What could be better than the news that Kim Churchill has a new EP on the way? How about the news that everyone's favourite Canberran folker has a whole goddamn four EPs on the way!? I Am is the first of them, set for release on May 3rd and driven by the clickly, groove-laden single "After The Sun". Coming as a notedly lowkey follow-up to his 2017 album, Weight Falls, Churchill wrote and recorded the EP in Berlin, soaking in its idiosyncratic beauties (both mechanical and nautral) and translating them to music.
The other three EPs in Churchill's ambitious, yet slowly unfurling collection (all of which are without titles or release dates, because the 28-year-old is a giant bloody tease) were also written and recorded in disparate locations – one back home in Australia, one in the UK, and one in Canada – the end result being four vastly different releases all linked by the warm, heartfelt haziness that Churchill has built an empire unlike anyone else's on.
What can you tell us about the backstory behind "After The Sun"?
It started off with me being a little in awe of the planet moving one day, when I was thinking of moving out of the shade of a tree in some Melbourne park. As I was thinking about it, the sun actually started to hit me in the face, and within a few minutes, I was drenched in sunlight. For some silly reason, it blew my mind that this had happened due to the world turning. I took the idea to a songwriting session in Berlin and we got real archetypal with it. A little bit of break up stuff and pondering on the way all beautiful things come and go – just like the sun – and hey presto! The piece was born.
So this track is our first taste of your upcoming I Am EP, which you wrote and recorded in Berlin. What was the experience like, creating music so far away from home?
Really brilliant and exciting. I’ve recorded overseas a lot in the past, but Berlin was just such a different environment. It was so cool the way the city just took me in and sent me in all these different directions. Going there first in the winter and doing a bunch of songwriting in the cold and snow was a lovely start, too – it gave everything a different flavor. Then going back in the summer to record had this lovely cathartic sense to it. The city had just come alive, and it was the perfect place bring songs into the world. The producer also was primarily a house and hip-hop producer, and he bought me into a whole new world that I really relished!
I like the concept of the ‘built’ and ‘natural’ sides of Berlin colliding – where did the idea for that come from?
As the song was taking shape and having all of these themes about the inevitable processes of the earth and the sun, I began to see it in the way nature had swallowed up these big decrepit parts of Berlin. It was beauty finding its way back into some really bland and sad post-war structures. And it wasn’t just nature, it was all the graffiti and art that has worked its way onto every wall of Berlin. It’s a beautiful example of human creativity and our capacity for beauty, finding existence in these strange and forgotten places.
You’ve also got three other EPs on the way – one written in the UK, one in Canada and one in Australia. What made you want to spread your creative seeds across the world with this project?
I was really drawn to recording some EPs. For some reason, I just felt very inspired to use that format. I began to realise that I’d need to record quite a few to feel creatively nourished, and so the idea of a four-EP collection came about. I wanted each to have its own flavour and point of difference, and I love travelling and recording in different places. The idea basically just took all of that into account and created a new format. I was also really excited to allow all of these different cultures and environments to work their way through my reality and creative work. It felt like such an exciting and liberating cause for my art.
You’ve always spoken about having a very personal connection to your music, and how the environment around you is linked to that. What is it about these environments that resonated with you as a creative person?
Each environment had specific qualities that I resonate with. As we were talking about above, in Berlin, it was the nature and graffiti and creative aliveness of the city. In Canada it was the dense, calm beauty of the British Columbian rainforests and their ancient trees. In Australia it was the vast, exciting gorges of the Blue Mountains and the sheer cliff faces. Those are just a couple of examples, but really, each place was loaded with interesting and inspiring characteristics and traits that I just gobbled up and spewed out into my songs and performances.
What were some of your highlights from travelling to all these places to make music?
One thing I have really loved doing are little adventures to record acoustic videos. I’ve been taking a brilliant director with me on the whole process, and we go off on these adventures and set up recording gear in these amazing places and make live music videos. From an abandoned chemical lab in Berlin, to canoeing over lakes to a little island in British Columbia. In the Blue Mountains, we trekked to the top of a gorge for sunrise and shot there. They have been amazing – and difficult – experiences that I’ll never forget.
How did the creative process for each of these EPs differ? Did you aim to shake things up with each new chapter in this project, or approach them from different perspectives?
It was really nice and simple, actually. At first, I was really worried about having continuity across each one, given they were all recorded in different studios with different producers. But the songwriting process has been fairly similar across the board, and that has been enough. I basically just opened up my subconscious and let enormous amounts of absolutely anything spill out. I'd record all of it and listen to it all again and again. Then I'd get to the place I have a deep connection with, and I'd allow the location and producer to start influencing me and my mood. As we'd get into recording, I'd form the songs out of the deep well of raw material I brought, and in this final forming of things, all the lovely characteristics of the place and the producer would start working their way into the music.
And what about sonically – did you want the sounds and styles of these four EPs to stand apart?
They definitely do. The studios and producers were all so different, and it's crazy to think how each one was done so differently. Once I bring it back to Australia and work on the mixing process, though, all of these beautiful and immense differences sort or settle a little bit. The end result is unique, but still very much my own.
What guitars were you wielding in the studio?
I predominantly use my three Churchills. He’s a luthier out of Ballarat – there's no relation, by the way – and I’ve been worshipping his guitars since I saw Jeff Lang play them when I was a kid. I've also been gravitating to a good old, beat up Yamaha acoustic – I find that the cheap ones age brilliantly – and a good, rusty nylon-string. Always old strings. Always go for character over playability.
How about onstage?
I've gone into a bit of hibernation, rig-wise. On the last tour, we had 32 channels, three separate in-ear mixes, two drum kits, three-part harmonies, Ableton and a drum sampler, plus I had my whole rig; eight lines for guitar, kick, snare, tambourine, vocals and harmonica. The whole thing was kind of mental. But now I've scaled back to a solo show with seven lines – kick, guitar, tambourine, harmonica and vocals, essentially. It’s me just getting back to what I know and my true self again.
Do you have a go-to guitar at the moment?
I have two. One is this old beat up Yahama that the company gave me nearly ten years ago, which has just really come to life for songwriting. I haven't changed the strings in ten years, either, and that makes all the difference. I’m always searching for a Nick Drake kind of deadness in a guitar – for some reason, that just gets me going. I also have an ancient nylon-string guitar with similarly old strings, and it just has a depth and beauty to its resonance that blows my mind. I love learning old Bob Dylan songs or classical pieces, and just listening to the guitar sing the pieces back to me. It’s like a damn good shiraz!
Anything else you wanna say to the readers of Australian Guitar?
I nearly blew myself up trying to cook an omelette on a gas cooker sat on the bottom step in the side door of my van. I forgot about the plastic covering over the step, and apparently inside is also a highly flammable insulation. On the other side of that insulation, it turns out, is the petrol tank. So the plastic caught on fire, then the insulation really caught on fire, then the entirety of the floor of my van started smoking… Then I poured ten litres of water over the whole thing and saved the entire beach car park from my costly little error. I’d like to take this moment to suggest not cooking omelettes on the bottom step of the inside of your van on a gas cooker.
Friday June 7th - Oxford Art Factory, Sydney NSW
Saturday June 8th - Woolly Mammoth, Brisbane QLD
Saturday June 15th - Howler, Melbourne VIC
Friday June 21st - Lion Arts Factory, Adelaide SA
Saturday June 22nd - Jack Rabbit Slims, Perth WA