Chills keyboardist plays a different tune at day job

School of Music and Creative Media Production programme leader in music Dr Oli Wilson, who also plays keyboards and back-up vocals, for renowned New Zealand indie act The Chills.

When music lecturer and researcher Oli Wilson isn’t preparing for his new role at Massey’s School of Music and Creative Media Production, he’s fitting in rehearsal time with his band, renowned alternative Kiwi indie act The Chills.

Much of Dr Wilson’s summer has been spent gigging with the band that in 2015 re-emerged to add another chapter to its fabled, if sporadic, 35-year history.

On Tuesday The Chills play a sold-out gig at Wellington’s Opera House as part of the New Zealand Festival.

Dr Wilson wasn’t even born when The Chills first made their name as one of the chief purveyors of the so-called Dunedin Sound that spawned a slew of bands from the deep south throughout the 1980s.

As programme leader in music at the new school, he applies an academic analysis to the notion of the Dunedin Sound.

“Though it clearly sounds unique, it is as much of a cultural phenomenon as a musical one. We have an amazing ability to attach meaning to sound, and when talking about the Dunedin Sound we’re really talking about a counter-culture, kind of musical ethos. The Dunedin Sound is about the DIY approach, which in itself is a political statement about the music industry.”

Now he is playing keyboards alongside band founder and singer-songwriter Martin Phillipps to some of their biggest hits such as Rolling Moon, Pink Frost and I Love My Leather Jacket.

Understandably Dr Wilson is equally enthusiastic about the band’s latest material that forms part of Silver Bullets, its first album in nearly 20 years.

Reviews have hailed the work as a return to form for The Chills, a band in name only when Dr Wilson - who previously worked as a lecturer at Otago University- joined them in 2010.

In the preceding years the band, and in particular Phillipps, had been beset by a run of bad luck that included the death of one band member, the untimely departures of others, contractual disputes and illness.  The new album was the culmination of a period of stability that has seen the band retain the same line-up and generate new material.

“Being able to be part of a touring band is the best pay-off,” he says ahead of a busy year juggling both band and work commitments between its base in Dunedin and his job in Wellington.

It’s a challenge Dr Wilson has lived with for some years, travelling between New Zealand the Pacific Islands for his research on the effects of new digital music technologies in remote places.

“I’ve spent a lot of time in the Pacific working way out remote areas, so the prospect of travelling now isn’t too demanding.” He’s relishing the opportunity to work alongside musicians like Warren Maxwell of Trinity Roots at the new school, which is part of Massey’s College of Creative Arts.

It’s also a homecoming of sorts for the Palmerston-North-raised musician whose father, Peter Wilson, an Emeritus Professor of Veterinary Science, has recently retired as a deer researcher at Massey’s Manawatū campus.

But the biggest attraction is being able to be among the inaugural staff at the school who also include Andre Ktori, who is a BAFTA award winner for interactive enhanced music and has been signed to Warner Brothers and Atlantic Records; Devin Abrams producer and musician from Pacific Heights and international drum and bass act Shapeshifter, and Nicky Harrop who has 18 years’ experience in the music industry working for BMG and Sony Music labels.

“I see this as my dream job, being able to help start a school from scratch with incredibly creative people and musicians who are my colleagues. It’s the chance of a lifetime,” he says. As is being able to play music as part of a band like The Chills, steeped in indie folklore that retains a dedicated international following.

“I’m amazed how much value that music has around the planet.“



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