Steve Kilbey About The Church’s New Dystopian Album The Hypnogogue

An interview with the bassist, vocalist, and founder of one of Australia’s most enduring bands of the post-punk era.

Today marks the release of The Church’s 26th album The Hypnogogue, which features the band’s distinctive highly cinematic and atmospheric blend of indie rock, shimmering post-punk, icy dreampop, and psychedelic post-rock. Being their first-ever concept album, it revolves around a mythic machine that extracts music directly from subconscious dreams. We had the pleasure to speak to frontman Steve Kilbey, who shared his perspectives on recording the album and the inspiration behind it. 

Furio Magazine: What encouraged you to make a concept album when you haven’t really explored that route with The Church before?

Steve Kilbey: I’ve been collaborating with Martin Kennedy, and one of our albums turned into a concept record as we were making it, which I really enjoyed. Concept albums are funny things. An album like Ziggy Stardust for example was kind of a concept album, but it didn’t lay it out. So it’s more of a very vague framework to hang it all on, which I found interesting. I wanted to have a little bit of guidance for the listener but not too much to ruin it.

“If there’s one thing I specialise in, it’s ambiguity.”

When we were first listening to the new record, it felt like you sort of trusted the listener’s own interpretation, is that right?

Always! If there’s one thing I specialise in, it’s ambiguity. There’s that very fine line where it’s either meaningless or you’re giving them too much information. Right in the middle there is this place where people can interpret and enjoy things for themselves.

The album is set in a dystopian future – was there anything in particular that inspired you in that sense? 

Well, I really enjoy those parts of town with say, a factory that isn’t used anymore, and now the weeds are growing through and there are birds nesting on the roof. I like the idea that the future is going to be a bit broken down, where people haven’t got a lot of spare parts to fix it. That also goes for the person who invented the Hypnogogue and has cobbled together everything she can find to build this machine, including some occult things. It’s not a shiny future run by robots, but rather a broken-down future where everyone is trying to find the bits and pieces to make it all work.

“I shouldn’t be singing this – it sounds like an old Rolling Stones song.”

You are obviously taking influences from lots of different genres on The Hypnogogue. What exactly has fed into that? 

In Australia, we had these massive bushfires while we were recording this album. Then came Covid and the entire country all of a sudden was in lockdown. It was at that time when it sort of felt like nothing really mattered anymore, a thought which in some way also applied to the recording process of the album.

I remember starting to sing this melody in the studio, and thought: “I shouldn’t be singing this – it sounds like an old Rolling Stones song”. Then the engineer turned around and said: “So what”? I went: “Yeah you’re absolutely right, so what?”. 30 years ago everyone in the room would have said: “Yes you’re right, you can’t do that”. But now after doing this for so long, I have all these influences up my sleeve, whether it’s David Bowie, Marc Bolan, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Genesis, Yes, or any of the other names. All of that is ready to just come out, so I thought why not let it all just be there?

Yes, it’s definitely happening during a weird time, but also it resonates. How do you personally hope for it to be received by fans?

I’m watching this unfold and some of the old fans are resisting the tracks heavily. Every time we posted a new song, someone would go: “Here’s an album they made in 1985 that sounds much better”. Yet, I’m hoping for a new breed of listeners who might enjoy this record – people who weren’t into The Church before. There are elements of the dreamy guitar pop we used to have and it’s changed a lot from that. Therefore, I’m hoping to get some new people along. 

In previous statements, you mentioned that this was one of the most cooperative albums you ever worked on. What was it that contributed to that? 

Once upon a time, if I wanted people to try certain things in a different way, I probably would have been asked: “Why do we want to do that”? Even if some of my previous band members were really talented they weren’t always willing to experiment. But with this record, I really wanted to question all the assumptions in music. Like a song has only one bridge, so why not have two bridges instead? That’s actually why the last track is called “Second Bridge” for example. We were examining every single parameter one usually takes for granted. Not all the experiments worked out, but the point was that this time people let me try it. 

Back in the late 80s, you found that the LA environment for Starfish really didn’t suit you. Yet, despite the bushfires and pandemic, did the environment this time make things smoother? 

Well, I think one is a really bad musician if he says: “I couldn’t make an album there, because I didn’t like it”.  My belief is that adverse things can give you guidance. You can take adversity in and spit it out in the future. I think if you’re making an album about a dystopian future, you can definitely work it in. You don’t want too much adversity, but you don’t always want everything going your way.

The Hypnogogue is out now (February 24th, 2023) via Communicating Vessels. Following the release, the band will kick off their North American Tour on March 11th, 2023 with all dates and venues listed below. The Church’s current lineup consists of Ashley Naylor (Guitar), Steve Kilbey (Vocals & Bass), Ian Haug (Guitar), Tim Powles (Drums), and Jeffrey Cain (Guitar).

Purchase The Hypnogogue on Vinyl or CD here.
Get Tickets To The Church’s US Tour 2023 here.

Tour Dates

Mar 11The Belasco Los Angeles, CA
Mar 12Belly Up Tavern Solana Beach, CA
Mar 14Great American Music Hall San Francisco, CA
Mar 16Aladdin TheaterPortland, OR
Mar 17Elks Temple BallroomTacoma, WA 
Mar 21Gothic TheaterEnglewood, CO
Mar 23Fine Line Music HallMinneapolis, MN
Mar 25Delmar Hall St Louis, MO
Mar 26Thalia HallChicago, IL
Mar 28Kent StageKent, OH
Mar 29Theatre of Living ArtsPhiladelphia, PA
Mar 30Gramercy TheaterNew York, NY
Mar 31The SinclairBoston, MA
Apr 1Infinity HallHartford, CT
Apr 3Asbury LanesAsbury Park, NJ
Apr 4Birchmere Music HallAlexandria, VA
Apr 5The NorvaNorfolk, VA
Apr 6Cat’s CradleCarrboro, NC
Apr 8The CavernsPelham, TN

Featured Image by Hugh Stewart

Discover New Music.

Get a monthly update on the best new releases, upcoming tours, curated playlists, and exclusive giveaways.