Steven John Kilbey (born 13 September 1954) is the lead singer-songwriter and bass guitarist for The Church, an Australian rock band. He is also a music producer, poet and painter. As of October 2014, Kilbey had 750 original songs registered with Australian copyright agency Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA)
Early years: Saga, Precious Little, Baby Grande and Tactics
Following his birth in Welwyn Garden City, England, UK, Kilbey was brought to Australia by his parents at the age of five years, and grew up around Dapto, before living with his family in Canberra. He began his professional music career at 17 years of age, when he joined a five piece “cabaret band” called ‘Saga’ in Canberra. Around 1973 he joined ‘Precious Little’, a rock band featuring future Church bandmate Peter Koppes on drums.
This was followed by Kilbey forming ‘Baby Grande’ around 1974 while still living in the A.C.T. Koppes was also in Baby Grande for a time but left to travel, then played in a band called Limazine which brought him in touch with future Church drummer Nick Ward. Baby Grande recorded some demos for EMI Australia in 1977 but were not signed to a permanent recording contract. Baby Grande’s demos surfaced on the internet after about 30 years, and despite initial protests from Kilbey, he has now made four of the five tracks available on his solo compilation album of early work Addendaone (2012).
Kilbey was also (while working as a computer programmer) a member of the new wave band Tactics for about a month in 1977. He played ‘about four gigs’ with Tactics before being asked to leave by the band’s singer and songwriter Dave Studdert.
Kilbey formed The Church, together with Koppes and Nick Ward in Sydney in the late 1970s.[ Marty Willson Piper joined the band in May 1980 days after his arrival in Australia when he went to see the band play a gig. After some success in their native Australia in the early 1980s, Kilbey and The Church went on to international fame when “Under the Milky Way”, from the 1988 album Starfish, achieved success (Kilbey had co-written the song with Karin Jansson of Pink Champagne and Curious Yellow). “Under the Milky Way” appeared in the top-selling singles charts of both Australia and the United States (US). In late 2011 Kilbey revealed that, at the time of the interview, the song was still used for television programmes and advertisements.[
After recording the Gold Afternoon Fix album in the USA and touring to support it with the Church until mid-1990, Kilbey returned to Australia and made the Jack Frost album with Grant McLennan. He then went on a solo acoustic tour of the US, playing mostly clubs. After this tour, he and McLennan toured the USA together on the back of the Jack Frost project. The Jack Frost band name was derived from mutual friend of Kilbey and McLennan, Joel Eaves of Canberra, whose expression of “another Jack Frost day in Oceana”, became a popular Sydney expression during the period. In 1990 Kilbey began to use heroin around the time of his girlfriend Karin Jansson’s pregnancy. His use of this drug continued through the recording of The Church’s album Gold Afternoon Fix and beyond.
Kilbey had recorded much of his solo work at his home studio in Rozelle, Sydney until around the release of his album “Narcosis”, which was recorded at his new ‘proper’ 24 -track studio in Surry Hills, Sydney. He also worked as a producer with artists such as Melbourne singer Margot Smith and Canadian singer Mae Moore. He also produced the albums by Hex, Curious Yellow and Jack Frost.
In late 2012, as act of protest against the conduct of the Church’s North American label Second Motion Records, Kilbey announced his resignation from the band.The announcement was made on Kilbey’s Facebook fan page following the receipt of an insufficient royalty cheque from the record label.] Kilbey placed the incident in the broader context of the music industry:
it seems(tho its hard to tell) that the church might have brought in 30 or 40 grand ( i mean starfish alone brought in 6000 on itunes)…but the members of the group got 100 bucks each. i mean he couldnt give us nothing to he came up with 100 bucks each. i am insulted. i have decided to leave the church. this is not a joke. i will complete the current tour and then i’m done. i implore you all not to buy any records from second motion records. as you see none of it will come to us. same as it ever was.[
However, the Church continued as an active band and, in November 2013, Kilbey published an official announcement on his Facebook fan page stating that Willson-Piper was replaced by former Powderfinger member Ian Haug. Kilbey explained that Haug would join the band for the recording of a new album, for which he had 16 songs written, as well as subsequent touring, and also defended the decision in the statement: “if you cant dig it I’m sorry. this is my f—ing band after all and it has existed at times without Peter and in the beginning without Marty. and for times in between while he went AWOL.”
Prior to the release of the Church’s 21st album, Further/Deeper, Kilbey spoke to the media about his prolific body of musical work that is continually growing:
Just because I’ve written that many songs  doesn’t mean anything. But imagine if you were having an operation on your brain and a 60-year-old surgeon walked into the theatre. You would think, I’m in safe hands. He’s been doing this all his life and he’s very good at it. I think I have become very good at pulling lyrics and melodies out of the air. Melodies weren’t always my strong point; on a lot of The Church’s early records the melodies weren’t as elaborate as what I’m doing now. In the last few years, I think I am tapping into something … It’s like I’m tapping into the collective human subconscious.
Kilbey has released 14 solo music albums, one EP and has collaborated on recordings with musical artists such as Martin Kennedy, Stephen Cummings and Ricky Maymi as a vocalist, musician, writer and/or producer. Ian McFarlane writes that “Kilbey’s solo recordings [are] challenging and evocative. They ran the gamut of sounds and emotions from electronic and avant-garde to acoustic and symphonic, joyous and dreamy to saturnine and sardonic”.
Kilbey issued his debut solo single, ‘This Asphalt Eden’/’Never Come Back’, ‘Shell’, in July 1985. Originally issued by EMI/Parlophone, the single was rereleased by the Red Eye label in November 1987.
Also in 1985, Red Eye issued Kilbey’s first two solo albums. Unearthed (January) and Earthed (June), the mini-album The Slow Crack (December), and his second single ‘Fireman’/Forgetfulness’, ‘Nonapalogy’ (November). Issued simultaneously with Earthed was a book of the same name containing Kilbey’s prose and poetry (published in 1986); the album consists of instrumental electronic music and features another composition that was co-written by Jansson, “The Empire Mourns Her Sun Without Tears”. The Earthed album was conceived as a possible soundtrack to the reading of the book, which had come first in terms of conception.
Following the worldwide success of The Church’s Starfish album and “Under the Milky Way” single, Kilbey returned to his solo career with the single ‘Transaction’/’No Such Thing’ (June 1989) and a 12-inch version of ‘Transaction’ with two extra tracks (July 1989). ‘Transaction’ was from The Slow Crack and ‘No Such Thing’ was lifted from Kilbey’s third solo album, the CD/double album Remindlessness (December 1989). The double album version contained two tracks (‘Random Pan’ and ‘Pain in My Temples’) not included on the later CD version.
In December 1991, Kilbey issued the scarce CD EP Narcosis, his last solo release for the Red Eye label.
Kilbey then set up his Karmic Hit studio and label and continued to be involved in a wide range of projects. These included Margot Smith’s Sleeping with the Lions album (as player and producer), Fake’s self-titled album (as producer), CURIOUS (yellow) (as writer and producer), the Brett Whiteley tribute album Strange Brew (as contributor of the poem ‘Season in Hell’), Stephen Cummings’ Falling Swinger and Escapist albums (as producer, co-writer and player), Kev Carmody’s Images and Illusions album (as producer and player) and as writer and producer of the soundtrack for the 1997 feature film Blackrock.
In May 1997, the Vicious Sloth label issued the Kilbey Cd Narcosis Plus (a reissue of the Narcosis CD EP plus four unissued tracks from the same sessions). Kilbey also collaborated with brothr Russell on the ambient instrumental/electronic album Gilt Trip. (1997)
Kilbey’s solo albums have been released on various record labels, such as his own ‘The Time Being’ label, Karmic Hit, North America’s Second Motion Records and Melbourne, Australia’s Rubber Records
Alongside Australian artists such as Dan Kelly, The Herd and Archie Roach, Kilbey was one of the contributors to the 2007 Kev Carmody album Cannot Buy My Soul: The Songs Of Kev Carmody. Kilbey recorded a rendition of the song “Images of London” and also performed at the Sydney and Brisbane, Australia concerts for the album.
In July 2013, Kilbey performed at the Fly By Night venue in the Western Australian port city of Fremantle, with local musicians, Shaun and Adrian Hoffmann (The Hoffmenn), Shaun Corlson, Rachael Aquillina and Anna Sarcich playing as his backing band. Aquillina and Sarcich formed the string section, leading to the naming of the corresponding live recording: With Strings Attached. According to Kilbey’s Time Being site, he explored his “back catalogue of solo releases, collaborations and Church classics” during the performance.
Kilbey has founded numerous musical projects in addition to The Church, which included Hex and Jack Frost. Gilt Trip (with his brother Russell Kilbey) and Isidore are other examples of Kilbey’s musical ventures beyond his primary band.
In 1988, Kilbey formed the duo Hex with singer, songwriter, and guitarist Donnette Thayer.] As Hex, they released two albums, the self-titled Hex (1989) and Vast Halos (1990).
Kilbey’s next duo, Jack Frost, was formed in 1990 as a collaboration with the late Grant McLennan of Brisbane, Australia band The Go-Betweens. Jack Frost, the debut self-titled album, was released in December 1991, preceded by the single ‘Every Hour God Sends’ (November), on Red Eye. The duo released another full-length album, Snow Job, in 1996, prior to McLennan’s death.
Between 2009 and 2013, Kilbey has released three collaborative albums with Martin Kennedy of All India Radio. Kennedy explained the inception of the working relationship in a 2013 interview: “I was working with Steve long before I actually met him. Steve had heard All India Radio, and he asked my brother John if I had any spare instrumental songs lying around that he could contribute lyrics to.” Kennedy subsequently sent Kilbey “thrown-away tracks” from All India Radio recording sessions.
In addition to Earthed, Kilbey published a book of poetry in 1998 entitled Nineveh/The Ephemeron; Kilbey later republished a hard copy version that contained both books and a limited number of 50 copies was released.
In August 2013, Uncollected, described as, “A deluxe edition of his books – Earthed, The Ephemeron, Nineveh, Fruit Machine and other selected work”, was released on his own Time Being label. Kilbey’s inaugural autobiography, Something Quite Peculiar, was then published by Hardie Grant on 1 November 2014.
In addition to his other creative outlets, Kilbey is a prolific artist. He has participated in many exhibitions, starting with his first American show in Yellow Springs, Ohio.] Kilbey collaborated with Kim Chestney in 2009, to create Art, Man + Technology, Kilbey’s second U.S. solo exhibition, featuring 20 original works of art paired with original music and spoken word, at the Pittsburgh Technology Council’s 15 Minutes Gallery.] A collection of his paintings have been released as a tarot deck.
The popular song “Under the Milky Way” won the “Best Single of the Year” award at the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) awards event in 1989. For his work with The Church, Kilbey then accepted, together with his bandmates, an induction into the ARIA “Hall of Fame” in 2010—Kilbey delivered a lengthy speech as part of the induction that included stories from his musical career and a sung verse from the song “Old Man Emu” by Australian country music artist John Williamson.
In 2011, the Australian Songwriters Association inducted Kilbey into the Australian Songwriters Hall of Fame] and Kilbey performed a live rendition of the song with a backing band at the awards ceremony.
Kilbey has resided in Australia; he has also lived for a time in Stockholm, Sweden and Los Angeles.[Kilbey has twin daughters (Elektra and Miranda) by Karin Jansson, his ex-girlfriend and recording partner (as “(CURIOUS) Yellow”); these older daughters have a popular dream pop duo called Say Lou Lou and record in their homeland of Sweden.
He also has a second set of twins Eve and Aurora as well as another daughter Scarlet by American born partner Natalie.
As documented in the authorised biography No Certainty Attached (written with Kilbey’s involvement), Kilbey was dependent on the drug heroin during the 1990s, an aspect of the musician’s personal life that was mostly hidden until Kilbey was arrested on a drug-related charge in 1999 in New York City. Kilbey eventually ceased using the drug after a period of detoxification in 2000. In a 2012 interview, Kilbey reflected on his personal history: “I also have a lot of regret that I didn’t do it better, that I wasn’t a better person, that I wasn’t nicer to people or make better records and that at times I would slack off and just do any old thing. I wish I hadn’t made so many mistakes with the drugs.”
Kilbey then participated in an interview for journalist and writer Andrew McMillen’s 2014 book Talking Smack: Honest Conversations About Drugs, as well as a July 2014 feature interview with McMillen for the Australian newspaper. Kilbey explained in an article that he was introduced to the drug by now-deceased Australian musician Grant McLennan, of Brisbane band The Go-Betweens, during the recording period for a new project named Jack Frost:
It came right out of the blue … It [heroin] was the last thing on my mind. I went, “Oh, here’s $100, get me some too.” No one had ever offered it to me up until then. All the other drugs you might get offered, but no one ever says, “Hey, want some heroin?” It’s not like that. If you’ve got a stash, you don’t offer it. You don’t really go around turning other people on. It’s not the sort of thing you advertise.
Kilbey states that he “loved” heroin when he first snorted it and continued to use the drug while living in a Surry Hills, Sydney home that doubled as a recording studio. Kilbey then made the transition to injecting the drug with the assistance of a fellow heroin user who was a deregistered doctor, and he explained to McMillen that he also became fascinated in the culture surrounding the use of the drug—upon reflection, Kilbey described a “rubbish world”.
Following unsuccessful interventions involving family and friends, and a relocation to Sweden where he found heroin easier to obtain, Kilbey eventually used methadone in 2002 to wean himself off opiates. Since 2002, Kilbey has occasionally used heroin, but explained in the Australian interview, “it [heroin] doesn’t do it for me. I have no temptation. I’m just not interested anymore.” The interview concludes with Kilbey expressing his belief about the problematic nature of drug prohibition, whereby the musician refers to opiate use during the 19th century:
We let people have booze, cigarettes, wars … Why not let them have smack? People used to take it, and it wasn’t seen as a problem. If you lived in 1890 and you were an opium fiend, that was your problem: to take it, and to find out how to stop taking it. It was nothing to do with the law … Now, I’m not going to sit here and go, “Oh, kids, look what I did to my life because I was a drug addict. Please don’t be like me. Please be Mister Straight.” I don’t believe in that, either. I think we have to grow up and look at why drugs are illegal … I just don’t want people to believe the hype, that if you take drugs you’re necessarily an evil villain. You might be a silly person, or a weak person. But you’re not a bad person.
Early in Kilbey’s career, many of his lyrics touched upon mysticism. Examples include the lyrics for “Tear It All Away”, a 1981 composition that appeared on the Church’s Australian single “Too Fast for You” and their first US album. His study of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, while he was immersed in occult exploration, is reflected in the 1982 instrumental “The Golden Dawn” (originally a b-side, but later included on the Church’s Hindsight compilation and reissues/remasters of The Blurred Crusade). Kilbey’s longstanding interest in the writings of Aleister Crowley appears in his songwriting up until 2003—the line “They say that in the future, every man and woman will be a star” (from “Song in Space”) is Kilbey paraphrasing verse I:3 of Crowley’s The Book of the Law.
Kilbey has revealed that he and Richard Ploog often visited Sydney’s Adyar Bookshop (bookshop of the Theosophical Society) during the 1980s to read books by occultist and mystical authors such as Helena Blavatsky, George Gurdjieff and P.D. Ouspensky] Likewise, spiritual mysticism is evident in the lyrics of songs as early as “She Never Said” with its line “psychic angels spread on the top of her head”, and the song “Tear It All Away” whose lyrics are clearly about seeing beyond the mundane . The song “When You Were Mine” on The Blurred Crusade is about past-life experience (“On a day like this, a hundred lifetimes ago…”). “Myrrh” from Heyday includes Christian imagery but seems to be as much about the nature of inner mystical experience: “How can you be so invisible?/Give me the eyes to see/Privilege on privilege/An unwanted discovery” The thread of spiritual exploration runs through many of Kilbey’s lyrics to the present day, such as on more recent songs such as “Invisible” from 2002 (first appeared on After Everything Now This), with its refrain: “All I ever wanted to see was just invisible to me.” Kilbey’s lyrics often quote historical and mythological events, and his interest in Eastern culture and religion frequently informs his music—this also applies to his painting (he often paints Hindu gods and goddesses).
- Unearthed (1986)
- Earthed (1987)
- The Slow Crack (1989)
- Remindlessness (1990)
- Narcosis EP (1991)
- Narcosis + (1997)
- Acoustic & Intimate (2000)
- Dabble (2001)
- Freaky Conclusions (2003)
- Painkiller (2008)
- Art, Man + Technology (2009) Part of an immersive art exhibition at the Pittsburgh Technology Center.
- Garage Sutra (2012)
- Addenda One (2012) A collection of very early recordings by Kilbey including four songs by his first band Baby Grande.
- Addenda Two (2012)
- The Idyllist (2013)
- With Strings Attached (2013)
- Miscellanaea – Whispers in the Static (2014)
- Vivid (2012)
- Comeback Soundtrack (2012)
- A Song For Jade (2012)
- Artifacts (2006)
- Monsters N Mirages box set (2010)[ – released with a bonus mp3 collection The Bedroom Demos
Hex (with Donnette Thayer from Game Theory)
- Hex (1989)
- Vast Halos (1990)
Curious (Yellow) (with Karin Jansson)
- Taken By Surprise (1990)
- Charms and Blues (1990)
- Love Itself (1991) – Single.
Jack Frost (with Grant McLennan of The Go-Betweens):
- Jack Frost (1991)
- Snow Job (1996)
Fake (with Sandy Chick):
- Fake (1994)
Isidore (with Remy Zero’s Jeffrey Cain)
- Isidore (2004)
- Life Somewhere Else (2012)
Gilt Trip (with his brother Russell Kilbey)
- Gilt Trip (1997)
- Egyptian Register (2005)
Mimesis (with Simon Polinski, Colin Berwick and David Abiuso)
- Art Imitating Life (2007)
Steve Kilbey & Martin Kennedy
- Unseen Music, Unheard Words (2009)
- White Magic (2011)
- Instrumental & Ambient Mixes (2009)
- Live at the Toff in Town (2010) – mp3 only release.
- You Are Everything (2013)
- Songs From the Real World (Commissioned Songs) (2013)
- Songs From the Real World (Commissioned Songs), Vol. 2 (2014)
- The Rare Earth (soundtrack) (2014) with All India Radio (band)
- Inside We Are the Same (2015)
- Songs From the Real World (Commissioned Songs), Vol. 3 (2015)
GB3/Steve Kilbey: GB3 is (Underground Lovers guitarist) Glenn Bennie’s collaborative musical project with Kilbey and Ricky Maymi.
- Damage/Controlled (2010)
Steve Kilbey with Ricky Maymi
- David Neil: The Wilderness Years (2011). David Neill is a fictional musician. The liner notes to the album outline his mythical career and his supposed death in 1974, followed by Kilbey and Maymi’s supposed bequeathment of 16 Neil tracks which they put together to make this album. Kilbey’s ex-wife Natalie, and one of his daughters (Eve) provide backing vox on the track “Walk With Me”. The album, also features Lindy Morrison playing tambourine on “So Long”, as well as other musicians.
- Falling Swinger – producer and writer
Into The Sun (with Penny Flanagan and produced by Tim Powles of The Church)
- Light Sleeper (1998) – guest vocalist
- “Hear in Noiseville” (2009)
- Semaphore(2012) – producer, vocalist, bass and keyboards
- Youth (2015) – guest vocalist