FOREWORD: Seminal feedback-glazed white noise addicts, Jesus & Mary Chain, was led by Scottish brothers’ Jim and William Reid. Inspired by punk, Iggy & The Stooges, and Velvet Underground, their amphetamine-fueled shows became so violent part of an ’85 tour was canceled.
Ear-wrenchingly hard-candied guitar reverb throbbed inside the Reid’s clamorous pop-mangling crew, inspiring the equally loud and profound My Bloody Valentine as well as the entire late ‘80s shoegazer scene and ‘90s grunge grinders alike. Of course, the ancient half-hearted dip-shits that run the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame will pass them up for induction, but that’ll never stop young bands from discovering Jesus & Mary Chain’s unshakable hair-raising sonic rock.
Four years evaporated before they got together and came up with a follow-up to their decent fifth album, Stoned & Dethroned. ‘98s spotty Munki had some promise, but ultimately paled in comparison to courageously jolting ’85 debut, Psychocandy, ‘87s nearly-as-good Darklands, and ‘89s less thrilling Automatic. Jesus & Mary Chain broke up after Munki and both Reid’s went on to obscure bands I don’t even recall. This article originally appeared in Aqaurian Weekly.
As the guiding light for noise-pop, Jesus & Mary Chain debuted in ’85 with the critically acclaimed Psychocandy, which served as a viaduct connecting Sonic Youth’s distorto-feedback creations to Nirvana’s crassest grunge ancestors. Hailing from Glasgow, Scotland, sibling mainstays Jim and William Reid became popular anti-conformists in Britain and underground legends in America, smashing equipment onstage and exposing drug culture through frank directives like “Some Candy Talking.”
After a nearly four-year studio hiatus, Jesus & Mary Chain make their triumphant return with the exuberant Munki, their sixth studio album (discounting singles collections and overseas compilations). Like punk rocker, Joan Jett, they’ve composed an anthemic life-affirming declaration titled “I Love Rock And Roll,” and they’ve rediscovered glorious youthfulness in the semi-autobiographical “Stardust Remedy,” offering ‘I was a teenage Jesus freak/ got drunk on punk/ and then I found my feet.’
For a slight changeup, Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval purrs through the bleak sedative “Perfume” after Linda Reid (Jim and William’s sister) takes on the carefree “Moe Tucker” (a direct reference to the Velvet Underground’s legendary drummer).
I spoke to Jim Reid May, 1998. He sounded positively ecstatic with the results of Munki, a project finished in the summer of ’97.
Munki’s thematic context, if any, seems to juxtapose your mixed feelings about the rock and roll lifestyle.
JIM: Yeah. Most songs are about what we do for aliving. “I Hate Rock And Roll” concerns the record business while “I Love Rock And Roll” is about our appreciation for the incredibly privileged existence we live.
As a kid, what type of music did you enjoy most?
JIM: I was into glam-rock – Sweet, Slade, T. Rex, and David Bowie. William’s a little older and likes that stuff, but we came together with punk rock. It make us both get into music. We picked up a guitar that was gathering dust. Previously, we didn’t have the confidence to do that. In ’80, I heard Velvet Underground’s “Waiting For The Man” and it all made sense as to what I wanted to do with my life.
You’ve named a song after Velvet Underground drummer, Moe Tucker. She’s living near Atlanta now. I got to know her after an interview and live shows at Tramps and Maxwells. She’s been sending Christmas cards ever since.
JIM: It’s not about Moe. We just had a song I preferred a woman to sing. Since my sister Linda was in town, we got her to sing. She said it sounded like Moe Tucker, so it stuck. To me, Moe Tucker was the backbone and soul of Velvet Underground. Tell her we’re fans of hers.
I will. She recently released a single, “Grl-Grup,” four lovable Phil Spector songs including “Be My Baby” and “The He Kissed Me.” Jesus & Mary Chain also seem to be interested in and influenced by Spector’s rhythm-heavy ‘wall of sound.’
JIM: Funny enough, a lot of people who are big Spector fans have said that, but it’s not a really big part of what we’re doing. It’s just that huge reverb sound we put out that subconsciously reminds them of him.
Some critics claim Jesus & Mary Chain’s lyrics are obsessed with self-destructiveness. But I think those people are missing your dark sense of humor.
JIM: You’re definitely right. It’s not all doom and gloom. Some of the lyrics are incredibly humorous. But people don’t pick up on it.
In the past, you’ve done evil onstage antics. Where does that attitude come from?
JIM: As a band, you have to put on a show. It’s something to do besides playing the songs. Early on, we got nervous about that and basically trashed stuff. Some was unnecessary and dumb, but some was heartfelt. Sometimes you go on speeding out of your head and there’s a guitar and a floor to smash it on. But it started to become too expected. It dawned on us that what’s good about the Mary Chain is it’s not about glitzy showbiz stuff. Now we push the music to the front and let the music do the talking. It’s not showbiz, but instead music as art.
Do you push the melodies above the exhilarating noisy din more often on recent albums?
JIM: All the ingredients count. It’s not balanced so people can’t hone in on one aspect. Like the Velvet Underground sang about “Heroin” on the same album they did “I’ll Be Your Mirror.” There’s so many lessons to be learned there. It disappoints me when artists make a noisy racket from start to finish with no melodies. Music should be more than that; the best music is.
Does “Stardust Remedy” relate back to T. Rex and Slade and your own carefree teen years?
JIM: That particular song is more about hearing the Sex Pistols and suddenly life having meaning. They were the squeaky wheel. Before them, everything was geared towards popular taste until punk happened and we were saved.
Do you feel the music scene has expanded exponentially since recording Psychocandy in ’85?
JIM: I’m not sure it ahs expanded. But there’s more bands. My philosophy is, if you don’t like the music you hear, make some yourself. That’s how the Mary Chain started. We didn’t particularly like what we heard so we made music ourselves.
Did you listen to early ‘80s underground rock like the Replacements, Husker Du, or the Minutemen?
JIM: I liked the Replacements. They played great trashy punk. Isaw them at the Roxy in L.A. in ’85.
Was ‘92s Stoned & Dethroned title a reaction to grunge overthrowing noisy pop?
JIM: No.It was jst a general feeling of not being appreciated. Grunge mad a lot of sense. The early stuff by Nirvana made it big. I thought grunge would change music overnight and there’d be a revolution because people would see music didn’t have to be wishy washy throwaway shit. When Nirvana hit number one, I thought they’d expand people’s minds, and it would never be the same again. After Nirvana, bands like Bush turned my stomach. It was Nirvana-by-the-numbers. I honest to God thought Nirvana were incredibly important.
Songs like “Candy Talking” have definite drug references. Do you enjoy teasing fans with narcotic innuendos?
JIM: Sometimes people see drug references that aren’t there. I’m not saying there’s none at all, but some fans go over our lyrics with a fine-tooth comb. I don’t want to make a fuss over it because when you talk good old-fashion common sense and say you don’t recommend drugs, people get hysterical. There’s no reasoning with people who have preconceived notions. I know drugs fuck people up. People should take responsibility for their own lives. If someone in a band says, ‘yeah, I took smack,’ then some fan takes it because of that, they’re just idiots. If I take drugs to get through the day, it’s my business.