Jesus and Mary Chain Reflects on 30-Year Anniversary of Landmark Album
In the post-punk days of the early 1980s, the music world and press got sucked into the vacuum that was new wave and its futuristic synthesized beats. Artists who fell under this broad and eclectic new genre differentiated themselves as much by their futuristic fashion (non)sense as by their actual experimental dance beats.
Brothers Jim and William Reid of East Kilbride, Scotland, were not interested in becoming part of this pop fad. In fact it made them sick to hear what was being played on Top of the Pops, as much of it seemed a matter of who could out-weird each other.
Instead, the Scottish siblings wanted to create music that would be different, but have longevity. They set about mixing the strange bedfellow influences of ’60s Shangri-Las pop drama, Velvet Underground's hypnotic psychedelia, and Iggy's Pop raw power guitar with Einstürzende Neubauten-industrial wall of sound. The end result came in the form of the Jesus and Mary Chain’s (JAMC) debut, a cacophonous concoction called Psycho Candy, in 1985.
JAMC had created a sound that would be the precursor to shoegaze rock, anchored by the buzzing bliss of songs like “Just Like Honey” and “Some Candy Talking.” The word distortion became a common descriptor when describing their creation, and it would be a sound often copied but never duplicated.
Three decades removed and Psycho Candy’s unique mix has not faded from the playlist of the discerning alt-music fan of that era. Following the regrouping of the band after an eight-year break-up, multiple Jesus reunion tours and talk about a new album, this year finds Jesus and Mary Chain marking the 30th anniversary of their inaugural album’s release.
JAMC make a tour stop at the Marquee Theatre this Friday to play in order the entire Psycho Candy album, which holds up well against the latest whines that permeate the pop and college airwaves and streams.
“At the time we were recording Psycho Candy we had an idea that it might be around for a while because we didn't want to have a sound of what was being played in 1985, and then quickly disappear,” recalls Jim Reid, now 53. “We were so disgusted with the kind of pop music coming out of the radio. We were just trying to get by with a kind of punk message. I suppose we just wanted to write songs about something other than a boy and a girl.”
The Reid brothers had moved to London in 1984 in hopes of being discovered. A demo tape found its way into the hands of fellow Scotsman and future Primal Scream frontman Bobby Gillespie, who brought the tape to the attention of punk band manager Alan McGee. McGee signed the band to his fledgling Creation Records, which would eventually spawn the likes of Primal Scream and eventually My Bloody Valentine.
Following the initial success of the band’s first single, “Upside Down,” in the fall of 1984, the band would then signed to WEA subsidiary label Blanco y Negro with McGee still managing. The Reid boys’ intention with Psycho Candy was to create a sound that did not pamper to the post-punk copycats who could not be the next Ramones or Sex Pistols.
The band would go through a few supporting players before recording its debut album with Gillespie on minimal snare and single floor tom on drums and Doug Hart on bass. And, as much as the recording of the songs were about quality and aesthetics, the live performances were more about inciting riots, 15-minute sets, playing with backs turned to audiences and fighting with fan, this the anti-promotional brainchild of McGee.
“It’s not what we are interested in doing,” Reid says now, looking back and forward. “A lot of people tried to get us to do a Psycho Candy tour for a long time, and that was the reason why we resisted it. Psycho Candy in a lot of ways had to do with chaos and a lot of people said that was the only way to do it.”
Jesus and Mary Chain in better days
“Psycho Candy doesn't necessarily have to be something from 1985. It is an album that seems to make a lot of sense now to people. So we decided let's not make it a celebration of all these fucked up occurrences that happened in 1985, let's make it as celebration of the record.”
The album would land at 31 on the UK album chart and 188 in the US. Four singles found their way onto the UK charts with “Never Understand” at No. 47, “Trip Me Up” at No. 55, “Just Like Honey” at No. 45 and “Some Candy Talking” going the highest at No. 13.
The 1987 follow-up album Darklands would decidedly see the band go in a more stripped down rock garage band sound, no distortion and a drum machine. Memorable songs “April Skies” and “Happy When It Rains” became the melodic album, and it would reach No. 5 on the UK album charts.
The dedication the band put into its first two would however be overshadowed by the continued discord on and off stage, fighting among the brothers, and alcohol and drug binging to mask the shyness of its lead singer.
The bands next album, Automatic, had a modest hit single “Head On” in 1989, and to promote its fourth album, Honey’s Dead, the band played in the second year of Lollapalooza stateside, solidifying a loyal US fan base.
The band’s final two albums, Stoned and Dethroned and finally Munki (on Sub Pop) both had minimal success. But it had become evident with each passing record, the divide between brothers had widened to the point where they recorded their respective parts of albums separately. By 1998, the brothers disbanded Jesus and the Mary Chain and for the next eight years, the two brothers would not talk much. Both had families and William moved to Los Angeles while Jim resided in Devonshire.
“When we broke up in the late ’90s, we didn't really get any space, and it became one continuous argument,” Reid acknowledges. “In the very beginning, our arguments would always be about structure, and about music, and something good always came out of an argument. One of us would always get the other one's point of view. It wasn't about ‘you were right,' that's not the way we relate. It later came in the later phase of the band that we argued about almost everything.”
The brothers Reid realized during this JAMC hiatus that they had to put the music first and the arguments and stage antics away. They created solo projects en route to regrouping. William, now 58, recorded with his own band Lazycame and worked with their sister Linda’s group Sister Vanilla. Jim recording a few singles and played with his own group, Freeheat.
The distance and solo projects would prove to be cathartic for the two brothers. By 2007, the Reids hopped on stage together for the first time in eight years to play at Coachella and performed “Just Like Honey” with movie starlet Scarlett Johansson whose movie Lost in Translation with Bill Murray used the song in the dramatic movie final scene.
Since then they have regularly toured the UK and even played in Tel Aviv, China Portugal and several more familiar European haunts. The brothers now tour with former Lush bass player Phil King, former Fountains of Wayne drummer Brian Young and guitarist Mark Crozer.
And to prove you can always go home, the band not only made a tour stop in Glasgow last November but recorded that performance (released last month) on Live at Barrowlands, where they played one of the first full runs of Psycho Candy.
As time has begun to heal old wounds, Reid now sees the regrouping of JAMC as second chance to solidify the legacy started with Psycho Candy. But he seems to take things a little more than a grain of salt, and less with a gulp of booze or masking his shyness with drugs, oh and being able to work with his brother.
“The distance certainly helps, but it's more than that. We should be older and wiser, although we will never be wiser,” Reid says with self -deprecation. “We came to know where the line was. Somethings you just have to get it. I mean what we do is pretty damn good. You start thinking and stop whining about it sometimes, and you say, 'Wait a minute, I use to work in a factory and this a fuck lot better than that.'"
Reid can still be ornery, but he has grown and his legacy of family is as important as the one he continues to cultivate toward his music craft.
“I guess you have to [grow up] when you have kids,” Reid offers up humbly. “It's not about yourself anymore, and you have to be accountable. I think the thing now is that as my kids get a wee bit older, you kind of want them to be proud of you, you know what I mean. I don't want to be the sort of fuck-up that used to stumble around on stage and sort of trip over himself. I got kids, and I want to them to say, 'That's my dad.'
As to what fans can look forward to on this milestone tour, Psycho Candy will be covered from front to back, and that includes not often played album cuts, Reid acknowledges.
“There is a bundle of songs that we never actually played live at the time. So, we thought, 'Fuck it. Let's give Psycho Candy the dusting down and the fair shake it never really got on stage.'"
Songs like “Cut down” and “My Little Underground” and a few others are amongst those tracks not visited upon live by the JAMC who will be playing the album in order. For Reid that is how he likes watching shows, as a fan, himself.
“I think it is disappointing when you see bands and they kind of do a complete reworking of songs that I adore,” he confesses. “I went to see, and the man is a genius, so I am not trying to put him down, but I went to see Lou Reed in the 90s and he played All Tomorrow's Parties. I didn't even recognize the song; and as I was listening there was something weirdly familiar a good four minutes into the song, and I was like 'Oh fuck, he's playing All Tomorrow's Parties.”
And of new music for tomorrow, Reid refuses to slap a genre title on it, but the first new album by the band in nearly two decades is more than is the discussion phases. And despite living on two separate continents, recorded mixes can be done and shared due to the use of programs like Pro Tools.
“We haven't made a record for quite a long time, so it will be interesting to see how that one goes down,” Reid says with cautious optimism. “I don't even know how it works anymore, but we are just about to record a new album, so I guess we are going to find out.”
In the end, despite still being somewhat shy on stage and heading into the studio for the first time in ages with JAMC, Reid knows the intensity can be put toward the music solely, and with Psycho Candy tour already having been well-received in the UK, life for Reid could not be sweeter.
“When you've been around as long as we have, you can relax a bit. Thirty years ago when we were doing Psycho Candy, there was a kind of ‘live for today’ kind of feel. You just don't know how long you're going to be doing this. So let's get it done know, maybe tomorrow, the bubble has burst. Thirty years later, people are still coming (to shows) and it's a lot more relaxed than it was in 1985.”
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