First off, let me state that The Chills are one of my favorite pop bands ever. When I heard there was a new album (Sunburnt) coming out, and a tour to follow, I was overjoyed. Then I thought, "Hey, why not interview Martin for Tape Op?" Eventually, there I was, a wee bit tipsy after a few too many pints of Pabst, doing an interview after the Martin Phillipps and the Chills show here in Portland. The intensity with which he delved into the subjects at hand startled me at first, but then I realized that this band, off and on and in its many permutations, has been a big part of his life for the last 16 years. On with the interview!
I'd like to start talking about the new stuff but I think we'll just skip to the chase. There's one question that's been bugging me. It popped up with the Barbara Manning snippet that we did in the first issue. She brought up the Brave Words incident. She said it had taken her a long time to connect Mayo Thompson to Red Krayola and the production on your record. I remembered that you had mentioned in interviews that you had wanted to remix it and call it Braver Words.
The problem with Brave Words is that it was done really, really fast. It was recorded and mixed in about two weeks. Obviously, that's the first album after 7 years, plus that band was about 2 ½ months old at that stage. In all aspects that record was really done fast. We basically just recorded things as they had been live. Then we went back and sort of went overboard trying to redo some stuff to make it sound as big as we'd been hearing it.
Was that you guys or Mayo?
Everybody. We probably did some technical things but I'm not sure how we could've made it better. The main problem we had was that the pressing was absolutely atrocious. The mastering...
Of the vinyl?
Yes, and also the CD. They're mastered terrible. It's mushy. A difference needed to be made at the studio. I didn't know as much then as I know now. When we did the Heavenly Pop Hits compilation last year two tracks from Brave Words were remixed, "Look for the Good in Others" and "Wet Blanket." That was a sort of test run for the others .
I didn't get to hear that yet. [Later I did-the songs sound much better]
There's also a new vocal on "Wet Blanket" as well. I sung it really badly at the time. I sang them [originally] with reverb in the headphones, "Everything sounds great!" The band played really strongly on the recording but there are things of much higher priority to be done before [remixing Brave Words].
I always liked the songs on that album but thought the sound was a bit off. Richard said he thought it sounded fine.
Richard: I think it has incredible sound, that record. It's so...different.
Martin: It was that. People who knew the band live were most disappointed.
R: I just come from hearing that and not being familiar with your other records. It seems like, through the murk, you can find these things. It may be a little more difficult but it's more rewarding.
M: There's quite a unique quality, like listening to AM radio, but that's not really how...
R: It's not like a bad demo. It's a more interesting sound than that.
It definitely worked and captivated a lot of people. With Sunburnt you worked with Craig Leon, who has a famous pedigree, although a lot of people don't know who he is. It was done in England. Had you played the songs with a full band before going over to record?
Some of it. I'd been writing ever since the band broke up in '92, so there was 2 or 3 years of material to choose from. All the darker stuff got put to one side (Shadow Ballads is the working title) that may hopefully end up as an extra CD with the next album. It's a plan of mine, anyway. We just realized--myself, Craig and the record company--that it'd be crazy to come out with a dark album after four years, especially following Soft Bomb. I wanted something that was much more positive and optimistic. Once we decided that was what it was going to be, it was pretty easy [to see] which songs fit together well. Probably about a third of them I worked on with Jonathan [Armstrong/drums], 'cause he's been with me now for a couple of years and Steven Shaw (the bass player) and the keyboardist, Dominic Blaazer. We realized it wasn't worth taking Dominic over 'cause I was going to be playing the keyboard parts myself and sequencing them. The rhythm section came over about two weeks after...