Since somehow descending into my ears in the late '80s, The Chills' Kaleidoscope World is an album which has long had a hold over me. A compilation of early singles, the record exemplifies the band's heavenly pop thrill: an otherwordly magic mix, post-punk defracted through the isolated lens of New Zealand life. The album helped define the fabled 'Dunedin sound', which was centred around a small university town in South Island, New Zealand, and local label Flying Nun.
Kaleidoscope World has a sparkle to it, a soft centre masking powerful lyrics entwined in ethereal, slightly unsettling, left field melodies, qualities that would come to define The Chills. In the days immediately following my father's recent death, The Chills were all I would listen to. From the other side of the world, their songs call like rare, exotic wines, intoxicating and addictive and beautifully melancholic, while simultaneously inspiringly uplifting.
The band went on to produce a string of should have been and nearly were hits in the 80s and 90s, before substance abuse and disillusion and remoteness from the rest of the pop world saw them plummet into near oblivion.
The stunning return to form with 'Silver Bullets', an album 19 years in the making, has prompted renewed interest in the band. This has lead to the re-release of an expanded version of Kaleidoscope World and the preparation of a documemntary film, 'The Curse of The Chills'.
Feeling a bit nervous about contacting such an inspirational hero, Rosey R*E*P*E*A*T nevertheless thought it was time to ask Martin Phillips to tell us more about the Whole Weird World of The Chills.
* The Chills who, what and why?
Melodic rock group from Dunedin, New Zealand formed in 1980 as part
of an isolated post-punk scene. Nearly 40 members over the years but
consistent line-up for nearly 17 years: Martin Phillipps - vocal/guitar/song-writer.
Todd Knudson - drums. James Dickson - bass. Erica Scally - violin, guitar,
keyboards. Oli Wilson - keyboards.
* You are often credited with being pioneers of the 'indie pop' sound. I think that is a bit of a lazy comparison (as you lack any of that cloying tweeness) and limiting too, as your aesthetic is far more varied, eclectic and diverse. If you had to describe your sound to a deaf alien, what would you say?
The Chills have covered a lot of musical ground over the years which has made it difficult for people to pigeonhole us but also for people to market us. I have not kept up with all the new tags for musical genres (for the terms - they are a-changin') but I would tell an alien I play melodic electric lyrical beat music.
Although I had some minimal training in musical theory when I was young, The Chills' sound is largely the result of my continuing ignorance as to how other people make music, combined with a determination not to sound like anyone else as much as is possible. There are no big writing secrets that I am aware of.
It is a very eclectic collection of early songs written when I was still trying to find my own voice as an artist so there are moments of nativity and awkwardness alongside some true inspiration, which I am still proud of. Because we were deliberately avoiding musical fashion, some of Kaleidoscope World has entered that elusive zone of apparent timelessness.
Songs like Pink Frost which has aged and grown so well and generally the sheer guts we had to try out some quite weird ideas which could, and did, have the potential to be embarrassing.
I hoped we could create an album which would connect The Chills' past with our future and it appears we have done that. There were some basic riffs or concepts which dated back up to 20 years but I was determined to create something worthwhile so the bulk of the song-writing and most of the lyrical themes were tackled and completed in a little over a year prior to entering the studio.
* Silver Bullets does differ from earlier Chills records in that it is more engaged with external, political events. Why is that?
There is so much crap, light-weight music being made (along with some wonderful, brave material!) and I was determined to only add something of quality to the heap. While I have traditionally tried to avoid political or protest songs which can quickly date your music, it is something I have done over the years anyway. This time the state of the world was very much on my mind and I took it as a challenge as a song-writer to try and tackle those issues in a way that wasn't twee or preachy. So far it looks like it may have succeeded.
* After 30+ years in 'the biz', what do you wish you could travel back in time to tell The Chills of 1986?
Learn much more about the business, the money and management etc. And this new digital music thing? Learn all about it and keep on top of the changes. Also - have regular band meetings and be completely honest and never pick on one band member, especially on tour, even if it's just done in fun.
* While I live in Cambridge, near to London, I am writing this in my home town of Swansea which is rather out on a limb in West Wales. Where it rains a lot. Do you think artists who, like you in Dunedin, live slightly apart from the mainstream hub of trendy in crowd culture, end up creating something slightly more unexpected, timeless and individual?
That was certainly the case in the early years when overseas musical trends were slow to arrive, music was very expensive and overseas acts seldom toured. We were left to our own devices and sharing classic albums and new music and being inspired by each other and the powerful natural environment.
* What's next for The Chills?
Doors keep opening and we are looking at more international touring next year including a long-anticipated return to the States and more recording, and the next album not taking 20 years to complete.
My liver no longer enjoys either but there is nothing like hot chips on a rainy night as the adventure winds down.
Thanks to Martin for his time and the band for decades of inspiration. Thanks also to Jenna at Fire Records and Lucy at But I Like You PR for fielding my constant requests for help and information!
The reissue of Kaleidoscope World is out now on Flying Nun Records
An early version of the film along with book and live CD is available here http://www.firerecords.com/product/martin-phillips-live-at-the-moth-club-cddvd/
Rosey reviews the BBC sessions album here
Alan McGee writes on The Chills here https://www.theguardian.com/music/musicblog/2008/aug/05/thechillsreadyforacomebac
A thoughtful Guardian piece about the comeback of The Chills is here https://www.theguardian.com/music/2014/nov/24/the-chills-martin-phillipps-comeback