"We always look forward to coming to America and eating Mexican food," says guitarist Peter Koppes, 63, who co-founded the Church in the summer of 1980. Over the course of nearly an hour spent on the phone with Orlando Weekly, Koppes speaks with the whiplash verbosity of a whirling dervish. Once he starts talking, he doesn't slow down. The same goes for his band's touring schedule. Tuesday's set at the Social comes midway through a run of 31 gigs. It will be only their second time in Orlando, having played the same venue back in September 2017.
The band's lineup, like their output, has remained fairly consistent over the years. The current incarnation includes Koppes and bassist/vocalist/co-founder Steve Kilbey, along with guitarist Ian Haug (formerly of Powderfinger), who joined the band in 2013, and drummer Tim Powles, who joined in 1994. They're currently on the second leg of a world tour celebrating the 30th anniversary of their biggest album, Starfish, but this is no tepid nostalgia act.
The Church enjoys a cult following in Europe, and they get booked regularly for goth and psychedelic festivals. But their bread and butter, in terms of touring, remains the U.S., which is now hosting the second leg of their Starfish anniversary tour. "You'd think that your audience would deplete," says Koppes, "but actually it's been growing, selling out places that we never did before."
Starfish has sold nearly a million copies over the decades, moving units in every music format in existence. "I'm not in favor of vinyl, to tell you the truth," says Koppes, who expressed an affinity for the cassette format and who seems far more receptive to the various streaming services than many musicians of his generation. Koppes and company have always taken a forward-thinking approach to the industry and its technological underpinnings, from recording to distribution to royalties. They've recorded in small home studios, and they've also worked for the legendary Clive Davis during their time at Arista. "We were very fortunate to have him," Koppes says, "because he was a very smart executive."
Koppes teaches music theory in his spare time, and has a book forthcoming that focuses on guitar scales. "It's a very good instrument to be able to analyze music theory," Koppes says of the guitar. "I've worked out this amazing trick to simplify the navigation of this science, which the Beatles probably started. No one has ever addressed it, this music between classical and the blues." He calls it "the limbo."
Speaking of limbo, the Church has managed to maintain their creative trajectory through four decades of rapidly-shifting commercial tastes. It hasn't been easy, but it hasn't exactly been hard, either, and a lot of that comes down to attitude. "We've never tried to re-create our successes, just maintained our art through the ups and downs," Koppes says. "In 1998, a millionaire patron in America came and started supporting us. The last two albums had two different patrons, actually. That has afforded us, the last 15 years, to not be desperate to sell records, so to speak."
Starfish was released in February 1988. Its lead single, "Under the Milky Way," is a classic of 1980s rock. The band's biggest hit has since turned up in all kinds of places, most notably on the 2001 soundtrack for Donnie Darko. It was also featured, oddly enough, on an episode of Miami Vice, which later used the song "Blood Money" in another episode.
The current tour has been an education of sorts about their own creative legacy, revisiting the sites of past triumphs while laying down fresh roots in places the Church never played before. "A lot of the people are old fans who never saw us back then," Koppes says. "They're coming, at long last. And sometimes they're bringing their kids, and they seem to enjoy it just as much."
With their 40th year as a band rapidly approaching, the Church have maintained a prolific output, doing two-hour sets night after night, never resting on their laurels – indeed, not really resting much at all. Man Woman Life Death Infinity from 2017 was their 25th album. "John Lennon would've loved it," says Koppes. Lennon would've probably loved him, too.