Steve Kilbey & Martin Kennedy
It’s been four years since All India Radio protagonist Martin Kennedy last stepped on stage with Church bass player and songwriter Steve Kilbey to promote the pair’s initial collaborative project, Unseen Music, Unheard Words. Despite the passage of time, Kennedy and Kilbey have found the time to record a second album together, White Magic, and a series of commissioned songs. But with a new collaborative project between the pair,You Are Everything, just released, and a couple of rare upcoming live appearances in Sydney and Melbourne lined up to promote the record, Kennedy is working fast to prepare.
“This is the first time we’ve played with a backing band,” Kennedy says. “The previous time we played to a backing track. So I’ve really got to be on the top of my game!” Kennedy began working with Kilbey in almost accidental circumstances, when Kilbey approached Kennedy’s brother after hearing some of Kennedy’s recordings with All India Radio.
“I was working with Steve long before I actually met him,” Kennedy says. “Steve had heard All India Radio, and he asked my brother John if I had any spare instrumental songs lying around that he could contribute lyrics to.”
Kennedy was lucky enough to have a few “thrown-away tracks” that he was able to send to Kilbey. Despite being conceived originally for an entirely different musical project, Kilbey was able to find space to add in his idiosyncratic and evocative lyrics.
“In some ways, that first album [Unseen Music, Unheard Words] was a bit of a fluke,” Kennedy says, “because we were using songs that had been thrown away from All India Radio.”
A second album, White Magic, followed in 2010, this time with a more focused development. In late 2011, Kennedy and Kilbey began working on the pair’s third album, You Are Everything. “I think the new album is the best of both of the earlier albums,” Kennedy says. “It’s hard to explain, but I think everything that’s good about the first two records is on this one. And I’m really happy with the album, and Steve is too.”
You Are Everything continues the basic dialectic structure of the previous Kilbey/Kennedy albums: Kennedy’s mesmerising, atmosphere music, augmented by Kilbey’s colourful and evocative lyrics.
“Technically we did this album the same way – I would write and record some music, then send it to Steve, he’d add some words to it, and then send it back,” Kennedy says. Despite his extensive history and experience, Kilbey isn’t prone to offering critical commentary on Kennedy’s song sketches. “Steve might comment on the music, but not that much,” Kennedy says. “He trusts me to do the music, in the same way that I trust him to come up with some lyrics that fit the song.”
While Kennedy concedes the album has its own local musical links that, as the record’s musical composer, he’s aware of, there is no prevailing theme to You Are Everything. “Even with the last song, Finale, which was always going to be the last song on the album, we didn’t decide to call it Finale until the last moment,” Kennedy says. “It’s definitely not a concept album.”
As for Kilbey’s unique lyrics, Kennedy doesn’t go out of his way to investigate the underlying themes, or cross-examine Kilbey on a lyric’s particular meaning. “No, I don’t go there,” Kennedy laughs. “Sometimes I’ll know what the songs are about because of conversations that I’ve had with Steve, and I know what’s going on in his life.” In fact, for Kennedy, not knowing what’s going on in Kilbey’s head at the time a song was written, or the emotions, relationships or scenarios that are being explored, can add to the allure and mystery of the song.
“I think it’s definitely the case that not knowing can be a good thing,” Kennedy says. “I know that in the past when people have asked Steve what a particular lyric was written that he’ll give a vague answer. I don’t always want to know the meaning of a lyric. It’s part of the mystery.”
BY PATRICK EMERY
MARTIN KENNEDY/STEVE KILBEY play The Toff In Town on Sunday May 12.You Are Everything is out Friday May 10 via MGM Distribution.