It was a tumultuous day for fans of Australian music legends The Church yesterday, as the band’s chief songwriter and frontman Steve Kilbey posted a seething rant on his Facebook page saying that he was quitting the group he helped found in 1980.
Spurred by the lax funds from the latest royalty statement from the band’s US label, Second Motion, Kilbey exploded on social media outraged by the financial abuse of his record label, receiving $400 in fees for what he perceived to be a pittance of the money the band had earned based on evidence from spreadsheets and figures.
“I have decided to leave my own band permanently as a protest to being fucking treated like this,” wrote Kilbey in comments that were later recanted.
The 58-year-old musician also threatened to “illegally and eventually” place the entire Church back catalogue on his own bandcamp website and sell them direct to the fans.
Though Kilbey has since removed his outraged comments, the crux of his dissatisfaction with the current state of the industry, its financial woes and his own disillusionment mean that he’s still planning to quit The Church.
“I need to make a statement,” Kilbey told The Age. “I need to make a statement to the band, I need to make a statement to this guy at this record company, at any record company and to anyone who’s interested.”
“I just feel incredibly frustrated that I am the geezer at the centre of a little industry and I have absolutely no control. I can’t seem to get anything done in any way. I love the other guys in the Church, I love playing with them but their business acumen I feel is as bad as mine and their various attempts to manage the band have been failures as far as I can see.”
While Kilbey’s original ire was directed at Second Motion, who took twelve months of revenue and whittled it down after a “a fee for handling this, a fee for handling that, a fee for processing this, a charge here – deduction there;” Kilbey now says, “this is nothing to do with Second Motion Records, it’s like a scream of frustration.”
Instead he’s more angry at the wider scope of musicians’ inability to manage their own affairs in a business where others typically profit off of their work.
Over the course of their three decade career, The Church have been managed by different members of the band, and Kilbey, a self-proclaimed “total right hand brain” type, prefers to focus on the artistic side of things – writing and performing.
He called the threat to quit the band “coincidental to what’s happened with the record company but it’s a symptom of my malaise.” Saying of his bandmates – drummer Tim Powles and guitarists Marty Wilson-Piper and Peter Koppes: “we are closer than brothers.”
“We have been through so much together and they’ve tried to get on in this business and they’ve tried to manage us and do this and that,” said Kilbey. “But because of the nature of this business, because it’s so covered in obfuscation, because it’s either deliberately set up or luckily set up that way that you can’t get anything to work properly, I feel they have failed in managing us.”
The Church linchpin now reveals that, due to his lack of confidence in the accounting promises of their American label – as much as the band’s own mismanagement, that quitting now seems like the only viable option.
“Now we have reached an impasse where we can’t go forward, we can’t go back and our democracy has stopped us dead in a track. The fact that we don’t have a leader and no one is in control has now stopped us, as opposed to a tyrant standing at the back screaming at everyone to make them do stuff. So I feel like I should just fucking leave.”
Kilbey hints that the band will complete their contractual obligations to the upcoming tour with Simple Minds and Devo, meaning that those September dates could potentially become a farewell tour.
The Church frontman has always had an awkward relationship with band’s popular status, and financial efforts, particularly when he admitted last year how their iconic tune ‘Under The Milky Way’ became an accidental hit, and then a cash cow.
“There is almost nothing, except for maybe a cigarette ad, I’d say no to Under the Milky Way being used for,” Kilbey said at the time. The song won best single of the year at the ARIAs in 1989 and is regularly featured somewhere near the top of almost every ‘Best Australian Songs’ lists.
Meanwhile, last year the band celebrated their 30th Anniversary as the toast of the Australian music industry after becoming 2010′s ARIA Hall Of Fame recipients, a very special birthday celebration at the Sydney Opera House in April entitled ‘A Psychedelic Symphony’ which was a hit with punters and critics alike; before heading out an anniversary tour.
It all goes to show that no matter how important or influential an act, Kilbey’s frustrations reflect those of many (including Grizzly Bear and James Taylor) it’s still a difficult time to be making a living off of making music, an issue we explored when we asked ‘How much does a musician actually earn from streaming?’, the answer it would seem is clearly still not enough.