The Church / The Helio Sequence at Union Transfer
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The Church Band
IT’S A UNIQUE BAND that finds itself cherished as a bona fide legend in the ARIA Hall of Fame while remaining a virtual enigma to the world that knows its name. But maybe that’s no more remarkable than the mystery that continues to unfold within its own ranks.
the church’s accidental signature tune, Under The Milky Way, is like a lighthouse on the brink of a continent forever to be discovered: 25 albums over 35 years and countless diversions that have almost destroyed them a dozen times, yet always reaffirm a mutual commitment to an uncompromising and unparalleled act of creation.
At this stage of the journey, FURTHER/ DEEPER seems both unimaginable and the only option on their endless quest from chaos to resolution. It’s an album of breathtaking new vistas and intense emotions, of sinister black caskets and gorgeous caverns of light, a work born of immense struggle and effortless expression.
“The magic started on day one,” says singer and bass player Steve Kilbey. “Someone strummed a chord or struck a drum or plucked a note and we were off. We wrote and recorded like demons and it was inspiring to feel every member using all his resources in the service of this record.”
Twenty-six songs were born over eight days of exploration in Sydney in late 2013. Guitarist Peter Koppes, recalibrating his personal canvas in the absence of his long-time foil Marty Willson-Piper, drew palpable inspiration from the quartet’s remixed chemistry.
“This new incarnation of the band with Ian Haug has brought a joyous energy to the music we’ve written together,” he says. “The rhythm swings more than usual yet the moods still range from melancholy pop to our modern version of heavy psychedelic rock, as in Laurel Canyon, to the epic gothic-progressive dance track, Globe Spinning.”
From the ominous allure of the lead track, Vanishing Man, to the beguiling tippy toes of Pride Before A Fall; the chiming keys of Love Philtre to the sheer hammer horror Toy Head; the exhilarating breeze of Old Coast Road and the ultimate, panoramic drama of the mini-screenplay that is Miami, FURTHER/ DEEPER delivers on the promise of its title in a combined blossoming of melody, rhythm and audacity.
For Haug, transitioning from the multi-platinum ashes of Powderfinger to join “one of my favourite bands of all time” was an utterly surreal experience, audibly expressed in fantastic new dimensions of the church’s fabled “guitarchitecture”.
“The first song we wrote was Miami, and from there we splintered off into several styles of surreal to intense psychedelia — and songs to make you drive fast,” he says. “It was a trip. And an incredible honour to be accepted so readily into a songwriting as well as guitar-playing role.”
Drummer Tim Powles was again instrumental in the painstaking alchemy that boiled the explosion of ideas down to 12 potent pieces in the early months of 2014, a process that often saw members working simultaneously in separate studios across multiple instruments to produce a work of singular cohesion.
“After an eternal twenty years in the church I marvel more than ever at how we’ve become masters of our own freedom,” he says. “No strings attached, no view to winning a prize. How lucky are we? Or have we earned it? We’ve got better at it too. Or maybe it’s got the better of us. It seems to devour us. Like magic.”
Like magic. As Kilbey sings in the desperate, beatific throes of Delirious:
Try to put them together
The Helio Sequence (Official)
The self-titled sixth album by The Helio Sequence began with a friendly competition. Several of the duo’s friends within the Portland, Oregon music scene had been playing “The 20-Song Game.” The rules were simple, playful and ambitious: Songwriters would arrive in their studios at prearranged times and spend all day recording 20 complete songs. When they were finished, they’d have a party, listen to the results and talk about the process—of taking the good with the bad, of letting creativity push past constraint, of simply making music in the moment. Brandon Summers and Benjamin Weikel took the spirit of the “The 20-Song Game” to heart, and forged ahead writing a new record.
“Negotiations was a very long, introspective process,” remembers Summers of the band’s 2012 Sub Pop LP. “We shut ourselves off from the world and disappeared down the rabbit hole. That’s how we tend to work, but we wanted to try something new, open and immediate.”
In a sense, The Helio Sequence had spent their whole career preparing for this record. They’d sunk entire recording advances into studio purchases, collaborating with local engineers to build custom gear and a space where they could blend high fidelity with kaleidoscopic sound. In 2013, the pair took on their first full-scale production project, the Brazilian rock band Quarto, after the group inquired about their space and availability through Facebook. As producers, they’d remixed Shabazz Palaces, picked up mixing sessions with Portland acts and earned representation from Global Positioning Services. Summers and Weikel discovered just how adaptable and powerful their studio could be.
In May of 2014, inspired by the “20-Song Game”, they began arriving each morning in their Portland space—housed in the cafeteria and break room of an old warehouse— with the mission of making as much music as possible in one month. They began exploring and capturing, recording guitar riffs and keyboard loops, drum patterns and bass lines. One piece documented, they quickly advanced to the next idea. Summers and Weikel didn’t discuss what they were making or the reference points that informed it, though such discussions had once been central to The Helio Sequence’s more self-conscious process. They just played. Created. In time, they returned to each fragment, broadcasting it over the studio PA, jamming and recording the results. Mistakes didn’t matter, and second chances didn’t exist. After two weeks, Summers and Weikel began cutting those loose takes into rough shapes, steadily building songs from their cavalier sketches.
Although making records can be a laborious and tedious process, Summers delights in the memory of making this one.
“We were coming to the studio on these sunny mornings everyday with an open mind,” Summers shares. “We said, ‘I’m just going to do what feels good in the moment.”
“We worked so quickly that there was a running optimism,” he continues. “There’s this sense of striving for perfection where you can actually take momentum away. But we wanted this record to be momentum in and of itself.”
When June arrived, the duo gathered their 26 finished songs and sent them to 31 friends, fans and family members. They asked each person to rank their 10 favorite tracks. By summer’s end, they had arrived at the brisk 10 tracks that shape the breathless and magnetic The Helio Sequence—a record so named because it’s a kind of clean restart for the longtime pair, a revamp of their process and a revitalization of their results.
The Helio Sequence is a renewed push forward for the band: From the cool wallop of “Deuces,” where guitars snarl and harmonies soar, to the stuttering anxiety of “Upward Mobility”, where pianos pound and drums race, this collection depends upon an effortless kinetic energy. Lyrically, “Stoic Resemblance” is a study of existential anxiety, but musically, it’s a beguiling burst of pop, Summers’ vocals rising over and sliding off of Weikel’s big, irrepressible beat. The bittersweet “Leave or Be Yours” evokes the easy twinkle of romance and the smoldering sadness of losing it. Crisscrossing vocals and cross-talking guitars and drums map a broad swirl of emotions.
With its easy acoustic jangle, “Inconsequential Ties” might be one of the most surprising, light moments within the bombastic Helio Sequence catalog. But considered within the band’s history, it points to the pop that’s bound Summers and Weikel for so long. Indeed, there’s a delightful candor to The Helio Sequence, an openness that is a rare and special feat for a band about to enter its third decade.
“It’s less about curating yourself or trying to put yourself across how you want to be perceived,” says Summers. “It’s about having a conversation with people and giving them something that’s who you are.”
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