Some candy talking

After changing the landscape of alternative music in the 1980s, The Jesus and Mary Chain bring their amp-melting pop tunes back to Colorado for the first time in half a decade

Credit: Steve Gullick

Scottish noise-saturated rock band The Jesus and Mary Chain set the London underground ablaze in the mid-80s with their confrontational, ear-splittingly loud and often chaotic live shows. Arriving on a music scene in a state of flux — with punk rock having burned itself out, and shoegaze and Britpop still a few years from genesis — their abrasive, industrial-coated pop gems quickly caught the attention of critics and audiences alike.

The band’s debut LP, 1985’s Psychocandy, would go on to become one of the cornerstones of modern alternative rock. It was an instant classic of ‘60s girl-group melodies paired with paint-peeling feedback that laid the groundwork for bands like My Bloody Valentine and much of what we now know broadly as indie rock. The Jesus and Mary Chain maintained an active presence up through the end of the ‘90s, releasing several more exceptional records and chart-cracking singles, but internal tensions led to an implosion and they called it a day just before the arrival of the new millenium. The band reunited at Coachella 2007, and with some patching-up done between brothers Jim and William Reid, they have enjoyed a successful second life.

With a new album on the horizon, and a past worth revisiting, the band is making its first journey back stateside since before the pandemic. Boulder Weekly spoke with singer Jim Reid ahead of their Oct. 23 performance at the Paramount Theatre in Denver.

When I first discovered Psychocandy, I happened to be in the midst of a big Beach Boys, Velvet Underground, and Stooges obsession. I thought the sound you achieved was this perfect amalgamation of pure pop songcraft and abrasiveness. And for a young kid, growing up in the middle of nowhere, it was a true revelation. Do you recall a similarly revelatory moment that made you want to create your own music?

I mean, it had been kind of something we’d always wanted to do since we were kids. It’s weird — there’s nobody really musical in our family. But we got our record player in the early ‘70s and we had no records to play on it, and a cousin lent us a bunch of Beatles albums. And that was, I guess, sort of the beginning of it.

But there were many steps along the way. We got into glam rock, like Bowie, Roxy Music, and stuff like that. And then punk rock, and that was a big moment.  … Before, it seemed like people who made music were exotic creatures from another galaxy almost. But with punk, it seemed like, Christ, these were people like us. We could do this.

And we talked about doing it for years and years and years and then the kind of Eureka moment, I suppose, [was] when we got the first Velvet’s album. A lot of punk bands talked about that record, but you really couldn’t find it. It was discontinued; it was deleted. Then they reissued that record in 1980, and we bought the first album, the “Banana Album.” We brought it home, put it on the record player and it was just like, ‘Fuck, this is how good it can be.’

And so that was the moment we knew that we had to really get our asses in gear and do an actual band and make music. This is what we wanted to do. So we did.

So, is that around the time the idea came to marry the harsher noise and the more melodic sensibilities?

Yeah. I mean, we’d never heard that before, where you could have a band that was singing [The Velvet Underground’s] “Waiting for the Man” on the same album as a song like “I’ll Be Your Mirror.” It’d been a long time since we’d heard a record where you could just let that needle follow the grooves for the whole record without lifting up to skip tracks and stuff. Every track on that record was stunning. Not only did we not want to lift the needle up, but if anybody would have tried, I think I might have killed them.

Even a little bit later in your career, on a song like “Tumbledown” [off their fourth studio album, Honey’s Dead], which is one of your catchiest songs, there’s still that moment where the track breaks into that Einstürzende Neubauten sample [from their 1981 track “Tanz Debil.”] It’s such a left-field choice but somehow it still totally makes sense within the context of your music.

Yeah, well that’s good that you noticed these things.

Moving up in the years, on your last album Damage and Joy, it was thrilling to hear that you very much still have that magic. Were you worried at all that the spark wouldn’t still be there after being away from recording with your brother for so long?

Worried only inasmuch as it had been a while since we were actually in a recording studio. We weren’t worried about the songs ; we felt pretty good about that. But, yeah, it had been a long, long time since we’d actually made an album. So we were a bit nervous about that and how things might have changed, and whether we’d be able to do it — to just knuckle down to it and get on with it.

But the previous album we made was Munki [released in 1998], and it just about killed us. So the idea of going into a recording studio for months on end, with just me and William cooped up in a small confined space for that length of time, I was worried. I wasn’t sure whether it was going to take us right back to where we left off in the ‘90s and we were going to be throwing things at each other. But it didn’t go that way. It went quite well, and we just kind of got down to the business that we were there to do. …There were no screaming matches; there were no sharp implements drawn. We got on quite well — record was made, nobody died.

I know COVID threw everyone’s plans for a loop and this is your first time back in the States since before the pandemic. Were you able to work on any new music during that time period? Or did everything kind of come to a halt? I know you were working on some stuff beforehand.

Yeah, we started a new record just before COVID. And then it crashed to a halt. Then we went back into the studio last October or something like that for a few weeks. We did a bit of work then and now we’re gonna go back in anytime now and pick up from where we left off.

So that’s your plan for 2023?

Yeah, we’re hoping to have the record done and dusted by the end of this year and released next year.

Damage and Joy was the first album you made with an outside producer, correct?

Yeah, yeah.

Are you working with somebody this time? Or have you gone back to producing yourselves?

It’s been just us for this record so far, but I don’t know. I’m not totally against the idea of using a producer, but the trouble is, it’s hard to find anybody that fits. A producer is like a temporary member of the band, you know what I mean? It’s someone making creative decisions that can do something that you can’t. The reason we’ve never had a producer before is not because we were absolutely against the idea. It’s just that we couldn’t find anybody who seemed to fit, seemed to say the right things, and seemed to get the band. I’m not against the idea of using a producer in the future. But with this record, so far, it’s just been me and William.

And what can people expect from this tour?

It’s going to be just a bit of a mixed bag of things from all periods of the Mary Chain. There won’t be any new stuff because it’s too soon to do that, I think. So it’ll be stuff where all albums are represented. So if you like our records, you should like our show.

What’s it been like to enter back into the world of touring?

Obviously, things have changed since COVID arrived on the scene. It’s much scarier now, because … you organize this big tour, and then on day one, somebody gets COVID and the whole fucking tour is cancelled. So it makes it much more difficult to do these things, and I worry about how it’s all gonna go in the future because we’ve gotten away with it so far. We did a Darklands [the band’s second album] tour last year and it was a bunch of band and crew on a tour bus going through Europe. And I was convinced that after a week somebody would get it. None of us did. So, that was amazing. And then on return, two of the crew tested positive, so we just made it. We played several festivals this year and managed. We’ve all gotten it in the band; everybody’s had it now. But, luckily, it was like when you got back, and you found out that you had COVID. So it’s not really totally fucked us up yet. But I get the feeling it will at some point in the future.

How long are you going to be out in the U.S. this time?

It’s a short trip. I think it’s about a week or something like that. I’m the worst person to ask. I don’t know what I’m doing. I really don’t. People say, “Oh, right! Your tour! Where are you going?”

People don’t believe me, but I just prefer it that way. It makes me nervous when I start to think of all the things I need to do and the places I need to go. It’s much better if somebody just taps me on the shoulder the day before and says, “Oh, you’re off to America tomorrow.”

Your music has popped up in iconic ways in the past in film and TV — from “Just Like Honey” being used in a very important scene in Lost in Translation, to “Snakedriver” from The Crow soundtrack. And I’ve been watching the new Dahmer series on Netflix, and it uses “Head On” in one episode. I just wondered how you feel…

Yeah, I heard about that. I didn’t know about that. Somebody sent me a text saying they just watched a movie and there was a Mary Chain song. But anyway, sorry.

Oh, no, it caught me by surprise when I heard it. I just wondered how you feel about these songs of yours being used within the context of someone else’s creative vision.

I really don’t mind. I mean, obviously, it depends on what the project is. We were around in these time periods, so why shouldn’t our music be included in stories about things that happened at these points? I like it. I like the idea that it spreads the word of the Mary Chain. I guess maybe the Jeffrey Dahmer one is perhaps a bit inappropriate to look at it that way. But I think we did so well out of things like Lost in Translation. We made so many new fans because of that song being in that movie. So what’s to complain about, really?

I would imagine that for a lot of people that was their introduction to you — a younger generation of fans.

I seriously think it was. I think a lot of people discovered the Mary Chain from the inclusion of “Just Like Honey” in that movie.

For me, it was catching a couple of your videos on the old MTV show 120 minutes. And at the time, I wasn’t supposed to be watching MTV, according to my parents, but I would sneak it in. I know there are a lot of apocryphal stories of how intense, and occasionally dangerous, your early shows were. But you evolved out of that reputation. I wondered if you ever miss that sense of danger. Is that something that is better off left in the rearview mirror?

I think it’s probably best left behind. At the time, it seemed exciting. I didn’t know what to make of it  — was this a good thing or a bad thing? And at the end of it, I just thought, “Somebody’s gonna get killed if it goes on like this.” And I thought, “It’s a bad thing.” But at the same time, you sort of think, “Well, there’s not that many bands who could go out on a stage and get that kind of a reaction.”

So in a weird way, I thought it was quite exciting that the violence did get a little bit out of control. And it did seem like somebody was going to actually get seriously hurt. If it would have been one of the band it would have been like, “Fuck it,” you know? We were asking for it, some people would say. But if it was [someone in] the audience, then that would have been difficult for us to live with. So we tried to kind of nip it in the bud. We went away for six months, didn’t play any shows, [and] just laid low and hoped that when we came back that whole shit would have been over and done. And it was.

There was a big shift in your sound from Psychocandy to Darklands. But I’ve always thought it was impressive how you were able to shift the tone of your songs from album to album, but still retain the essence of the Jesus and Mary Chain. You had such an iconic first album, but then there was the pressure to follow that up. But, I hope this is OK for me to say, I think I probably listen to Darklands more now.

I hear that so, so much. That was the reason why we actually did that Darklands tour. We did a Psychocandy tour, and we sort of thought that that would be it. That’s the record that people want to hear. But so many people came up to us on that tour, and said, “You’ve got to do Darklands. It’s my favorite record.”And so [we thought], “Fuck it, why not? Why don’t we do it?”

Yeah, it’s strange that you say it, but there was a lot of pressure at that time. We’d recorded Psychocandy and it seemed like there was a whole bunch of people out there who just wanted Psychocandy Mark II. And there was another bunch of people who were saying, “You should just split up. You should go away now, because you’re just going to blow it. You can’t follow that record up.”

It was terrifying. We didn’t know what to do. And then we just realized that the only thing you can do is make the record that you want to hear. As soon as you start making records for other people, you’re fucked. That’s just a fact. It’s all about making records that you want to hear yourself. And if you’re lucky, other people get that too. If you start making records for an audience, then that’s it. That’s the end.

Do you have a particular view of the state of music in general right now, or rock and roll in particular?

People always ask me this and I never know what to say because I’m old. I don’t listen to teenage rockers now. I’ve got thousands and thousands of albums to listen to. And whenever I do dip my toe in the water and think, “Right, what’s going on out there?” all I hear is bands that sound like bands I’ve already heard. I hear a band and it sounds like Joy Division or I’ll hear a band that sounds like Echo and the Bunnymen, or the Cocteau Twins, or My Bloody Valentine. And I think, “Well, I’d rather just listen to the Cocteaus and Valentines.”

I’m not putting anybody down. And I’m sure that when the Mary Chain came out, there were old dudes going, “Oh fuck, it’s The Velvet Underground.” Music is a cycle and that’s the way it works. There’s a new generation, and they pick the best bits of the old generation. And that’s what we did. And that’s what kids are doing now. But if you’re around long enough, you’ve heard the whole cycle, and there’s nothing new to add. I really believe that–it’s all borrowed stuff. And if you sort of tune in long enough, you’ve heard every single bit of it. And there’s not really that much that I hear that I haven’t heard before when I listen to new music.

I’m talking about rock music. But rock music as an art form, I think, is pretty much terminally ill. It’s not going to be around for much longer. Fast forward another 10, 20 years, rock music’s gonna be like what jazz music is today. There’s going to be a bunch of enthusiasts that are into it, but it’s going to be a much smaller affair. It’s going to be people playing it in smoky little clubs. The idea of the rock show in a stadium — those days are numbered.

It makes me wonder if it’s even still possible for a band to make an impact like The Jesus and Mary Chain did in the mid-80s.

Well, I mean, probably not in rock music anymore, but I think probably in things like rap music or whatever. I’ve got teenage daughters and my 19-year-old daughter, [has] just gone off to university. When we drive around, she plays me all this drum and bass and drill music and stuff like that. And at first I’m like, “Fuck, this is awful!” But on repetition, I’m thinking, “This is kind of punky,” you know? The attitude in how this music is made is very, very similar to how people made punk records in 1977. It’s very kind of gritty and like, “Fuck you,” and DIY. And so the attitude that I love, the kind of music that I love, is still out there, but it’s just morphed into something else. And rock is just sort of disappearing up its own arse, I think.

ON THE BILL: 107.9 KBPI Presents: The Jesus and Mary Chain. 7 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 23, Paramount Theatre, 1621 Glenarm Place, Denver. Tickets here.

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