The curiously named The Memorable Order of Tinned Hats (MOTH) Club is a returned servicemen's club in Hackney, London. Due to dwindling membership the club has had to open it’s doors to new audiences and earlier this year hosted a solo performance from the Chills’ Martin Phillipps.
Phillipps knows a thing of two about returning and new audiences.
With their unique pop, the Chills were poised for fame far beyond their New Zealand home in the late 80s when Phillipps succumbed to, depression, drugs and eventually hepatitis C. But he is back with Silver Bullets, the first Chills full-length album in 20 years.
Phillipps’ MOTH performance of a track from the forthcoming album, “I Can’t Help You” (that we are premiering below) is mesmerizing. It’s only at the end of the song, when you hear applause, that you can tell it’s performed in front of an audience. Until then attention is focused purely on Phillips and his Gretsch guitar.
Recorded in his hometown of Dunedin, Silver Bullets reaffirms Phillipps’ aptitude for intelligent and timeless pop that resonates with a dark melancholia.
Ahead of the new album and upcoming Australian dates we sent Martin some questions.
Noisey: The album version of “I Can’t Help You’” is upbeat and almost jaunty. Does playing with the band change the songs?
Martin Phillipps: “I Can’t Help You” was initially written as quite a powerful, driving song and the live band performance is still more in that direction. It became something a bit more complex in the studio but then I found it hard to play in a solo setting. I discovered that if I strip it right back to it's basics it works much better.
Were you playing some of these new songs on your 2014 tour? Were you encouraged by the response to them?
We played a little under half of Silver Bullets on last year’s Europe/UK tour and the new songs have been really well received by the new, younger audience members who are, perhaps, discovering us for the first time. Also the older fans have been saying that the new songs basically sound like really good Chills’ songs and fit naturally into the set of older material.
There has always been certain melancholia to your music. Now that you are 50 years old is there still that despondence or are you becoming more optimistic?
I think that the essence of melancholia will always be somewhere in my music but I do surprise myself with a strangely optimistic outlook sometimes. Overall I would say I am much more pessimistic now about the ability of humans to rise above greed, bigotry and religion and save our world from inevitable destruction. But then I do enjoy a good, strong upbeat melody. So what can I do?
This is the first Chills full-length album in two decades. Is the song writing and recording process the same for you now as it was then?
Though there hasn't been the option of The Chills recording a full, well-recorded album for many years, I was still coming up with ideas for lyrics and songs but putting them to one side to be completed later. When we got the go ahead for the new album it was like flood-gates opening and all the years of song-writing experience and what I have learned over the years came into play. The bulk of the new album was written over a period of about a year – despite there being some riffs which have been kicking around in my mind for up to twenty-years in some cases.
Catch the Chills:
Nov 7 - Dunedin at Sammys
Dec 11 - Auckland at Galatos
Jan 11 - Auckland at McLaren Valley Festival
Jan 13 - Sydney at Sydney Festival
Jan 15 - Melbourne at Max Watts
March 8 - Wellington at NZ Festival
'Silver Bullets' is available Oct 30 from Fire Records.