Next Friday (24th March), The Jesus & Mary Chain release their first album in nineteen years since 1998's Munki. Damage And Joy features vocal contributions from Sky Ferreira and Isobel Campbell among others, and was produced by Killing Joke bass player Youth.
Singer and songwriter Jim Reid talks to Drowned In Sound about the making of the record, playing live, and what the Jesus & Mary Chain mean in 2017.
DiS: Damage And Joy comes out next week. Are you excited that people are finally going to hear the first new Jesus & Mary Chain album in nearly 20 years?
Jim Reid: Yeah, I suppose I am!
When did the recordings start to take shape? When did you realize these were the fourteen songs that would make it onto the album?
We had the studio time all set out. It was just a matter of me and William sitting down and deciding which songs we were going to record. The same process we've gone through with any album that we've made really. It's just that this album is the first one for many a year. That's the only difference.
Were there any songs written and demoed around the time that didn't make the album?
There's enough songs left over for another album. We just wanted to record these ones. Some of these songs are older than when we wanted them to happen with the Jesus & Mary Chain logo stamped on them so they could be collected into our body of work.
Was it always your intention to rework Sister Vanilla songs like 'Can't Stop The Rock' and 'Song For A Secret' for the Jesus & Mary Chain?
It wasn't. At the time those songs were first written I didn't imagine there ever would be a Mary Chain again. That Sister Vanilla record was made at a time when I was probably the worst for wear from drink and what have you. And it was made as a demo really.
'All Things Must Pass' is one song off the album most people will be familiar with having initially come out in 2008, and also been part of the live set for a while. Was that representative of where the band were when you started making the album?
No. I don't think any one song is representative of the whole thing really. That one song is representative of that one song.
You worked with Youth on Damage And Joy. How did he become involved in making the record?
We had the idea of working with a producer because we never have in the past. For various reasons. Because we'd been away for a while we thought it would be a good way to ease ourselves back into the studio. Also, because we've never tried it before we thought it would be a good idea to just try it. The way we look at working with a producer is you're getting a temporary band member, so it should be someone that knows what you're about and brings ideas to the table. When the Jesus & Mary Chain existed in the eighties and nineties we did try and work with producers. We met with several. We just never got along to the point it was ever going to work. So, in the end, we just gave up on producers and did it ourselves. We also thought if the shit hit the fan in the studio between me and William maybe they could keep the peace to some degree. If there was another person there they could knock our heads together if things got silly. So we went to (Alan) McGee and told him we wanted a producer so had he got any ideas? He's big mates with Youth and suggested him right away, so we met up with him and told him what we were looking for. We told him about our fears and we all decided to give it a go.
What did Youth bring to the recording sessions? Did any of the songs change as a result of working with him?
Yeah. The sound in some instances. It was mostly subtle things. The idea was to make an unmistakably Mary Chain record. We told him we didn't want this record to go off in a completely different direction. He knew what we were looking for and it was the cohesion that he brought in terms of little ideas that kept the thing ticking along that made a difference. At times we'd be wondering what we were doing and he just kept us motivated.
What was the relationship like between you and William throughout making the album?
It was pretty good. We're probably getting on better now than we have for quite a long time. I'm not really sure why that is. Part of the reason is there was actually some bonding that went on during the recording and although we never spoke about it that much, doing this album was a massive opportunity to get another Mary Chain album out at long last. If we had fucked up over petty bickering that would have been a huge, huge blunder. That was going on in my mind and I think it was probably going on in his so we both really knuckled down to make this record. While doing that we found we could actually get along again like we used to in the very beginning.
There's several guest vocalists on the album. Was it always your intention to work with the likes of Isobel Campbell and Sky Ferreira?
It was always our intention to do a bunch of duets. As for who we were going to get we weren't sure at the time we started making the record. We had some ideas. With Isobel, I've always been a big fan of her voice. I love her music. It was just a phone call and it turned out that she was keen to do it. Sky Ferreira was a bit different. She came to see us a couple of years ago. It turns out she's a big Jesus & Mary Chain fan which is a bit unexpected. We were asking around people we knew about who we should get and Bobby (Gillespie) suggested Sky as she'd just recorded a song with Primal Scream and it worked out rather well. Bernadette (Denning) is not a professional singer. She's never been in a band before. She's William's girlfriend. She just stepped up to the mic and did a very good job. She's been singing 'Just Like Honey' with us at some of our live shows so isn't a total stranger. Then my sister Linda is singing on a couple of tracks.
You mentioned earlier that there's enough songs left over for another album, so will there be another Jesus & Mary Chain record after this one?
That depends on what happens with this album. If this album seems to suggest that people want more then yes, there will be another album. Not just that. We were terrified before we went into the studio that it would be World War 3 but we've made this record and survived it. It was quite easy going, so there's no reason not to do another record.
Looking back at the way your recent live shows have been received - the Psychocandy ones in particular - would suggest there is quite a big appetite out there for your music.
I hope so but I really don't know. We'll see.
You head on tour from next Thursday (23rd March). What can we expect from the setlists?
There will be a bit of everything. We're not just going to play the new album. People don't know it well enough. I hate going to see bands that play an entire record I only bought two days earlier. There'll be a handful of songs from the new album and a bunch of stuff that people are more familiar with.
You're also playing with a lot of different bands throughout this tour. Did you choose them yourselves?
McGee had a big hand in the bands that are playing with us. I know The Membranes. I've known John Robb for years so it will be good to have them around.
Do you still get the same buzz from playing live that you did thirty years ago?
I'm a lot more relaxed on stage than I was thirty years ago. I'm a very very shy person. Thirty years ago I couldn't go on a stage without getting absolutely fucking rat arsed! And it wasn't enjoyable back then. It was terrifying. I used to think we weren't good enough, I can't do this... I felt so uncomfortable on stage back then. The only way I could do it was to get totally out of it, and that lasted for years. I've come to terms with what I am now. I tried for so many years to be some super animated Iggy Pop and now I realize I can never be that. It's just not in me. I go out there, sing the songs as best as I can and hopefully have fun while doing it.
The Jesus & Mary Chain are cited by a lot of bands nowadays as being a big influence on their sound. Are you proud of the legacy you've left behind?
I am. I'm not terribly up to date when it comes to new music. I don't listen to millions of new bands to be honest but I do hear a lot of people constantly telling me about bands that namecheck the Jesus & Mary Chain. That's what the Mary Chain were for. The Mary Chain weren't just a band making Psychocandy in 1985 for people to listen to in 1985. We hoped it would be like a message to people in the same way we learned things from bands like the 13th Floor Elevators. So it's great that people are still forming bands influenced by records we were making back then, and hopefully they'll be forming them in the future based on the records we're still making.
Two things that separate the Mary Chain's records from many other artists are every album is different from its predecessor and each one is timeless in its own way.
If anybody wants to make music like that, the way to do it is not to look around you at what everybody else is doing.
A lot of bands that were around when you were active in the eighties and nineties have also since reformed. Do you think it's imperative for bands to release new material when making a comeback?
I think it's up to yourself really. If bands want to go around just playing their back catalogue I don't see anything wrong with that. A lot of those records were great and if people want to hear them played live that's fine. If you've got an album in you that you think is as good as the rest of your back catalogue then go for it. It's whatever you want to do really. There are no rules.
What advice would you give to new bands that are just starting out?
I couldn't give any new bands advice! The only advice I'd give is it can only be about the music. I don't understand the music business at all any more. Make the music that you want to hear. Don't make music for somebody else that's made a record you admire. Make music that you want to hear coming out of the radio. As long as you stick to that you're at least sticking to your guns.
For more information on The Jesus & Mary Chain visit their official website.