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June/July 2013

by Amanda Mills

Industry: Heavenly Pop Art

by Amanda Mills

Industry: Heavenly Pop Art

The Chills have a long history full of stories: leather jackets, line-up changes and curses, (to name a few). The band is still well-loved and respected, a major part of the lauded Dunedin Sound genre.

They are adored internationally too – classic singles, I Love My Leather Jacket, and Heavenly Pop Hit gained them a significant overseas following, while their seminal song Pink Frost left an indelible mark on local alt-rock music. After a 30+ year career, it’s hard to believe that they have never released a live album… until now, that is. Founder and songwriter Martin Phillipps says he now hopes to release more live performances.

“Some wonderful performances have been missed or remain hidden… a lot of them were recorded on dodgy equipment. We hope to begin making available some of the real treasures as soon as is possible.””

May 31, the last day of NZ Music Month, was the perfect time for The Chills to release ‘Somewhere Beautiful’, a limited edition (only 150 have been produced and it carries a $6500 price tag) triple vinyl live album, originally recorded on New Year’s Eve, 2011.

‘Somewhere Beautiful’ is not only an album – it’s a piece of art, made in collaboration with noted artist Shane Cotton. Nestled in the custom-designed presentation box are diptych prints by Cotton called Rolling Moon, after the classic Chills’ song. The Palmerston North artist created Rolling Moon as a response to The Chills’ NYE 2011 performance, and the 50cm2 artwork is mixed media prints using silk-screening techniques, metal foil and additional pieces. Not a fan of the band before that NYE performance, Cotton describes the inspiration of the work as being lyrical, rather than musical.

“Listening to the music was inspirational in itself, but when I received the lyrics I found great empathy within the words Phillipps had used. Thoughts about love, loss, and loneliness… of journey… of places imagined and dreamed and fleeting moments of true freedom and happiness all encapsulated within each song.”

‘Somewhere Beautiful’ features around the 20th lineup of The Chills: Erica Stichbury (keyboards, electric violin, rhythm guitar, and backing vocals), Oli Wilson (keyboards and bvs), James Dickson (bass and bvs), and Todd Knudson (drums). This band incarnation has been together for five years. The recording captures a night that (despite annoying equipment failure) was a wonderful experience for the band, according to Martin.

“We didn’t know this was to be a live release recording when we performed… one of the two keyboards ceased to function, my guitar amp didn’t work and my guitar effects-processor died as well. Therefore, it became a recording of us playing valiantly against the odds – and winning!””

TheChills_Art Shane & Mtin

The collaboration with Cotton (pictured at right)  came from the two meeting at that NYE party.

“I was aware of him as an artist, but not to the extent that I am now,”” says Phillipps. “I am most impressed! It was David Teplitzky’s idea that there should be a collaboration and there have been a number of dedicated people making this amazing project a reality over the last year or so.””

Celebrated at Hocken Collections in Dunedin, the album release included a performance by Martin Phillipps of four songs – Male Monster From The Id, House With a Hundred Rooms, a luminous version of Pink Frost, and a melodic newcomer, Molten Gold – a solo performance with only his electric guitar as accompaniment. Shane Cotton travelled south for the launch.

To commemorate the launch of Somewhere Beautiful, a postcard was produced by Hocken Collections, using Phillipps’ legendary leather jacket – originally owned by the late Martyn Bull, The Chills’ drummer of 1982-3. The jacket was photographed and a close-up, detail shot used as the postcard image. ‘Somewhere Beautiful’ will no doubt be a sought after release, despite the hefty price.

“This is an exciting project and an exploration,”” says Phillipps. “It is also a sad comment on a situation where a band like ourselves could spend thousands in a decent studio capturing our art and as soon as one copy leaks out into the digital domain then it is all over – no-one pays… therefore more exclusive projects like this are, by sheer necessity, one of the ways that modern music must go.””

‘Somewhere Beautiful’ is released by Far South Editions, who commissioned the collaboration. Scott Muir is Phillipps’ manager and a director in Far South Editions.

“In a lot of ways the genesis of Far South has been spurred along by Martin’s and my involvement with this and other Chills projects. It’s an honour and a real pleasure to work with Shane Cotton – one of NZ’s truly great contemporary artists… For me it is the incredibly high quality of the finished product along with its limited availability that makes it stand out from any ordinary release.””

Cotton describes working with Phillipps as being less a full collaboration, rather “… like a couple of ships passing in the night… a creative coupling that seemed to fit in more ways than I could have imagined.””