Levitating Churches interview
Levitating Churches is a proto-punk powerhouse chalked full of boogie and guzzling with groove. Active in Melbourne, these notorious guys, including members with a background in legendary bands such as garage rockers Slavetrader and The Hi-Tone Destroyers, are influenced by artist such as Roky Erickson, Radio Birdman, Dead Moon and Hawkwind.
“Party like it’s 1973!”
Would you like to talk a bit about your background?
Matt: I’d been playing in bands since the early 1990s. My first couple bands were death metal groups but around 1992 I saw Dead Moon play at the Dux De Lux in Christchurch and they really changed my direction. After that I started mainly playing in garage rock’n’roll bands most notably The Hi-Tone Destroyers in Chch then Slavetrader when I moved to Auckland in the early 2000’s.
Shaun: I’ve been playing in bands in Dunedin and then Auckland since the 1990s. I played in post punk bands, notably The Aesthetics and Cat!Cat!Cat!, played in a couple of noise projects, and a bit later on was in garage rock bands such at The Bloody Souls, around the mid 2000s. I got to know Matt in Auckland through the scene there – The Bloody Souls and Slavetrader would gig together a bit.
Dave: I first started playing in bands late 1980’s in Melbourne-mostly garage rock, punk, space rock and generally being noisey. Played with Sub-Zeroes, Naked Eye, Hellenic Zeal and others.
Tell us about the formation of Levitating Churches?
Matt: Lev Chur was originally a band called Helter Skelter. We played a few gigs then realised that half the band couldn’t get on with the other half so we stopped and Shaun (bass) and Grant (keyboards at the time) re-started as Levitating Churches around 2011 sometime. I placed an add online and Dave was the only one who seemed remotely cool – since then we haven’t looked back, after almost ten years we are as much a family as a band. Grant “the wizard” Osborne left around 2014 to start a family, he still comes to shows and hangs out when can which is cool.
Shaun: I moved to Melbourne around the middle of 2009 and shortly afterwards Matt invited me to be part of Helter Skelter. The few gigs we played were cool, but as Matt mentioned it came to a halt. He got in touch again bit later when Levitating Churches were being formed and yeah that was that!
Dave: In the early 2000’s I took 5 years off of playing music to study Philosophy. As I finished my study I wanted to start playing again and responded to Matt’s ad online that cited Dead Moon as an influence. Like Matt, I saw Dead Moon on the 1992 tour. This was a big influence on myself and no doubt has inspired the formation and music of the Levitating Churches.
What does the name “Levitating Churches” refer to in the context of the band name?
Matt: The name is a miss-heard Roky Erickson lyric from the song “White Faces” – forbears I thought Roky saying “burning temples, levitating churches” it turns out he was singing “learning temples, meditating churches”.
How would you describe your sound?
Matt: I think we were way more psychedelic when we started but the heart of the sound has always been balls out rock’n’roll, coming from Australia and NZ tough street wise bands like The Coloured Balls and Rose Tattoo have always been a big influence, not to mention Dead Moon and Roky.
Rock-n-roll hell was recently released via your own label No Squares Or Hippies. Would you like to share the story behind it? How do you usually approach music making?
Matt: Well we recorded Rock-n-roll hell at Goatsound studios which is a local joint run by Jason Fuller who was bass player in Melbourne grind band Blood Duster and now plays in a bunch of bands such as Burn The Hostages and Birdcage. We recorded it right at the end of 2018 and as is usually the case with us we got lazy and it took us till late 2019 to finally mix and master the bloody thing. I do all the artwork and put together the sleeve around Christmas 2019 and by the start of 2020 it was ready to get pressed at local vinyl pressing plant Zenith records.
In regards to our approach to music making, generally I write the basic song which takes me forever messing around with riffs and changing lyrics then I bring it to rehearsal and filter it through Shaun and Dave until we come up with something that sounds like the three of us.
Shaun: The recording of Rock-n-roll hell went really smoothly. Jason Fuller at Goatsound was great to work with and captured our sound well. We’re all grown-ups now, we know what we’re doing and our recordings all tend to go well and we get the sound we want without too much fussing. Haha, yeah it can take us a while to finish things, especially in the mixing process but we get there in the end.
I first heard your LP from 2013. How would you compare it to your latest release?
Matt: Half of the first record was recorded at Dave’s house by us and his flatmate James and the other half was recorded in a local studio, the songs were stuff we had been playing live, some I had written before I moved to Melbourne after spending a couple of years in Sydney and not playing with anyone and the rest songs that we got together in the first couple of years as a band. I think the stuff we recorded ourselves came out sounding the best.
Shaun: I agree – to me the songs that were recorded at Dave’s place ended up sounding the best. I guess there’s a few more songs on that album with more of a psychedelic bent, and a bit more keyboard heavy. We still play a handful of those songs live pretty regularly and don’t seem to get sick of them.
Dave:I think the first record and its DIY approach really captured the way we were playing and sounding at the time. Keeping it simple and focusing on getting a good sound and inspired playing created and documented what was essential in the music. The latest record is more accomplished – a finer grasp on playing and writing. Jason’s recording is great!
“Every record in my collection has helped shape our sound”
How about Till Death Us Do Party?
Matt: Grant was still playing keyboards in the band when we started recording that record but had left by the time it was finished, also we took quite a lot of speed and coke while we were recording it and that’s what I hear when I listen back to it. I still really love it but it took ages to finish and if we had the chance to do it over I think it would sound a lot different. One of the songs “Get Numb” was featured on a compilation CD that came out with an issue of Classic Rock magazine which was a funny experience, it was the last track on the CD and I am guessing everyone tuned out by the time it rolled around, still it got our name out there a little which was cool.
Shaun: The recording of Till Death Us Do Party was fun. Yeah there was a few substances involved but once it was all done and pressed up on vinyl I was pretty happy with it – to me it has a punchy sound and it’s pretty frantic!
I read that you guys are fans of 13th Floor Elevators, Dead Moon, Coloured Balls and Black Sabbath. There’s not much else to add here?!
Matt: I think I consider myself more of a music fan than a musician so every record in my collection has helped shape our sound, everything from Black Sabbath to Waylon Jennings has been an influence.
What are some bands/musicians that have a big influence on you?
Matt: Dead Moon obviously but I grew up listening to a lot of heavy metal so sometimes that shows through. I love Black Sabbath but also anything that has an honest vibe – overly manufactured stuff leaves me pretty cold.
Shaun: Pretty much. Sabbath, Uriah Heep and Maiden were big early influences on me and a little later during my university years I discovered The Fall, Wire and Can which I really dug.
Dave: I grew up listening to a lot of punk: Dead Kennedys, Discharge, Exploited, Depression, Damned. Also local rock ‘n’ roll bands like Bored!, God and Powder Monkeys. Rowland S Howard. Lots of metal like Slayer and Iron Maiden. Black Sabbath had a big impact. And Roky Erickson.
What are some future plans?
Matt: Well we pretty much have the songs written for our next album so I guess we will start trying to get those together and recorded, the plan is to record them on 4-track so we will see how that turns out. Other than that I guess we just sit tight and hope this stupid pandemic blows over so we can get back to playing shows again.
Shaun: Can’t wait for this idiot virus to be done and play some more shows. With the restrictions in place at the moment it’s difficult to do anything, so I’ve been jamming around at home a lot. Definitely keen to keep the momentum going, learn and record new songs and release those.
Dave: Future plans are more recording, shows and hopefully some tours overseas. Working out how to use the recently acquired TEAC 4 track for recording.
Do you often play live?
Matt: We love playing live and most of the time we don’t play a song exactly the same way more than once, obviously the gigs have dried up due to Covid-19 but before that happened we would play around once a month or so in local dive bars. We don’t play out of Melbourne much but a few interstate shows would be a blast and also a good opportunity to sell a few records – we did a small NZ tour in 2018 which was great fun so we would like to get back there at some stage was well.
Shaun: We played a few shows earlier in 2020 that went really well, with great local bands and good crowds in attendance, but like every other band the shows we had booked over late March and April were all cancelled. Always keen to play out of town and would love to get back to New Zealand for another tour.
Let’s end this interview with some of your favorite albums. Have you found something new lately you would like to recommend to our readers?
Matt: Pretty much any album I am listening to at the time is my favourite record but I would have to say Vol. 4 by Black Sabbath is right up there, Thank You by Royal Trux has been with me for a long time as has Sacrifice by Black Widow. I am also a big fan of Barış Manço, the Turkish psych dude from the 70s.
I don’t listen to a lot of new stuff but I recently bought the new album by Viagra Boys from Sweden which is great as are Birdcloud from the states.
Shaun: Right now I’m listening to a lot of FACS, a post punk band (I guess) from Chicago. They’re sick. I’ve been checking out the latest album from Slovakian band Malokarpatan, Krupinské Ohne and been digging that. Listening to a lot of Oranssi Pazuzu at the moment and keen to hear their new upcoming album. Been thrashing Acid Rooster a lot too. And our local Melbourne friends, Mammon’s Throne, just released their first album, Forward Unto Flame a month or so ago and I recommend that highly.
Some favourite albums would be Bored! – Take It Out On You, pretty much all of Black Sabbath and OZZY, Roky and Explosives. Been listening to MGLA – Exercises in Futility, Hiroshi Yoshimura.
Thank you. Last word is yours
Matt: Last words – no squares or hippies – heavy metal will never die!
Shaun: Fuck the coronavirus!
Dave: Hail Satan!
Matt: Oh yea don’t forget that you can buy our records/cassettes and stuff on our Bandcamp page, we are also on Facebook and Instagram and Spotify and blah and blah X.
– Klemen Breznikar