The Jesus and Mary Chain
The Jesus and Mary Chain really don't need much of an introduction so I'll try to be brief. Virtually every great British band from the mid-80's to present has been inspired in some way or another by this seminal Glasgow group. Their 1985 album Psychocandy rates as one of the greatest and most influential debuts ever released. Combining explosive noise with diverse 60's pop influences, including the likes of the Beach Boys, Velvet Underground, and the Ronettes, Psychocandy had a huge impact on groups such as the House of Love, Stone Roses, the shoegazing scene (My Bloody Valentine, Ride, Pale Saints, Telescopes, Chapterhouse, etc.), and a new generation of Scottish noise pop bands like Urusei Yatsura and the Delgados. But that was only the beginning. Over the years, the Jesus and Mary Chain have compiled a stunning and diverse discography, particular highlights being Darklands (1987), Honey's Dead (1993), and their newest release Munki. The group is currently a trio consisting of Jim and William Reid (vocals and guitar) and Ben Lurie (guitar). I spoke with Ben early last summer before they began their recent US tour.
Ben: The first thing I noticed about Munki is that the sound is much more abrasive than Stoned and Dethroned and probably anything you've done since Psychocandy. Was that your intention when you made this album?
Ben L: The intention was to make a different record from the previous one, definitely. We spent a couple of years making Stoned and Dethroned and 18 months touring it. We felt that we were in the mood to make a noisier record. That was probably more of an unconscious than conscious decision though. We've become better at working with noise and sonic placement and stuff like that. We're finally getting the hang of it in the studio.
Ben: I thought part of it might have just been a reaction. I know in the past that Jim and William have worried about being "mature" sounding and your last LP did get positive reviews from some of the more respectable magazines like Rolling Stone who might not have liked some of the noisier records.
Ben L: It wasn't planned. There are some gentle tunes on this too. Apart from the fact that you always want to put out a different record from the one you just made, you can't really cater to what people expect or want. All you can do is make the record that you're ready to make.
Ben: Was Munki a difficult record to make or did it come together pretty easily?
Ben L: Some of it did and some of it didn't. It was recorded over a pretty long period. The original idea was to make it pretty quick because we had been touring a lot. We had a good live band and we wanted to rehearse the songs for a change which is something we've never done before we've ever recorded so we thought we'd know what we were doing this time. We did that fairly quickly in about three or four weeks and played some of that to Warners, our old record label, and they liked it so much they told us to leave. That's how we ended up label-less. We sort of drifted around for 18 months, not knowing what to do except finish making this record. In some ways it was a bit demoralizing because we didn't know if this would be coming out. It's always hard making records.
Ben: It seems so odd that Warners dropped you because to me so many of the songs are obvious singles.
Ben L: We kind of felt that as well. I think they had made up their minds that they were going to drop us unless we came up with a wildly different record. That's okay. It worked out well.
Ben: How did you end up getting back on Creation?
Ben L: Jim's been friends with Alan McGee for years which is why Jim didn't really want to ask him if Creation were interested because he knew that if he asked, Alan would offer him a deal. He wanted Alan to ask him. Meanwhile, Alan was thinking I know they want a deal, but if Jim was interested he'd definitely ask me. They both sort of hung out together not discussing it. Then finally it came up and that's basically how it happened.
Ben: It's interesting looking back at how the Jesus and Mary Chain, Alan McGee, and Primal Scream were all friends in the early 80's but little did they know how much of an impact they would have on pop music in the UK and everywhere over the past ten years or so. Is that something you ever think about?
Ben L: It's something you're aware of, definitely. How much you don't know. It's sort of for other people to say. If your band can inspire other people to make music, it's a really good thing.
Ben: When did you first start playing with the Jesus and Mary Chain?
Ben L: I started playing with them live in 1989. I started playing studio stuff with Honey's Dead, but Stoned and Dethroned was the first LP proper.
Ben: How did you come to meet Jim and William? Did you grow up with them?
Ben L: Actually I used to live in Australia. I knew the band. I shoplifted their first couple of records! I came to England and wanted to join a band. I was working at a record company, Rough Trade. The guy who runs Rough Trade also runs Blanco which was the Warners subsidiary that the Jesus and Mary Chain were on. They needed a guitarist and someone told me about this audition and I got the job.
Ben: Is "Never Understood" a play on "Never Understand" in the same way that Honey's Dead was a play on "Just Like Honey ?
Ben L: I don't think so. It's William's title. He says no, so I have to say no although I suspect maybe it is.
Ben: I thought it might be another attempt to shake off the ghost of Psychocandy because to this day people are going on and on about how it's one of the most influential records of all time and ignore the fact that you've made so many great records since then. Does that frustrate you?
Ben L: It can be pretty frustrating. You're doing all these interviews and you spend most of the time talking about Psychocandy. You feel like here we are fourteen years later, can we not talk about something we've done recently? On the other hand, perhaps if it weren't for that, maybe we wouldn't be here today anyway. You do feel that they could focus on now a bit more. Hopefully this record might change that. People seem to like it a lot.
Ben: How did Linda Reid (Jim and William's sister, ed.) end up singing on "Mo Tucker"? Is she in a band?
Ben L: No. Jim had written the song and thought it was a bit straightforward and he wanted a female vocal. Linda was down in London for a few days and came to the studio. She had never sung before. She was all shy and nervous, but twenty minutes later she was all boisterous and excited and she just did it. We needed a title and Linda thought she sounded like Mo Tucker so that's how it got called "Mo Tucker."
Ben: It's a great song. She should be in a band.
Ben L: We're thinking about making a record for her in the future as a backing band.
Ben: So was William's solo single a one off or is he planning on making an album?
Ben L: He's planning on making an album. It's probably almost finished. He's been making it on and off for the last few months. It probably won't get released until the end of the year because all of the Jesus and Mary Chain activity going on. Jim and I have started a group as well. We're looking for some other members.
Ben: What sort of sound are you going for with this group?
Ben L: It's probably poppier. We want to get some other people involved to take it away from the Mary Chain a bit. It's kind of hard after we spent three years making this record together and then doing another one and trying to make it sound wildly different.
Ben: Would this group be a bit of a spinoff or do you plan tour and stuff?
Ben L: We're going to try to record most of it this year and then tour if people want us to.
Ben: One of the things that strikes me about Munki is that you start the album with "I Love Rock n' Roll" and you end it with "I Hate Rock n' Roll." Is there any reason why you chose to start and finish that way as opposed to doing it the other way around?
Ben L: We wanted the two songs to be at either end. "I Love Rock n' Roll" was put first because "I Hate Rock n' Roll" was recorded and released in 1995 here (included on Hate Rock n' Roll compilation in the US, ed.) so we decided on the new one first.
Ben: "I Hate Rock n' Roll" is pretty vocal about your group's disgust with the music industry and the BBC, MTV etc. Do you feel like the industry has completely misunderstood you guys all the time?
Ben L: It's felt like it for a long time. We feel like we've been ignored yet we get name dropped all the time. Everyone talks about how influential we are but when we put out a record, no one notices. I must say that this year things seem to be a bit different which is quite refreshing. We're wondering if we've accidentally done something right.
Ben: Do you think part of it might be being on Creation again with Alan McGee's huge influence?
Ben L: I think it does help people take notice a bit more. I also think that it might be due to the fact that we've been around for a long time now. People have finally acknowledged that they like our music.
Ben: Being a somewhat controversial group can't have helped. You've had a history of releasing singles with controversial lyrics like "I Hate Rock n' Roll," "Reverence," or "Some Candy Talking." Has it always been your intention to shake things up as much as possible?
Ben L: No. People will give you whatever excuses you want. People who didn't play "Reverence" on the radio were quite happy to play the Prodigy's "Smack My Bitch Up." "Reverence" is a record about wanting to be glamorous. "Smack My Bitch Up" on the surface seems to be a song about beating your girlfriend up.
Ben: I never quite understood why you didn't become massive like Oasis. Your songs are all catchy and direct but they have a lot of substance too and you're definitely more original. Was this a case of Warner Brothers not promoting you in the right way?
Ben L: I suspect that's part of it. We've spent too much time talking to the wrong people who have no idea. We also made a lot of mistakes along the way too. We've pissed off a lot of people just by being a bunch of alcoholics and not taking things overly serious. That kind of thing puts people's noses out of joint. I'm happy for Oasis.
Ben: Definitely. They've changed things for the better in the UK. Four or five years ago I would have never imagined groups like the Verve and Spiritualized selling so many records.
Ben L: I think Oasis have opened the door for a lot of bands in the same way that Nirvana did. Again, it shows people that non-mainstream bands can have massive appeal.
Ben: I've always felt that you have been a bit ahead of your time. When you came along in 1984, there were very clear distinctions between indie and chart music but you went on to influence groups like the Stone Roses who subsequently influenced Oasis. Do you think if you made your first record now, things would be much different?
Ben L: I think quite possibly yes. Indie used to mean aim low. "Let's make a record in a tin shed and record it on a ghetto blaster and whatever we do, let's make sure we're not popular." It was such a loser attitude. If you can be bothered to get up and make music, surely you should want people to listen to it. The Jesus and Mary Chain's attitude was a bit ahead of it's time. The record companies started to realize that there was an untapped market out there and that the kids didn't want to buy Phil Collins records.
Ben: One thing that has especially impressed me about the Jesus and Mary Chain over the years is how each album and even singles from albums have been consistently different from each other. So many bands just do the same thing over and over. How do you manage to stay inspired?
Ben L: If we wanted to be totally dull we could make the same record twice. We feel that once you've done it, you've done it. We're not always inspired. Sometimes it takes us a while to get started on the next record because there isn't an inspiration. You don't always know where you're at if you've spent a year touring. Sometimes you just get totally sick of music altogether and you can't imagine writing another tune. Basically, the enthusiasm just comes back and you go into the studio and do stuff. If the enthusiasm is ever not there, we'll stop.
Ben: Was there a period after Stoned and Dethroned when you felt that way. It's been four years between records?
Ben L: Yeah but the main delay was probably the Warners thing and not having a label. There was one time right after the Stoned and Dethroned tour when we felt ready to make another record but everything went askew. I know that after Jim and William finished Psychocandy they thought it might be their last record. They didn't know what they were going to do. Everyone wanted another Psychocandy and the only thing they knew was that they didn't want that.
Ben: Compared to other groups with hugely influential debuts they were pretty quick with their second album. Unlike the Sex Pistols or Stone Roses, the Jesus and Mary Chain were able to shake off the myth that they had created on Psychocandy and kept going.
Ben L: I think it's best just to make records and not be aware of what's going around and what the scene expects or wants. You should just have an idea of what you want to do and just do it.
Ben: How do you feel like people will look at you in ten or fifteen years time? Do you think you'll be viewed in the same way that the Velvet Undergound are today as a group who were underappreciated in your time?
Sometimes it feels like that. I want people to look back and think we were
underappreciated until 1998 when we suddenly became huge and people realized
how good we were! In sixteen years times we could be doing shows in Vegas!