I first encountered Kim Churchill in 2013 at Bluesfest in Byron Bay. Just one man and one guitar, I was serenaded by his rich talents and ability to evoke both empathy and positive energy within an audience. Fast-forward to 2017 and Australia’s endearing ocean chaser and melody maker has solidified himself as one of the country’s best nomadic virtuosos.
Currently touring his newest material (a sneak peek at his upcoming album), for the first time with a full live band, the multi-instrumentalist has grown abundantly as an artist. Taking a strong dose of down time between releases, Churchill says that his latest instalment was written around a time of intense transformation, a process that he jokes, “became a bit of a saga” as he learnt how to successfully balance a heavy touring schedule, writing, keeping himself healthy and energetic as well as signing some pretty delightful deals.
“It put me about a year and a half behind of what I was planning, but in the most beautiful way. Probably the biggest life transformation I’ve had was the process of making this new album and getting it right. I had a concept of what I wanted to achieve, but the process of distinguishing the fact that what was going to happen, and how I wanted to do it, were two entirely different things. It ended up being far better, but it took me some time to learn to stop controlling it to be exactly what I wanted.”
As an artist, Churchill knows the value of not rushing creativity. Although finding himself slightly behind in his own personal schedule, he knew it wasn’t something that could be forced.
“I’ve definitely had songwriting sessions where I’ve just grinded down songs into powder, when what they really need is just to be left alone for a bit. I find that the best things in life usually just happen themselves and you must appreciate them happening. Regarding learning these things, I used to be a nine to five songwriter. I’d just sit down with my instrument for hours. There’s this great Neil Young quote that says, “All you’ve got to do, is keep showing up”, even if you’re there for three minutes and there’s nothing there, then you go off and do other things and come back to it. Eventually it will work its magic.”
After the success of his first album Silence/Win which threw him into a crazy touring schedule, Churchill remembers the struggle to switch off; a necessity he has embraced over the years.
“I came down a bunch of levels in intensity. I think it had been building from all the touring and I guess I was on a bit of a come down or even heading for a crash. Maybe that was the crash, I don’t know. I needed to calm down so I read a lot of books and started painting watercolors. I feel like it all represented what I was going through psychologically, because when your paint hits the paper and kind of explodes in a mass of color however it wants to, you have no control over it, and that was kind of exactly what was happening in my life at the time with my writing.”
Churchill’s new single Breakneck Speed presents the other, more wild side of Churchill. “The song went through so many different transformations. There was this feel of chaos and anarchy at the time that I felt really needed to be projected, which was when the song took on that harder hitting feel. Then in saying that, the song is actually the only of its kind on the album, so it was a bit daunting to release it first. It does have all of the energy and strength that I feel like an artist needs after a period away, in order to make it a certain kind of delicious”.
Writing the album – set for release later this year – Churchill found himself in a range of locations. “I began writing in the way that I had consistently written up until that point, which was finding somewhere beautiful in the world, go there and lock myself away to work. I went to Sri Lanka and did exactly that and wrote every day. I got to the end of my trip and flew to Montreal and wrote there for a bit. It was there that I thought I was done. That was two years ago.
“I’d written about 25 of the 50 songs that were potentially going to be on the album. I got to a point where I decided everything that I’d written was rubbish and after that I started taking different routes and started again from scratch. I wrote a new album in a week on an iPad in my friend’s bedroom in Newcastle. Most of the songs on the album are from that week. I also did a lot of co-writing sessions which was awesome. Every session offers so much to learn. You don’t necessarily come out with song you’ll release, more like a lot of half cooked, Frankenstein monsters that live in your iTunes library.
“I wrote with a lot of people like Thelma Plum, Alex Lloyd. Nick Hodgson from the Kaiser Chiefs was both interesting and probably my favorite experience. It was all about the levity and that was one thing I was learning about at the time, because a lot of my writing had become very intense and heavy. He would say lyrics that I wouldn’t like too much, and I’d make a face to which he would respond ‘Oh, you really didn’t like that, did you?’, and then he’d convince me to use it just because I’d made a face. If there was a moment where we hadn’t come up with anything for a while, we’d go outside and kick a football around for a bit, or talk about what birds eat at his bird feeder.
Also hitting the road on this tour with him is a full live band comprised of Churchill, Michael Hardy on vocals, keys and drums, and Tom Myers on vocals, drums and percussion. “I’d um’d and ah’d for years because every solo one-man band I had ever known, in my opinion, had taken a step backwards by introducing a band to their sound. I feel like it almost took away what was special about them. The predicament for me was; ‘How am I going to take this step without changing my sound or what I am about?’
“The end result for me is not so much a full band, but more like three one-man bands. I still have my set-up in the middle and then we built set-ups around the floor toms I had. I then had to find two incredibly capable drummers who could also sing to match my harmonies on the tracks.
“It’s been quite an incredible process, getting it all up and running and we’ve laughed about it because instead of having a band who all play individual instruments, it’s more like we’ve decided to divide up all the usual instruments you see in the band and we can all have elements of melodies, bass lines, harmonies and rhythms. I think of it as three people getting into a horse costume and imitating a horse, except we’re three guys imitating a full band.”
3 June, Fremantle Town Hall, Perth