NEWS: The Chills announce new album Silver Bullets

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Martin Phillipps has had his battles over the years, both with bandmates, his health and drugs, but the good news is that a new album by The Chills is being released on October 30th via Fire Records. Silver Bullets is the band’s first full-length since Sunburnt back in 1996. Check out the first single ‘America Says Hello’ featuring that characteristic propulsion of guitar and keyboards and Phillipps melodic vocal.

FEATURE: Life in a Chord | Flying Nun Records

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of Flying Nun, here is a reprint of a piece I wrote about the label last year…

written by Chris Familton

A record label at the right place at the right time can be integral to a music scene, often gaining revered status further down the track as history settles into place. Sub Pop, Motown and Factory are obvious examples. At the start of the 80s very few would have predicted the impact (albeit on a lesser scale) that a label started in the lounge room of a record shop clerk, on a culturally isolated island at the bottom of the world, would have.

Born in Christchurch in 1981 to Roger Shepherd and raised in Dunedin, Flying Nun became home to a unique cross-section of bands who were influenced by both the cold dark winters and the independent music that was coming out of the northern hemisphere.

Simon Coffey, who was a radio DJ and gig promoter at the time, sums up the origins of the so called ‘Dunedin Sound’. “I think it was the combination of the UK’s Punk ethic of DIY and rejection of bloated 60s/70s rock (seen clearly with acts like The Clean, Tall Dwarfs and The Puddle), the influence of US ’60′s psychedelia, up to and including acts like the Velvet Underground which combined to embody themselves as lo-fi pop.”

The original mission of Flying Nun was to create an outlet for bands from the South Island to have their music heard and the first wave included The CleanThe ChillsThe Bats, The Verlaines and Chris Knox’s Tall Dwarfs. It is those bands that are now, more than 25 years later, being cited as influences by current acts such as Stephen Malkmus, Jay Reatard, Pete & The Pirates, Crystal Stilts and Vivian Girls.

JB Townsend of US band Crystal Stilts recalls when he discovered Martin Phillipps’ The Chills. “The first time I heard Pink Frost I was astonished that there was a band out there with a song that sounded like that. The whole spacious half melancholy pop thing… It was exactly the feel I was going for in our earlier records. They took from all the right resources before them and make it sound thoroughly unique and as good as their classic predecessors.” says Townsend.

One of the key figures on the Flying Nun scene was Chris Knox. The singer of early NZ punk bands The Enemy and Toy Love, he was the driving force behind the label’s lo-fi approach to video, artwork and early recordings. Matthew Bannister of Sneaky Feelings summed up Knox well in his book Positively George St; “The most important contributor to the cult of shambling amateurism was Chris Knox, a punk puritan who mistrusts anything too polished or seductive.”

That perceived lack of aspiration worked in the label’s favour, so much so that contemporary bands like UK’s Pete & The Pirates see it as a defining part of Flying Nun’s appeal. “What makes them unique is that they never seemed to aspire to what most labels would: making money! and they didn’t seem to interfere with the artistic processes of the artists,” says singer Tom Sanders, “It seemed almost like a strong compulsion to capture the music that the label found and loved in it’s rawest and most honest form, seemingly for posterity rather than commercial gain.”

New Zealand writer Graham Reid has been writing about the Flying Nun since the mid 80s and recalls an insular scene which contributed to the lack of wider success for many of the bands. “They were so inward looking, some of them only played ten hours together before they recorded something, they didn’t tour, they didn’t play often enough to become good at their craft – they didn’t want to do that. They’d play 2 gigs in three months and want a cup of tea and a lie down,” he laughs, before adding, “It was like a little boys club that looked in on itself.”

Prior to punk music reaching New Zealand and planting the seeds for these bands, there had been little for people to latch onto and call their own. A cultural cringe outweighed pride and self promotion. Graeme Jefferies of Flying Nun bands This Kind Of Punishment and The Cakekitchen sees the label as a major cultural turning point for the country. “I think from my own generation’s point of view that it was extremely important for our cultural identity. That early Flying Nun stuff has some real milestones and was the first real indication of Kiwi underground culture outside of books and movies. It was really important then and historically it still is.”

As the label grew and the bands began to expand their sound with larger recording budgets the strain began to show. In the mid 80s the label shifted offices to Auckland to be closer to the wider music industry which was viewed by many as a betrayal. By 88, with cash-flow problems mounting, a deal was made with Australian label Mushroom Records which provided both funding and international distribution opportunities.

Though both The Chills and Straitjacket Fits inked deals with American labels Slash and Arista, the big push to promote many of the bands overseas ultimately led to burnout and disillusionment causing many of the label’s profile acts to disband. Shepherd battled on, relocating to run the London office in 95, but, by 97 he had departed the label and Mushroom had amalgamated with Festival Records, further distancing Flying Nun from its independent beginnings.

The label has been relatively dormant in the 21st century with The D4The Phoenix Foundation and The Mint Chicks the exceptions. Recent activity in 09 from prominent ex-Flying Nun bands shows the creativity of the early pioneers is still strong with new albums from Shayne Carter’s Dimmer (Degrees Of Existence), The Bats (The Guilty Office), The Clean (Mister Pop) and The Verlaines (Corporate Moronic).

The most recent and encouraging development in the Flying Nun world is the news that a Roger Shepherd-led consortium has bought back the label’s catalogue from Warners who absorbed Festival Records in 05. Neil Finn is one of the other major backers of the group and you sense that in their hands the legacy of Flying Nun as well as the cultivation of new artists will be well looked after.

Though it never sold a lot of records it seems that there is still an immense amount of pride and respect for the label that started at the bottom of the world, took flight and ended up influencing so many with its pure and enthusiastic dedication to music.

www.flyingnun.co.nz

Interview with Martin Phillipps

Interview with The Clean

Live review of The Bats

Review of Dimmer’s Degrees of Existence

This article first appeared in A Fine Line magazine


INTERVIEW: Martin Phillipps of THE CHILLS

This is the full transcription of the interview with Martin Phillipps that appeared in The Brag and Beat magazines…

How long has it been since you last played in Australia?

It’s been at least 15 years, quite a while. I can’t remember if we played there on the Sunburnt tour – I don’t think so. It’s certainly a while back.

I chatted to David Kilgour last year and he regretted not trying to tour over here more in the 80s, do you feel the same way?

No offence intended but one of the best things we did was leave Australia till later in the piece. There were 2 reasons. One was we had Chris Knox saying don’t go to Australia because he’d had such a terrible time with Toy Love. The other was that we’d had all this interest in Britain with John Peel playing our stuff so it made sense to go directly there and of course we got caught up with everything – playing Europe and the States and back to Europe. By the time we got to Australia it was 88 so the band had been around for 8 years. The good thing about that was we bypassed a lot of those really horrible smaller clubs, the cockroach clubs and managed to slide into something a little more respectable. Apologies to The Chills fans who sat around waiting, it probably paid off in the long run because they got to see a very good band when they finally did see us. I do wish we’d played a bit more since, there’s been all sorts of economic reasons and other things that prevented us from getting back.

It’s great to see you’ve had a stable line-up for a few years now, does that benefit your songwriting, in terms of the way they play your songs – or do you write solely by yourself?

The best thing for me is to do a demo of a song and then take it to the band and strip it apart again. It’ll be even more so with this next batch of songs as we’ll have the ability to keep parts of my original demos and see what else the band comes up with so it’s going to be really exciting. The ProTools and M-Box system I’m using is finally coming together which means I’m very close to finally be able to tackle all these bits and pieces that have been building up over decades now and start completing them as songs. People ask why I don’t just scrap them and work with new songs but the point is that this is new stuff as well, it includes stuff as recent as yesterday. Now I’ll be able to go through this digitised stuff and categorise it into rock music, folk music, psychedelic music and then within that I can match pieces up and an awful lot of songs will be 70-80% complete just by finally getting those parts together.

Then its demos which doesn’t take very long if I’m doing a simple one and then I think the plan is to get the band together and go off to some obscure location and spend some time just mucking around, getting the band involved. I’ll still be the boss, it does not work having too many chefs. I don’t know everything about every instrument by any means so it is great to have a band that is in tune with what I’m doing and has listened to a lot of music that I haven’t heard. In particular Todd Knudson the drummer has been with me over ten years now and James Dickson is on bass, he was on keyboards, he joined shortly after so he’s been with me for ten years. Erica Stitchbury has been playing keyboards for about three years but she is in San Francisco working at the moment and has been replaced by this guy Oli Wilson. We decided it would be brilliant to have them both playing – and quite exciting. Erica’s first instrument is the violin and she’s played with orchestras and supported Rod Stewart of all people. She can do that and play a good strong guitar and sing well. Oli plays guitar and sings too. We’ve just been going through the list of songs we want to do and looking at the opportunities we’ve got for doing something really quite special for really the first time since 92 that we’ve been a five piece. That was when we had the part Mexican guy from Los Angeles, Steven Schayer, on the Soft Bomb tour.

The only other time we were a five piece was the very first line-up with Peter Gutteridge who went on to form Snapper. Basically he and I formed the band with two guitars but he only played three gigs with us before he went on his own way. We’ve got a very solid core and then on top of that we’ve got two really good musicians to do things on top of it which should add quite a bit of excitement I think.

Do you get a sense of your songwriting constantly evolving or do you have a loose template you are comfortable using most of the time?

I’m determined to get beyond the songwriting formula – verse, chorus, verse etc. and I really want to explore sound a lot more and make it my sound, interesting things that get me excited and then find ways of incorporating all these different songs I’ve got within that. Thats the direction I’m heading in and another reason I haven’t blasted out album after album which I could have done if I’d stayed with just basic songs. Thats where I want to take things, to keep it interesting and in my own little way contemporary.

I think that rock music has just splintered into so many things, an untraceable morass, its the strangest thing. Within NZ in the 70s everyone would stay up and watch Radio With Pictures. That was one of the best bit of programming, that and Sunday Horrors. Even though it was a really filtered view of what was going on in the world people were kept up to date together to an extent. Now everyone is off doing their own thing. Sure everyone is happy listening ot what they want to listen to but that communal thing is going to be very had to happen again. How do you have a new punk rock or a new hip hop if people aren’t working against the same thing anymore. That concerns me a wee bit.

The recent changes at Flying Nun bide well for your back catalog, will you be looking to release your new material with them as well?

That’s a while down the track how we are going to deal with that. How they deal with the back catalog is going to be the most crucial thing. It makes sense in this day and age for bands to maintain rights to their catalogs and for record companies to do what they do best and distribute it. That is certainly an option. We hope to have a new album out as soon as possible. I’m not going to make any promises when though.

I caught up with Graeme Jefferies of Cake Kitchen when he was living here in Sydney and I was impressed by his passion for continually writing and recording new music. There seems to still be a strong drive by the likes of Shayne Carter, The Bats, David Kilgour, The Verlaines etc to keep releasing music. What is it about music that keeps you motivated?

I’m not quite sure, it’s the only thing I can really do. When I discovered that I could write and perform music and emote an audience it was like finally finding myself and what I could do. I think that’s basically the same for the Kilgour brothers and Robert Scott, Shayne Carter and Peter Gutteridge who is still going. Any number of them. I suspect in some ways that we live in a country where we are a bit spoilt. We can get by on unemployment benefits and other benefits. It was a mixed blessing having hepatitis C and I remember feeling very dodgy and not being able to physically hold down a regular job but to be able to get through an hour and a half of music on a night I could build myself up for that. In other countries like USA it must be an absolute nightmare for people who are really very sick but have no choice but t hobble along to work each day – its crazy.

That is one weird part to it but the main factor is that I don’t think any of us imagines a life without doing it. Its an interesting way of judging the ones who were truly into it from the start. Without naming any names there are some people that I’m not surprised have fallen by the way. They were the ones ‘getting it out of their system’ before settling down to a real job. You can spot them a mile off. There’s that rock & roll thing and, whatever it is, some people have got it and believe in it and some people it’s just a bit of fun when you are an adolescent and then you settle down and get serious. We’ve grown old and gotten serious but more serious about rock music and its role as a form of social change its still a very powerful medium, often misused I think.

I first heard Pink Frost as a 12 year old staying up late to watch Radio With Pictures and was mesmerised by it. Did it always have that haunting feel or did that come in the studio when it was recorded?

Definitely before, that was why we rushed to record it. It was one of those magic songs that did happen in the space of a couple of hours – including the lyrics. I had this atmospheric song that needed an explanation and so the story was that someone woke and discovered they’d killed their girlfriend in their sleep. The strange thing was that happened a few months ago, somebody actually did that though its probably not the first time ever. The lyrics to that extent are a wee bit throwaway and naive but they perfectly suit the atmosphere of that song and we quickly managed to capture that although we did initially think we’d missed it and would have to go back again because we were due to go back to Dunedin from Auckland where we recorded it. Then Martin Bull got sick and subsequently died. We went back and listened to it and realised we had just about got it. It just needed a slightly bigger guitar and a better vocal I think and there it was.

That video is still my favourite of all the Chills videos and has stood the test of time and I can say proudly that most of the ideas of that were mine which was good. We were working with Midnight Productions which was Steve Young of Mother Goose and we were just buzzing with ideas, one of those special things that happened, it was really good. A band has done a tribute to the actual video almost shot for shot. I was really pleased.

Australian Tour

14th May – East Brunswick Club VIC

15th May – Oxford Art Factory NSW

NEWS: THE CHILLS Pink Frost 25 years old…

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Pink Frost was recorded at The Lab studios in Auckland on 29 May 1982 with additional tracking and mixing in January 1984, the single finally seeing the light of day in June 1984.

In recognition of 25 years passing since the classic dark indie pop saw the light of day Martin Phillips and the current lineup of The Chills will play a special show at the Montecristo Room in Auckland, New Zealand mid June.

Martin feelings on the quarter century… “There has been a lot of commentary in the international media of late regarding The Chills and I felt it was both appropriate and good timing to do something a little special to recognize the impact this song has had both on the fans and the acts who are now name checking us as influential in their lives. It is really gratifying to know we have made and continue to make some small difference.”

Friday June 12, Montecristo Room, 53 Nelson Street, Auckland

Presales $25 + B/F available from Undertheradar.co.nz

REVIEW: JAY REATARD – Matador Singles ’08

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Jay Reatard is an interesting character.  His image and reputation is one of a non sophisticated garage rocker, thrashing out punk ditties on a flying v.  This perception is not a million miles from the truth but going from his output in 2008 it appears that there is more happening musically than many (myself included) gave him credit for.

Matador Singles ’08 gathers the releases from the last 12 months and it certainly works as a cohesive record.  In fact it could be one of the highlights of the year.  As artists progress through their careers there is the temptation and a particular fate in using increased recording budgets.  A subsequent dulling of the initial spirit and spark that the musician first appeared with occurs.  Reatard has gone against the grain in this sense and has undergone a type of regression.  His sound and approach has become more lo-fi and the tunes have been pared back to the essence of rhythm, attitude and hook.  He has stripped back the songs to their skeleton with the barest amount of muscle required to function, they are finely tuned pieces of music.

Much has been said of the New Zealand influence (specifically those bands on the Flying Nun label) on his current writing and that is without doubt apparent in a number of forms.  Melodically he takes from the Tall Dwarfs and The Clean and sonically he has taken on the aesthetics of Chris Knox (also of Tall Dwarfs) with thin guitar sounds and homemade rhythm tracks comprised of hand claps and other rudimentary beats.  ‘You Mean Nothing To Me’ is a prime example of this, especially with its primitive organ riff a la The Clean.  It all works magically as he combines these influences with an American garage and British punk attitude.  British acts such as the Only Ones and the Buzzcocks are immediately apparent in Reatard’s vocal delivery.

Lyrically the record appears on the surface to be naive in its themes and thoughts but dig deeper and there are some great lines such as “You never meant that much to me, I always thought you were a cunt” on ‘I’m Watching You’.  Coupled with the melodies that accompany the lyrics, these base and heartless words take on a much more sentimental feeling.

Other new styles and influences appear through the album.  ‘Fluorescent Grey’ has touches of psychedelia to it with the droning cyclical repetition of the music and the lyrics, while  ‘You Were Sleeping’ with its Chills meets Brian Jonestown Massacre feel, is all warm and homepsun strumming.

Comments from Reatard suggest that his next record will feature more harmonies and a wider range of instruments, taking him further from the garage and out into the world.  If you like your music raw and honest, spiky and to the point with quickfire lines and catchy melodies then Reatard is your man.  He brings back a sense of the simple pleasures of music, in a world where bigger is too often thought to mean better.