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Seven Quick Questions: Martin Phillipps Of The Chills

Seven Quick Questions: Martin Phillipps Of The Chills

Friday 30th December, 2016 11:00AM

If you haven't made it to Auckland Museum to check out the Volume exhibition yet, there is no better time than now. Taking refuge from the intense New Zealand sun, while perusing six decades of local music memorabilia seems like the perfect way to spend a relaxed day during the summer break. The exhibition, which is the first of its kind, boasts special items such as Chris Knox's TEAC reel-to-reel tape machine, Andrew Fagan's pink fur suit, Delaney Davidson's signature hat - and amongst it all stands the infamous leather jacket at the centre of The Chills' 1986 song 'I Love My Leather Jacket'.

The titular jacket holds a heart-wrenching backstory. It originally belonged to drummer Martyn Bull, who died quite suddenly of leukemia aged 22. In his will, Bull bequeather the said item of clothing to frontman Martin Phillipps who in turn penned the now anthemic tune. We asked Martin a few questions about the jacket and the song to gain a little more insight into the sad story...

1. Hi Martin, so as you discussed in the Heavenly Pop Hits documentary, your bandmate Martyn Bull - who died and bequeathed you the jacket - started showing sudden signs of illness during the recording of ‘Pink Frost’... do you remember what was going through your head at the time?

Martyn was a very healthy young man so we were all a bit surprised when he was getting tired during the recordings of both the 'Rolling Moon' and 'Pink Frost' singles (recorded within a week or so of each other) and he slept a lot in the van on the way back to Dunedin from Auckland but it never occurred to me that it would be anything more than a bit of flu or something. We were all young and had not yet had to confront mortality in such a sudden and unexpected way.

2. Was the leather an item you had talked about, or that you had associated strongly with him prior to his becoming ill?

He and his partner, named Kathy Bull at the time, both ordered matching leather jackets from, I believe, Canada and I certainly admired it as I was wearing a cheap vinyl replica at the time. When he knew he was sick he said he'd leave his jacket to me in his will - and I think I looked inappropriately pleased by that and then felt bad afterwards.

3. Did you actually wear the jacket all the time once it entered your hands, or was it too much?

I wore it constantly except for days that were obviously too hot. I travelled the world in it and I crashed out at parties using it as a blanket. It was very much a part of who I was for many years.

4. What prompted you to write a song about it? Was there a point when you didn’t want to record or release the song after writing it?

There were powerful and emotional thoughts and feelings I needed to express over Martyn's death and I felt a good rock song was the perfect vehicle as the words were vague enough that only those who knew the story would understand the importance of the lyrics. For anyone else it was just some glam-rock anthem and they were having a good time dancing and singing along with it - and that was appropriate and celebratory as well.

5. Were you surprised at its global success when you released it?

I never thought about those kinds of things back then. We are more known for that song in New Zealand anyway whereas Europe knows us more as the 'Pink Frost' band and in the United States 'Heavenly Pop Hit' was the big one. But I am glad that 'I Love My Leather Jacket' has aged well and it is still fun to perform and people still enjoy hearing it. People will still take actual photos of us playing it to this day - which obviously doesn't make sense as we could be playing anything. But as soon as you start playing one of the old favourites the cameras start flashing!

6. How did it come about that the jacket was included in the Volume exhibition?

The 'Leather Jacket' has now appeared in, I believe, four exhibitions on NZ music and the Dunedin Sound and the importance of the colour Black in NZ culture and other things. I was approached about the possibility of loaning it out once again and it seemed appropriate to have it in the Volume exhibition as it has become somewhat iconic and I also knew that they would treat it with the respect it deserves.

7. Do you still get it out for a wear once-in-awhile - when it’s not in an exhibition?

I keep it safe but I no longer fit into it as I did when I was a slim young man. To wear it now would look like a severe case of mid-life crisis.

Volume is on at Auckland Museum until 21st May 2017, head over here for more information.


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