The Jesus and Mary Chain

jmc_178387Words and interview By Nolan Gawron

This November marks the 30th anniversary of Jesus and Mary Chain’s Psychocandy. It was the band’s debut release and their definitive recording.

Founded by brothers Jim and William Reid, Psychocandy combined their love for ’60s girl groups, the Velvet Underground and the up-and-coming generation of noise bands to create a unique juxtaposition that would not only define the band’s sound, but become a sonic blueprint for the next several generation of psych bands to come. When the album was released in 1985, no one had heard anything like it. Psychocandy had an inherent pop sentimentality that shined through even the darkest, most turbulent moments. While this bond and band of brothers eventually led to constant feuds and the band’s ultimate demise, the Jesus and Mary Chain are back and touring the world to celebrate their seminal record in its entirety. We were fortunate to catch up with founder and lead singer Jim Reid to talk about the making of Psychocandy and the legendary highs and lows of the Jesus and Mary Chain. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Jim Reid.

NG: So where are you located nowadays?

JR: I live in the southwest of England in Devon.

Besides your other band project, what had you been up to?

What have I done between the end of the Jesus and Mary Chain and the getting back together? I had children. I made two human beings. So that’s something. To be honest with you, I didn’t do a whole lot. When the band ended in 1997, I just didn’t want to do anything with music for a while. Then after 2 or 3 years I started another band with some of my friends, but it was more of a drinking club than an actual band. It was three alcoholics in the band and we would go anywhere where people supplied free drinks. That band was called Freeheat. And that was it. It’s funny, I toyed with the idea of getting a solo career off the ground, but I’m just the laziest man on earth. I had one gig every two or three years and expected great things. That’s not really the way it works.

How hard was it to get the band back together? Was it something you even wanted to do or was touring again a necessary evil?

Well in 1997, I couldn’t have even believed that would ever be imaginable. When we walked away in 1997, it was forever. I really, really could not have envisioned a time when the Mary Chain would tread the boards again. You know, time heals, as they say. Ten years went by and everybody kept trying to get us back together. It had been going on for several years and I think Coachella was the most persistent. They just kept coming by and making one offer after another. By this time, William and I were talking again. There was a period that lasted a few years where we wouldn’t speak to each other. That time had passed. I wouldn’t say that we were best buddies or anything. When we weren’t talking, I thought he wouldn’t want to do it, and he thought I wouldn’t want to do it. And we discovered we were each into it. So we thought, “Christ, let’s do it. It should be a bit of a laugh.” So we got back together.

Did you enjoy touring early in your career? And do you enjoy it more or less nowadays?

Well, it’s different now. I enjoy it in different ways. In the very beginning I was very nervous on stage and lacking in confidence. I never felt good enough. I always felt like someone was going to jump on stage and say, “Look at this. He can’t even sing.” I felt like I was going to be exposed at any second. My way of dealing with that was that I would get very fucked up on stage. It was a bit of a rollercoaster ride back then. But I did enjoy the traveling and seeing various places. Now, I am a bit more comfortable being on the stage, but the traveling around can be a bit tedious. Driving around anywhere when you’re 53 years old can be a drag to say the very least.

When you went into making Psychocandy, did you know you had a hit? You went from not being able to get shows to having a record in the charts.

We felt quietly confident. We were listening to a lot of bands from the ’60s when we made the record. We kind of hoped that we would have that kind of appeal to generations down the line. We thought it was going to be around for a while, but 30 years is kind of hard to imagine those kinds of things when you’re 23 years old, which I was at the time. It just seemed unthinkable that in 30 years people will still be listening to your record.

What about when you guys wrote “Just Like Honey” – ot seems to stick out from the rest of the record. It’s become iconic over time. Was it as big then as it’s come to be?

Well, my brother actually wrote that, but yeah, you don’t know anything at the time. I remember recording it and feeling good about it at the time, but you don’t really know how it’s going to affect people until it gets out there. Then you can test people’s reactions, you know. It hit home pretty quick, that song. This was during a time where there would be riots at Jesus and Mary Chain shows. There would be people knocking seven kinds of shit out of each other and then we’d start playing “Just Like Honey” and people would stop for a couple of minutes and it would be like “ah, isn’t that nice.” And then we’d start playing “The Living End” and it would be back to the baseball bats again.

So those shows were as violent as the legends suggest?

It was getting that way. Not all of them. Towards the end of 85, it became the thing to do—go to a Mary Chain show with a metal bat up your sleeve. It was getting silly. We didn’t want that. It’s not something we had planned and we were worried someone was going to get seriously hurt. So we went away for a while and hoped that people would forget about the riot shows. And it worked. We came back in ’86 and it seemed like a different thing.

What did you use to create that distorted sound that made this album so different and distinctive? Did you have an arsenal of guitar pedals?

There was one particular fuzz pedal that we had at that time. There was this guy who lived up the road from us and he sold us a fuzz pedal for a fiver and he thought he was ripping us off. It seemed like it was broken and then when we plugged it in it was like 15 jumbo jets. He was kind of running away with his five quid thinking “oh I sold these idiots a broken fuzz pedal.” But we were like, “fucking hell.” You plug this thing in and it would start to play by itself, you know what I mean? So we immediately went out to try and get as many of these pedals as we could. I think it was called Shin-ei. It was some kind of Japanese pedal. We snapped them up and that became the Jesus and Mary Chain sound for years.

Did you guys really flip a coin early on to see who would be the singer? Is that a true story?

[Laughs] Yes, that is actually true. I didn’t want to do it and he didn’t want to do it. We are both really quite shy people. People always had these assumptions that we were pretty outgoing and things like that, but we were quite timid and shy. So I didn’t want to do it; he didn’t want to do it. So we flipped a coin and I lost. So I became the singer. Then when I started to get a lot of attention, shall we say, he became very jealous of that and we had another fight over the singing thing again. Of course now he wanted to do it. I was like, “No I’m the singer now so bugger off.” And that was that.


Lots of people say you paved the way for distortion and the waves of bands to follow. Who did you get that initial inspiration from?

The obvious thing to say is the Velvet Underground. We were listening to the Velvets quite a lot at that time. But the big influence on us at the time is we were listing to 60’s garage music. We’ve said it before, but we were listening to Einsturzende Neubauten and the noise bands, but we were also listening to 60’s girl bands like the Shangri-Las. I remember having a conversation with William and saying, “Wouldn’t it be great if Neubauten had songs like the Shangri-Las?” We thought, “Whoa let’s do it.” And that became the blueprint for the band.

Does it give you a sense or pride to hear that bands are influenced by you? Or do you feel like you have been ripped off?

I haven’t heard anyone that is an out and out pastiche. That would be pointless and I would find that rather irritating. I hear bands sometimes that have picked up some of our influence, but that’s fine. That’s what it’s all about. We got ours from the Velvets and the Stooges. It’s all there for the taking. You have to be careful that it’s not an outright emulation. You have to put your own personality in there as well.

Do you remember the point where the band went from being a hobby to a career?

It kind of happened over night for us. From the get-go, Mary Chain gigs were not the kind of shows you went to and forgot about the next day. There was an extreme reaction. The old love or hate thing. Very few people went, “That was okay.” People either thought we were the best band in the world or they’d be waiting on the side of the stage to beat the living shit out of you. There was no in between it seemed. With that in mind we thought we had kind of hit on something here. I remember there was one gig we played in London. The usual chaos and confusion occurred and we buggered off to do this Creation Records tour of Germany. When we got back, that gig had been reviewed in both the NME and The Sound. The Sound said we were the worst band they’d ever seen…ever. And NME said we were the best band since the Sex Pistols– a mix of the Sex Pistols and Joy Division. That was it. We knew there and then that there would be guys in Armani suits coming with checkbooks. Sure as hell, there were.

What’s your favorite Jesus and Mary Chain record?

I don’t know. I don’t have one really. Although I don’t have a favorite record, I feel like I still want to bring Munki to people’s attention. It’s the one that got overlooked. It came out at a time when the Mary Chain were falling apart. It came out at a time when we were considered to be uncool. We were considered to be yesterday’s news… at least in the UK. But that one got overlooked and I think it’s at least as good as the other records. I would just love it if it picked up some momentum.

After Psychocandy and pioneering that distortion, you immediately went with a quieter sound. Did that have any backlash? When you considered following up Psychocandy was that always how you imagined you’d do it?

At the time we just didn’t know what to do. There’s a two-year gap between Psychocandy and Darklands and we just thought about what came next. There was a vibe in Britain at the time where people thought we shouldn’t ruin it and we should split up and just leave it at that. I thought, “Fuck that.” We want to make more records. But we were generally confused as to what direction to go in. We just knew we didn’t want to make Psychocandy 2, if you know what I mean. So we did something totally different, something that absolutely, unmistakably is NOT Psychocandy. So that was that one. Plus people were always talking about the guitar sound and not the songs, so we thought we should push the songs. That was the thinking really. It was also the bold thing to do. The easy thing to do would be to do another Psychocandy. And we did take a lot of flak for that at the time.

You guys released one song called “All Things Must Pass” back in 2008 with the tease of a potential forthcoming Mary Chain record. Is there one in the works?

We are closer now to making a new Mary Chain record than we ever were. When we got back together we just didn’t know where and how to record a new record. At that time my kids were quite young and I didn’t want to disappear for months on end to make a new album. Then there was also how to record it. William wanted to do it in a studio and I thought we should just make it ourselves with ProTools. Now my kids are a little older and it’s not as nightmarish as it once seemed. It’s looking good.

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