Monday, October 15, 2018

"I Am A Hopeless Optimist At Heart": My 2018 Interview With Martin Phillipps Of The Chills

The music of The Chills has meant a lot to me over the course of the last 30 years. There's something smart about the indie-pop of this group that has made Martin Phillipps one of my very favorite songwriters and performers. The band is riding high after the release of their most recent album, Snow Bound, out now via Fire Records, and reviewed by me here. It is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a superb record, full of life and energy, and the sort of release that really makes me happy as a fan and a reviewer.

What also made me really happy this year, as it did in 2015, is that I got a chance to sit down and talk to Martin Phillips about Snow Bound and other Chills-related matters.

Glenn, kenixfan: Snow Bound has a slightly more holistic feel than Silver Bullets, to my mind. Is this, not Silver Bullets, really the first full record you've produced with the new line-up of The Chills? How did the other band members contribute to the creation of these songs?

MARTIN PHILLIPPS: The whole band has been involved with both the Silver Bullets and Snow Bound albums, but there was material (or parts and ideas for material) which dated back a long way for Silver Bullets whereas nearly all of the parts for Snow Bound have arrived since the previous album. The band were therefore much more involved in the development of the new material and had a much better idea of what I was trying to achieve. They also were able to put forth better ideas and solutions to musical problems than I could possible have come up with by myself.

Glenn, kenixfan: Can you speak to the role of producer Greg Haver on this one? Snow Bound has a very clean and uncluttered sound.

MARTIN PHILLIPPS: On the album Silver Bullets I didn't want to work with a "name" producer as I was determined to find our own atmosphere and style and bring the sound of The Chills up to date using only an excellent engineer/co-producer -- who we were lucky to have in Brendan Davies. But with Snow Bound, having shown everyone where we could be heading with our albums, it was time to work with a good producer who could take us further than we were able to go ourselves. Greg Haver was excellent in understanding what I was trying to achieve and also in seeing the whole potential of the band to take the material to a higher level. He respected my song-writing but was prepared to push me further when necessary. He also has an excellent team who he works with to achieve the wonderful audio quality that many are commenting on.

Glenn, kenixfan: Your music has admittedly helped me when I've been depressed as a young man, and yet I read that you have suffered from depression in the last few decades which seems astonishing given how "positive" so much of the music of The Chills seems. How much of the tone and mood of your more recent songs is a result of these battles you've faced?

MARTIN PHILLIPPS: I guess that one of the problems with depression is that if someone puts on an outwardly bright front or sends out positive messages then most people can miss the darkness that may often be eating away at the person behind those messages. This is something I am not alone in having to battle with constantly and life will always provide new fuel for that fire -- but it can also bring a sense of acceptance as we grow older and learn to see our situation, and that of others, with a much broader view.

Glenn, kenixfan: Songs like "Time To Atone" and "In Harmony" could be read as both personal and political. Has the way you write lyrics changed in the last few decades?

MARTIN PHILLIPPS: The main thing that has changed for me is that I now tend to filter out the more frivolous material and concentrate on what seems more important because I believe we live in a time of urgency and I don't wish to add more mediocre material to the growing heap of disposable rubbish being produced these days. That is not to say that there is not also more wonderful and adventurous music and art being produced now around the world than perhaps ever before, because I believe that could be the case, but one may have to look that little bit harder to find it.

Glenn, kenixfan: One of the things that drew me to the music of The Chills so many years ago was what seemed a lack of ironic detachment; I can think of no other songwriter who could get away with songs as directly affirmative as "Look For The Good in Others And They'll See The Good In You" and "Heavenly Pop Hit", for example, and have the results work so well. Do you write for yourself or do you write for some imagined audience?

MARTIN PHILLIPPS: I began by trying to create the albums that I wished to listen to myself but could find no-one else actually creating at the time. Now I feel I have made some of that music become real and that I have also inspired other people to explore similar areas. But the downside of that is that I can never really separate the final product from the memories of what went into its creation, so I can never simply enjoy it as others might when hearing it unaccompanied by the baggage of the back-stories. So I keep moving forward because, in some ways, I am a hopeless optimist at heart.

Glenn, kenixfan: Is "Deep Belief" the result of your recent health battles? A hymn to finally turning a corner and getting healthy, if not cured?

MARTIN PHILLIPPS: I think that "Deep Belief" is one of the more important songs I have written and it deals with that knowledge which comes with maturity but also having to face the reality of one's own mortality. Yet it also acknowledges the realization that you have not therefore been given the right to preach to others about your own beliefs just because you are starting to experience the calmness of acceptance.

Glenn, kenixfan: Looking back at the last 30 years of The Chills, do you ever feel like you've had to compromise your vision as an artist and performer?

MARTIN PHILLIPPS: I feel that we have generally been very fortunate in that we have existed largely outside of the trends of the mainstream and we have also been lucky enough to have produced a string of catchy tunes which have made, for many, The Chills music a recognizable sound after all this time. And that is without us having to bow unduly to the pressure of adapting what we naturally do to achieve more far-reaching commercial success.

Glenn, kenixfan: What's next for this iteration of The Chills? Any U.S. tour in the near-future?

MARTIN PHILLIPPS: Plans are being finalized to tour and promote Snow Bound in the U.S. and also the U.K. and E.U. as early in 2019 as is possible. There is a feature-length major documentary about The Chills being released early next year which will also be needing our promotion. Then we will be working on the next album because we feel we are in a very positive place again and that we need to keep creating and moving forward.

Glenn, kenixfan: Will the box set ever see wider re-release?

MARTIN PHILLIPPS: The Secret Box box-set was really a kind of official bootleg release but we are hoping to re-issue it in a much expanded form with improved quality and replacing tracks like the BBC sessions (which are now available separately) with other lost gems from our catalogue of rarities.

(NOTE: the BBC sessions are available here from Fire Records, and the disc was reviewed by me here).

Glenn, kenixfan: Thank you so very much for your music and your time today! All the best Martin!

MARTIN PHILLIPPS: Thank you and thank you for the interesting questions. It does make a difference.

Snow Bound by The Chills is out now via Fire Records.

More details on The Chills via the band's official website, or their official Facebook page.

Special Thanks to Scott Muir for helping set up this interview!

[Photo: Alorx]