The Chills story is as much the story of Martin Phillipps. The group was dogged by an ever changing line up, with Phillipps being the only permanent member. At times it seemed that the end of The Chills had finally arrived but Phillipps' strong motivation and ambition for success wouldn't allow this. The Chills achieved the success they deserved and were one of the top bands to emerge from New Zealand.
It all began in late 1978 when Martin Phillipps was the crisp age of 15. Inspired by the punk movement, including local band The Enemy, he teamed up with Jeff Batts (vocals) and Craig Easton (guitar) one weekend and began to make noise. Soon after Paul Baird (drums) and Gaynor Propsting (bass) joined up and The Same was formed. Phillipps played guitar and following the departure of Batts took over as the principal songwriter and vocalist. Their few gigs included support for Toy Love and a Telethon '79 appearance, and it was quickly becoming obvious that Phillipps possessed a rare talent with a great sense of melody.
Others to pass through The Same were Alistair Dunn and Monica Hales, but in early 1980 the band dissolved, with the final line-up of Phillipps (guitar and vocals), Paul Baird (drums), Jane Dodd (bass) and Phillipps' sister Rachel (guitar).
Peter Gutteridge and the Kilgour brothers had been influential on the young Phillipps, introducing him to a lot of west-coast experimental and psychedelic music. Phillipps and Gutteridge decided to have a go at playing together, and later in the year the first phase of The Chills was formed with Phillipps and Peter Gutteridge (guitar/vocals), Rachel Phillipps (keyboards), Jane Dodd (bass) and Alan Haig (drums). They played their first gig in Dunedin at the Coronation Hall as support to Bored Games and The Clean on 15th November 1980.
While Gutteridge respected Phillipps as a musician and friend, they deviated on musical direction and this led to his departure in late 1980. Gutteridge went on to play in a number of bands including The Great Unwashed and Snapper.
In June 1981 Dodd left for overseas and Rachel Phillipps left for the good of her education so The Chills was put on hold. Subsequently Phillipps toured with The Clean, as well as playing keyboards on their recording of Tally Ho in Christchurch on the way back south.
On his return to Dunedin in July 1981 Phillipps reformed The Chills with Haig along with ex-Bored Games players Fraser Batts (keyboards/guitar) and Terry Moore (bass). This line-up was one of the most powerful, and playing throughout the year they became very popular. During a visit to Christchurch late in the year, Roger Shepherd of Flying Nun offered them a place on the proposed recording debut in Paul Kean's living-room on Chris Knox's Dunedin Double EP. Thus in March 1982 they made their 4-track with Kaleidoscope World, Satin Doll and Frantic Drift which came out later that year.
Unfortunately in April before the release of the EP drummer Haig left to join The Verlaines, being replaced by Martyn Bull, and soon after Batts departed. Rachel Phillipps was hurriedly taken on as the band were just about to depart on a North Island tour as support to The Clean, though once in Auckland she returned to Dunedin so the last gigs there were played as a trio. Further recordings were made with Chris Knox and Doug Hood while in Auckland, later coming out as the 'Rolling Moon' and 'Pink Frost' singles. The release of the had the immediate effect of giving them big Dunedin Double EP during their time in Auckland audiences and in June they victoriously returned to Dunedin.
Martyn Bull was suffering from leukaemia and had continuing relapses, and rather than replace him Phillipps and Moore decided to put the band on hold. Bull's health was a critical factor at this stage, and although Peter Allison was recruited on keyboards during a temporary improve- ment, further relapses led to The Chills effectively being halted.
In November the 'Rolling Moon' single was released to a receptive public, though the band was unable to tour to promote it. A short-lived band named Time Flies was formed with David Kilgour of The Clean but never played in public. With Bull's health deteriorating further Alan Haig rejoined as drummer in June 1983. Martyn Bull died in Masterton on the 18th July 1983, aged 22.
The band was devastated and ground to a halt, and for the next five months Phillipps' appearances in public were limited to the occasional solo performance. In December 1983 the band was reformed with a new line-up, Martin Kean having replaced Terry Moore on bass with Phillipps (songwriter/guitar/vocals), Alan Haig (drums) and Peter Allison (keyboards). Feeling that The Chills was a thing of the past they debuted as A Wrinkle in Time, but soon after reverted to calling themselves The Chills.
The band joined the Flying Nun Looney tour in early 1984, along with Children's Hour, The Expendables and Doublehappys, though they were having trouble working as a unified band. One of the problems was the effect of the high profile of Phillipps and the misplaced idea of some that The Chills were his backing band.
Long after being recorded, the single 'Pink Frost' was released in June 1984 and dedicated to Martyn Bull, who along with Phillipps and Terry Moore had recorded it two years earlier. The eerie melody and accompanying video of the song gave the band their first hit and firmly established them as a band with prospects. "You'll still get a little shiver every time you hear it. It has its faults and there's a certain naivety about it (certainly in the lyrics) but there's an organic little magic here ? the three members truly work together to follow an unusual song structure that's so natural it doesn't seem like a structure. 'Purple Girl' [the b-side] is a neat psychedelic romp." ('84)
Rip It Up , May During the year they recorded tracks later to appear on recording The Lost EP and a third single 'Doledrums'. The 16-track and stronger production gave the single a more poppy sound compared to their previous releases. In November they played the high-profile support on the Split Enz farewell tour in the South Island, and soon after moved to Auckland. Sadly, Kean's bass playing was a problem, and Phillipps had to ask him to leave, reinstating Terry Moore.
In July 1985 came the release of added to. "This The Lost EP which had been begun a year earlier, shelved, exhumed then is the way' is magical, the most fulfilled thing on the record, with its soft atmospherics and brain-entwining slide guitar; nothing else gets as close. 'Never Never Go' and 'Don't Even Know Her Name' are good Chills pop songs, the former distinguished by scratching slide guitar and the latter by the elegant description 'a silver-willed affection for a doctor's orders frame.' . . . The sea shanty style of 'Bee Bah Bee Bah Bee Boe' is wistful and warm, working because it's such a strong, simple idea . . . Really a good record . . . but The Chills will make far better." ( Rip It Up , August '85)
Their goal was to reach England, and in order to raise funds they toured extensively throughout 1985. In October they finally reached England but the long journey to get there had been rough, resulting in Allison and Haig deciding to leave the band once they returned in December. Aware of the upcoming departures the trip was frustrating for Phillipps but the band still managed to achieve some success. Along with sightseeing, they played a number of gigs around London, as well as one in Brighton, receiving good reviews in the music press. Through interest shown by DJ John Peel they managed to get a four song Peel session at the BBC studios which consisted of a re-recording of 'Rolling Moon' along with 'Night Of Chill Blue', 'Wet Blanket' and 'Brave Words'. Martyn Bull had bequeathed his leather jacket to Phillipps, inspiring the penning of 'I Love My Leather Jacket' which was also recorded while in London as a double A-side single with a live-version of 'The Great Escape'.
Two versions of 'Oncoming Day' were recorded, intended for the double A-side single, but instead later released in 1987 on a flexi-disc with the Bucketful of Brains fanzine issue 21 backed with a version of 'Dan Destiny And The Silver Dawn' recorded by Phillipps and Moore in 1986.
The band's return to New Zealand in late 1985 marked a sad change for The Chills. The British music press were raving about The Chills as the band to watch but the band had lost half its members. Things were made worse by the departure of Moore in mid-1986 who chose to pursue a career in sound engineering. Although the momentum had taken a plunge and many thought that the end of The Chills may have come, Phillipps was keen to achieve the success that was finally within reach and began looking for a new band. In an interview he stated, ?It's got to be magic this time ? I'm not going to be satisfied with anything less than a miracle.? ( Rip It Up , January '86)
In March 1986 Flying Nun released a compilation entitled Records' Kaleidoscope World in Britain through Rough Trade subsidiary Creation Records, as well as in Germany through Normal and in the USA through Homestead. The 1987 release of the album by Normal and Flying Nun NZ/UK included a reworked live single 'I'll Only See You Alone Again' backed by 'Green Eyed Owl'.
It was in October 1986 that Phillipps brought together the tenth line-up of The Chills: ex-Smart Russians and classically trained Andrew Todd (keyboards), ex-Big Sideways and Coconut Rough Justin Harwood (bass) and Caroline Easther (drums), a longtime friend of Phillipps. Easther had considerable drumming experience through playing with a number of bands including Beat Rhythm Fashion, The Verlaines, Spines and Circus Block Four. In December the new line-up's debut came with the release of 'I Love My Leather Jacket', which reached No. 4 in the New Zealand charts and No. 3 on the NME alternative charts thus providing them with a genuine chart hit.
This latest configuration relocated to London in February 1987 and began a five-week tour of Europe taking in Belgium, Holland, Sweden, Norway and West Germany followed by two dates in Athens before returning to London. With producer Mayo Thompson they recorded the long-awaited debut Chills album entitled Although the producer had the right idea of their Brave Words . sound he tended to leave the technical decisions to an engineer who was a "clean-sounding dance remix person", and further problems resulted from the fact the band had only been together for three months and had not fully gelled. After the recording sessions they played to their largest ever crowd of 60,000 at the Glastonbury festival in July then flew to America to play in New Jersey and at the New Music Seminar in New York. Their success in Europe had filtered across Atlantic and their gigs were attended by capacity crowds and received rave reviews.
They returned to their London base and made further European and UK tours, as well as recording another four tracks for the John Peel show. The release of the album in mid-1987 was preceded by a European release of the twelve inch single 'House With A Hundred Rooms'. Their final tour in October covered West Germany, Holland, Switzerland and Italy, while a gig in East Germany was a memorable highlight as The Chills were only the third western band ever to play a concert in the country. Back in London their album press, "The impression left by the band on the record is . . . Brave Words received rave reviews in the music The Chills riding high on success and ability, a unity (sounding much more like a band than when they departed last year) that makes the mood of performance and songs energetic and upbeat . . . a cohesive optimistic and positive lyrical web can be seen that extends into the song structures themselves . . . The blatant love songs work well too - the single 'Wet Blanket' and 'Night Of Chill Blue' retain a degree of freshness and charming simplicity . . . [A] concern on Brave Words comes with the mix. Often songs which could be peaks appear flattened out, quietened down, perhaps in an effort to stem the potentially schizophrenic nature of an album . . . little. But as a collection Brave Words spends a lot of time bubbling when it needs to spit fire just a of buoyant songs and as a testament to a songwriting talent good ? it is a success, and Brave Words is better than deserves to sell like one." ( Rip It Up , February '88)
In late 1987 back in New Zealand they played sell-out concerts around the country and in early 1988 made a tour to Australia. Alas, Caroline Easther had to depart the band due to ear troubles and after auditioning 25 drummers, 17-year old ex-Bygone Era James Stephenson was chosen to replace her. Shortly afterwards they travelled to the States for a tour and there attracted the attention of American company Slash records and a few months later signed to Slash/Warner brothers, making them the first Flying Nun band to sign to a major overseas label. In New Zealand they were still represented by Flying Nun.
In early 1989 they were based in London, writing and rehearsing new material, then in August went into Jacob's studio in the Surrey countryside with Pixies producer Gary Smith and spent seven weeks recording their new album Submarine Bells . With the exception of Stephenson the band had been together for nearly three years and were working well as a band, with all four contributing to the songs, Todd's classical training being of special help. American producer Gary Smith's experience and expertise was also very helpful during the recording sessions and the resulting album was brilliant, receiving large amounts of well-deserved praise.
Following the album sessions the band immediately left on a European tour and in early 1990 began a two month tour of the US, during which time the album was released to a welcoming public, reaching number one on the college radio charts. The single release from the album 'Heavenly Pop Hit' was as perfect as a pop-song could be and focused fame and attention on the band even more. "It starts with 'Heavenly Pop Hit', the aptest title of the week, a ridiculously attractive three-and-a- half minute mix of angelic harmonies and above-the-clouds tunefulness. A thoroughly magnificent entrance. It ends with the torturously maudlin title track, a multi-layered miasma of claustrophobic intentions. All ten points in-between are similarly dramatic, debonair or depressive. In short a wondrous experience . . . The Chills are masters of contradiction, frequently juxtaposing Submarine Bells is carefree musical jaunts with lyrical venom or tragedy . . . For all the musical variations, Submarine Bells ' main asset is its ability to flow, the immaculate track arrangement disguising the sheer breadth of the band's output and rendering any discomfort redundant. (Awarded 8/10)" ( Melody Maker , March 1990)
The title track almost always received some mention for its sweet and slow melodic sound, which also proved popular and rather daunting live. "The highlight has to be the closing track. A hymn to the strange life, steeped in oceanic imagery that comes naturally to New Zealanders, it's one of the most beautiful things ever heard. If that's immediately striking, the rest of the album unfolds its charms gradually." ( Sounds , March '90)
Returning to New Zealand in July they were treated as national heroes, including being welcomed by an official mayoral reception in Martin's home town of Dunedin. All their concerts on this 'homecoming' tour were sell-outs with the album number one in the charts, buoyed along by the success of the 'Heavenly Pop Hit' single. At the end of the tour Andrew Todd departed the band, followed soon by Justin Harwood, leaving Phillipps with fame but no band. Harwood went onto play with successful New York band Luna. Terry Moore rejoined for the third time and with Phillipps and Stephenson made the twelfth Chills line-up.
From July to September 1991 the trio made some demo recordings at Lab studios in Auckland for their next album, with Phillipps looking for a producer. The decision was eventually made to record at Master Control studios in Burbank, Los Angeles with producer Gavin MacKillop who had produced the Church, Shriekback and Straitjacket Fits' 'Melt' album. The band was looking for a keyboardist to play on the album and decided on Peter Holsapple, but this prompted Stephenson to depart due to personality clashes and homesickness. Eventually Phillipps and Moore decided on three Americans met through friends and in January 1992 with Peter Holsapple (guitar/keyboards), Mauro Ruby (drums), Lisa Mednick (keyboards) and ex-Clay Idols Steven Schayer (backing vocals) they went into the studio to record their new album Soft Bomb.
Holsapple had worked with Van Dyke Parks, a legendary and eccentric artist much admired by Phillipps for his work with the Beach Boys and Randy Newman. With encouragement from Holsapple, Phillipps approached him to do a string arrangement for the song 'Water Wolves' originally intended for the on the b-side of 'Part Past Part Submarine Bells album but ending up Fiction' instead. Parks was thrilled with the opportunity and was given free rein over the song which he made into a dramatic soaring studio piece, performed by a small string orchestra with a suitably eerie vocal by Phillipps.
Following the recording a new line-up emerged, The Chills phase 13, with Phillipps (guitar), Moore (bass), Mednick (keyboards), Schayer (guitar) and Earl Robertson (drums) who had played with Philadelphia's A Subtle Plague for six years.
The release of the album was preceded by the single 'Male Monster From The Id', a quality pop song and the 'top add' in U.S. college radio that week, meaning that more stations added the song to their playlist than any other new release. "This is The Chills best and most complete album not only because Phillipps' songs are more consistent, better arranged and lyrically more precise than ever but also the MacKillop's production matches the depth of the material. There's some great songs here, some in The Chills almost nursery rhyme/folk delivery and others like Van Dyke Parks' brilliant string arrangement on 'Water Wolves'. The single 'Male Monster From The Id' with its Jekyll and Hyde admission relives the classic pop exuberance of 'Heavenly Pop Hit' and the love-from-a-distance angles of 'So Long' and 'Halo Fading' are beautifully delivered." ( Rip It Up , August '92)
In July they began a world tour in New Zealand, with 100 gigs lined up until Christmas. Although the audiences were a little less excited than on their previous tour, following the release of receptive and tickets sold Submarine Bells , the crowds were still well. However during the New Zealand leg of the tour the band was not fitting together as well as hoped and it became evident Robertson's drumming was the problem. Following the Australian gigs Phillipps had no choice but to replace Robertson and ex-Abel Tasmans Craig Mason took the position. Mason had toured with The Chills for many years as lighting man so with his good knowledge of the material fitted in quickly.
'Double Summer' was the second single from the album to be released, backed by demo tracks of 'Halo Fading' and 'Sanctuary' recorded a year earlier by Phillipps and Moore with James Stephenson on drums and sounding radically different from the album versions.
The US gigs were well received but lower than expected ticket sales and lack of band cohesion were causing problems, and following technical difficulties at the Los Angeles show Warner Brothers decided not to promote the album further. The situation was worsened when Slash deleted sales of Soft Bomb in Europe made Submarine Bells from their catalogue and low Slash's UK distributor, London Records, withdraw tour support money. With no potential source of income and rising debts the band had no choice but to give up. At their final American gig in New York Phillipps made the sad announcement that it was to be the last ever Chills concert. As Phillipps was effectively the employer of the band, he was left with a very substantial personal debt to Slash records.
Following the end of the band he returned to Dunedin and began trying to sort through the legal and contractual hassles which had been entirely left with him. With the help of lawyers and accountants he thankfully avoided bankruptcy, and used this period to do a lot of writing and home- recording (at least two albums worth).
He occasionally performed live and also became part of the 60's covers band Pop Art Toasters along with David Kilgour, Noel Ward, Mike Dooley and Alan Starrett, and was briefly with Snapper on keyboards/guitars. In early 1995 he played guitar with The Clean on a national orientation tour.
Other projects include compiling an album of Chills b-sides and rarities for 1996 release, putting together a book on the history of The Chills and beginning some recording with David Kilgour.
In April 1995 Phillipps, David Kilgour and Alan Haig performed as the April Fools, and recorded 'Under Your Face' for the IMD compilation with some Cook Island Disturbed. Phillipps also recorded a song for the same compilation entitled 'Jungle Law' log drummers.
Phillipps decided to move to Auckland and assembled a band there to meet him. The band line-up was British- born Dominic Blazer (keyboards), Steven Shaw (bass) and ex-Book Of Martyrs Jonathan Armstrong (drums). It was decided that they would play as Martin Phillipps and The Chills, giving the band a separate identity and also allowing Phillipps to perform solo.
Rehearsals were begun with the band in preparation for the recording of an album in England. In July 1995 Phillipps flew to London with the band to follow a few days later. Disaster struck when the band did arrive - visa complications led to some hours of discussions with officials following which they were sent back to New Zealand. Phillipps had no choice but to enlist session musicians and was thus joined by XTC members Dave Mattacks (drums) and Dave Gregory (bass) for the recording of Sunburnt with Ramones and Blondie producer Craig Leon.