This weekend, two of the greatest rock bands of the '80s are performing together at the Arvada Center. Typically, bands whose greatest commercial popularity happened more than twenty years ago find themselves playing a nostalgia circuit of state fairs and the like, but the Church and the Psychedelic Furs have consistently been able to draw audiences and garner new fans. It could be the energy of both bands' performances or the otherworldly quality of the Church, but there are enduring qualities that keep these bands vital.
Though the Psychedelic Furs haven't released new material since the early '90s, the Church continues to write and release albums regularly.
“Both bands have always kicked against what was the trend in music,” says Psychedelic Furs bassist and co-founder Tim Butler. “Even as far back as the '80s, neither of us chased after what was on the charts at the time. When we had the hit 'Pretty in Pink,' we didn't go into the studio and say, 'Let's write another Pretty in Pink,' which is what the record company would say. So we were also always kicking against what was expected by the record company. And they hated us for it.”
With both bands, each album is considerably different from the previous effort. And both bands are also open about their misgivings when they make what they consider to be mistakes.
Bassist and singer Steve Kilbey of the Church admits that the 1990 album Gold Afternoon Fix was the result of the band's having reached a plateau. And although the band was talked into playing the 1982 album The Blurred Crusade in its entirety for a tour, that kind of nostalgia trip doesn't suit Kilbey.
“Once I've done something, I've done it,” says Kilbey. “I've got so many things on the boiler all the time, I just want to do the next thing. When someone is just interested in the old stuff and playing The Blurred Crusade, it's like someone telling you, 'You looked good in your high-school clothes; why don't you put them on and let's go back?' That's not me anymore. I'm proud of that album, and it's a great album, and I don't mind doing an occasional song off of it. Playing it every night for the tour and only old songs? It feels wrong to me. I feel like the stuff I write now is as good as that. I don't have youth and fire anymore, but I've got experience, and I'm a much better musician, a much better lyricist. I come from a richer, deeper place."
He adds, "An Australian writer once said, 'The Church are like a shark, they have to keep swimming forward or they'll drown.' That's really what we have to do. We have to keep moving forward and creating new music. We can't be a band that just goes out and plays our old music all the time. It feels like we're selling ourselves short.”
Kilbey seems to be uncommonly self-critical for a musician, and all the members of the band seem to keep the group in check.
“Not every album is amazing beginning to end, but on each album, there's always something interesting,” says Kilbey. “Sometimes we fail to do something interesting, and I admit that, but the Church is never treading water — except for maybe Gold Afternoon Fix, I think. Suddenly we had been successful, and suddenly in the band we all fell, apart because struggling to have success had united us. Starfish sold a million records, and we lost the unity that struggling for eight years had provided us. Without the struggle, we didn't quite know what to do with ourselves.”
Since that time, the Church has released some of the best music of its career, including the appropriately titled 2014 album Further/Deeper.
Meanwhile, the Furs have a new album in the works but aren't willing to release it until it meets the standard of quality of its previous albums, and the band harbors no illusions about its potential commercial success.
“We know we're not going to come out with an album and have it be up there with Justin Bieber or Taylor Swift,” says Butler.
There's something to be said for persistence and aiming for quality rather than cranking out whatever comes to mind, though.
“I think it's because we've maintained our integrity through thick and thin, through the good times and the bad times,” says Kilbey. "When you buy a Church album, you know it's going to have integrity. It's not going to be 'Shoot to kill, aim to thrill.' We've thought it out. The guitarists are thinking how they're going to get new sounds, and we're all working on trying to develop new things. I think people can respond to that, like a company you can trust. If you see that on the sign of a tailor shop, 'Established 1980,' you go, 'This guy's been doing it 36 years; he must know what he's doing, and he's survived. He must have integrity.'”
The Church and the Psychedelic Furs, Sunday, July 31, 7:30 p.m., Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities.