When I call, Martin Phillipps is at his Dunedin home playing about with some new guitar effects pedals he's just picked up.

"It's kind of novel for me. It's something I've not done a lot of in my time," he says, referencing the relatively clean jingle-jangle guitar sound his band The Chills popularised as front-runners of the famed "Dunedin Sound".

"It's quite exciting, catching up," he says, laughing before enthusing about the huge cinematic reverb-drenched racket he's making in his living room.

As he's a recent convert to the sonic joys of effects pedals they don't show up too much on the Chills new record Snow Bound, which releases tomorrow. Instead, the album's full of the catchy guitar-pop chops that Phillipps has long perfected but hasn't been able to release as often as you - or he - would've liked.

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In Chills' time Snow Bound has arrived relatively quickly. It follows 2015's Silver Bullet, the "comeback" record that ended a 19-year album drought for the band.

"People kind of assumed that Silver Bullet could be the last one, that I had enough in me for that one last record," he says, a reference to his well-documented health problems and various addictions as well as the many hiccups and dramas that plagued the band.

"Snow Bound's showing that we are in fact back on track and moving forward. There's been quite a different response to it."

The band recorded quickly, in less than three weeks, at different studios around the country.

"There are pros and cons to that. You get an energy and a spontaneity but there are also things ... " he says, trailing off. "Just the way my process of songwriting is, means I will think of slight improvements further down the line. It's not endless. I'm not one of those people that goes on endlessly correcting. But there is a certain point when I know that's it."

Then the self-admitted perfectionist jokes, "in some cases we're starting to reach that point now but it's a wee bit late".

"But people are seeing it as a more cohesive record, probably the most cohesive Chills record yet," he says. "There's always been that issue with us; the range of material I'm trying to squeeze on to one record. It's made them not an easy listen, in some ways. But this one really flows. I'm more than satisfied. Many of the songs have surpassed what I was trying to achieve in the first place."

He's not wrong. The classic indie-pop songs of the record hit you one after the other, like being trapped in a wonderful blizzard of catchy hooks and memorable choruses. There's a cohesiveness to Snow Bound that, as a songwriter, Phillipps says he's long craved. It'd be wrong to call it a concept album but there is a common thread throughout the songs.

"Once I realised a theme was getting established - a person of my age looking at their position in the world and different aspects of that - it became a lot easier to select material that fit," he says.

The press release says it's about his "wrestling with maturity," which elicits a slight guffaw from his end of the line.

"I think coming to terms with it would be more accurate," he says.

It's most obvious on the cherry, chirpy pop-perfection of The Greatest Guide. A song festooned with happy "Da-da-da-da's", those jangly guitars and a chorus so joyous that you don't really notice its morose sentiment; "The greatest of guides / has died."

"When celebrities for my age group started dying off in 2016 I was saying, 'Well, you better buckle up because this is how it's going to be for the rest of our lives, just watching our idols and icons die off'," he says. "Our parents, their parents, everybody's been through it. Seeing the heroes of their age die off until they're almost completely forgotten.

"Now it's happening to ours. It's very hard trying to explain David Bowie to young people. You can play them Heroes or Life on Mars or whatever but that's not really the point. You're trying to explain a whole shift in perception. There's no way to evoke the sheer wave of change and challenge and the excitement of that. You can't sum up Bowie in his music. It's just one part of the picture. And that's the same with Lou Reed and Prince."

Given that, how does Phillipps feel about the musical legacy of his own band? The Chills are such an important part of Kiwi music.

"I'm pleased there's an ongoing impact from what was created here," he says. "And there was certainly a lot of thought put into the integrity of what we were trying to do. But I guess the best thing that's come out of it for us now is that, with this album in particular, people are saying when they first heard the singles they spotted it as Chills music right form the start.

"Now we've established ourselves internationally, at a small level, as a band with a recognisable sound. And that's quite an achievement. That's something I'm very thankful for."

LOWDOWN

Who: Martin Phillipps of The Chills
What: The new album Snow Bound and a national tour.
When: Snow Bound is out tomorrow, with the tour kicking off in Hamilton as well. Tickets and tour details from undertheradar.co.nz


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