This Australian quartet initially rehashed the jangly, psychedelic side of the Byrds, though by the mid-1980s the Church had forged its own style of guitar pop with willfully obscure lyrics. Principal songwriter Steven Kilbey is a private man who grew up consumed by rock music, listening to rare, import-only albums alone in his bedroom. In 1980 Kilbey formed the Church with friends Marty Willson-Piper and Peter Koppes, who shared his passion for music. Drummer Richard Ploog was added a year later. After much success among underground and alternative-rock audiences in Australia and abroad, the Church gained a larger, AOR-oriented audience when Arista signed the band to a U.S. deal in 1987. Often lumped together with R.E.M., the group finally reached the pop charts with its first Arista release, 1988's Starfish (#41), and subsequent single, "Under the Milky Way" (#24).
Ploog left after 1990's Gold Afternoon Fix, replaced by former Patti Smith Group drummer Jay Dee Daugherty for 1992's Priest = Aura. In 1992 Koppes also quit. By 1993, only Kilbey and Willson-Piper remained. Since 1987, Kilbey, Willson-Piper, and Koppes have each released several solo albums; Kilbey also collaborated with Go-Between G.W. McLennan for the 1991 album Jack Frost and 1995's Snow Job.
In 1998 the band released Hologram of Baal, the first 7,500 copies of which included a free bonus disc devoted to an hour-long instrumental titled "Bastard Universe." The release precipitated the Church's first U.S. tour as a full band in eight years. Band members pursued various solo projects, and Kilbey kept busy publishing books of poetry and producing albums for other artists. In 1999 the band regrouped for Box of Birds, a loving collection of new recordings of covers of such artists as Hawkwind ("Silver Machine"), Ultravox ("Hiroshima Mon Amour"), David Bowie ("All the Young Dudes"), and Neil Young ("Cortez the Killer").
This biography originally appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001).
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