As an only child growing up in 1960s Invercargill, Chris Knox developed an early interest in movies. Horror and all things B grade became lifelong interests; he was also captivated by animation after seeing Pinocchio six times. Chris liked drawing and music. The Beatles changed him forever.
At 14 Knox was given his first movie camera — a Standard 8, later upgraded to a Super 8. Influenced by Canadian animation legend Norman McLaren, he made his first animated films. As an adult Chris continued to film 8mm footage, including of his first band The Enemy, and their friends The Clean ('Tally Ho').
Knox went on to front alternative punk phenomena Toy Love. The band managed several seminal singles and an album, before calling it a day in 1980. Knox 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 Sneaky Feelings.
When Chris and Toy Love guitarist Alec Bathgate collaborated on their first Tall Dwarfs recording, at home on a TEAC four track recorder (1981 song 'Nothing's Going to Happen'), it was to be the start of a remarkable sequence of lo-fi masterpieces. The list 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 music videos 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. He began with Seizure in 1988, followed by Croaker, Beat, Polyphoto Duck Shaped Pain and Gum,and the 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 over 15 years. Knox has designed posters and newspaper ads, and made animated commercials for Real Groovy Records. He has also illustrated and written about film for Real Groove magazine.
At the 2001 NZ Music Awards, his ballad 'Not Given Lightly' (1990), was voted the country's 13th best song of all time. The track never scaled commercial heights, but generated renewed interest — and income — thanks to a Vogel's bread commercial, and the soundtracks for local movie Topless Women Talk about their Lives, and American indie feature Walking and Talking. Song 'It's Love' featured in a Heineken ad directed by Todd Haynes (I'm Not There).
Knox has appeared often on television: compering seasons of old movies (The Vault) and critiquing new ones (including this review for The Edge, and these Backch@t bloopers), talking about sheep on quirky documentary Godzone Sheep, cameoing on Shortland Street and this episode of bro'Town, and taking an Intrepid Journey to India. He also did this interview for educational series Making Music.
In 2008 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. Five months later Knox was saluted by double album Stroke - Songs for Chris Knox, with a host of songs by local and off-island 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".
Updated on 26 September 2018
Chris Knox website (broken link)
Byron Coley, Interview with Chris Knox - Forced Exposure No 18, 1993
'Chris Knox' The Internet Movie Database website. Accessed 3 November 2016