Though it is usually easy to trace the sound of a band back to their roots, it can often be shocking to do this in reverse. That is to say, while many believe that the long-term impact of a certain type of music is always clear, there are often cases where it can produce such a distant sound, many fail to make the connection. Case in point, though it is certainly easy to connect the hardcore movement to its punk rock roots, many fail to acknowledge the direct correlation between punk and the musically complex, often over-bearing sound that many now call “noise pop.” Perhaps due to the stark contrast in musical arrangements, it is a bit more difficult to see this connection, yet tracing both sounds back, there is no question that they can both be seen as descendants of the sound of bands like The Velvet Underground. While many bands attempted this “noise pop” sound, an overwhelming majority miss by a long shot, yet there is perhaps no other band that more accurately represents the genre than one finds in the stunning music of The Jesus And Mary Chain. Combining the “wall of sound” approach with often dark, almost haunting lyrics, along with a simplicity that is unquestionably punk, The Jesus And Mary Chain completely rewrote the books on music with their extraordinary 1985 debut, Psychocandy, and their amazing fusion of sounds and moods can be found at its best within their phenomenal single from that record, “Just Like Honey.”
The song starts off simply enough, as drummer Bobby Gillespie puts forth a rhythm that seems to almost bounce off the track, and the echo that comes from the almost stark cymbal hits is strangely perfect. Many have gone so far as to link this cadence back to the classic song “Be My Baby,” and even with the rest of the sound going on around it, the comparison is not that far off base. While this sound is certainly a key part of the songs over all power, there is no question that the most stunning aspect of “Just Like Honey” lives within the tone of William Reid’s guitar work. It is here that one can experience the sound that would later be dubbed as “buzzsaw guitar,” and there is an odd beauty that one can find in this sound that appears at the surface to be extremely aggressive. The amount of emotion that Reid is able to convey through his guitar is truly unparalleled, as there is a level of sadness here that is unlike anything previously recorded. Bassist Douglas Hart is also able to find this amazing musical space, and the bassline often seems as if it is taking a dejected walk across the rest of the song. The way in which the instruments come together to create this strange combination of dark, somber feelings with a grinding, aggressive sound is absolutely stunning, and the musical perfect found on “Just Like Honey” has never been achieved since, proving what a unique grouping of musical talents one can find in The Jesus And Mary Chain.
Perfectly mirroring the music over which he sings, many point to the vocals of Jim Reid as one of the most important pieces in the development of what is now seen as the “emo” sound. Easily working the entire musical scale, there is a morose, despondent mood in his vocals, and yet this mood is strangely captivating, pulling the listener in completely. Yet it is this sense of the dramatic that makes “Just Like Honey” such a phenomenal musical achievement, as even with these overwhelming moods, the song never feels “overdone” or cliché, and the heartbreak and frustration experienced here is such to which anyone can relate. Furthermore, the connection to “girl groups” like The Ronettes can once again be seen, as the mood and lyrics are quite similar between the two vocal performances. This is to say that on many levels, “Just Like Honey” would have fit in easily during the 1960’s, and one can even go as far as saying that both in the melodies and harmonies, one can hear traces of influence from groups like The Beach Boys. This strange combination of sounds and styles has never been replicated, and yet Jim Reid finishes off the song with some of the most simple, yet pained lyrics ever penned, as there are few that cannot relate to the frustration found in lines like, “…walking back to you is the hardest thing that I can do…” In both the way he sings, well as the words he presents, the vocals found on “Just Like Honey” serve as a perfect complement to the superb wall of sound over which they have been placed.
Flawless in a way unlike any other song ever recorded, one cannot overstate the quality and lasting influence of The Jesus And Mary Chain’s “Just Like Honey,” as it paved the way found countless other bands. The way in which the group was able to fuse together so many different styles remains nothing short of extraordinary, and yet even with the clear connection to so many groups, the sound found throughout Psychocandy is unquestionably all their own. Showing the common ground between The Beach Boys and The Velvet Underground is something that most would say does not exist, yet after experiencing “Just Like Honey,” one simply cannot deny the connection, as well as the link to the great “girl groups” that preceded them all. Though it had not been heard in over a decade, the “wall of sound” approach that The Jesus And Mary Chain bring to the song works perfectly, and yet there is a strange warmth to the song that seems to contrast the overall mood and musical arrangement. The fact that the group was able to create this mood with such aggressive sounding guitars is another nod to their unique blend of musical perfection, and even nearly three decades later, both the song and the single remain absolutely unrivaled in this sense. Proving that there can be a stunning beauty within the punk, hardcore, and “noise” styles of music, there has simply never been another song that was on par with The Jesus And Mary Chain’s phenomenal 1985 single, “Just Like Honey.”
I was only 3 years old when Jesus and Mary Chain released their debut full length record Psychocandy on Blanco Y Negro, and for most people it was one of the landmark records of their lives. When I first heard it, I knew it was rad, but I didn’t quite get into it until I was a teenager and then I realized that I was a musical idiot and my friends were sooo much cooler for loving the new Limp Bizkit records. (note the sarcasm)
The Jesus and Mary Chain’s debut is listed on so many top 10 lists that it’s impossible for me to describe to you how great they are, because so many people have already done it for me. So what can I even offer up in terms of a review to a record that’s 25 years old?
I’m not even sure.
The album unleashed 3 major singles and eventually would go on to sell big. Obviously, the record first came out on vinyl lp, and was later released on cd, and re-released.
The track listing for this record is as follows:
1. “Just Like Honey” 2. “The Living End” 3. “Taste the Floor” 4. “The Hardest Walk” 5. “Cut Dead” 6. “In a Hole” 7. “Taste of Cindy” 8. “Never Understand” 9. “Inside Me” 10. “Sowing Seeds” 11. “My Little Underground” 12. “You Trip Me Up” 13. “Something’s Wrong” 14. “It’s So Hard” 15. “Some Candy Talking”
The album was recording with Jim Reid, William Reid, Douglas Hart, Bobby Gillespie and a slew of other personnel.
Of all the reviews out there, 90% of them give this record near perfect scores if not perfect scores, and that’s definitely something to look at. When you get this record you get nearly 40 minutes of solid alternative rock. The record sounds a lot like “Echo and the Bunnymen” of sorts, and if you recall “High Fidelity” you’ll remember Jack Black’s character stating the famous line, “What do you mean you don’t have The Jesus and Mary Chain? And you keep complaining about no more Bunnymen records!”
This is one of my personal favorite records from the 80’s and despite their long career of hits and misses, I still find their music quite enjoyable.
In Julian Temple’s documentary on the Sex Pistols, The Filth And The Fury, the opening scenes are dedicated to portraying the failures of the Harold Wilson and the James Callaghan Labour administrations. When set against a backdrop of three-day weeks, the rubbish going uncollected across the UK, bodies piling up outside graveyards in Liverpool, power shortages and mass unemployment - all shot on austere, grainy film stock, it’s perhaps understandable that some people claim the Pistols “had” to happen.
It’s harder to pin spurious societal causes onto East Kilbride’s Jesus And Mary Chain, even though they were the true inheritors to the Pistols’ crown in the 1980s. It would probably be fairer to say that it was the mainstream musical wasteland midway through that decade that necessitated their existence. The revolutions promised by post punk and synth pop had given way to a period of commercial blandness, the like of which hasn’t been seen since.
It turns out it was the Sex Pistols themselves who were the primary influence on the group. Much has been made of the energizing effect Lydon and the rest had (“the force of a hand-grenade tossed into an arrangement of gladioli”, as Jon Savage described it) on young musicians in Manchester in the late 1970s. But two other teens switched on were the Scottish brothers Jim and William Reid; it’s just that, unlike Joy Division and The Fall, they chose to sit round on the dole, daydreaming about success rather than going for it. Jim Reid is talking to us today because of the release of Upside Down - The Best Of The Jesus And Mary Chain, an anthology (which although doesn’t contain ‘Snakedriver’ or ‘Surfin’ USA’) that captures the essence of their renegade, rock & roll in a way the hastily cobbled together 21 Singles failed to do in 2002.
He admits that they were only spurred into action some seven years after punk exploded in 1983 by the realisation that it was ‘now or never’: “Punk happened and that was when it seriously dawned on us that we could do it to. But we really are quite lazy people. [laughs] It was too comfortable just sitting around and listening to music. And the years start to pass. You take stock after a while and think, ‘Where is this going?’ And you realise that if you don’t do it soon then it isn’t going to happen for you… that someone else will come along and do all the things that you’ve talked about.”
Giving up on the nearest big city (Glasgow) after a few weeks of failing to get gigs, they moved down to London where an early chance encounter with Bobby Gillespie (who would later join as drummer, alongside Douglas Hart on bass) proved invaluable. Jim says: “We gave one of our demo tapes to a guy to get a gig in a club and he didn’t like it. There was a Syd Barrett compilation on the other side of the tape. This guy said to Bobby, ‘Here, you like Syd Barrett… here’s a tape for you.’ And as luck would have it, he listened to our demo and loved it. He rang and said he had a mate called Alan McGee who would give us a gig. When we phoned McGee up, he was a bit like, ‘Don’t bother me.’ I got the impression that Bobby was doing this kind of thing to him all the time! But he came to see us doing a soundcheck one day and it blew him away. We had a row right in front of him and and then we did the soundcheck which was so unmusical and angry that he came charging over, ranting and raving about five album deals. Which was weird because we thought we’d blown our chances with him… but looking back, he must have thought we were nutters.”
Jim won’t give that much credit to the Creation boss, saying that they already knew what they wanted to sound like (Velvet Underground, Hank Williams, Bo Diddley, Beach Boys, Dick Dale, Phil Spector) and what they wanted to look like (Bob Dylan, The Beatles in Hamburg, Johnny Cash). In fact he said the first thing the band did with their pooled earnings from their debut gigs was to visit the leather trouser shop to get fitted up. But he admits that the ambitious McGee did see himself as their Malcolm Mclaren and played a part in hyping them up as the band that would cause riots wherever they went. This was a fairly cool myth building exercise at first, until it became a self-fulfiling prophecy at Camden Electric Ballroom and North London Poly, in 1985. He explains: “It seriously wouldn’t have surprised me if someone had have been killed at one of those gigs. We wouldn’t go on stage until we were ‘in the mood’. We’d be siting in the dressing room getting tanked up and the promoter would come in like a nervous wreck going, ‘For fuck’s sake, you were supposed to be on half an hour ago.’ Then there would be this sound like Thump, thump, thump. And we’d be like, ‘What the fuck is that?’ After a while someone would come in and say, ‘You’d better lock the door. The audience are coming to get you.’ And we’d be like, ‘Oh fuck!’ In North London Poly, it actually happened when we were on stage and everyone went nuts. They were trying to drag us into the crowd. The PA got pulled down and all of the rest of it. You just think, ‘This isn’t funny anymore.’”
They distanced themselves from the violence and McGee not long afterwards. Their original sound, which had been anchored by Bobby Gillespie’s double tom drumming and then a drum machine, was swapped for a more classicist direction. This included live drums and a gradual stripping away of the feedback to reveal a pair of very capable songwriters in Jim and William.
But if they produced music that was gradually becoming more harmonious, then their relationship was slowly heading in the other direction. It was an irony that Creation records’ first hit act (albeit for one single only) suffered from exactly the same problem as their biggest act, Oasis: a pair of continually rowing brothers.
When we put it to Jim that outsiders could be forgiven for not realising that they were actually related given the gulf between them, he replies: “Well, that’s how it is now. It wasn’t always like that. Back at the start of the band, people used to think of us as spooky twins almost. We finished each others sentences… we agreed on almost everything. We argued but it was always constructive. We argued over music and the band. In the beginning we were pulling in the same direction. And I don’t know how it happened but during the course of the band’s progress bit by bit it started to disintegrate. It seemed that we were pulling in different directions but we weren’t really: we still wanted the same things… it’s just that something had changed.”
Asked if it’s too much for brothers to be in successful rock groups together, he says: “I think it’s hard to be in a band with anyone but if you’re not brothers then you can just go your separate ways. You can try it out, scream at each other, say things that cannot be taken back and do things that mean that the situation can no longer exist and then you’ll no longer see each other again. But when it’s your brother, you still say all of those things, you still do all of those things but because you’re brothers you come back. The Mary Chain would have probably broken up in 1985 if we hadn’t been brothers. It was that that kept us going.”
They would never be without trouble though. As soon as they’d dealt with rioting and the fraternal feuds, there were the drugs, the fighting, the radio and TV bans, the tabloid scandals, the alcoholism, the addiction. It was perhaps a miracle that The Jesus And Mary Chain still went on to become massive around the world. It was their more traditionally rock & roll sound that endeared them to the Americans but they also had a massive fan base in Europe and Japan. Most places bar Britain, to be honest. He sighs: “I’m not really sure why but we really seemed to piss a lot of people off in this country. We were excluded from what became the indie scene in this country because we were on a major label. But abroad it didn’t seem to matter, there was a lot more of a reverential attitude towards the Mary Chain.”
But for those of us who were there at the time, there will never be another band as important as JaMC. They kick started alternative rock in late 80s UK, paving the way for the likes of Loop, My Bloody Valentine, Spacemen 3 and Ride. And over the pond their influence could be felt on The Pixies, Sugar, Ultra Vivid Scene and Dinosaur Junior. And for a short time at least - between the release of their debut Psychocandy and follow up Darklands - they actually were famous in this country. Media-wise, everyone in the UK kept a nervous eye trained on them. Jim allows himself a rare chuckle when he remembers one of the more unusual things that befell the group during this period: “We made the cover of Smash Hits. We got it at the expense of Spandau Ballet and they pulled their feature. They were outraged because the spotty, noisy Mary Chain got the cover. And as far as I’m concerned that was the peak of our career.”
Jim Reid (b 1961) is lead singer and, with older brother William, the creative driving force behind The Jesus and Mary Chain. Together they created a furore in the mid-Eighties, bursting onto the scene with punk churlishness, a uniquely noisy sound and riots that exploded at their every gig. It seemed for a moment as if a new Sex Pistols had arrived.
Instead of burning out, however, The Jesus and Mary Chain carved a 15-year career that produced a stream of edgy alt-rock classics before imploding in 1998.
The Reids grew up in the East Kilbride suburb of Glasgow, and developed the initial idea for their band - audaciously combining Phil Spector-ish pop with extreme walls of distorted feedback - while sitting around on the dole. Signed to Alan McGee’s Creation Records label in 1984, their debut single “Upside Down” was as raucous an opening statement of intent as any band has ever mustered. With Douglas Hart on bass and Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie on drums, they quickly developed a reputation for short, extremely noisy sets that descended into chaos, notably a venue-wrecking brawl at North London Polytechnic in March 1985. Their classic debut album, Psychocandy, packed with songs that combined white noise with twisted surfer-pop, demonstrated they did not need to rely on such shock tactics.
'We knew what we were doing and really didn't need anyone else'
The second album, Darklands, was a less visceral affair and, for a while, the Mary Chain cropped up in the charts with songs such as “Some Candy Talking” and “April Skies” but, with changing line-ups over the years, they were simply too dark, gritty and wilful to fully cross over. Nonetheless, they maintained a loyal global audience and put out a solid series of albums - Automatic (1989), Honey’s Dead (1992), Stoned & Dethroned (1994) and Munki (1998) - that never compromised their vision of pop. They split acrimoniously in 1998.
Jim Reid tried his luck with a new band, Free Heat, and as a solo artist before the Mary Chain agreed to a reunion in 2007. They toured and played a triumphant headline date at the Coachella Festival in California but little has been heard from them since. The Jim Reid who meets me in the London offices of Demon Records has something of William Burroughs’s “el hombre invisible" about him, someone who could disappear in a crowd, dressed down in a T-shirt and jacket, and speaking in a quiet downbeat Glaswegian brogue. He is forthright in his answers, if circumspect, but his eyes are still touched with the flintiness of old. Jim Reid talks to theartsdesk.
Thomas H Green: Thanks for agreeing to this, I know you don’t relish interviews.
Jim Reid: Sitting round dredging up sometimes painful memories is not exactly my ideal way to spend an afternoon. When you hear the word ‘indie’ nowadays, what comes into your mind?
I’ve never really known what indie was. I think of indie as an attitude and an approach to making music. You’re supposed to be on an independent label but there’s no such thing, everything’s tied into everything else these days. People think indie is scruffy kids making music that’s not very commercial but I’m not sure what it is. The Mary Chain could be seen as progenitors of a recognisable indie style.
The thing is we were always excluded from that scene because we were on Warner Brothers Records [Blanco Y Negro, a subsidiary]. It used to irritate me because there’d be the indie charts and it never included the Mary Chain. I used to think, what is indie? You get all these bands on a label funded by EMI and for some reason they’re indie and we’re not. It just used to irk me.
McGee’s career has combined indie underground with pop ambition.
I think we fed off each other. McGee learned a lot from our attitude but we learned a lot from him too. No matter what McGee was saying at the time he always wanted to be involved in the music business for real, not just indie-schmindie stuff. Alan always had big ideas, that’s what we had in common and that’s why we hit it off right away. In the early Eighties that scene was a celebration of drabness but when we got talking with McGee about where we saw our music going, it was Top of the Pops.
'I was very, very drunk but most things you're going to ask about I was absolutely pissed all the time'
What’s your earliest memory as a child?
Nothing to do with music. We used to live in a little tenement in Glasgow. We were quite poor. I actually think fondly now of that place but it was a slum. There was a toilet on the landing that all the flats shared. There was no bath so you had to go once a week to the public baths to get clean. We were on the top floor and there was a loft access on the landing. My earliest memory is coming home one afternoon and somebody had climbed up, punched a hole in our ceiling and burgled us. I remember my mother freaking out and me thinking, hmmm, that’s quite exciting, but when I think back we had nothing - they must have been the most disappointed burglars in the world, they must have dropped through that hole, gone, “Fuck, let’s go back up, there’s nothing here.”
Did you have a good relationship with your parents?
We were all quite close when we were kids then round about the time we left school we were huge disappointments to our mum and dad. We were basically social security scroungers for a couple of years, buying all these weird records, wearing funny clothes. But then it all came good, the band happened and I guess they had newfound respect. They realised we actually had a masterplan, and towards the end of their lives we were pretty close.
What did they do for a living?
My dad worked in a factory as a heavy machinery operator and my mother worked in a chip shop. Did you have any jobs after leaving school?
I worked for two years in the Rolls Royce aeroplane engine factory in East Kilbride as an apprentice joiner. Because it was such a big factory they had to have a team of joiners to repair it. I hated it and have no fond memories at all. I quit then had to leave home because my dad said, “You’re not quitting that job and if you do you’re not living here.” I went to live in London and lasted a miserable, miserable six months. I was a timid sort who didn’t make friends easily so I signed on and stayed for a respectable amount of time until my father wouldn’t be angry anymore. I went with a mate. He got a job but I discovered that you could get a job or sign on but the money was the same. I made no progress and no money. I just walked round London like a ghost. It was horrible.
Where did the band name come from?
My brother made it up. It has no other meaning than what you see. We needed a name. We had a few kicking around but they were crap. We were The Poppyseeds, as I recall, for a couple of weeks and then he just said “The Jesus and Mary Chain” one day. He’d had the idea before but he said it out loud. I thought, that’s weird. I’d never really heard a name like that before. It sounded a bit like Echo and the Bunnymen but better. I thought, that’s so unusual we’d be idiots not to use it. We’d tell people we got it off the back of a cornflakes box and that did the rounds for years. You’d be interviewed in Belgium or somewhere and it would come up.
What memories do you have of Alan McGee first launching you at his Living Room club in 1984?
That was great. We were in Glasgow but couldn’t get a gig there, nobody was interested in putting our records out. We go down to London, McGee, the Living Room, I mean it wasn’t exactly the Albert Hall but we were playing in front of an audience, shaking things up a bit. I think we stepped on everyone’s toes in that scene because we came along and couldn’t play very well but immediately stole all the limelight and everyone was like, “Why them?”
Is it true that you used to hijack other people’s gigs in those early days?
I think that’s McGee - he used to make up these stories. That may have been true. I can’t remember. We certainly used to get beaten up quite a lot in the early days by the so-called house security.
Because we were snot-nosed kids that used to talk back to them. Almost without fail we’d end up with a punch in the face. Back in the McGee days, the riot days, we hired a security guard to look after us. They were doing things like, “You wait there, I’ll check this doorway,” but by the end of the evening they said, “If I ever see you little fuckers again I’m going to rip your heads off.”
Reading interviews from the period, you very quickly started saying the riots were getting in the way of the music.
Well, they were. It was exciting at the time thinking, this doesn’t happen every day, it’s a bit out of the ordinary. Not many bands can say, “We provide a riot at our shows,” but it was losing the comedy element, something serious was going to happen unless someone nipped it in the bud. I’d go out and look at the audience and there’d be people there who didn’t give a toss about the music or the Mary Chain. They’d come along because there’d be trouble, like football hooligans. There’d be guys with clubs and all that. I wasn’t worried about us. We started it and to some degree we deserved it but somebody in the audience was going to get their skull cracked open. We just went away for a while and said, “We’re not going to do this anymore.” We didn’t play live for a good few months and it just blew over. Next time we played it was all forgotten about. In the riot days, were you ever frightened?
Looking back on it there were times when I should have been but I was too wasted to know that I was in danger. At North London Poly there were people beating down our dressing room door. We locked ourselves in there and an angry mob was bashing on the other side. We were just plastered, laughing, “Oh, now it’s getting serious, we’re running out of beer.” That was the attitude.
The Sex Pistols were attacked in the street on a number of occasions by irate members of the public - did that ever happen to you?
It happened to me at a gig. I went to see Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and some guy walked up to me with a bunch of his mates. He said, “You’re that guy from the Mary Chain.” I thought it was a fan and said, “Yes,” and they all started laying into me. I got a good kick-in that night. They had been at the North London Poly gig and were angry about it, but it was ludicrous. It has been said that ‘Slaughter’ Joe Foster was partly responsible for your signature feedback sound.
Joe was Alan’s mate at the time and he’s a nice enough bloke but we didn’t need him. Alan was always trying to foist Joe on us as a producer and we spent more time getting around Joe. He didn’t do anything on a Mary Chain record. We knew what we were doing and really didn’t need anyone else.
The feedback-drenched single “Never Understand” disintegrates into noise and yelling - how did that come about?
It ends with everything getting louder and louder and then we thought, why don’t we all just scream and make it sound like a fight or something? It’s William doing most of the yelling. He was good at shouting.
What do you remember about your iconoclastic performance on the Whistle Test in 1985?
I remember I was very, very drunk but most things you’re going to ask about I was absolutely pissed all the time. They got us down there at some ludicrous hour, like six in the morning, because they’d heard we were going to be hard to handle. We arrived from some party, having not been to bed, with a big stack of beers. They went, “Oh Christ!” but that was it. We were wobbling all over the place, generally being naughty boys.
You delivered a cacophonous, shambolic performance that was a wonderful antidote to the squeaky-clean pop of the mid-Eighties.
"Shambolic" - that word perfectly describes everything we did then and throughout our career.
You eventually played Top of the Pops.
Only once and we were never asked back. It was the usual story, we got absolutely pissed, just through pure nerves, and we had this knack for offending everybody without even trying.
Well, you deliberately didn’t mime properly, if I recall.
That was partly because I was drunk and partly because I thought it kind of looked cool. I remembered how punk bands used to go on and not mime properly and thought, that’s what I’ll do. They hated it so we only performed in the studio that once. We had other records in the Top 40 and they played a couple of videos here and there, but that was our one and only studio performance.
It’s hard to comprehend now but bands like the Mary Chain weren’t really allowed on TV then.
That period was like that. The Seventies you had punk bands and glam rock but by the time you got to the Eighties Top of the Pops was totally mainstream and they really didn’t enjoy having little twerps like us on. Even Radio 1 were on the case - didn’t the DJ Mike Smith ban your single “Some Candy Talking”?
People think it was banned by the BBC but it actually wasn’t. It would have been great if it had been because it would have happened the way it did for Frankie Goes to Hollywood [whose song “Relax” was banned and consequently topped the charts]. It didn’t get banned. He just said he wasn’t going to play it because he thought it was about drugs so we said [eager voice], “So is it banned then?” “No, I’m just not going to play it.”
But you did have John Peel on your side at the BBC.
What would we have done without John Peel? He gave us a radio session before anything, before any record deals. That was amazing because we were still on the dole and there’s this guy saying, “Come in, record a bunch of songs and I’ll play them on my radio show.” We did a few sessions, we did an acoustic one in 1985. The joke was that the original version of “Some Candy Talking” was first recorded for that session. The BBC was later up in arms about that song but they paid for its original recording.
'The noise was getting too many headlines so we decided to take the noise away'
Was the acoustic session to prove your music wasn’t just noise?
Yes, at the time we felt people were overlooking the songs. The noise was getting too many headlines so we decided to take the noise away and say, “Look, there are actually some pretty good songs here.” Even though when it turned out we had to play them on an acoustic guitar we were like, “Christ, what are we going to do without the big wall of noise, we’re actually going to have to learn to play these songs properly.” It was terrifying.
Your second album, Darklands, went more in that direction.
It was a couple of years between Darklands and Psychocandy. We had to go away and rethink things. A lot of people were saying, “You’ve done it, you’ve made Psychocandy, now split up before you spoil it.” It was quite scary following up Psychocandy, we weren’t sure what to do. We could have done Psychocandy 2, perhaps we should have done, but we went away and thought, we’ll just try and get the balance right, a bit of noise, some straight ahead rock songs, and see how it goes.
It worked, it put you in the charts and you always said you were a pop group.
That was always the idea. We grew up watching Marc Bolan and David Bowie on Top of the Pops, later on the punk bands. On the indie scene in the early-to-mid-Eighties it seemed nobody really wanted to be a success and we did. We certainly had no interest in playing some little pub in Islington to 25 people who love your music. We wanted to play big arenas and to be on Top of the Pops, that was always the plan. Trouble is we didn’t really know how to go about doing that and all we seemed to do was annoy the fuck out of everybody.
'I've always been a sucker for rock'n'roll music that has a wee cheap drum machine in it'
As the Eighties drew to a close many of your peers - notably Bobby Gillespie and Alan McGee - were swept away by acid house and the explosion of dance music, but it didn’t seem to impinge on The Jesus and Mary Chain.
We did get into the technology side a little but to suddenly, overnight, become a club band, an acid-house band, would have been ludicrous. It wasn’t what we were about or what we knew about but we did co-opt some elements, like samples and drum loops. We had no interest in sounding like another band, we wanted to make records that were a continuation of what had happened before.
You had a bit of a love affair with drum machines from the single “Sidewalking” onwards.
I’ve always been a sucker for rock’n’roll music that has a wee cheap drum machine in it, right back to Metal Urbain, who were a French punk-rock group but always had this biscuit-tin drum machine, and one of them went on to become Dr Mix and the Remix. The mistake we made was that, for some reason I can’t remember, we ended up trying to make the drum machine sound like a real drummer which is where it went a bit wrong.
You’ve said that the Lollapalooza tour in 1992 - where you went round the States with Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Ice Cube, Pearl Jam and others - was one of the worst experiences of your life. Why was that?
I’m not very comfortable in the big arena, the showbiz world. William’s like that too - he’d probably deny it but he is. We’re just uncomfortable socially. When you’re in a rock’n’roll band, to an extent you can create your own universe which makes touring bearable. It’s quite uncomfortable but you’re making up the rules. Well, Lollapalooza wasn’t our rules. We were told we were going on at two in the afternoon in the California sunshine. Christ almighty, we never did that before. We were quite low down on the bill and suddenly didn’t feel that important. It’s like you’re intimidated by everything that’s going on around you. And then you think, “We’ve signed onto this for 10 weeks whether we want to or not.” It was gruelling, it was terrifying, it was bad for your health. I was never that much into drugs until then but at that point I got quite into cocaine and that was it, it took quite a few years to get that shit out of my life.
The Mary Chain appeared to be a druggy sort of band from the start - would you now say that taking drugs is a bad idea?
I’d never say that to anybody because when I used to hear people say that to me when I was a kid, I used to think, you wanker! People that have that kind of mentality are going to do what they do and nobody saying anything is going to turn them against drugs or drink. Those are the kind of mistakes that you’re going to make or you’re not going to, and there’s not a word that anybody can utter that’s going to change your mind.
'I have no problems morally with any drug'
What about the argument that certain drugs aid creativity, such as acid?
For John Lennon maybe but I cannot imagine sitting writing a song on acid. If it does help you creatively, go for it, if you think you can handle it. I have no problems morally with any drug. If you want to take smack, go out and do it. If you’re not going to fuck up anyone else in the process, do it. I actually know people that can function while taking heroin on a regular basis and they don’t really do anybody else any harm. They’re taking that risk and it’s up to them - fine with me. But then if you’re going to crawl in my window at three in the morning and nick my DVD player because you want to get money to buy smack, I might have a problem with you. You live in Devon now.
Yes, east Devon, it’s lovely.
How do you spend an average day?
What I can’t believe is how much time you have to put into children. Nobody warns you about that. I thought that they might be a pain but how hard can it be? Stick them in front of the boob tube for a couple of hours. I don’t understand how people can have busy lives and children, it seems as if all your time is taken up looking after them. It’s great and I love it but it’s very time-consuming. That’s what I spend my days doing, looking after a three-year-old and a seven-year-old.
What funds your existence?
I’m not exactly loaded but money comes through from time to time and it keeps our heads above water. The Mary Chain played a couple of shows a few years ago that were fairly lucrative [the 2007 reformation]. I mean, I’m not lighting cigars with £50 notes and I’m not, by any means, set up for the rest of my life but we have a level of comfort that’s acceptable and if the money runs out one day - and it might - then I’ll do whatever it takes, probably jump off a cliff. There’s not a lot I can do - looking for a job that pays you to sit on the couch with a remote control drinking beer all day, those sorts of jobs don’t tend to exist.
Except in the world of rock’n’roll.
That’s my area of expertise.
Do you still love it?
We’ve got two songs, “I Love Rock’n’Roll” and “I Hate Rock’n’Roll”. “I Hate Rock’n’Roll” was William’s song about the business and all the things you have to deal with if you’re in a band. It sounds like moaning and griping and we should be grateful, but there are a lot of things which you don’t think about beforehand that you have to deal with. “I Love Rock’n’Roll” says, “Wait a minute, I love the music.” I never stopped loving rock’n’roll but the business side of it I could certainly leave behind… I have left behind.
'I've always been very shy and I'd never admit that because I thought it was uncool'
Are you ever recognised as Jim Reid of the once notorious Jesus and Mary Chain?
Not in Devon. If you walked around where I live like, “I was in a rock’n’roll band,” people would just laugh at you. I did [get recognised] when I used to be what you would call a pop star but those days are well behind me now. People don’t know who I am. I could walk down Oxford Street and nobody would know. Did you find recognition uncomfortable?
I didn’t like it or enjoy it. When I was a kid I thought it was what I always wanted but when it happened it really messed with my head. I don’t like people looking at me, I’m not the kind of person who likes to be the centre of attention. If anybody’s looking at me I get quite twitchy and paranoid. After Top of the Pops I wondered, is that person looking at me because they know who I am? It’d really freak me out. Then people would talk to you in clubs. A year before I’d have been standing there and no one would have paid any attention. I just did not enjoy that side of being in a band. Was it different when you were onstage?
There the drinking was necessary. The fact of the matter is I’ve always been very shy and I’d never admit that because I thought it was uncool. I was this guy in a band who was too scared to talk to anybody. I found it very uncomfortable to be the singer and the only way I could deal with that was to get absolutely rat-arsed. I hadn’t played a sober gig ever until I did some solo gigs of my own five years ago. That was the first time I’d been onstage without anything to help me. It was terrifying but I did it and I wish I could somehow go back and tell myself, “Look, just do it, it’s not as bad as you think.”
You’ve mentioned alcohol a few times - how would you characterise your relationship with it?
As of three days ago I hadn’t had a drink for five years. I’m not saying I’ll never drink again but what happened was I hit rock bottom, the thing that everybody talks about. You get to the point where you have to make a decision - do you want this life or do you want that life? I chose sobriety, wife and children, all that stuff, but it was kind of “Let’s see how it goes, I’ll not drink for a year and if I can do that, I’m in charge.” I did that then a year became two years, then it just became “Let’s see how it goes.” I had decided that if I got to five years I was going to have a drink so I got there and… I really want to have a drink, I love drinking, but if I had a beer right now I wouldn’t just have a beer, I’d have a beer and that’d be it, I’d be gone for a few days.
Did you just knock it on the head or did you do the whole rehab thing?
One day I just said, “I’m not going to drink anymore.” My wife Julie and I talked about it. I said, “Look, I can’t tell you I’m never going to drink again, if I told you that I’d be lying. If I say that, I’ll be down the pub in a week.” So I said I’d stop drinking for a year and she agreed. Is your solo career now on hold?
To be honest, I don’t know if I can be bothered with it. I might do it one day if I feel the need. I dipped a toe in the water and it didn’t seem there was much demand for a Jim Reid solo album. You have to respond to that.
Your 2005 solo single “Song for a Secret” reminded me of Buffalo Springfield.
That little “For What it’s Worth” guitar part was intentional but I don’t think the whole song sounds similar. I’ve always liked that little clanging guitar noise. I think the Mary Chain used it on a couple of tracks. Do you have a favourite Jesus and Mary Chain album?
It’s not like you go home and listen to your own albums but I like Munki, the last one. At the same time it kind of depresses me because the vibes were so bad when we made it. I just think it’s a really good, overlooked record. By the time we made that the Mary Chain, certainly in this country, couldn’t get arrested. Have you noticed other groups walking in your footsteps, noticeably the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club?
I think Black Rebel Motorcycle Club got a bit of a bad rap with the Mary Chain thing. I went to see them and was standing there thinking, this looks familiar - strobes, black, big bouffant hairdos in silhouette… Oh right, this is what it must have been like to see the Mary Chain. Their actual music, though, doesn’t have that much of the Mary Chain, it has a lot of their own personality and identity.
'I would never do the Mary Chain without William'
What’s the last album you bought?
I buy quite a lot of albums. I have to say I’m out of touch with what’s going on new music-wise because I think that rock’n’roll’s like a cycle and once you’ve stayed for a full revolution, you’ve heard it all. It’s always been that way and it always will be that way. Once you get round to the point where you came in there’s no point in checking out new bands. There will always be bands that take older elements and mix them up. Joy Division sounded to me a bit like The Doors - “New Dawn Fades” was a Doors song - The Stooges were trying to be The Doors but didn’t know how to be, the Mary Chain might have been trying to be The Velvet Underground. I kind of tuned out about five years ago.
You weren’t tempted to take a side-step into jazz, then?
I always hated jazz but I’m afraid to say I recently started buying jazz albums, the classics, Miles Davis, John Coltrane. I do tend to put it on when I’m doing something else. We have dinner and stick some jazz on so we can still converse with each other without getting lost in the music. You can drop in and drop out. I realise its appeal now.
Should we expect Jim Reid: A Jazz Odyssey?
The Mary Chain occasionally sounded almost jazz but it was more to do with incompetence and bad playing. What did you make of Brit Pop?
We felt somewhat left out in the cold but felt as if it must have been an exciting and interesting time to be a kid. It was nothing to do with the Mary Chain. We probably wished we were a bit more involved. By that time the Mary Chain were not a band most people would think of as up and coming. We’d been around for years and by then we were on the decline in terms of record sales. We were pretty much marginalised, more so in this country - in Europe and America things held pretty solid for the Mary Chain until the soggy bottom of our bag collapsed in 1998.
"Reverence" in 1992 was really the last big hit.
It was a Top 10 single but it wasn’t really a true hit in that our fanbase would buy it, it’d go into the Top 10, then disappear without a trace because it had no radio play.
Which was hardly surprising given the lyrics went, “I wanna die just like Jesus Christ/ I wanna die on a bed of spikes”, and “I wanna die just like JFK/ I wanna die on a sunny day”.
By that time we were totally fucked off with trying to get back in again and nobody giving us the time of day so we looked at the tunes we had - which one can we make a single? We thought, you know what? Fuck it! Let’s do “Reverence”. Screw them! We didn’t think it would make a dent so when it went into the Top 10 we were astounded.
When you split up in 1998 you played a particularly drunken show in LA after which William left. You finished the tour, presumably for contract reasons, but did you ever think that maybe you could continue alone?
No, it was understood that when he left I’d finish the tour because it was booked but after that there was no more Mary Chain. I would never do the Mary Chain without William. That was a horrible, horrible tour, really weird. We’d not been getting along for a long time. The making of Munki was unbelievably painful as well. We just couldn’t stand each other to the point where he did his songs and I did mine separately with the rest of the band. I started to feel that it wasn’t a band anymore. I say this all the time but I really believe things would have been different if someone around us had had the sense to say, “They just need to get away from each other, you go off here, you go off there, come back in six months.” Instead somebody booked us into a big fucking world tour so here we are, we can’t stand the sight of each other, sitting on a tour bus in America somewhere. We got one day into that tour and the shit hit the fan, we came to blows, he walked off and that was it.
Members irritating each other to the point of meltdown is usually the cause of band disintegration.
Had we not been brothers the Mary Chain would have broken up 10 years before it did but because we’re brothers we can scream at each other then you kind of have to come back together. In the beginning every argument was constructive, we were like twins, we could almost finish each other’s sentences. We really got along, really close, and bit by bit, I don’t know how it happened, we started to chip away and disintegrate. By the time it got to Munki we couldn’t be in a room together, we’d argue about anything. It was “Do you want a cup of tea?” “No, coffee.” “Why do you want coffee?” It just wasn’t going to work.
You must now have some idea what other sparring sibling acts such as The Everly Brothers and The Kinks went through.
It’s hard enough when you’ve got a brother you argue with, a normal sibling relationship, but when you’re in a band it’s like you’re in a fucking cupboard - you can’t get away from each other. It’s so claustrophobic, it’s almost like sharing an identity and that’s where the problems come from because you’re both fighting for your little bit of space in a single identity. I’m sure the Davies brothers or the Gallaghers would say the same.
Given that he later managed Oasis, Alan McGee obviously has a talent for spotting fractious but creative siblings.
I remember him saying he learned a lot from the Reid brothers and it prepared him for the Gallaghers.
'I'm soberer - that helps. If both of you are off your tits there's no holds barred, anything is fair game'
Has your sister Linda, who sang on Munki, been a bridge between you and William in tough times?
Poor Linda. We’d be screaming at each other then she’d get calls from each of us in succession - “Guess what that fucker’s done now?” I’d hang up and 10 minutes later William would be on the phone. Poor Linda had to put it back together many times.
You and William worked together on her Sister Vanilla project. A decent album, Little Pop Rock, came out of that although it never made any waves.
That’s a shame as it was a good record. Typical Mary Chain, we decided to do a record with Linda in 1998, record it in a couple of weeks. I think it took about 10 years. There were times when all three of us were working together, not many, generally speaking, as William moved to LA at the end of the Nineties. She’d visit him and do some recording and we still had The Drugstore, our studio in London, so I’d go in there with Linda, then sometimes we’d all get together at William’s to do a bit of recording.
Does she still have musical aspirations?
[Laughs for only time during interview] No, we knocked that out of her. I don’t think she ever wants to listen to music again, let alone make it.
When were the Mary Chain at their money-making peak?
Towards the end of the Eighties. I wasn’t rich but I could buy what I wanted without wincing too much. I couldn’t buy a Jaguar but if I wanted a good stereo I could buy it and that felt good because I was very poor growing up. I could have lived a comfortable lifestyle but buying drugs, that was the downside. I could afford to buy as much cocaine as I could handle. I probably blew a lot of money on that.
When did you stop that, then?
Towards the end of the band. When the band broke up, I was broke so I couldn’t afford to buy coke anymore so that was it. I was forced to stop taking it. At the end of the Nineties I stopped taking drugs but I was still drinking. What money I had I spent in the pub. My wife put me on the road to recovery. I’ve been with her eight years. She was a picture editor but she’s a housewife now and manages our affairs.
The Jesus and Mary Chain are not a celebrity-seeking band so how come Scarlett Johansson sang with you when you reformed to play Coachella in 2007?
We decided we wanted someone to sing the end bit of “Just Like Honey”, the female vocal part. William said, “Why don’t we ask Scarlett Johansson because the song was used in that Lost in Translation film?” We completely expected she’d say, “Who?” or “Get on your bike, pal,” but there was a connection because she was doing a record that was coming out on Rhino, our label in America, so we had a way to get a message to her. She said, “Yeah,” simple as that. She came along to soundcheck, hung about with us, very sweet, down to earth, not very Hollywood and movie star-ish at all.
Has William been affected by living on LA? Has he turned into a cartoon rock star like so many Brit musicians in LA?
No, he stumbles around Beverly Hills like Rab C Nesbitt.
He’s not on the wagon then?
Unfortunately not but that’s a decision you have to come to yourself. We did [Sex Pistol] Steve Jones’s radio show a couple of years ago when I was out there and he was trying to help William out. He gave William his phone number and said, “I’ll try and help you with this.” I think William thought he was just being polite but I don’t think he was, I think he was genuinely offering to help William get over it. William, as you possibly realise, is one of those who likes the sauce, like I do. The forthcoming Creation Records documentary is called Upside Down after the Mary Chain song - have you had anything to do with it?
Yes, I was interviewed. My wife saw it and said it was good but I couldn’t bring myself to look. I can’t bear to watch myself being interviewed or in performance. When you came back together in 2007 did the inter-brother fighting start again?
Because we’re brothers it wasn’t like a normal band breaking up - we did see each other over the time when there was no Mary Chain so we had a fair idea how it would go down. I didn’t think it was going to be a picnic but I thought we could do it or I wouldn’t have agreed to it. It was pretty much how I imagined it would be. We still bicker but we’re a bit older and I’m soberer - that helps. If both of you are off your tits there’s no holds barred, anything is fair game. Sober I was thinking, this isn’t worth it, we’re here to do a job, let’s just get the job done.
You had a new song, “All Things Must Pass” on the soundtrack to the TV series Heroes a couple of years ago.
That’s the only new thing to be released. William’s doing a solo album right now. To be totally honest he was gung ho about doing a new Mary Chain album and then got frustrated because I was like, “Hmm, don’t think I can stand the nervous breakdown.” He just got fed up and is making a solo record now. He started doing it before the band reformed but now he’s back with it. Does this mean there’s still potential for more Jesus and Mary Chain action?
There’s been talk about another album. There’s certainly another album’s worth of material, all demos and some of it’s actually recorded. It just seems hard to actually get it together. It’s a question of finding the time and deciding where it’s actually going to be recorded. It may happen, it may not.
Find Upside Down: The Best of The Jesus and Mary Chainon Amazon
Find Sister Vanila’s album Little Pop Rockon Amazon
The whopping 44 track beast that is Upside Down: The Best of the Jesus & Mary Chain prompts that age-old question – can you have too much of a good thing? In short, scuzzy adrenalin-soaked blasts JAMC truly are one of the great British bands of the last twenty five years; they transported the down-at-heel characters of counter-culture America to a darker and more shadowy place, and made them sing, and sing in a way that still makes your heart feel bruised and bursting today.
But, unsurprisingly for a band once famous for twenty minute sets and amphetamine-fuelled violence, the sheer weight of numbers included on this retrospective disc detracts from the overall impact. The evolution between 1984’s debut single Upside Down and All Things Must Pass (the only new material released since reforming in 2007) may be clear, but it’s not so marked as to drag you through a 44-song-journey to chart it. That would require concentration and focus, and with a band like JAMC, was that ever the point? [PJ Meiklem]
Any new Mary Chain news in these here parts is good news and Jim Reid recently recorded an hour long special with Matt Everitt for BBC 6 Music to discuss his life , career and the musical influences that shaped the Jesus And Mary Chain. It’s part of the station’s ‘First Time’ series and will be broadcast on Sunday (7th November) at 12.00. You can listen again on-line for 7 days following broadcast. See link below.
We have been given exclusive permission to stream one of the tracks from compilation (see above), a studio recording of “All Things Must Pass” originally released on the soundtrack album for the NBC television show, Heroes. It’s also the first new song to be released by the Jesus and Mary Chain since 1998.
Other Mary Chain news?
Well last Christmas Jim adopted the mantle of an indie Val Doonican for our Christmas special and shared some of his fave tracks with us (HERE .) And in October this year we interviewed Jim ( HERE ), with regard to the 25th Anniversary of their classic “Psychocandy“ album.
The Vaseline’s recent song “I Hate The 80’s’ certainly resonated with me, the eighties were for me, generally ‘shit.’ Greed, consumerism, Thatcher, ostentatious fashion, Stock Aitkin and Waterman, ozone shredding hair styles, Live Aid, Thatcher, yuppies, Thatcher, the horrific omnipresent gurning visage of Phil Collins, I could go on… Anyone who tells you it was any different wasn’t actually there. The post punk promise of the early eighties soon evaporated to make way for bands dressed up as if they’d covered themselves in super glue and ram raided a fancy dress shop. Their music wasn’t much better, producing the sort of soulless whine that would one day find its spiritual home as incidental music on a DFS commercial (alongside Martin Kemp!!) The sight of these prancing preening peacocks on TOTP’s was a spirit crushing affair; it really felt like punk had never happened and the old order wasted little time in re-establishing itself as a purveyor of all things shite.
Despite the occasional shaft of light from the likes of The Cure, the Bunnymen, the Smiths, and some fantastic Indie labels, it wasn’t until 1985 that a band emerged who put the excitement back into an increasingly flaccid music scene. Two Scottish brothers broke cover from their bedroom studio with a collection of incendiary songs and a début album that was destined to be a classic, no, no, I’m not talking about the Proclaimers , I refer to Jim and William Reid, The Jesus and Mary Chain and their seminal album ‘Psychocandy’ .
These boys were not only writers of melodious pop, but true iconoclasts who had a deep understanding of rock n roll history and it’s mythology. Taking Phil Sectors’ musical template the Reid’s beat the living shit out of it, fusing distortion with melody, brutality with tenderness. I suppose to describe an album as ‘influential’ is fatuous unless you qualify that assertion, I mean I’m sure Haircut 100 *influenced* people of no fixed musical taste, but let’s face it they were complete guff and besides it’s *who* and *what* you influence that matters. So forget the riots and violence of the Mary Chain’s early shows, that was merely a distraction, a media circus, and should not obfuscate the influence and impact ‘Psychocandy’ had. It made white noise acceptable, and it’s effect was huge and wide ranging paving the way for many bands who are now regarded as musical deities. 25 years on since its release ‘Psychocandy’ is still regarded as a defining moment in 1980’s indie guitar music and regularly appears in ‘best ever’ albums list.
If you still haven’t heard the album you really should remedy the situation forthwith, it’s a timeless album *from* the 80’s but not really *of* the 80’s . It still sounds as wonderful today as it did way back in 85, truly a classic.
The Jesus And Mary Chain are set to release their new collection ‘Upside Down’ on November 15th.
Mixing feedback with sweet pop melodies, The Jesus And Mary Chain introduced a new, feral brand of rock ‘n’ roll. Dressed in black, their hair fluttering over their eyes the band were at once iconic and threatening.
Centred on the Reid brothers, The Jesus And Mary Chain helped pioneer the shoegaze sound with their debut album ‘Psychocandy’ before beginning to experiment.
Along the way the band would incorporate country, soul, blues and electronic influences while using a multitude of drummers. Later becoming elder statesmen in British rock music, The Jesus And Mary Chain returned to Creation for one final, corrosive and controversial, blast against the industry.
Splitting 1998, the band are now set to be celebrated on a 2-CD best of. ‘Upside Down’ collects key tracks from over two decades, including their seismic singles and a number of rare B-sides and live cuts.
The new compilation coincides with the documentary ‘Upside Down: The Story Of Creation Records’ which includes plenty of the band’s material. The new 2-CD album is named after the group’s debut single, and charts their highs and lows.
The Jesus And Mary Chain took their uncompromising sound into the Top Ten, earning a Top Of The Pops appearance in the process. Briefly reforming in 2008, two rare new recordings are available on ‘Upside Down’.
Early B-side ‘Vegetable Man’ is also made available while rare tributes such as ‘Moe Tucker’ are also on show. The band are now more relevant than ever, with groups such as Vivian Girls and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club openly admitting their debt to the Scottish feedback fetishists.
'Upside Down' could not be more timely, combining those fuzz drenched early cuts with those later songwriting experimentation.
'Upside Down: The Best Of The Jesus And Mary Chain' is out on November 15th.
"How do you decide which is your favourite album, like, ever? What rules or tests apply? Is it really about the music or is it linked to a time in your life you’d dearly wish to revisit? For me it’s a fairly straightforward question, it’s quite simply the album that I have returned to again and again, an album that is still able to console and inspire, and one which while transporting me back through time, still sounds as vibrant and relevant today as it did back in the 80’s. It is, to paraphrase Alan McGee, an album which unlike people, has never let me down and at the time was unlike anything I’d heard before.
Twenty five years ago Scottish brothers William And Jim Reid, the driving forces behind The Jesus And Mary Chain, released their ground breaking full length debut ‘Psychocandy’, mixing beauty with brutality, melody with ear splitting guitar feedback, and gave us an album that is often cited as a seminal moment in 1980’s indie guitar music. It was unleashed at a time when the post punk promise of new wave had all but disappeared up its own arse by way of the fancy dress shop via the cosmetics counter and the only guitar music that existed was a rather fey, self indulgent, limp -wristed affair. The Jesus And Mary Chain exploded onto the scene and were quickly dubbed the new Sex Pistols by some parts of the puritanical press, fuelled in part by mischievous sound bites from their former manager and Creation records owner, Alan Mc Gee, eg. “the audience were not smashing up the hall, they were smashing up pop music” and “this is truly art as terrorism”. The comparison didn’t really fit musically but the Mary Chain certainly put the danger, the snarl and the fuck you attitude back into music, producing a raw and incendiary sound which was light years away from the safe, preening dandified narcissistic nonsense that was the New Romantic movement .
The music of The Jesus and Mary Chain has been a constant presence in my world since their first single and ‘Psychocandy’ is an album that never ceases to astonish me. It was and still is, a beautiful contradiction; light-years ahead of it’s time, yet heavily influenced by the past, visceral and savage yet on occasion surprisingly fragile. A rip roaring sonic soundclash that tore up the rule book and injected some much needed good old fashioned rock and roll rebellion into a sanitised music scene populated by the sort of squeaky clean singers your parents actually approved of. There are still those who paint The Jesus and Mary Chain as sonic nihilists, nothing more than NME hyped hipsters, more style than content, a music journalist’s wet dream, and whilst people who subscribe to this view are of course entitled to their opinion, they are also quite clearly cretins. ‘Psychocandy’ proved that the Reid brothers knew their musical history, that they lived and breathed rock n’ roll but demonstrated that they were also savvy enough to recognise that it was a fluid, evolving beast often taking it’s inspiration from the past. They were rabid consumers of pop music but didn’t deify it with pious reverence like some sort of prissy musical librarian; they took influences as diverse as the Ramones, The Beach Boys, The Shangri-las, The Velvets, Johnny Cash, The Stones, Bo-Diddley, The Stooges, The Supremes and fed them through their sonic blender to produce songs of soul shredding power and beauty.
Jim’s laconic vocals which could spit venom and tenderness in equal measure, combined with the distorted, unhinged magnificence of William’s guitar work may have irked the prog rock purists, but this was exactly the sort of adrenaline fuelled musical explosion that makes rock n roll so thrilling and the Reid’s sonic enema was precisely what the soulless, constipated 80’s music scene needed. The Jesus And Mary Chain could be one of the greatest bands you’ve ever seen live, or one of the worst, depending on which gig you happened to catch but this was part of their edgy excitement, this truly was ‘event music’. They inspired so many bands and whilst their influence is still prevalent today it is the eternal conundrum as to why their musical legacy isn’t afforded the respect it undoubtedly deserves in some quarters. Whilst My Bloody Valentines legend (as good as they were) has been elevated by some slick, revisionist PR to absurdly mythic proportions, it seemed that people had all but forgotten the Mary Chain’s body of work, which I would submit is far more enduring than MBV’s. Former Mary Chain drummer and Primal Scream front man Bobby Gillespie addressed this issue recently saying “They were a great band and I don’t think they get enough credit just for being them, for being so good at what they do, and for inspiring the amount of people they inspired.”
If you don’t posses ‘Psychocandy’ then your record collection can never be considered truly complete. Beneath the crackle and distortion you’ll hear wonderful pop songs from a band that refused to compromise their musical vision or be pigeon-holed into any particular genre. They may have dressed in black and wore shades, but were never really goth, they may have employed a wall of sound and kept their stage movements to a minimum but they weren’t really shoegaze, and maybe they were a little too ambitious to be considered truly indie by the snoberatti. Whatever the JAMC where, very few bands intuitively understand the true essence of ‘rock n roll’ as well as the Jesus and Mary Chain, it quite simply, was in their soul.
To celebrate ‘Psychocandy’s’ 25th Anniversary and the release of a new Jesus And Mary Chain compilation ‘Upside Down-The Best Of’ which also ties in with release of a documentary feature film `Upside Down: The Story Of Creation Records’ we spoke to Jim Reid and asked him to cast his mind back to 1985……”
Colossal, violent, electrifying, The Jesus And Mary Chain made a profound impact on the music of their generation and played an integral part in shaping the sound of British music for years to come.
Upside Down: The Best of The Jesus And Mary Chain (out November 15th on Music Club Deluxe, a division of Demon) is a 2 CD career-spanning overview that marks 25 years since their first album Psychocandy. The very first of its kind for brothers Jim and William Reid and their many notable musical cohorts, Upside Down features all single ‘A’ sides, key album tracks and rarities, with guest appearances by Shane MacGowan (The Pogues) and Hope Sandoval (Mazzy Star), and, of course, original drummer Bobby Gillespie (Primal Scream).
Named after the band’s groundbreaking debut single, this collection coincides with the release of the documentary film Upside Down: The Story Of Creation Records, which features interviews with The Jesus And Mary Chain, the label’s first big breakout act. Both of the band’s Top 10 UK chart toppers — April Skies (no. 8 in May 1987), and Reverence (no. 10 in February 1992) — are herein, along with ten other top 40 hits. Included also are two tracks never before found on a Jesus And Mary Chain release: their 2008 recording All Things Must Pass (recorded for the US TV programme Heroes) and 45 RPM(previously only available on an XFM compilation).
Actively touring since their reformation in 2007, The Jesus And Mary Chain headlined the Meltdown festival that same year, their first UK appearance in nearly a decade, followed by a sold-out show at Brixton Academy. Their distinctive feedback-saturated wall-of-sound has increasingly been acknowledged by a new generation of bands such as The Raveonettes, The Horrors, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Dum Dum Girls and Wavves; and their songs have frequently appeared in TV and films (Sofia Coppola’s Lost In Translation made great use of their classic Just Like Honey).
As life-long students of rock’n’roll history and mythology, the Jesus and Mary Chain are smart enough to know that the best way to ruin a happy reunion is to actually make a reunion album. So, since the notoriously combative Jim and William Reid put aside their family feuding— which had initially deep-sixed their band back in 1998— to stage a return at Coachella in April 2007, they’ve done everything short of a new album to keep the Jesus and Mary Chain a relevant, ongoing concern. They contributed their songs and voices to sibling Linda’s Sister Vanilla band; they debuted a lone new track, “All Things Must Pass” on Letterman only to shunt it off to an episode of “Heroes”; and now, they’re resorting to a time-honored stalling tactic: releasing a box set, The Power of Negative Thinking, that gathers 81 non-album A-sides, plus their entire discography of B-sides, demos, and covers.
Of course, it could be that the main reason the Reids are holding out on a new JAMC album is that everyone’s been doing the work for them— their influence continues to permeate the recorded output of NME-approved buzz bands (the Raveonettes, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club), indie rock iconoclasts (see: the Magnetic Fields’ Distortion, Liars’ spot-on 2007 homage “Freak Out”), and up and comers (Vivian Girls, Crystal Stilts, A Place to Bury Strangers). It’s a most fitting fate for a band that never made a secret out of their own hero worship, but it says a great deal about how adept JAMC were at melding and welding their own obvious influences together that they’ve become an instantly recognizable reference point in their own right. The Jesus and Mary Chain were a post-punk band in the truest sense of the term, feeding a litany of classic 60s signposts— the Beach Boys, Phil Spector, Bob Dylan, the Velvet Underground— through punk’s rudimentary skill set and noise-terror insolence. They weren’t the first band to bastardize the Beach Boys’ sunny surf pop, but where the Ramones simply cranked up and sped up the guitar riffs, the Mary Chain took power chords out of the equation altogether, promoting distortion from mere special effect to feature attraction.
However, perhaps The Power of Negative Thinking's greatest revelation is that this seemingly primordial sound actually didn't come about naturally: The first track we hear is a 1983 demo, “Up Too High”, wherein the Reids display an affinity for New Order's immediate post-Joy Division output (circa “Ceremony”). So when the band's first official single, “Upside Down” follows with a radically reoriented aesthetic— candy-coated melody plus skull-splitting feedback, set to original drummer Bobby Gillespie's tom-tom clubbing— that would come to define the band's early sound, its appearance here approximates the same outta-nowhere effect that the song first had in 1984. But as pure a statement as “Upside Down” was, the flipside finds a band still sorting out its influences: as the first entry in what would become a deep catalogue of B-side covers, the goth-garage grind through Syd Barrett's “Vegetable Man” marks one of the few times the JAMC pulled from a source that wasn't aligned with the continuum of American cool; perhaps not coincidentally, the track also marks the rare instance where Jim Reid would break out of his deadpan demeanour and truly lose his shit on record.
By the time of 1985’s debut Psychocandy, the JAMC had struck a singular balance between melody and menace, and the outtakes from the era (taking up the rest of Negative Thinking's first disc) mostly confirm what we already knew: That “Just Like Honey”, “Taste of Cindy”, “Cut Dead”, “You Trip Me Up”, and so on (all presented here in alternate acoustic arrangements) are no less disarming as pop songs when stripped of Psychocandy's intentionally provocative production. But from a B-side standpoint, the most interesting period for the Jesus and Mary Chain came during the transition from Psychocandy's sinister squall to the more cleanly presented pop tones of 1987's Darklands, wherein the departure of the Primal Scream-bound Gillespie heralded the Reids’ first flirtation with drum machines and sequencers (not all that radical a shift given the early material’s reliance on metronomic repetition). In contrast to MTV-ready singles like “April Skies” and “Happy When It Rains”, the B-sides from this period lean heavily on the Reids’ fascination with primitive American rock’n’roll, in the form of both direct covers (a Suicide-inspired take on Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love”, two punked-up rips through the Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ USA”) and, more entertainingly, twisted tribute tracks (“Kill Surf City”, “Bo Diddley Is Jesus”)— all of which suggest that the Reids treat their idols the same way a grade-schooler treats their first crush: concealing their love with adversarial aggression.
Post-Darklands, the Mary Chain’s albums hewed ever closer to prevailing UK indie trends, from the mechanized synth-pop of 1989’s Automatic to the proto-Britpop guitar rock of 1992’s Honey’s Dead, before settling into the relaxed countrified groove of 1994’s Stoned and Dethroned. Likewise, the accompanying B-sides were less of an outlet for the Reids’ extreme impulses (a corrosive cover of Prince’s “Alphabet Street” notwithstanding) and more a spillover from the albums proper; as such, Negative Thinking's third and fourth discs can either be viewed as a testament to the brothers' consistency or their stubborn refusal to venture outside standard blues scales. The popular singles from this era aren't represented here in any form, but then you don't really miss them because each boasts a reasonable facsimilie: in lieu of “Head On” there's the motorik pop of “Subway”; instead of “Reverence”, dig the sinister cover of the 13th Floor Elevators' “Reverberation (Doubt)”; while “Why'd You Want Me” (from the soundtrack to Encino Man!) plays like a dry run for 1994’s Hope Sandoval duet “Sometimes Always”.
With 1998’s Munki, the band went out with arguably their most eclectic and gleefully impetuous set since Psychocandy, but castaway tracks like “Easylife, Easylove” and “40,000k” remained beholden to the Stonesy stoner-rock that defined much of their post-1990 output. Then again, the Reids sound so comfortable in that mode, and the melodies so easy-flowin’, it’s hard to begrudge them. With these closing selections, Negative Thinking further underscores the irony that the brothers fell out at a time when their music was more traditionally “together” than it had ever been.
B-sides and rarities collections are by nature geared toward die-hard fans, but given that a fair share of this material has already surfaced on previous compilations Barbed Wire Kisses, The Sound of Speed and Hate Rock ‘n’ Roll, and given the Mary Chain’s carefully controlled aesthetic, there are few surprises here for close followers of the band. But then Negative Thinking is not necessarily meant for them: With its handsome hard-cover packaging, clear-plastic paper-stock photo galleries, candid liner-note interviews (conducted in early 2007), and ridiculously detailed Pete Frame-drawn family tree poster, the set provides a handy opportunity for newbies to play catch-up on the band’s history— and for anyone who first came into contact with the Mary Chain via the closing credits to Lost in Translation, only to be scared off by Psychocandy's torrential noise, the acoustic renditions of that album's best songs thus serve as convenient points of access to the Reids' hopelessly romantic/romantically hopeless worldview.
Who could forget those immortal lyrics sung so eloquently by Death Cab’s Ben Gibbard on their song “We Looked like Giants?” Ben, like many of us who grew up JAMC fans, knew the importance of this band born from Glasgow, Scotland, whose feedback fury and three minute love pop symphonies shook our world from the mid-’80s and on.
Some of you may have first heard the name Jesus and Mary Chain in the film High Fidelity when Jack Black’s snobby record store clerk Barry scolds a customer for not owning any JAMC albums. “They always seemed really great is what they really seemed, they picked up where your precious Echo (& the Bunnymen) left off…"
In all reality, the JAMC were created by the brothers Jim and William Reid because, "…we couldn’t find records that we liked to buy." It reminds me of something pompous I used to say to too many ex-girlfriends: the reason I couldn’t find any good books to read was because I haven’t written any yet. Unlike me, JAMC put their foot to the distortion pedal and created a band with a sound both Reid brothers desired.
Unlike the way out cacophony of the noisy resilience of Creation labelmates My Bloody Valentine, JAMC didn’t just blow the guitar amps to make sound crafted songs. The brothers Reid incorporated, "the pop sensibilities of The Shangri-Las with the production values of (Nick Cave’s) The Birthday Party…and that’s us…psycho and candy two extremes on the same record." Mix in a little surf guitar inspiration and you have the JAMC sound in full effect.
The Power of Negative Thinking is not a greatest hits collection. These 82 songs are b-sides, covers, alterative versions and unreleased songs make up the essence of the sound the Brothers Reid had in mind when they first formed JAMC. I’ve said it before and I’ll state it again, you can tell the greatness of a band by the quality of their b-sides. You can trace the evolution from the Joy Division inspired darkness of the never before heard demo “Up Too High,” acoustic versions of “You Trip Me Up” through blistering covers like Prince’s “Alphabet Street.” You will also hear one of their last songs created as a duo, “Easy Life, Easy Love” that preceded their much publicized spilt on stage at the House of Blues in L.A. There are hints of the up and coming dissolution of the band in the lyrics.
“Goodbye to fame and goodbye to Jane, Goodbye to yesterday. I’ve been around, I hit the ground, There was a price to pay."
Even before their eventual demise, The Jesus and Mary Chain crafted pop songs were stoic and romantic by nature.
There are so many jewels on The Power of Negative Thinking. Those who believed that The Brothers Reid went soft with help from Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval on Stoned and Dethroned must have not been paying too much attention to the ever evolving careers of these Glasgow guitar gurus. You can hear sparks of their intimate stripped down flavor on the acoustic versions of “Teenage Lust” and “Taste of Cindy.”
I, myself, love the Velvet Underground-inspired echoing beauty of “Psychocandy.” It sounds like the best song that Reed, Cale, Tucker and Morrison never created. I can’t forget the siren sounding and bluesy guitar ode brilliance of “Bo Diddley is Jesus.” I dig the blow up of “Kill Surf City.” What about two killer covers of “Surfin’ USA?” There are so much more, the very romantic pop ditty “Till I Found You.” I’m sure Leonard Cohen is smiling somewhere with JAMC’s powerful cover of “The Tower of Song.” I have to say “Little Stars” and the lyrics of “I’m gonna kiss your blues away" is my personal favorite.
There are way too many and with every other track I am finding new gems that I adore. I know I shouldn’t have done it, gone out during these days of economic uncertainty but I had to buy this hefty priced 4-disc collection The Power of Negative Thinking. This is freaking JAMC, the band whose distorted pop crafted beauty was the soundtrack of my disorientated youth.
The brothers Reid inspired a generation of wanna be rockers to pick up guitars. You may have heard The Pixies cover of “Head On,” but it’s not better than the real thing. Crank it up, The Jesus and Mary Chain’s b-sides and rarities will simultaneously blow your eardrums and mind. Take it from yours truly, fuck the stock market, make the wise investment by purchasing this soon to be classic The Power of Negative Thinking, and discover what you may have missed from their 21 Singles. The other side never sounded this beautifully sinister.