While the penchant for tossing random superlatives around at every opportunity seems to have thankfully reached its climax more recently, there are occasions where such endorsements of acclaim are warranted. One of those would undoubtedly fall at the feet of Psychocandy, the 1985 debut from East Kilbride purveyors of melodic noise The Jesus & Mary Chain. Released amidst a maelstrom of synthetic pop and artificially intelligent rock, its presence laid the foundations for numerous genres and a host of widely revered artists to follow.
Formed by siblings Jim and William Reid just over twelve months earlier, The Jesus & Mary Chain were a rare commodity throughout their existence as one that managed to infiltrate the mainstream on their own terms. Having been largely responsible for putting Creation Records on the map thanks to debut single 'Upside Down', their next move saw them sign to Warner Brothers offshoot Blanco y Negro, a label they stayed with for over a decade before returning to Creation for sixth and final album Munki in 1998.
Now, with each of their six albums about to be re-issued as comprehensive triple CD & DVD box sets, Jim Reid spoke at length to DiS about a variety of topics ranging from major label interference and their subsequent lack of interest to inter-band relationships, particularly the volatile one between him and his brother that overshadowed the band's existence and the effects of substance abuse, most notably alcohol.
DiS: What are you up to at this particular moment in time?
Jim Reid: I'm not really up to that much at present to be honest which is the way I like it.
DiS: All six Jesus & Mary Chain albums are being re-issued as deluxe box sets over the next few weeks starting with Psychocandy on 26th September. What do you make of them and did you have much input into the finished products?
JR: The whole package has been very well done. We were quite involved with it and there's a whole load of stuff on there that most people will never have seen or heard before. A lot of the video footage and TV appearances for example, so hopefully people will find it interesting.
DiS: One of the songs I'm looking forward to hearing for the first time is the infamous 'Jesus Fuck'.
JR: Do you know, I'd completely forgot that song even existed! I had to sort of think back through a fog of booze to that time. I guess now when I look back it's one of those "What was that all about?" moments, something that got lost in a drink and drugs fuelled amnesia.
DiS: It's hard to believe that over 25 years have passed since Psychocandy was first released. Looking back, did you ever expect that record to be heralded as the groundbreaking landmark it's come to be known as since?
JR: We wanted it to be, that was the idea. We didn't think of our music as being just for that time. The kind of music that influenced the Mary Chain to start making music, stuff like the Velvet Underground for example, was still kind of relevant and valid in 1985, and that's what we wanted our music to be for future generations. We definitely thought Psychocandy had more of a depth to it and a longer lifespan than 90 per cent of what was released that year.
DiS: The early-mid Eighties are't looked upon as being a particularly productive time for music so Psychocandy must have represented a serious kick up the backside to a lot of people within the music industry at that time.
JR: The fact it came out then....You know, the dire state of the music scene around that time was probably just as much of an inspiration for us to make that album as all of the good stuff. In 1985 music was dreadful, so we decided to make the record that didn't really exist for that time, you know? It seems inconceivable to think now but back then there was a general feeling that nobody was making guitar-based noise music any more.
DiS: Prior to releasing Psychocandy, you'd already started to gain a reputation for your aggressive 15 minute live shows culminating in the much-publicised riot at North London Polytechnic in March 1985. Was it always your intention to create such a media frenzy and do you have any recollections of that period in the band's history?
JR: Yeah, I can remember quite a lot of it. Most of it was down to our lack of experience. Most of our time at gigs was just spent sitting in the dressing room; getting ready and getting in the mood, if you know what I mean? Being completely unaware that there was an angry mob waiting on the other side of the door because we should have been on stage at 9pm and it was now 10.30pm. The promoters would come into the dressing room and tell us to get out there soon as the audience are going nuts and we'd be like, "Ah come on, there's plenty of time for that, we're not quite ready yet..." When we eventually did go on stage you could tell by the vibe that there may be a few people out front who'd be more than happy to tear your head off! We'd just play about 15 minutes worth of psychotic noise then stroll off stage and the house would literally come down straight after. Literally...
DiS: I've seen footage of some of your earliest television appearances on shows like The Old Grey Whistle Test and The Tube and even the reactions from people in the audience seems quite malevolent to say the least. Was it quite surreal playing live to an unsuspecting TV audience back then?
JR: Yeah, I mean it was. I was very nervous. Television always scared the shit out of me! When we did The Old Grey Whistle Test, they got us in at some ludicrous time like seven o'clock in the morning, thinking that because of our reputation the earlier they could get us into the studio more sober and coherent we'd be. The thing was, because we'd played a show the night before we ended up staying up drinking all the way through until 7am - we hadn't been to bed! We turned up with another two cases of beer and carried on getting totally rat arsed! By the time we got to do The Tube the record company had figured us out a bit by then and I was absolutely shitting myself. It was live television and we'd never done anything like that before and I was thinking, "Oh my God! What happens if I end up falling flat on my face?" I kept asking for a drink then another drink, and the record company kept telling me that someone had gone to fetch me one and they'd be back any minute, which was quite clearly bullshit, and the drink turned up just as the performance ended. I'd never been so scared in all my life. You can actually see the look of fear on my face when you watch it.
DiS: Going back slightly, after you released your first single 'Upside Down', there were a couple of significant changes within the band, most notably the departure of original drummer Murray Dalglish and the band signing to Warner Brothers subsidiary Blanco y Negro. Was it seen as a big deal getting involved with a major at that time?
JR: It was. I mean, a lot of the indie kids just never forgave us for that. At the time signing to a major was seen as selling your soul, which we never really went along with. In hindsight, you look back on it now and realise that perhaps it was a bit like that. At the same time, a lot of independent labels were just run in the same way as majors only without as much money. They had the same kind of mentality towards selling music, but we didn't really fit in that well with Warner Brothers so maybe it wasn't a very wise thing to do.
DiS: It's interesting you say that as I remember reading an interview with you back in 1998 just after Munki came out where you said being on Warner Brothers made you feel like Bugs Bunny. Do you have any regrets about your time on the label and if you had your time over again, would you do things differently?
JR: Yeah, definitely. Geoff Travis wanted to sign us to Rough Trade, but we chose to go with his new label Blanco y Negro, which was an offshoot of Warner Brothers instead, and we had all these big ideas for which we thought Warners would be the best option to fulfill our needs. We thought they'd give us a load of money to promote our music and pay for big tours as that's what we wanted to do, but that was just naive as Warner Brothers never spent that much money on the Mary Chain at all. Having the band on the label made them look a bit cool but the budgets for promotion and stuff were always pitifully small. We would have been better off on Rough Trade and they would have probably spent as much if not more on the band than Warner Brothers did, plus we'd have been surrounded by people that understood us.
DiS: You still got to subvert the mainstream and Radio 1 at a time when popular music was dominated by Live Aid, Stock Aitken and Waterman and a thousand faceless dance acts. Did it seem quite a weird experience back then?
JR: It was good in that respect. I remember us getting the cover of Smash Hits and then we were told it was a toss-up that week between us and Spandau Ballet and naturally, we lost out. And then we heard Spandau Ballet pulled their piece because they were outraged we'd even been considered alongside them for the cover so were back on the front page! Looking back, that has to be one of the highlights of my career, keeping Spandau Ballet off the cover of Smash Hits!
DiS: Moving onto 'Some Candy Talking' which pre-empted the Darklands era, again the band was shrouded in controversy due to various tabloids taking exception to the song's supposed veiled lyrical references to heroin. What was 'Some Candy Talking' actually about?
JR: It was my brother William that wrote 'Some Candy Talking', but I can categorically state it wasn't about heroin. I suppose I can see why people would think it was, but if you say that it isn't they should believe you. William had never taken heroin, and also the original version of that was recorded for a John Peel session so basically the BBC had commissioned this song, the original recording of it. Yet, after it came out as a single, they took issue with it and assumed it was about drugs and removed it from most of their playlists. Quite absurd really.
DiS: One of the b-sides from that EP, 'Psychocandy', was initially recorded as the title track for your debut album then scrapped. Why was that?
JR: To be honest, I don't remember why we left it off.
DiS: 'Some Candy Talking' and then Darklands also represented a marked departure in the band's sound, choosing a more stripped down variation to the more noise orientated dynamic of Psychocandy. What pre-empted this?
JR: We'd done Psychocandy and it was time to do something else. We had a choice of whether to make Psychocandy 2 or try another thing. At the time we were thinking a lot about pushing the songs into the forefront. A lot was getting written about the noise element of our music and not enough about the actual songs underneath the noise, so we decided to showcase the songs rather than the guitars.
DiS: Was there any pressure from the record label to make the melodies stand out in order to make the band more accessible for Radio 1 airplay?
JR: Yeah, obviously, all the time. They were trying to hook us up with big name producers. We actually recorded some demos with Tears for Fears' producer - Chris Hughes, I believe his name was - and Ian Stanley, who was actually in that band. They were seen as being the red hot producers at that time, and we went to Ian Stanley's house in Bath where we spent a whole week recording a demo version of the song 'Darklands'. I mean a week recording one fucking song! That's absolutely crazy, and at the end of that week it all just broke down. We went to bed on the last night and we'd had enough. I remember at about 3am me and William just went "Fuck it!" and they couldn't understand why we were going to bed, so they just stayed up through the rest of the night recording something. I'm not entirely sure what it was, but then we got up the next day and they were like, "Guys, you have to listen to this!", and we just literally fell off our chairs laughing! They were gutted by our reaction, and when we got back Rob Dickins, who was one of the senior people at the label, phoned us up and called us "fucking losers"! No one was impressed that we were given these so-called world class producers and laughed at them.
DiS: By the time 'Automatic' came out in the latter part of 1989, the band's line-up and sound had changed again. It's also probably fair to say that an audience of avid record collectors had emerged on the independent scene intent on buying every single format issued by the likes of yourselves and many of your peers. I recall the 'Head On' single being released as a boxset of four 7-inch singles and 'Blues From A Gun' coming as a 10 and 12-inch single with various picture discs and cut out sleeves for example.
JR: I think there was a big scene for that kind of release, not just from the fans point of view but also many people in the bands themselves. We're avid music fans and we bought a lot of collectors editions from our favourite bands. Plus, it was more than just us that issued various formats of single releases. I suppose it could be viewed quite cynically as an easy way to get your record quite high in the charts upon the first week of release because your fanbase would buy all the different formats for the different b-sides. It sort of became standard practice for pretty much every band over the next couple of years.
DiS: What's most pleasing though is that listening to the numerous b-sides from 'Head On' for example such as 'In The Black' or 'Terminal Beach' the quality of the songs never deteriorated, and as a result that could quite easily have merited releasing as a mini-album in its own right.
JR: That's true, I mean we always took our b-sides very seriously. We didn't consider them as mere throwaway tracks. That's why we did the b-sides collection Barbed Wire Kisses, because we didn't want them to get lost or forgotten, so felt the best way of ensuring this didn't happen would be to put them all together on one album.
DiS: Many bands would kill for a collection of songs as good as those on Barbed Wire Kisses never mind them being b-sides.
JR: Cheers, it's good that you say that because we often felt we were having to justify a lot of those songs existence, yet it was never our intention for our music to be that obscure.
DiS: In between Automatic and its successor Honey's Dead, you then built your own recording studio known as The Drugstore. Do you have many happy memories from that period and is the studio still in existence today?
JR: It's not ours any more. I don't know if it still operates as a recording studio. It was in Elephant And Castle and it worked great for Honey's Dead. That was the first record we recorded there. We went in with a pretty good attitude back then and we recorded it quite quickly and everything was great. But then, and I can't put my finger on why, the albums that came after (Stoned And Dethroned and Munki) weren't the same. We used to record sober but then we started drinking in the studio and drugs were happening as well and that signalled the beginning of the end really.
DiS: It's unbelievable to imagine now but 'Reverence', the first single from Honey's Dead and arguably your least commercial release since the Psychocandy era went straight into the UK Singles chart at number ten. How did that feel at the time?
JR: I couldn't believe it to be honest because at that time it felt as if nobody was interested in the band. The record company had certainly lost interest by then. They didn't even want to make a video for 'Reverence'. They didn't see the point, and we argued that surely it was in their best interests to have some form of visual representation of the song. They still refused to back down, so I said "Give me a grand and I'll make one", and that's what happened. I'm really proud of that video now. To me it's as good as any of the other videos we ever made. It's quite funny when I think about how 'Reverence' even became a single. At the time we were convinced no one was going to play it so we deliberately chose the least accessible song off the album to test the waters, as it were. We thought it would just sink without trace so when we heard it was in the Top Ten based on its first week sales we were just astonished.
DiS: It was also around this time that the band embarked on the 'Rollercoaster' tour alongside My Bloody Valentine, Dinosaur Jr. and Blur. How did this line-up come about and how did you decide the order each band went on stage every night?
JR: We went on last every night and the other three bands rotated. We wanted to put together a line-up of bands that represented certain types of alternative music at that time. My Bloody Valentine were leading the way for British independent music back then, Dinosaur Jr. similarly in terms of the American grunge-type sound, and Blur were there supposedly representing the kind of baggy thing that was happening at that time. It's funny because the band on the bill that got most flak was Blur. Everybody used to say to us "Great bill, but what are Blur doing on there?" Now when you look at that line-up, Blur have exploded since then. It's strange really because their was a lot of apathy towards them although they won the audience over every night because they were so good live.
DiS: Moving onto your next album, 1994's Stoned And Dethroned, the band's sound became even more refined, fusing Americana and country with the Mary Chain's trademark sound. In a way, it could be viewed as a precursor for the whole Band Of Horses/Fleet Foxes schtick of the present day, and in many ways represents arguably the band's most audacious bunch of recordings. What's your verdict on the album today, and do you feel it's stood the test of time 17 years down the line?
JR: I love it. I mean, it was a hard one to record. We'd been talking for years about making an acoustic album and then with the songs we had at that time it just seemed appropriate, so we just went ahead and made Stoned And Dethroned. And then when we actually got into the studio we realised that we weren't good enough as musicians to make a bloody acoustic album! We were strumming away in our lone spells, each of us thinking "This doesn't sound right?" Then we realised that maybe it didn't have to be an acoustic album in the most pedantic sense, but slightly more mellow and laidback to what we'd been used to before. There are a lot of acoustic guitars on that record but there's also a lot of electrics too. I think it stands up pretty well. I don't listen to our records all of the time, just every now and then, but that's one which I definitely believe hasn't dated badly at all.
DiS: Do you have a personal favourite out of the six albums The Jesus & Mary Chain recorded?
JR: It changes to be honest. I love Munki, but at the same time it totally depresses me because I remember how bad things were between me and William at the time. It's the one that everybody seems to overlook; nobody bought it basically yet I think it's a very underrated record.
DiS: Again, the lead single from that album, 'Cracking Up', sounding like nothing else around at the time, particularly as everyone and everything else seemed connected to Britpop.
JR: That's what I'm saying. We were a band that was literally falling apart. We'd been around for a long time by then, so to release a single so subversive as 'Cracking Up'; I think we deserved more praise than we got just for that song alone. We'd lost a lot of our UK fanbase to the whole Britpop movement around that time, which wasn't really the case with the rest of the world. The last tour we did - the one the band broke up on - was well attended in every part of the world except the UK.
DiS: You'd returned to Creation Records by this point for Munki. Did it seem like a natural place to go after leaving Warner Brothers and did the label have the same ethos as the one you remembered it having 15 years earlier when 'Upside Down' was released?
JR: No, it was nothing like it! The first time we were on Creation we spent days folding the paper covers inside plastic sleeves for 'Upside Down' in Alan (McGee)'s back bedroom in Tottenham. Creation Records at that time was just Alan and Dick Green, that was it. Alan still held down a day job back then, so to go back 15 years later to do Munki it was like they'd become a proper record company!
DiS: I remember reading a quote after the band broke up where you said, "After each tour we wanted to kill each other, this time we actually tried!" What is your relationship like with your brother these days and do you envisage working together again in the future?
JR: I think we probably will work together again at some point. The relationship I don't think will ever be ideal. We've just kind of moved in different directions as people, me and William. We kind of get on but we don't speak that often. He lives in L.A. whereas I live in the UK, so there's that distance which probably helps! I can definitely see us working again, it's not out of the question.
DiS: The last time I saw the band play live would be in 2007 at the Connect Festival, and around that time it was rumoured there'd be a new album. Is this still in the pipeline and if so, when do you expect it to see the light of day?
JR: It's kind of difficult. Again, we've got different ideas of how to record this album, which is the reason why it's never really come together. It might happen, it might not. That's pretty much all I can say about it at this moment in time.
DiS: Have you got any unreleased songs in the vaults? I know 'All Things Must Pass' came out in 2008 on the Heroes soundtrack. Were there any more recordings made around this time?
JR: William is a lot more prolific than me when it comes to songwriting. I know he's got tons of songs. He's actually recorded a solo album but he just keeps tweaking it. I don't know if that will ever see the light of day but it's done, he's finished recording it. Maybe he should just stop mucking about with it and actually release it now? I've got a few songs lying around. I mean, between us, we've definitely got enough songs to do a Mary Chain double album if we wanted to, but it's just agreeing on how to record it.
DiS: In terms of the band's lasting legacy - and bearing in mind an awful lot of bands and genres have been heavily influenced by The Jesus & Mary Chain - are there any you're quite proud to endorse?
JR: I'm blatantly out of touch with a lot of what's going on in music now. I tend to just stick to the music I know and love, and there's a reason for that. If you stay tuned to what's going on in music for long enough, you find out that eventually it's a cycle, and once you've heard it all there's nothing new any more. I've heard the full cycle so I've kind of dropped out a little bit. That's not to say bands coming along now aren't very good, it's just that I've heard it all before. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club aren't exactly new, but I liked what they did, and if they did it for any reason at all to do with The Jesus & Mary Chain then that's great. I quite like The Raveonettes too.
DiS: There have been several covers of Jesus & Mary Chain songs over the years. 'Head On' by Pixies, 'Just Out Of Reach' by A Place To Bury Strangers and 'Some Candy Talking' by Richard Hawley are three that spring to mind. Are there any people's versions of your songs that you are a particular fan of?
JR: 'Darklands' by Primal Scream. I loved 'Head On' by Pixies as well actually.
DiS: Finally, what does the future have in store for Jim Reid?
JR: I don't know. I take one day at a time basically. Many many alcoholic beverages! I was on the wagon for almost six years and I fell off about four months ago, so I'm making up for lost time at the moment.
The Jesus & Mary Chain's entire back catalogue will be released in a Deluxe 2 CD + DVD edition format as follows:-
Stoned And Dethroned
For more information on the band visit their official website.
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