KIM CHURCHILL (EMPHASIS ON THE CHILL)
HIGH AMBITIONS ARE ALWAYS IMPORTANT, BUT SOMETIMES, SIMPLICITY IS FAR MORE REWARDING.
It’s 11 o’clock on a Friday morning when
AustralianGuitar gets a hold of Kim Churchill. WeightFalls – the Novocastrian folk-rocker’s long-awaited fourth album – has only been out for a few months, but Churchill is already keen to brew hype for LP5. “I’m parked in my van outside a recording studio,” he tells us, “Waiting for the producer to kind of awkwardly come out and ask why I’m here two hours early.”
Though it’s unlikely we’ll see new material surface anytime soon, Churchill is overflowing with new ideas. It’s crucial, he stresses, that those ideas hit tape before he dives headfirst into the touring cycle for WeightFalls.
“I reckon when you release an album and tour it, you become quite… ‘Stoic’ isn’t the right word… Maybe ‘solid’,” he muses. “You’ve always got a gruelling schedule; you’re playing things repetitively and worrying about practice and being in shape and all of this other stuff, and it wears you down over time. I want to get the juices flowing while I’m still a little bit hungover, with enough sleep and not too much else on my plate.”
After the clusterf*** of anxiety that was the production cycle for WeightFalls, it makes sense that Churchill would trust his creative instincts on whatever comes next. The one-man band spent 18 tireless months slaving away on the follow-up to 2014’s Silence/Win – with a healthy dose of pressure at the hand of that album’s mainstream breakthrough – before deciding to scrap it all and re-write a whole new record in the span of a week. “We had been working on mixes for [the scrapped album] for so long – we were on mixes #17 and #18 for some of the tracks,” Churchill sighs, “And there just comes a certain point where you begin to spiral downwards with a song. If you’re not getting it right and you keep going back to it, over and over again in quick succession, it becomes more like you’re laying bricks than creating art. At that point, you just need to let it go. It took me a long time to finally realise that, and when I did, I knew that the art I wanted to create was going to be so easy because I’d had that ‘trial and error’ experience.”
Having learnt that overthinking kills creativity, Churchill ditched the idea of making LP4 a grandiose production – as was the label-backed original concept. Instead, he transitioned to a more laidback process that relied on simple MIDI structures in Garageband over labyrinthine studio modules.
“I was chopping up bits of my guitar and playing with these disgustingly basic drum sounds,” he says. “It almost reminded me of a Wes Anderson film, with these big acoustic movements that all had a gritty, kind of homemade feel to them. It was the kind of energy I was interested in exploring to begin with, but didn’t know how to capture.”
Part of Churchill’s newfound stripped-back spirit meant using the world around him to develop fresh and exciting sounds. “I was tapping pens on the desk in my room, tapping on coke cans, clapping, clicking or using those preset sounds in Garageband,” he explains, “And then over-gaining them into the mixing desk to make them sound really fat and ugly and weird. When that whole world of creativity opened up to me, it was like, ‘Okay, cool, this is what I want to do.’ There’s no character in just getting a drummer and putting them in a huge, beautiful studio to make them play something that sounds crystal clear.”
The philosophy of taking inspiration from one’s surroundings, however, is no foreign concept for Churchill, who’s been infected with an incurable travel bug since the early days of his career. As he explains, traversing the globe for nearly three years straight fed into both the lyrical and musical themes explored on WeightFalls.
“When you’re really open to what you’re experiencing,” Churchill says, “And when you have an open passageway to your emotive state at that time, all of those feelings that you want to channel into your music start to come out. For example, hiking through the mountains in Peru gave me this incredible feeling of humility. All of a sudden I’d start playing this chord progression – it’d be the tiniest, most simple thing I’d have ever written, but in a sense it embodied the humility I felt from being in that enormous mountain range.”
Ultimately, the biggest lesson Churchill learnt in his pursuit to catch lightning in a bottle was one of vulnerability. “You need to allow the feelings in, and then be open to giving them back out,” he advises. “Both take an enormous amount of bravery, and it’s rare that I reach a state where I feel like I can pull that off. But when it all works out, I feel like I’ve unlocked the secret to songwriting.”