The Chills were one of a handful of New Zealand bands that I was aware of growing up on the other side of the world. In the 1990s, my more clued-up friends had their records, and would bang on about them for ages. As was often the case, I eventually cottoned on a year or so later, once my ears had 'matured', and I too would bow to the majesty of 'Pink Frost', 'Heavenly Pop Hit' et al. I never got to see them play live in the UK, and have not had the pleasure since. That is about to change and I am a very happy human being.
The Chills long-awaited return to Hamilton happens this coming Friday, September 14th, with a show at Altitude, the first date on a nationwide tour to celebrate the release of their highly anticipated new album, 'Snow Bound'. HUP posed some questions to chief Chill, Martin Phillipps, about the new album, his songwriting process, the state of New Zealand music, and some ideas of what Friday's show holds in store.
HUP: Congratulations on the new album! 2015’s ‘Silver Bullets’ was your first album in nearly 20 years. How would you say ‘Snow Bound’ differs from previous albums?
Martin: It’s probably the best produced Chills album ever and it sounds wonderful but the best thing is that it flows like a real album whereas previous Chills albums have often lurched around a bit stylistically.
Do you find inspiration for songs comes from a different place these days?
One of my rules is that my songs really must have some meaning and substance or I will not release them to add to the growing mountain of dubious rubbish accumulating in audio-land. The common theme I saw appearing in the new material was the more mature perspective of a person questioning their role in this time of enormous change.
Is your song writing technique the same as it was when you started out, or do you do things differently these days?
I still tend to catch melodic ideas on some recording device (which is my iPhone these days) and then combine them with lyrical ideas I have written down separately or stored in the computer. I look for interesting and evocative contrasts. But these days I do make myself come up with a song title and maybe a few lyrics every time I find a new riff because the subconscious can surprise you with its perceptiveness when you look back at those ideas further down the line.
To what extent does technology play a part in this? (capturing ideas/lyrics/home recording etc.)
Once I have caught the initial ideas on iPhone or computer then I have the advanced Garageband home-studio program to produce actual demo versions but I am still getting my head around that because I am notoriously slow with technology. Also I am very often plagued with technical issues that people “have never seen happen before!”
Your last few releases have been on Fire Records. How do you find working with this label compared to the Flying Nun days?
We still work with Flying Nun Records on our back catalogue for New Zealand and Australia and it’s great to have that connection ongoing but, of course, it has again become necessary for us to have an international label actively based in the heart of the industry, as is the case with Fire Records, and they have been doing a wonderful job for us on these recent releases.
What do you think of the state of New Zealand music today, and who, if anyone, do you consider to be a ‘must-listen’?
I think there is so much wonderful new music being made that I can’t keep up and it would be wrong for me to start picking favourites. But along with that there is a lot of very average and weak material where people are constantly re-inventing the wheel and are not even aware of it. Sometimes it seems the whole ‘X Factor Has Talent’ approach has squeezed much of the excitement, originality and spontaneity out of what is happening - but then there will always be that unexpected new direction and rebellious attitude appearing somewhere. I often feel sorry for those of my age-group who say that the music scene is not as good as the old days when, in fact, they don’t actually make any effort to search for the exciting new artists that are always out there.
It’s fantastic that you are coming back to Hamilton, and on the day new album is released too, September 14th. What should we expect to see on the set-list for the Hamilton gig; primarily new songs, or a mix of old and new?
When we finalised the basic touring set recently we were thrilled to find it is all A-Grade material that we love playing (no filler!) and that it is almost exactly half old classics and half new classics. The older fans have been telling us they love the new songs and that they fit seamlessly into the whole Chills sound so we know we’re doing the right thing and we don’t need to try and be some sort of nostalgia act. We perform live with the confidence of a band that knows this is an exciting ongoing saga.
Do you have any favourite songs to play live?
Any band loves to play newer material as a rule but we have carefully selected only the older songs which still excite us and some, like ‘Pink Frost’, are a joy to be a part of each and every time we perform them. They always change a little but they always carry you away with the atmosphere.
Do you have any specific memories of past shows in Hamilton, good or bad?!
We’ve always enjoyed playing in Hamilton. There is an energy there unlike any of the main centres and we’re looking forward to a great night. See you there!
Kia ora to Martin for taking the time to talk to us. HUP has a double pass to giveaway for the show at Altitude, this coming Friday September 14, with support from Reb Fountain! Head on to the post below on our Facebook page to answer a simple question and enter the draw.