall in love anymore, they'll be afraid to kiss. People are scared of beauty and affection nowadays. That's why I don't like rap?it's so fucking brutal. Why do things have to be so brutal? Why can't people just like things for their own value? It's like the old wonderful Oscar Wilde quote, "The cynic is a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing." He said it 100 years ago, times don't change. I love music, I don't care what it is. Reggae, rock, pop, trance, dance... I love the songs. Every genre has its genius.

    What's your motivation? Why still make music after 20 years and 15 albums?

    Because it still sounds good. Of course I still get the same thrill out of it.

    Should music always be serious?

    You should see us when we're together in the van, joking about. Fatboy Slim's music sounds like comedy to me, but he's always serious in conversation. We're the reverse. It's like the Beastie Boys?their music sounds like comedy. I know it's uncool not to like them, but I've never liked them?it all sounds like a bunch of goons in a comedy shop to me. Everyone goes on about how deep they and Beck are?talk about the emperor's new clothes. Beck is the worst offender. It's just so obvious what's wrong with them, and yet both the public and the critics love them. I don't go along with it. The new Beck is absolute rubbish.

    Are you responsible for bands like Oasis? You bastards!

    No, because we're a hell of a lot better. If we're responsible for them, then they didn't do their homework properly. One too many F-sharp minors. Lyrically, they're an abortion. I heard recently that they sold 150,000 in the first week of their new single?130,000 copies more than it usually takes to get to number one in Britain. They've just added another Wembley date and are playing Reading for a couple of million quid. Yet if the Church come to London, we're lucky to sell out a couple of nights at the Garage and sell a couple of thousand records. What's going on? Sure, Oasis have a nice couple of tunes and Liam has that cliched rock-star yob attitude. Maybe that's all the public want.

    I don't mind them, but when you think how huge they are, it doesn't make sense. The fact they can get on the radio and many great bands can''s like a moron's monopoly. They're all right, the Charlatans are probably a better band than them, but they aren't selling out Wembley... What's going on? They don't even have a good image. Average songs, average look, average band. I can't work out why something's huge and something isn't. Look at the Verve?do you think the Verve have heard the Church? We're lucky to get a couple of lines in Mojo occasionally, but they sell a million copies.

    We were doing it while everyone else was still fucking around with synth-drums, so we have an excuse. When we started, we had to compete with Duran Duran. And we've always been far more lyrically interesting than all those groups.

    Why didn't you cover any songs by black artists on this album?

    I'm a huge Sly fan, but the Church don't have a black bone in their bodies. To use an uncool word again, the Church are like a middle-class band?and ever since 1977, that's the worst thing you can be. The working class have got the music business by the balls. I have nothing against that, but surely there's got to be room for a little vintage port? The more XK150 Jaguars that are on the road and the less Ford Escorts, the better.