Behind The Chills: A year on

Martin Phillipps has been called a lyrical genius and his band The Chills remain one of New Zealand’s most iconic bands. This intimate portrait bears witness as the eccentric Phillipps battles the jarring reality of his own mortality. With a startling sense of humour even in the blackest moments, Martin reconciles a lifetime’s worth of curious collections, looks back on a catalogue of heavenly pop hits and revisits his place in the iconic Flying Nun and Dunedin sound.

Martin Phillipps and The Chills are among the founding pioneers of the iconic Dunedin Sound, a ground-breaking musical movement that inspired many seminal musicians around the world and helped usher in a new-found sense of alternative culture in New Zealand. So, when filmmaker Julia Parnell was given the opportunity to create a music documentary about The Chills, she knew it was a legendary New Zealand story that had to be told.

“I walked into the first meeting with Martin and straight away was struck by a desire to understand this man. He was in the rebirth of his career, with the release of the first Chills album in over 20 years, Silver Bullets, but at the same time he seemed very vulnerable, I later learned how unwell he really was.”

Photo: Chris Sullivan

Life has been rocky for this influential musician, he has seen over 30 members come in and out of the band over 39 years, he has battled with addiction and depression and it’s taken an exacting toll on his health. Despite the setbacks though Martin has retained an unrelenting commitment to the music and his meticulous collection of pop culture, music and art. Parnell saw the potential to capture a certain life and death struggle that is intrinsically linked to a lifetime of collecting.   

“The story of The Chills holds within it all the hallmarks of a great rock doc, but what I am actually telling is a story that’s much bigger than the music and related history,” said Parnell, “Martin has given us absolute access to his life, as he literally confronts his mortality, creativity and mistakes. Our film, alongside Martin, picks apart his lifetime of memories, and as his precious items are discarded and redistributed, discovers the story behind it all.”

The film was supported by the public through a crowdfunding campaign, many of whom are fans of The Chills and wanted to know the full story behind the band. Producer and writer Nicola Peeperkoorn explains, “We used this approach as a way to get in touch with the fans and to really start hearing what their thoughts were. Hundreds of people put money in because they desperately wanted to see the film.”

Both new and old fans of The Chills can be assured that the film will cover the band’s rich history and music, from Pink Frost and Leather Jacket to Submarine Bells and the band’s most recent work Snow Bound. Parnell hopes, “I have tried to provide the fans a renewed connection to the music by presenting the classics with fresh relevance. Those memorable songs are put next to Martin’s life now and still have such strong meaning and power.”