27 Mar 2021

INTERVIEW: Martin Phillipps of The Chills

From Music 101, 4:15 pm on 27 March 2021

Dunedin songwriter Martin Phillipps is back with a new Chills album, and tells Music 101 that you belittle the lessons of your past at your peril.

The Chills Tour Poster

The Chills Tour Poster Photo: supplied

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The Chills are heading off on a nationwide tour after the release of their seventh studio album Scatterbrain and Phillipps says there are "hard but important truths in our history".

"I know that it's often said that you learn from those lessons or you'll end up repeating the mistakes. So one should respect and consider the ancient ways. You belittle them at your peril," Phillipps says.

Click here to listen to Scatterbrain

It comes on the heels of the hugely successful Snow Bound  in 2018 and the critically-acclaimed movie The Chills: The Triumph And Tragedy Of Martin Phillipps a year later.

The Chills will also be doing a nationwide tour in April and May.

Tour tickets here

Phillipps says he has been told the personal material that he writes registers most with listeners, so he started going in that direction when working on Scatterbrain.

"The kind of the confusion of getting old when you live alone, all sorts of angles, and facing mortality when I've been through that period of having to face up to maybe not being around for that long."

Phillipps says the entire album was written and almost completed pre-Covid.

"But there are things on there, like there's a certain song 'Safe and Sound' about staying home which was meant to be kind of creepy and it just, it became the perfect kind of background music for going quietly mad at home."

Phillipps says the Chills came within four days of completing Scatterbrain before lockdown, but at that point producer Tom Healy had to get the last seat on the last flight back to Auckland, so as not to be stuck in Dunedin for the duration.

"It gave us some months to really send sound files back and forth and work on it which in the long run has really paid off because everyone who's heard it is saying it's the best produced record that we've done and it's possibly the best thing we've done since Submarine Bells which is a big complement."

Destiny is the newest Chills single and Phillipps says it's the main one dealing with facing up to mortality.

"It's a wee bit of a struggle between how much of this is pre-planned and how much of it is me shaping my own destiny ... I think a lot of people have been going through those same kind of questions, particularly overseas where there is still a lockdown, they must be thinking a lot of them 'well what did I do to deserve this or what have we done?'."

The Chills live at Others Way 2019

Martin Phillips at The Others Way festival in Auckland in 2019. Photo: Screen capture

The documentary The Chills: The Triumph And Tragedy Of Martin Phillipps tells how in 2016 Phillipps, who had Hepatitis C, was told by doctors that he had a 30 percent chance of dying within six to 12 months if he did not make substantial lifestyle changes.

Phillipps says watching the documentary led to some self-reflection and was something of an eye-opener.

"I had not sort of seen how basically odd I was and how that impacted on other people and that gave me a lot of cause for reconsidering things that had happened in the past and so on.

"I know that I'm not a hurtful person by nature but realising that just the sheer being unaware of people's situations around me could also be hurtful, so that was quite a revelation really."

Phillipps says that his health is now much better having cleared the Hep C, but compared to other people his energy levels are still comparatively depleted.

He says the band was a bit nervous when they did their first US tour for more than 20 years in early 2019.

"We didn't know how I was going to handle it and how my voice was going to handle it and got through fine."

Martin Phillipps of The Chills

Martin Phillipps of The Chills Photo: supplied

More recently The Chills did four shows between Christmas and New Year.

"Just because we hadn't played for nine months during lockdown and everything and that was kind of just to warm us up but also to check on me again and it went fine, it was good."

Phillipps says the band tries not to do more than three or a maximum four shows in a row during tours because of his health.

The US has always been the band's biggest market and they were supposed to have done a 30 day tour in November which had to be cancelled due to Covid-19, he says.

He says not being able to travel to the US has been a knock back.

"This is kind of like the Chills' third opportunity, third sort of renaissance and it was going well and all of a sudden, it's kind of oh okay, right that's over."

The Chills perform in Amsterdam in 1989, Martin Phillipps showing off his T-shirt power. (photo by Frans Schellekens/Redferns)

The Chills perform in Amsterdam in 1989, Martin Phillipps showing off his T-shirt power. (photo by Frans Schellekens/Redferns) Photo: 1989 Frans Schellekens

Phillips says he feels sorry for the younger artists and tried to keep in touch with some of them during lockdown.

"It's different for us cause we've got a small but solid fanbase around the world, but a lot of people here were just starting to build that and build a following and just get into that real joyous phase of romping around the world doing shows."

He says that all stopped very suddenly and there is a lot of serious depression amongst those in the music community.