Kim Churchill spoke to GROK on the phone ahead of his album release Weight Falls about his chemistry as an artist, the pressure he faced when working in the studio, and how he’s evolved as a musician.
What does it feel having Weight Falls ready to go?
It feels good – it took a lot of work, that album, and it was a wonderful journey of self-discovery. I would say I made a lot of mistakes on the way just learning what I did, so it’s quite cathartic to finally have it ready to go and ready to show people. It feels like the kind of music that can kind of get up on its own two legs and do one drop and do its own thing, so for me it’s exciting for me to sit back down and see what people make of it.
It’s interesting how you mentioned self-discovery and how cathartic it was for you when you were making this album, because it seems like you’ve progressed a lot as an artist since your last album.
It’s interesting, because I think there have been transitional moments along the way. I think about 18 months into the recording process I canned an entire album and put it in the bin. The moment we decided to do that, I decided to write a new album in a week and bring it back in for my team. Only a week later – it was a radical decision and I knew that I had to do something really kind of fast to keep everybody excited, because I think scrapping an album was a dangerous idea.
I knew that I would have to be showing these songs to everybody from the head of my record label, to my manager and my agent and everybody in the team. So I decided to go on GarageBand. As simple as that sounds – I put a bit of reverb on the records and I started chopping up acoustic guitar parts. I learnt how to use GarageBand again and used synth bass, a bunch of different drum beats and rhythms. Interestingly at the same time I was getting right into Portishead 20 years late *laughs*. That new sound I created, I tried to combine each element with my more acoustic sound. And I think the result is something new and I’m very fortunate that it came from just stumbling into GarageBand.
It’s cool how you’re able to use something as simple as GarageBand to create something so unique and different but at the same time, maintain something very genuine.
When you make the right moves, you honour everything that you are and you move in the direction of something new in an inspiring and joyful way. Since I canned an album after 18 months of work on it, I was aware during that period that the steps I took in that direction were not as enjoyable and people were not particularly honouring everything that I already was [in terms of my music catalogue]. It was interesting to have made an album done in a week after that. It was just so much fun, I think – and I think that if I learnt anything from it at all, it’s that if you’re not having fun with it, you start to drift off track.
Were there a lot of times you felt like you drifted off track?
Oh yeah, it was pressure in my own little fishbowl to come up with something that could kind of top what I’d done in the past! It was that same pressure that was leading me to overthink things and take things too seriously. It was wonderfully cathartic to throw all that 18 months of work out the window, start again and do something really fun – just do it quickly and not think about it too much and just have fun with it. By that stage I spent so long working on the album that I didn’t have, no one was waiting for it anymore, people had forgotten who I was *laughs*.
Those 18 months sounded like it was probably the most challenging aspect of making this album.
Yeah, it was. I think it was also about rising above my slightly more egoistic mind frame that I somehow had to top the things I had done in the past. That’s quite counter-intuitive to making music. I really felt like I had to make this good. I think creativity and art don’t work that way, because they can’t really be put up on a measuring board to see how good it is. I felt like I laid down layers and layers of paint – just painted over the top and over the top of something trying to make it a certain ‘quality,’and that was the biggest challenge, to move beyond that and having fun with it again.
Any particular people you worked with on Weight Falls?
There was a producer by the name of Ian Cricket – he works out of a little garage studio in the western suburbs of Sydney and he was enormously helpful to me. He helped me bring the songs in Weight Falls to life. As a producer, I would say he has a bit of a cult image – he doesn’t even have a website, he’s worked with so many bands and done all kinds of stuff, and it’s kind of shocking. What he’s good at doing is helping artists be themselves, which is interesting as a producer once said to me a long time ago, ‘the best thing a producer can do is not make it worse.’
I think it’s an artist’s job as well, because when you first sit down with your guitar or at the piano and you start writing a piece of music, you’re performing it for the first time ever. You’re just by yourself, with an instrument and nobody is around. There is a magic there – and it’s incredibly hard to keep that magic as the song becomes written and demoed and gets slowly worked on and recorded and so on. And I think Ian is a magician of somehow allowing you to keep that magic – keep that wonderful thing that it was at the beginning intact, so hats off to him, because he saved me, I reckon.
You released your first album back in 2010, and so it’s been seven years in the making. How do you think you would have progressed since them in terms of your sound? Do you think you have evolved musically?
Back in the day it was more like throwing paint at the wall when it came to making music – and sometimes what came out of that would stay but sometimes it doesn’t. I think a lot of new musicians create music like this. Obviously there are times we get lucky, but having to deliver something new and better than what I’d done in the past is not like that. So to be able to continuously deliver new music, no matter what arena you’re in – whether it’s Triple J’s Like A Version or an acoustic video for Rolling Stone or in the studio, or on a boat in the river in Melbourne, you have to consistently be able to bring some kind of magic. And it’s been a process of learning how to do that consistently instead of throwing a dart in the dark.
You’re about to grace us with another nation-wide tour. Having seen you perform live before, it’s like what you said about that magic in playing a song for the first time. It’s a whole other thing performing it live. How will you bring that same magic onto the stage?
We’ve been rehearsing an enormous amount now and the wonderful thing about that magic is that if you rehearse over and over again, they evolve and funnily enough the repetition brings the magic back and you suddenly know how to play the song. It’s a wonderful sort of return on your hard work. So we’ve been working on it very hard. I’ve been working on the show that’s between me and two others. I’m very excited to tour it now. I’ve never prepared this hard for a tour. I’ve never been so good in playing an album like this and it’s still four weeks off in coming out!
Is there a song you just can’t wait to perform?
There’s a song called ‘The Border’. Its track number two – I love playing that song. The harmonies are so different to what you normally would do. Having that song come to life for me in front of a crowd will be a real treat for me.
What would you say to fans and general public who have watched you grow as an artist?
I think the public is so receptive to new music now, and I think that’s absolutely brilliant. As an artist, I’d like to say thank you. Thank you for being so supporting and interesting in music and giving us a platform to create art and an environment where the anticipation of such art comes with such excitement. So I just want to say thank you to everyone who’s reading this interview and listening to my music because it’s just such a wonderful time to be an artist.
Kim Churchill’s latest album Weight Falls releases Friday August 25.