I’ve always fondly thought of The Jesus and Mary Chain as the UK equivalent of The Replacements. Stylistically, they couldn’t be further off. But the bands share a similar penchant for sibling in-fighting, crippling substance abuse, loud and raucous sets, and most of all, a massive devotion by critics, fellow musicians, and a cult following. The missing link, and one that unites fans so rabidly to their heroes, is lacking crossover commercial success.
The Mary Chain have been heroes in the UK since they were discovered by the fiery, redheaded Alan McGee, co-founder of the massively influential Creation Records, after a particularly drunken set at McGee’s Living Room venue in 1984. The band, along with McGee’s help and passion, released their jet engine blast first record, Psychocandy, in 1985. The group, seemingly always on the precipice of breakout US success, came close with “Head On” off 1989’s Automatic, but inebriation and physical and psychological tension between songwriter William Reid and brother Jim Reid conspired against them.
However, The Mary Chain have proven to be survivors, in addition to godfathers of shoegaze. They will be embarking on a short, nine-city American tour starting this May, playing their seminal Psychocandy in its entirety. We spoke to lead singer Jim Reid from his Southeast England home in Dover about Psychocandy turning 30, sobriety, and his hero Lou Reed.
Does it feel like 30 years since the release of Psychocandy, or does that elapsed time feel surreal?
In some ways, it does feel like 30 years, but as does everything else. When you think back on time, some memories seem like they just happened yesterday, where others feel like they happened 100 years ago.
When did you first discuss a 30th Anniversary tour?
People had been trying to get us to do Psychocandy for years now. We resisted it, because there didn’t really seem to be a reason to do it. Nobody wanted a 25th Anniversary, and for whatever reason, people would say to us, “Would you perform Psychocandy at this event,” and it just never seemed like the time was right. Someone said, “30th Anniversary,” and again it was kind of like, “Do we really want to do this?” I suppose when we thought about it a bit more, it was kind of a now or never thing. It would be too late; some people might say it’s too late already, but the 30th seemed appropriate. Certainly the idea of doing a 40th Anniversary seemed like something we couldn’t get our head around. So the 30th Anniversary is here, it seems like a good idea, and the other thing is we thought about the fact that a lot of the tunes that were recorded for Psychocandy, we never played them live, which is a weird thing. I don’t know why, but I guess we were changing our set around quite a lot. There are several songs on Psychocandy that never got performed anywhere at that time.
Are there any tracks you’ve found particularly difficult to play, or is it like riding a bike?
It’s not like riding a bike. There were tracks that we weren’t really sure how to approach. I suppose the songs we didn’t play at the time, we couldn’t really remember why we didn’t play those songs. Obviously the ones that we did play were easier to tackle than the ones that had never been performed live. It came together eventually, but there were a few songs that we just didn’t know how to deal with. It works. That’s the other thing. We got together in the studio to see if the idea was going to fly. We thought it did, so there you go.
Do you hold as much reverence for Psychocandy as fans and journalists do?
Reverence is a weird way to put it. It’s a record. You don’t look at your own output with reverence. To me, it’s like a snapshot of what me and William were like as human beings at that point in time. It’s like looking at old home movies or old photo albums. You cringe at some of it, but mostly it’s a comfortable fit. It’s nice to revisit it now.
With Lost in Translation, Scarlett Johansson, and Coachella, there seemed like this whole new breed of people discovering you. Was that odd, so late in your career?
That movie had a lot to do with a new generation of kids who had seen that film and thought, “What’s that song?” It was great, and it did us a lot of good. I’m just so glad it was in the movie. It was very well used in the movie. The Mary Chain have had songs in movies before, but it was always one of those, “Don’t look away for a second, or you might miss it.” We only used that scene, in that movie, because it was perfect.
“I Love Rock and Roll / I Hate Rock and Roll”. When you created Psychocandy, did it come from a place of love for all kinds of pop music, or was it a punk desire to destroy it all and start anew?
It was a bit of both if I’m being honest. At the time, we were totally in love with a type of pop music, a type of rock music, but a type of music that didn’t seem to exist anymore. We were absolutely disgusted with what was being spewed out the radios in 1984 and 1985.
Top of the Pops-type stuff?
Top of the Pops for sure, and all this stuff on daytime radio in the UK. It was vile to us. So, we wanted to change that. We did want to shake things up. We were very naïve at the time and thought we were going to cause a musical revolution. But, it didn’t quite pan out that way [Laughs]. But, we had good fun trying.
I know what a big fan you were of Lou Reed. Do you remember where you were and exactly what you were doing when you heard he died?
Somebody on the phone told me. I was shocked and am still shocked. Lou just seemed like one of those guys who was going to be around forever. I was just thinking, “Lou Reed’s gone.” It was such a weird feeling.
Did you ever get to meet him?
I could have met Lou, and I declined. I get very nervous when I’m around people I really admire. We’d played a festival in Scandanavia in the ‘90s, and it was in the hotel bar, late that night where pretty much everybody who had played the festival would hang around the bar. I saw Lou Reed across the bar and was just like, “My God, that’s Lou Reed.” We were with our agent, and he said, “C’mon, I’ll introduce you.” I just couldn’t do it. I just kept saying, “No, no, no.” He had a reputation for chewing people up and spitting them out. I didn’t want to be one of those, so I just decided to stand across the bar and watch.
With you brother, William, if you weren’t in a band together, do you think your level of animosity would have been as high over the years?
No. Absolutely not. I think we probably would have got along fine without the band to fight over. The band has been the reason, the subject that we’ve bickered over for decades now. Before the band, we got on pretty good. We were almost like best friends, and people thought we were weird twins or something. We tended to share the same opinion on most things. Then the band happened, and that continued for a couple of years. Then it was like there was only so much oxygen to go around within this thing called The Jesus and Mary Chain. Then we started to fight over it, and that was it. Then it got worse and worse. Now we’ve kind of come to an understanding. I know how to fuck him off. I know how to wind him up. Similarly, he knows how to wind me up. We know what the consequences are if we push those buttons, so we try not to do it.
Fighting is just exhausting past a certain age.
We still fight, but we know where the lines are now.
Has Alan McGee changed radically over the years, or is he still just a big, gushing fan of you guys?
McGee is just McGee. He doesn’t change. He’s got such amazing enthusiasm for what he does, and it rubs off on you. It’s quite easy to get jaded in the music business, and it’s great that he’s been around as long as he has. He still seems like the kid that can’t believe his luck.
Was there a moment, with a single or an album, where you thought, “Yes, we are going to make it big in the States?”
With every album, there’s always somebody standing there going, “Hey, this is gonna be big in the States.” There’s always somebody telling you that. After a couple of years, you kind of think, “Yeah, fuck it.” When “Head On” was getting played on MTV quite a bit, that time was the closest we’ve come to pop stardom in the USA. We didn’t get it, but there was a hint of it then. I remember we’d arrive at the hotels on the tour, and the hotel staff would recognize us. That’s the only time that’s ever happened, because the “Head On” video was on heavy rotation. We’d arrive and they’d be like, “Hey, we’ve just seen your video.” That’s the only time it’s ever happened. Mostly when we arrived at hotels we were treated like shit on a shoe.
Are you drinking now, or are you happier and healthier than you’ve ever been?
I’m a drinker basically, but I haven’t had a drink for five months. I will drink, but I have a drinking problem. I don’t even care about admitting it. I’m not embarrassed or ashamed by it, but I’m probably an alcoholic. I gave up drinking for a period of years some time ago now, and I fell off the wagon about four years ago. Now I’m just trying to rein it in, but the last couple of years have been pretty messy with my drinking. I’d been drinking for the Olympics, if you know what I mean. Now I’ve had five months off the drink, so we’ll see where that goes.
Are you in a program?
I took AA, but I found that it wasn’t really for me. It made me depressed going to AA. The stories that people told … it’s almost like people seem to get addicted to AA. They replace the booze with Alcoholics Anonymous. I don’t see myself doing that, and everybody was telling these horrible disaster stories connected to their alcohol addiction, and I was just sitting there thinking, “Yeah, but what about the good times?” [Laughs] I kept thinking, “Let’s go the fucking pub and talk about this.” I’ve had great times with drink, and to be honest with you, I haven’t had that many bad times. It’s the health issue. I’ve got some young children, and I want to be around for them. I’m getting older. If I drink the way that I can drink, for me to give that up, it’s all about health.
What kind of music do your daughters listen to? Do you try and school them?
They’re still quite young. Candace will be eight in a couple of weeks, and Simone will be 12 in the summer. Unfortunately, they listen to this pretty bad music that they hear on the radio. I try and educate them, especially Simone because she’s at that age now where she really should be listening to better music than she is. I think they’re a bit embarrassed by the music I make. [Laughs] One said to me once, “Do you have to make that really old-fashioned music? Couldn’t you make something modern?” That’s kind of like where we are at the moment.
Is it satisfying hearing a new generation of bands influenced by you? Or would you rather they found their own sound?
I like when I can hear an influence, but it can be a bit depressing if it’s just emulation or pastiche. The Mary Chain borrowed things from other bands. That’s what rock and roll is all about. You take bits and pieces that you’ve found that you like and rework them. The reworking part is essential. I love The Velvet Underground, and everybody knows that. If we had made music just like The Velvets, there would have been no point. There has to be something of your own identity. But it’s very flattering. People tell me, “Oh, I heard a band last night that sounded just like the Mary Chain.” I’m like, “Great … we’re still relevant to people making music now.” It’s very nice to hear.
Can you give any update on the new record? Is it in a stasis period?
The new album is the most recent bone of contention between my brother and myself. We’re getting there. We’re kind of finally coming around to agreeing on how it should be recorded. I would say that there will be a new Mary Chain record, but we haven’t actually started recording it yet.
Do you have a proudest moment over the last 30 years involving Mary Chain?
Any time your record hits the record stores. That is just an immense feeling of pride. You start talking about making a record, and it’s all just abstract until there’s a physical record to hold. It’s less so these days with MP3 downloads, and I know it’s a bit of a cop-out, but probably Psychocandy. [Laughs] When it came out, to me, it was just the most amazing feeling you could imagine. We’d talked about being in this band for years, and with the recording of Psychocandy, we’d never been in a band. We’d never had a record out. The whole thing just seemed unreal, and I couldn’t believe it was really happening. When it came out and was very well received, and I actually saw people walking into the store to buy the record, that was something else.