Heavenly pop hits

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The Chills: (from left) Oli Wilson, Martin Phillips, James Dickson and Todd Knudson

Adored in their home country and with a cult following overseas, legendary Dunedin band The Chills have a backstory to rival the back catalogue.

In the ’80s and ’90s, Martin Phillipps’ ethereal pop songs — Pink Frost, I Love My Leather Jacket, Wet Blanket, Heavenly Pop Hit — provided a soundtrack to youth for many.

They released four acclaimed albums in nine years, signing for Warner from epic indie label Flying Nun.

But inconsistency has dogged them over the decades, with an aborted American tour, break-ups, drug addiction, countless line-ups and huge gaps in releasing music.

Talking to Phillipps now, however, he’s focused on the future of the band while allowing it to pay homage to its past.

The Chills, who released album Silver Bullets in 2015, play The Sherwood tomorrow on a national tour.

Now there’s talk of an American tour.

“We’ve dragged the saga into the now,” Phillipps says.

“We’re not going to have these massive gaps between albums, the result of not having a proper international deal for distribution.

“Now we’ve got the backing and momentum we just want to keep things moving.”

The Chills are working on a new album and have stand-alone single Rocket Science going out.

“It’s a brand new song and the B-side is Lost in Space, which is a very early unrecorded Chills song which, had there been a first album, it would have been on that.

“That’s something we’re looking at doing, grabbing some of those very early songs and recording them as bonus tracks, B-sides.”

He’s also evolving their classics in a live setting with the current line-up: Phillipps on guitar/vocals, James Dickson on bass, drummer Todd Knudson and Oli Wilson on keys.

“A song like Pink Frost just tends to evolve anyway.

“Even if we did try to be faithful to the old ones, there’s something about the personalities of the band that will change them.

“I think people would tell us if we’d missed it — missed the magic of the song.”

He says his progression as a musician also allows him to realise his original vision.

“Back then I had very rudimentary skills and now, especially with this current band, the means are there to actually make these songs more what they were always meant to be.”

And the thrill of performing is still there — even if a focus on musicianship means the moments of transcendence are fewer.

“There are times when you’re well into a tour where I could swear half an hour beforehand the last thing I’d want to do is get up and put the energy out for a full set of music.

“But the weird thing is, inevitably, within the first half of the first song that magic kicks in and there’s nowhere else I’d want to be.

“That’s a very special feeling, that connection.”

The Chills play The Sherwood, tomorrow, 8pm. Tickets $40