Ian Haug of The Church talks about the “Starfish” 30th anniversary tour

The Church recently kicked off the second leg of a US tour celebrating the 30th anniversary of their “Starfish” album. We interviewed frontman Steve Kilby before the first leg, and recently had the chance to speak with guitarist Ian Haug, as well. Haug is the newest member of The Church, having joined in 2013. Previously, he was best known for being part of the long-running and highly successful Australian band Powderfinger.

This is the second leg of the “Starfish” tour. How did the first leg go?

Ian Haug: It was fantastic. We really enjoyed it. I’d only played a couple of those songs with the band before, so it was a learning curve to get them all up to speed. But yeah it was a good time. I like that format of playing an album through. Everyone sort of knows the order of the songs that are going be in the first half of the set. And then we go off and spruce up a bit, and come back on for the second half where we do a bit of whatever we want. It works for us. We play for about two and a half hours, but the first half of the set is that album. And we’ve got some good visuals, at venues where we can do it. It’s exciting.

As you weren’t with The Church when the album originally came out, what were your thoughts on it back when you heard it?

Ian Haug: That was the year I finished high school, and I loved ‘Reptile’ from the moment I heard it. As a guitarist, I thought that song has just such cool riffs. “Under the Milky Way” is such a cool song, it sort of got a second life through “Donnie Darko.” I that’s sort of when it started to really develop a character of its own, that song. But yeah, I loved the record. I’ve been a Church fan for a long time, since when I was learning how to play guitar. “Unguarded Moment” and “Almost With You” – I think every guitarist of my age sort of knew how to play, you know, work them out. They’re such cool songs, so different from anything else around at the time. The Church wasn’t a new discovery through “Starfish.”

Were there any tracks in particular that you were looking forward to playing?

Ian Haug: None particularly stood out over another. Because I didn’t know who played what and what parts I was going to be playing necessarily. I hadn’t really studied it that closely. It was sort of rewarding and challenging at the same time to learn it all. We’ve got Jeffrey Cain playing in the band as well doing some keyboard parts and extra guitars. Steve says that it’s never sounded better live. And to me, it really does help present the songs very well now with the extra person in there, being able to do all that stuff.

While you are presenting “Starfish” in its entirety, you are also doing other songs. What material can we expect?

Ian Haug: We do songs off both the records I’ve been involved with, so “Further/Deeper” and “Man Woman Life Death Infinity,” and then we do some hits and some of the fan favorites. We’ll definitely be mixing it up a little bit, maybe some songs off “Hologram of Baal” as well, because we did some of them recently. They went down pretty well. We like to keep ourselves interested, I think. And maybe we’ll be doing some songs off “Seance” as well because we’re learning that record at the moment for a show in England later in the year. So, there’ll be something new for people who’ve seen us lots of times and then also for people that haven’t seen us, they’ll be getting some of the hits if that’s what they want.

Could you discuss the making of “Man Woman Life Death Infinity,” the most recent Church album?

Ian Haug: Compared to the band that I’ve spent most of my life in, it couldn’t be more different, the whole process. Powderfinger, the band I was in, when we went into the studio, we sort of knew exactly what we were doing. We’d done demos, we knew the songs that we were doing. Whereas, with The Church, we go in and we jam out ideas and come up with 30 different ideas and then choose the ones that we’re connecting to more. So that was very artistically rewarding, liberating, I suppose, to be coming up with it on the spot. And for me being the new guy, there were no preconceptions of what was allowed or not allowed. It could go anywhere really. There were no rules. I think we all sort of surprised each other with where stuff went. And when Peter and I were sitting back afterward listening to some of the live recordings, the live jams, we were finding it hard to work out who’d done what, which is good because it just sounds like The Church. Then after it was recorded and done, we had to work out how to present them live. As I said, it was just a really rewarding experience, really exciting.

Coming up with so many ideas, at what going did you feel the album began to take shape into what we hear as the final result?

Ian Haug: It’s tough to answer that because I think that it was just so organic, the whole flow of it. I mean, we had a session at my studio in Brisbane, and a writing session down at Tim’s place in Sydney. From that, for a lot of the songs, we would use the beds of them when we went into the studio for real to do it. And a guy called Ted Howard, who’s done the last two, those two, for us, he was integral in pulling it all together really. Letting us know which ones he liked.

I think there was really no disagreements. There were no songs that someone really wanted to be on there that didn’t end up on there. It became apparent whatever the sound it was just what we were feeling, you know. It’s not as dense a feeling as Further/Deeper. It’s not as layered. A lot is going on it, but it’s not as harmonically intense. It’s still a bit lighter. I don’t know if that’s necessarily due to anything or maybe we just wanted a bit of a change. It’s very hard to explain. It’s one of those things that just sort of happened.

Do you think about balancing what people expect from The Church and the desire to do new things?

Ian Haug: I think that people, like fans, they want both. They want to hear the old stuff, but a lot of people want to hear what we’re capable of. Being the new guy in the band, people have been very accepting of my input and where it’s gone. I mean, it still sounds like The Church, but it does sound different.

If we were doing something that sounded like “Blood Money Part II,” I think it would sort of fail because people would be suspicious of it or something. Because we actually do play “Blood Money” as it was, then that keeps us happy being able to play that style and keeps the listeners happy. I don’t know, it sort of bounces off each other. As I said, we’re going to be doing “Seance” in England, at least. It’s a shame that everything’s not happening together. Because America’s so big of course, we couldn’t do all of it at once last time. And so, there’s a bit of a staggered thing going on. But there’s talk of doing a new record at some point soon and it’s probably time for that after we finish all this stuff. And it’s 40-year anniversary next, so that’ll be something we have to consider.

Coming from another successful group, was there any hesitation in joining an established band like The Church?

Ian Haug: No, I mean I would have definitely been hesitant if there was no talk of doing new material. If I was just joining a band that was just going to be presenting all of the old stuff, I sort of would have felt like I was in a covers band or something. So because we’re doing new stuff, I really didn’t hesitate at all. They were so accepting of my ideas and pushing me to come up with stuff. It was really refreshing actually, and just working with a bunch of different people, for me, it just felt really good. I think I must have brought some kind of freshness to them as well. So it worked for everyone.

For more info and tourdates, visit thechurchband.net.