The Jesus and Mary Chain take it one day at a time
The Jesus and Mary Chain made quite an impression with its 1985 debut, Psychocandy, an aggressively noisy album that retained certain pop sensibilities despite the aural assault. Thought fighting constantly, brothers Jim and William Reid somehow held the Scottish band together until a 1997 U.S. tour ripped it apart. The two reunited in 2007 to play Coachella and have now booked an extensive U.S. tour, though they have yet to record the new songs they’ve written in a studio. We called up singer Jim Reid at his home in Devon, England to interview him for a much shorter feature we’re writing for a weekly. Here’s more of the conversation.
You reunited in 2007. How have things been since then?
It’s different from what it was before. There’s no record company breathing down our necks. We can do what we want and go where we want. It’s more of a relaxed atmosphere than it was in the ’80s and ’90s when everything was life or death and if you released a new album and it didn’t do well you were fucked. Now, people want to hear our music and we enjoy doing it so it’s a happy situation.
What was it that made you guys decide it was to get back together?
It was Coachella. They kept asking and I said no. That went on for a little while. Then, I spoke to Billy and said I would do it if he would do it. He said he was surprised I would do it and I said I was surprised he would. That’s what’s happened. We did that and it seemed to go alright. We played some more shows and then after those shows we started rubbing against each other and dropped out for a few years. That was that. Then, we wanted to get out on the road again.
Have you written new songs?
We have a bunch of new stuff. There’s been this album that everyone has talked about. We want to do it but I guess everyone knows what it’s like between my brother and myself. We disagree about where and how to record the album and what songs should be on the album. Now, we seem to be on the same wavelength to some degree. It’s looking more likely now that there will be an album.
Are you getting along better now?
We get along better because we know when to back off now. We still fight and scream at each other. Back in the ’90s, we’d scream at each other and there would be bad vibes for about two months. Now, we scream at each other and we wake up the next morning and we go, “Fuck it. Life is too short for this.” And then we go back to where we were.
To what do you attribute the band’s enduring popularity?
I think that hopefully we made good records. We made the kind of records during a time when the music establishment wasn’t ready for that kind of music at that time. That music is almost mainstream now. In 1985, it was far from mainstream. Kids coming up are listening to bands and I gather we’re name-checked. People seek out the bands that they’re into. It was the same with me. That’s how I discovered The Velvet Underground.
Talk about your decision to crank up the guitars. Was that in opposition to all the synth pop music that was so popular?
There seemed to not be many guitar bands. There were a few and they were great. We were really into ’60s garage music at that time. And we were into ’60s pop music at that time. We thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if somebody came along and created a fucking sonic assault with a beautiful pop melody in the middle.” We thought, “Nobody is doing that. Why don’t we do that?” The description of that album is “Psycho Candy.” That’s all we need to say about that.
Punk rock didn’t have the melody you were going after?
The Ramones were a huge influence. We just thought, “How far can you take it with the noise aspect?” The blueprint was The Velvet Underground. On the same album, you can have “I’ll Be Your Mirror” and “Waiting for the Man” and “Venus in Furs” and I thought that was fabulous. We thought, “How far can you push that?” We wanted a Shangri-Las song if it were backed up by Einstürzende Neubauten.
How important was it that you moved from Scotland to England?
It was essential. We couldn’t get a gig in Scotland. It wasn’t through lack of trying. We tried everywhere. We eventually did get one but as it happens our first gig was in London. That was the mecca where we had to go to be understood.
I read that your guitar would be purposefully out of tune. Was that really the case?
I wouldn’t go as far as “purposefully.” We just didn’t know how to tune the fucking guitar. In those days, we knew we had an ace up our sleeves. We had envisioned Psychocandy and had the songs and were playing some of them live. We weren’t terribly good at playing at that time. We had only been playing for like six months at that time. We would go out and do some of the songs from Psycho Candy but they sounded so tuneless. They were just noise. It wasn’t a show. It was a spectacle. We would be stumbling about and falling over each other. We couldn’t stand up. That’s what got people’s attention at the beginning. I would go out there for 20 minutes. I would fall on my ass about eight times during that 20 minutes. We had no set list. I would just stand in the middle and shout out the next song. Sometimes, I’d be so drunk I’d shout out the name of the song we just played. William would go, “We just played that, you fuckin’ idiot!” There was an element of chaos that people were genuinely shocked by. People thought there was a novelty aspect. I think when we started to release singles, people were actually surprised that we had substance.
Have you stopped using drugs?
Is Jack Daniels a drug? I gave up drinking for five and one-half years. I fell off the wagon about a year and a half ago. I occasionally dabble with drugs. I drink a lot. It’s my poison at the moment. Whatever gets you through the night.
What brought the band to an end in 1997?
The band wasn’t ready to go on tour and we couldn’t stand the sight of each other. We couldn’t stand to be in the same room together. That could have been fixed. If our management have been on the ball, they should have just said, “You guys take a fucking year off and don’t see each other should and it will be okay.” But they didn’t. Instead, what they did do was book us on a two-month fucking tour of America on a fucking tour bus where we couldn’t get away from each other. That tour lasted two fucking dates before we ended up punching each other.
What will the set list be like?
It’s a best of. There’s no getting away from it. There are songs from every album. The only relatively new song is “All Things Must Pass.” I personally hate it when I see bands I love play songs I don’t know. So we won’t play the new songs until they’re recorded and people have bought the album.
How much longer do you anticipate the band continuing?
I don’t know. I can have a punch up with my brother on day one of this tour and that would be it. In 1997, it was bad. In 2007, it wasn’t as bad but it was still pretty bad. I just take it a day at a time.
9/5 New Orleans, LA
9/6 Atlanta, GA
9/7 Raleigh, NC
9/8 Philadelphia, PA
9/9 Washington, DC
9/11 Boston, MA
9/12 Boston, MA
9/13 New York, NY
9/14 New York, NY
9/15 Detroit, MI
9/16 Chicago, IL
9/19 Madison, WI
9/20 Indianapolis, IN
9/21 Cleveland, OH
9/22 Grand Rapids, MI
House of Blues
Hopscotch Music Festival
Paradise Rock Club
Saint Andrew’s Hall
House of Blues