Does I Love My Leather Jacket send you digging through the closet, searching for some long lost version of yourself? Come on out: The Chills are back in town for the first time in nearly 10 years, rebounding from failing equipment, lack of money, and headman Martin Phillips’ ongoing Hepatitis C. They aren’t touring a new release…yet. We caught up with Phillips, the only mainstay of the Dunedin band’s 30 tumultuous years, to hear what’s on deck for this special one-off performance.
It just seemed long overdue and, of course, it has nibbled at my conscience that the last time we were booked to play in Wellington a few years ago it became the only gig I’ve ever had to cancel due to ill health.You’ve had so any successes over the years: why has it been so difficult for people to stay in this band?
The drummer, Todd Knudson, and the bassist, James Dickson, have both been with me since 1999. The keyboardist/guitarist/violinist, Erica Stichbury, has been with us for over five years and the other keyboardist, Oli Wilson, for three or four years, too, so I think that question has become a bit redundant. There were a lot of changes in the earlier years and it was usually about career moves as opposed to any serious personality clashes.
What does it feel like to be on the road again? Are fans laden with expectations when you play live?
I always try to perform a set which would work for someone who may be seeing the band for the first and last time. I don’t ever want us to become a predictable circus act grinding out material which is no longer exciting for us.
Any new sounds and music trends affecting you? What are you listening to these days?
I thought we went through a period in the 90s when people were rehashing ideas and coming up with little that seemed truly inspired, but now I think there’s an enormous amount of exciting material and a lot of wonderful cross-pollination between different genres and cultures. Right now I’m re-discovering Yoko Ono, which can be challenging and annoying, frustrating and rewarding.
The music industry has changed immensely since you began playing in the 80s. If The Chills were starting out today, do you think the band would have gone done a much different path?
Things would be entirely different today for us. For a start, we might not even exist because with illegal downloading there’s less of a chance of surviving. What parents have always said about getting a real job and keeping music as a hobby has become more or less true, and one really needs to focus on it fulltime. There must be many younger artists now who will never be heard from, but, of course, this is balanced out a little by the direct access artists have now with their fan base. The Chills are lucky in that we had established ourselves internationally on a low level before this all changed.
Looking toward 2013 and beyond — what’s in the stars?
Things have taken a radical turn for the better over the last year with the involvement of David Teplitzsky and his new label, Far South Records. We are very likely to be touring overseas for a little while next year along with the first of the new Chills albums. Two band members have families so it means touring is very expensive and must be kept fairly short, but we will see how much we can do. Next year, I turn 50 and just don’t have the energy I had in my twenties so we’ll pick and choose our gigs for the greatest impact. There have been many tours that nearly happened over the last decade or so and now it really looks like it will be happening!
Originally published November 28, 2012 in Capital Times.