As an only child growing up in 1960s Invercargill, Chris Knox developed an early interest in the movies. Horror and all things B grade became lifelong interests, and he was captivated by animation after seeing Pinocchio six times. Chris liked drawing and music; the Beatles changed him forever.
At 14 Chris was given his first movie camera – a Standard 8, which was later upgraded to a Super 8. Influenced by Canadian legend Norman McLaren, he made his first animated films. As an adult Chris continued to film 8mm footage, including shooting his first band The Enemy and their friends The Clean (‘Tally Ho’).
Knox fronted New Zealand alternative punk phenomena Toy Love, making several seminal singles and one album before the band called it a day in 1980. He was also a key figure in the development of the Flying Nun record label – as well as releasing his own music, he recorded many Flying Nun bands including The Clean, The Verlaines, The Chills and theSneaky Feelings.
When Chris and Toy Love guitarist Alec Bathgate made their first Tall Dwarfs recording at home on a TEAC Four Track (Nothing’s Gonna Happen), it was to be the start of a remarkable sequence of low fi masterpieces which included both EPs (Three Songs, Louie Likes His Daily Dip, Canned Music) and albums (The Short and Long Of It, Fork Songs, Stumpy). Knox made his own films to promote these releases. His DIY experiments with animation and the everyday display all the wit and invention of the songs.
By the late 1980s Knox was also recording as a solo artist with frequent live work and a number of album releases; starting with Seizure in 1988, followed by Croaker, Beat, Polyphoto Duck Shaped Pain and Gum,andthe acclaimed Songs of You and Me. He would later record two further albums as Chris Knox and the Nothing. Once again quirky, innovative and fun promos were made to accompany much of this material.
In 1989 Knox composed the music for Richard Riddiford feature Zilch!, a thriller set in the boom days before the 1987 stock market crash. The Auckland Star namechecked Knox’s work in their review, for adding “so much to the offbeat tone of the film”.
The NZ Herald ran Knox’s Max Media comic strip weekly for more than 15 years. He has designed posters and newspaper ads, and made animated TV commercials for Real Groovy Records. He has also illustrated and written about film for Real Groove magazine.
At the 2001 New Zealand Music Awards his ballad Not Given Lightly (1990), was voted our 13th best song of all time. The track never scaled commercial heights but has generated renewed interest – and income – through its use in commercials (Vogel’s bread) and the soundtracks for Harry Sinclair‘s Topless Women Talk about their Lives, and American indie feature Walking and Talking. The Todd Haynes (I’m Not There)-directed ad for Heineken features Knox’s song It’s Love.
Knox has appeared often on television: compering seasons of old movies (The Vault) and critiquing new ones (Backch@t), talking sheep on quirky documentary Godzone Sheep, cameoing on Shortland Street and this episode ofbro’Town, and taking an Intrepid Journey to India.
In 2007 Knox began hosting series New Artland,which follows artists as they create works of public art, aided by a varied cast of farmers, orchestras, BMX riders and tattooists. Knox was nearing the end of Artland‘s second season when he suffered a stroke at his home on 11 June 2009. A blog was set up by friends and family to allow people to follow his progress and recovery. November 2009 saw the release of tribute album Stroke – Songs for Chris Knox, a double album of songs saluting Knox, by local and off-island indie luminaries.
As American music critic Byron Coley long ago noted of Knox: “his sense of humor is excellent and if he weren’t around New Zealand would be a far duller place”.