Pic: Lester Jones
In following up his debut album, 2014’s Silence/Win, singer/songwriter, Kim Churchill, had to look deep within as the spectre of his first LP began to creep into the new era that beckoned his sophomore release.
“The last album hung in there for a long time,” Churchill notes, down the ‘line from Newcastle. “In a way, I was battling to end it and start on something that was stronger and better. I guess it’s good when you do an album that pushes you beyond anything you’ve done before and sets the bar really high. In recording the next album, I felt I was safe with that bar, almost.
“What ended up happening is that I fought and wrote and worked to create something that lived up to the album before and eventually I failed. So I put it all on the backburner and just wrote another album.”
Having gotten up to the 18th attempt at mixing the songs that were meant to make up his second LP, Churchill decided to walk away and write a whole new album within the short space of a week.
“It wasn’t until I really failed at trying to top my last album that I was able to move forward into the new era,” he explains. “It’s funny how that stuff works, those eras of music and cycles of life. It was interesting – I had to try, try, try and finally fail in order to move on.”
A few relics of the old songs did make it onto the forthcoming new album, but the vast majority of songs come from the second writing attempt. The first glimpse of the album has arrived in the form of the single, Breakneck Speed, written in Quebec, Canada, at a time when heaving touring was having an effect on even this road-hardened troubadour.
“It was a lot of things, I think. I was genuinely exhausted at the time and not too much fun to be around. I’d ignored my way through glandular fever before that. Two-and-a-half months on the road just being sick as a dog, but not going to the doctor and just coping and continuing to tour. We played Alberta, Canada, on Friday night and London, England on Saturday and Amsterdam, Holland, on Sunday and fly straight to Berlin to do press. It was really crazy.”
As the near-catatonic Churchill stared out the window of the tour van, he quite literally saw the forest for the trees.
“So we arrive in Quebec and we were still just as busy,” he recalls. “But there was a real moment when we driving along the highway with my original soundguy. He’d lived out of a van with me and toured the world for three or four years until he fell in love with a girl he met and settled down to have kids. He’d come back on the road for me on that tour and it was really grounding and good to have him back, because he was very much the elder brother figure.
“He speeds like a demon and was just racing down the highway and I’d forgotten that weird kind of comfortable calm, that we’re doing 130km and he’s in control and got the whole thing under wraps. And Quebec in the fall is just one of the most beautiful things you’ll ever see, – every tree is a different colour and the sky is electric blue. There’s reds and purples and oranges, it’s almost like an acid trip or something… especially when you’re going 130 down the freeway passing it all.
“That was the moment when I thought ‘this is brilliant. This is great! I’m having the best time’. It was sort of a euphoric celebration. After that everything kind of settled a bit and I could feel moments of calm and relaxation and I found balance again, without any of the touring craziness. It was the celebration of things going at that speed but having the anchor of that calm.”
Breakneck Speed was the song that came of that experience, and interestingly it later completed the puzzle when Churchill wrote that week’s worth of songs to fill his rebooted second album.
“Those songs came in an incredible flurry of writing and it had been really good but there were still things to add,” he notes, “and Breakneck Seed was one of those. A lot of the album is very focussed on the acoustic guitar and songs that are kind of grooving so Breakneck Seed came in to give the album a bit of a kick up the backside.”
With the album due later in 2017, Churchill is touring national in support of the single. After a break from touring he’s ready to roll once again.
“The last 18 months have been really nice,” he says. “We’ve been predominantly off the road, just writing and spending a lot of time in the studio. We’ve been rehearsing for these shows for two or three months, and put together a live show that’s been kind of a dream of mine for years, but I’ve never had time to do it because I’ve always been touring so hard. So it’s incredibly exciting to be bringing it out and finally doing it. Quite nerve-wracking!”
It’s good to be kept on your toes though, right?
“Yeah,” he agrees. “I think complacency is one of the most dangerous things and I’m definitely not feeling complacent right now!”
Breakneck Speed is out now through Warner. Kim Churchill performs on Saturday, June 3, at Fremantle Town Hall. Tickets via https://coolperthnights.oztix.com.au/Default.aspx?eventId=72641