Few Australian guitarists are as revered as the Church’s twin frontline of Marty Willson-Piper and Peter Koppes. While the local music scene of the early-’80s was awash with pub rock and its strict rhythm-lead dynamic, the pair soon developed a hybrid double-melody style, an interplay that has had wide-ranging influence – the Smiths’ Johnny Marr has declared them a major factor in his own playing, as has Stone Roses axeman John Squire, and you hear their dynamics in the circling guitar lines of everyone from Luna to Radiohead.
The pair have bounced music off one another for over 30 years, since the Liverpool émigré joined the band formed by Koppes and bassist/singer Steve Kilbey, and their differences are apparent from the second they sit down. Willson-Piper is fizzing with energy, while Koppes is taciturn: while Willson-Piper reels off a contemptuous harangue about guitarists that refuse to listen to music outside of their chosen genre, his bandmate sighs “I have such a communication problem with people that no-one ever gets what I say. I don’t know why I even bother to talk.”
So what made the pair decide to step away from the typical you-play-the-chords, I’ll-do-the-solos dynamic of most Australian bands at the time?
“Well, there was that dynamic at first,” Willson-Piper points out. “When I went into the band, Peter was the lead guitar player, but I think what happened was that as we developed we started understanding that there was something else you could do.”
He turns to Koppes. “Steve was really into that as a concept, wasn’t he? He really wasn’t into ‘oh, here comes the lead solo’. It all became more of a blend of sounds. And of course all through the years Pete’s playing leads and I’m playing leads, but it wasn’t so black and white.”
Koppes nods. “If you didn’t want to be stuck in the ‘70s then it became almost anathema to have a lead guitar solo at all. So we consciously avoided it.”