Interview | The Jesus and Mary Chain

When The Jesus and Mary Chain announced their split in 1999 after years of volatility, it seemed the damage was irreparable. After years of offers and refusals, brothers and band mates Jim and William Reid eventually set aside differences for a performance at Coachella in 2007.  A decade later, The Jesus and Mary Chain returned with album Damage and Joy, their first release since 1998’s Munki, throwing the band swiftly back onto the international tour circuit with new music as blistering as their pioneering debut Psychocandy. Before The Jesus and Mary Chain set off for a six-date Australian tour this week,  Jim Reid was kind enough to take some time out to chat about the band’s caustic history of rioting audiences, in-fighting, introversion and their unexpectedly harmonious reunion. 

You’re back in Australian next month and it’s been a few years since your Pyschocandy 30th anniversary tour? How did you find the shows last time you were here?
From what I remember, it was all pretty good stuff. We thoroughly enjoyed it, it’s always great to come to Australia.

You’ve since released Damage and Joy, with such a large back-catalogue to pull from, how do you go about preparing for a tour like this?
It’s pretty straightforward really. We rehearse a bit, not too much really because after all these years we kind of know what we’re doing. There are some songs that we feel work very well live so we tend to stick to those tunes. We mix it up and we like to do a little bit from each period of the Mary Chain.

Damage and Joy came out nearly two decades after Munki, after a rift between you and William and you often denied that you would ever reform. What changed your minds?
Time heals most wounds really, as the old cliche goes. At the time, around 1997 I think it was when we broke up, at that time I wouldn’t have believed it if someone was to say that the Mary Chain would be touring at this time. But, after a while you kind of think, ‘What was it all about? What was it that we were arguing about? Who said what to who?’ Although at the time it seems the most important thing you can imagine, that you’ve been insulted to such a degree that you can’t come back from it. When you look back on it after 10 years, it just seems kind of trivial, all the things that we were screaming about and actually wanted to kill each other about. I just thought, ‘Oh my God, we need to grow up a bit’. After a while you just think, ‘Ah fuck it, The Jesus and Mary Chain, that sounds pretty good’.

Is it a different experience now, working together again?
It is, it’s much more laid back. We kind of move at our own speed now. Back in the eighties and nineties, whether you like it or not, you’re kind of on a treadmill with this thing. You make your record and everyone expects a world tour whether you feel like it or not. Whereas now, we go where we want, when we want, there’s not any kind of pressure so it’s much more relaxed. I’ve spent a lifetime thinking I wasn’t good enough to be out there on the live stage, therefore I got hammered every night on stage. It’s not good for your health and after all these years, I just figured that out. We’re coming back so we must be doing something right. That takes a bit of the pressure off when you think about it that way.

I know you’ve spoken in the past about your shyness on stage… Even being aware that you’ve been a revered band basically since you set out, do you still feel shy on stage?
Oh, totally. I am just a shy human being, I don’t do well… It’s kind of absurd that I’ve ended up doing this as a living, really. I’m happiest when I’m just left to my own devices. I don’t like being in the spotlight, I don’t like being in large crowds of people. At the same time, I actually enjoy being on stage but it can be very uncomfortable at times. It usually takes me a song or two to get in the groove. I actually enjoy it, though it might look like I’m not, but I actually do.

Playing to audiences that were basically rioting in the earlier years of the band, how did you deal with that in your performances coupled with maybe not feeling that comfortable performing anyway?
Well back then, to do it I had to get pretty much off my tits every night. I wasn’t aware of too much of what was going on around me because I was really out of it most of the time. That wasn’t all to do with shyness and nerves, it was to do with being a young guy living out his fantasies, basically. I signed off the dole and two months later I was touring the world and playing in New York City and it just seemed like a dream come true. You tend to just go for it, really. As far as the riot shows are concerned, it’s something just that happened, I barely remember it. I don’t even remember too much of what it was all about. I think it was more to do with the fact that we didn’t really know what the rules were. We’d never been in a band before, never mind the music business. We’d just sit in the dressing room and go on stage whenever we felt in the mood. That could be an hour after the time that was advertised so by the time you went on stage, the audience wasn’t in a very good mood, you know? So that was why they tore the house down, literally.

On Damage and Joy you worked with Youth (Killing Joke) which was your first time working with a producer. How did you find that experience, relinquishing a bit of control to someone else that you hadn’t before?
It was interesting. The main thinking behind it was that, we’d put off going to make that record for so long and being totally honest, I was worried. The record we’d made before, Munki, it was like we nearly had nervous breakdowns making that. I thought, ‘Christ, is it going to be like that again?’ So I kept putting the recording off until it got to the point that it was like, ‘Are we ever going to make this record?’ So, we came up with the idea of having a producer, not just to produce but to have somebody else in the studio to keep the peace almost. A policeman in the corner. Also, it was quite interesting as we hadn’t been in the studio for years, technology’s changed so we thought it might be good to have somebody in there who knows. As it turns out, we got on OK during the making of that record so the kind of peacekeeping element wasn’t necessary but it was like having a temporary band member that’s also a good producer. He did the job, he knew what we were aiming for and helped us achieve it.

What was it like growing up as a young creative person in East Kilbride?
East Kilbride is not the kind of place you would choose to grow up if you want to be a musician or anything really. If you want to be a writer or a movie director, East Kilbride feels like – well, it is – the arse end of nowhere, really. It’s not a bad place to grow up, it’s quite pleasant in many ways but it’s hard to find anything that isn’t mass produced for a mass audience. If the movie theatre was showing anything it was going to be Rocky I, II, III, IIII, V, VI, VII and so on. You had to try hard to find things that weren’t geared towards the mainstream. Then, when punk hit in 1976/1977, we got really into music but it was like we might as well have been living on the moon as far taking part in all of that was concerned. It felt like you were not in the middle of things, just somewhere else.

Do you remember when you first began to have ambitions as a kid to be a musician?
I remember myself and William were into the idea of being in a band, but it was a childish fantasy, it never seemed that it could be real. It only began to seem that it could be possible when punk rock came along and the DIY ethic of that. The Ramones for example – you could imagine learning to play guitar to that degree. These guys looked like you could do that too, though It’s actually incredibly difficult to do what they did. It kind of seemed possible. That’s when it really dawned on us, that being in a band was something that we could do, it wasn’t just for other people living in London. Perhaps we could do it. That was it.

What are your first memories of picking up an instrument and writing music?
Well I guess William was first to do that. He was kind of tinkering around. We’re both quite lazy, it took us a good few years. Punk hit and we decided we wanted to be in bands, we didn’t think we could be in the same bands because we’d kill each other, even back then. It took a few years and we were actually forming two separate bands at one point and then it became apparent that it was really the same band. It was the same kind of music, the same idea, the same attitude and it just seemed absurd to do two different bands when it was clear that it should be both of us together. That would have been around 1983 that it came together for real.

When you first started releasing music, you were kind of pioneers which not many musicians can say. How do you feel about the terms, labels and genres that have been attached to you over the years?
It depends what label it is, I suppose. If it’s ‘arsehole’ then… I don’t waste time with that kind of stuff to be honest, I just get on with making music. People will make of it what they will. Hopefully, people will be into what you do. It’s that simple really. People get too caught up in things that don’t matter in music. It’s simple – just make the best music you can and hope for the best.

Are you going to continue to write music as The Jesus and Mary Chain?
Yeah definitely, we are going to record another record. The plan is to record during the summer and release it sometime next year.

THE JESUS AND MARY CHAIN March 2019 Tour Dates:

Thursday 7th – Sydney – Sydney Opera House
Friday 8th – Brisbane – Tivoli
Tuesday 12th – Melbourne – Forum
Friday 15th – Adelaide – The Gov
Saturday 16th – Perth – Astor Theatre

Image source: HiFive Magazine.