When the Jesus and Mary Chain — who headline night one of Los Angeles’s Gothic Cloak & Dagger festival this coming weekend — emerged from East Kilbride, Scotland, in 1983, they concocted a visionary, fuzzed-out blend of jaded/sedated vocals, hook-filled melodies, and bristly feedback that was at least a decade ahead of its time. The oceanic wash of effects-laden guitar noise that William Reid coaxed from his instrument on their groundbreaking debut album, Psychocandy, was used as a blueprint by countless bands. It’s safe to say that without the Jesus and Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine, Ride, the Raveonettes, the Brian Jonestown Massacre, and A Place to Bury Strangers might have ended up sounding completely different — or might never have formed at all.
However, because the J&MC acrimoniously split following their release their sixth album, 1998’s Munki, they never quite got their due, ending up all but forgotten by the mainstream and ignored by millennials. On “Amputation,” the lead single off their new comeback album, Damage and Joy, vocalist Jim Reid sings, “Tryin’ to win your interest back, but you ain’t havin’ none of that,” which he says came from a feeling of being discarded by the press and music industry.
“That’s exactly what the song is about. It felt like me and William had been chucked out, thrown away to a life in exile,” Jim tells Yahoo Music in his strong Scottish brogue. “The exclusive club days were over. The music scene had revoked our membership and we were no longer welcome. That’s what it felt like — rock ‘n’ roll amputations.
“At one point, I sat there looking around and wondered why nobody seemed to give a s*** about the Mary Chain anymore,” Jim continues. “And beyond the band, nobody even cared that we were the people that made the music in the Mary Chain. They were more interested in bands that sounded like the Mary Chain than the actual Mary Chain. I just didn’t understand that.”
The fading interest the public expressed toward the Jesus and Mary Chain led to their breakup in 1999, but that’s not the only reason the band members parted ways. Simply put, brothers Jim and William Reid hated being around each other and wouldn’t even work in the same room when they recorded Munki. Years of sibling rivalry had led to numerous punch-ups and endless screaming matches that sometimes ended in bouts of destruction. The final battle came while the band was on tour in the States to support Munki.
“We played a show in San Diego, and we were heading back to L.A. after the show and we got into a fight that was pretty horrendous,” Jim recalls. “It spilled over a couple days. It started in the bus. We were all pretty f***ed up, which was never a good idea. It wasn’t actually me that threw the punches that time; Ben Lurie, who was the guitarist, got into a fistfight with William in the back of the minibus, and the next day William decided he was leaving the band.”
The situation went from bad to worse, and any hope of salvaging the situation evaporated overnight as Jim continued to binge-drink. By the time they were scheduled to hit the stage at Los Angeles’s House of Blues, he could barely stand.
“I had totally forgotten where I was,” Jim admits. “I saw William, but I still didn’t know where I was and I just started screaming all sorts of abuse at him. And then suddenly I looked around and I realized we were onstage. At first I was like, ‘Who are all of these people and why are they staring at me?’ And then I thought, ‘Uh-oh. Oh, f***. This is a gig. I can’t do this.’ We had to give the people in the audience their money back.”
The media was endlessly delighted by such stories of the Reid brothers fighting, but Jim says that never encouraged them to keep the battle going on. “It didn’t, because I’ve never really enjoyed it, and I hate the way we are other people’s freak show,” he grumbles. “It was never for headlines. I feel that sometimes it can become an intrusion when people are having a bit of entertainment out of my dysfunctional relationship with my brother. That’s just our business, really.”
After the Jesus and Mary Chain publicly exploded, Jim formed the band Freeheat, then recorded some solo singles; William put together a group called Lazycame, which recorded a pair of albums, and also wrote and produced for his younger sister’s band, Sister Vanilla. Then in 2007, the J&MC were offered a good chunk of money to play a reunion show at Coachella. The gig — which featured a surprise singing cameo by Scarlett Johansson on “Just Like Honey” — went well, and a couple of months later the band played the U.K.’s Meltdown festival.
To test the waters and see if they could work together again, they recorded “All Things Must Pass” for the Heroes soundtrack in 2008, and, following a boxed set of rarities and a greatest-hits package in 2010, the Reid brothers laid the ground rules for a full-scale reunion. They toured throughout 2012, and then in 2015, they hit the road to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Psychocandy. And by the time that tour was over, the J&MC had come full circle, so it seemed like a good time to finally work on the long-delayed full-length follow-up to Munki.
It would be a nice “triumph from the jaws of defeat” story to claim that the Reids so enjoyed revisiting their caustic classic material on tour that they leapt at the opportunity to reenter the studio. But that’s not exactly what happened. Every incremental progression, from the 2007 Coachella reunion to the Psychocandy tour, was a baby step toward the creation of Damage and Joy — their first album in nearly two decades, and a confident, contentious, appropriately titled return to form.
Yahoo Music: Let’s start from the beginning. Psychocandy had such a raw, fuzzy, feedback-saturated sound that inspired countless bands from the noise-rock and shoegazer eras. At the time, it was unprecedented and polarizing.
Jim Reid: A lot of people didn’t understand it. When they heard it, they thought their stereo was broken. But we didn’t do that on purpose. We had no idea how you were supposed to make records. We just knew what we wanted to hear coming out of the speakers. We broke all the rules, but we had a great studio engineer that facilitated that. We had met up with several studio engineers that treated us like psychopaths. And then we hooked up with this guy John Loder at Southern Studios, and he was totally the opposite of all the guys we’d met up to that point. He was running a label from the studio, so he would say, “Well, I’m going in my office now. Just give me a shout if you need anything.” And we said, “What? We don’t know what to do. We don’t how to work all of this stuff.” And he said, “Oh, sure you do. Just press some buttons and if it sounds good, record it.” And that’s how we got the record done. We pressed lots of buttons, screeching noises started and we didn’t know why, but we pressed “record” and played and that was it.
Did playing Psychocandy on tour recently, and seeing old fans and young kids singing the lyrics, provide a spark of inspiration to start making new music again?
Neither William nor I were even that sure about doing the Psychocandy tour. We had to be talked into that. I was against it because I thought, “Well, what do people expect? Do they expect us to come out and smash the stage up and have a 1985-style riot?” If that’s what they wanted, they were not going to be getting it. And it was only once we realized that we should just make the tour a celebration of the album, and not all the s*** that went down around that time, that it started to come together. And it was amazing to see people who were around when the record came out in the crowd, but also lots of people who couldn’t have been born back then. And a lot of them were singing along. I’m so glad we did it now.
So what was it that finally convinced you that you could get along well enough to make a new album?
Well, in 2007 when we first reformed, William was quite keen to get right back into the studio — and I was a little bit nervous, to say the least. I kept putting it off. I did want to have a record out, but only if it meant that I kept my sanity intact. So I put it off as long as I could. Because, if I’m being totally honest, there was still tension when we reformed. When we got back together in 2007 it wasn’t as bad as it had been in the ‘90s, but it wasn’t ideal. And that’s why I wasn’t ready to make a record yet, because I could see that if we had gone in then, it could have been explosive. And then it just got the point when I said, “If we don’t do a record now, we’re probably never going to do one,” so I spoke to William and said, “OK, I’m ready to do it if you’re still up for it.”
You evolved significantly after Psychocandy. Your second album, Darklands, was cleaner and more controlled, paying more homage to ‘60s pop and even surf music. And the remainder of your catalog, right up to Munki, seemed to flirt with the musical terrain between those records. Damage and Joy sounds like you’ve taken all the best elements of the Jesus and Mary Chain’s past and fused them into one cohesive record.
We didn’t plan it that way. It’s a happy accident, I guess. Hopefully, we’re introducing the Mary Chain to people that might not be that aware of every single record we’ve put out in the past. I think that [the eclecticism of the album] probably came from our producer Youth’s input. He was quite keen to revisit certain elements from the past.
Do you feel this takes over where Munki left off, or is it a fresh new start?
To me, it’s not that different that Munki, which was a hellish record to make and led to the end of the band. But Munki is possibly my favorite Mary Chain record. So although it was very, very painful to make, I love the fact that we took the trouble to do it anyway. But that is one of the reasons it took so long for us to come back with another record, because Munki was so bloody difficult to record.
In “Amputation” you sing, “I hate my brother and he hates me/That’s the way it’s supposed to be.” Did that reflect the friction in the studio when you recorded the album?
Actually, what it’s supposed to be is wondering why the band continues. A lot of the creative juice that keeps the band ticking along is due to that well-documented friction between me and William. I think if it gets too comfortable between us, things would begin to dry up. I love my brother and he loves me, but the fact of the matter is those moments when we can’t stand the sight of each other have made some great records.
So what was it like to record Damage and Joy? Did you have to record separately again?
No, we worked together in the studio like we used to. We actually are getting on much better now than we have in a long, long time. When we started recording this album, we were both nervous about how we were going to get on in the studio, and as it turns out, we just focused on making the record. And as a result of both of us realizing that this was actually an opportunity and it would be a massive blunder if we screwed it up, we just got on with the job and we actually ended up bonding. It was a bit of a healing exercise, I think.
In “Simian” you sing, “I killed Kurt Cobain/I put a shot right through his brain/His wife gave me the job/‘Cause I’m a big, fat lying slob.” That’s a pretty contentious lyric.
William wrote those words. But it’s just a story. You’re not meant to take it too seriously. People probably will, but they shouldn’t. It’s just a work of fiction.
Do you like to be antagonistic or provocative? You’ve pushed people’s buttons in the past, with lines like “I wanna die just like Jesus Christ … /I wanna die just like JFK/ I wanna die on a sunny day” on “Reverence.”
I neither seek out that approach nor reject it. Everybody seems so polite in the music business. It’s really easy to put noses out of joint. We never really have tried to, but it’s so easy to do. I don’t lose sleep over it. One way or the other, I don’t really care. We just go about the business of doing what we think is the right way forward, and if people get upset over silly little trivial things, that’s up to them. But I don’t care.
On another new track, “Presedici (Et Chapaquiditch),” you reminisce over elements from the past, like Christopher Walken films, T. Rex, the Beatles, and David Bowie. As you get older, do you find yourself thinking more about your youth?
That’s William’s song too, but that’s actually our childhood that he’s talking about. T. Rex and Tiger Feet and stuff like that. It’s me and William sitting and listening to the radio when he was 12 and I was 9. It’s us back in East Kilbride with my mom and dad back when [our sister] Linda was a little kid. It’s quite nostalgic. Singing it reminds me of our childhood.
Did you and William get along well back then?
We didn’t [laughs]. We did on occasions, but for the most part we couldn’t stand each other when we were kids. When we were teenagers, we got together and we were each other’s best friends. Punk rock united us, and for several years after that we were really close, and that continued until we started the band. And it continued for a long while as the band was going. Somewhere around the ‘90s, it all started to slide. It was a gradual, slow thing, and then somehow it got so bad we couldn’t be around each other.
Do you think any of the fights were caused by excessive drinking and drugs?
Absolutely. It was almost all to do with that. In the beginning, we just did that stuff to get over our nerves. Particularly me. I’m a pretty shy, private person, so getting onstage was a hard thing for me to deal with. I needed something to help me get over my fears. But it went from that to just having kicks — doing it because it felt good. And then it went through another phase where you’d get drunk or take drugs by yourself with the doors locked. And that’s when it all gets bad. Suddenly, you’re always at home by yourself.
What was your poison of choice?
I dabbled with everything. But for a while my drug of choice was cocaine, and I spent way too much money on that stuff. But the thing that has been a constant, and still is something I wrestle with even now, has been alcohol. That has been my biggest addiction through the decades.
It’s hard to be in a band and stay away from alcohol. It’s on your rider, it’s backstage, on the bus, at parties.
If you work in a bank and you show up to work drunk, you get fired. If you’re in a band and you turn up to work sober, people look disappointed. They want you to be f***ed up. They don’t want a sensible, sober guy in a band. They want you to be falling all over the place and punch somebody. People enjoy that.
Are you more sober these days?
I haven’t had a drink since October. William hasn’t had a drink for two years.
That’s great. Good luck continuing on that path.
Many of the songs on Damage and Joy originally appeared in other forms in your other band, Freeheat, or as solo tracks. Did you want to reinvent them for this record, or did you run out of new material?
Those records came out at the time I was telling you about, when nobody seemed to give a s***. Some of those records were recorded very cheaply and very quickly and very drunk. And nobody bought them. And I just thought, “I want those songs to be Mary Chain songs. I don’t want them to be obscure and I don’t want them to fall between the cracks.” I feel like those songs didn’t get the proper treatment. They needed the Mary Chain treatment. And they needed William’s guitar. And they needed to be collected in the Mary Chain catalog.
You originally did “Can’t Stop the Rock” with your sister in her band, Sister Vanilla. Is that project still going on?
No, Linda works for the Ministry of Defense. She’s not interested in doing music anymore. She never really was. It was always a hobby for Linda.
There are guest appearances by Isobel Campbell, Sky Ferreira, your sister, and William’s girlfriend Bernadette Denning on Damage and Joy. The female vocals give the songs a nice flavor reminiscent of “Sometimes Always,” which you did with Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval on 1994’s Stoned & Dethroned.
I’ve always liked female vocals. We considered doing a duets album. And then we went off the idea of doing a whole album like that and just decided to do the songs we had earmarked for the duets album on this record.
Today’s alternative music scene is full of bands that play as much synth as guitar. Did you want to come back and inject some blaring guitar back into indie rock?
I suppose there are a lot of bands I hear and I don’t know what they’re trying to do. I don’t really follow the scene, but I definitely hear a lot less guitar than there used to be, so if we somehow inspire bands to bring more guitar back, I guess that’s a good thing. But we just really wanted to make music that we like and wanted to hear. That’s what motivated us on this album. And that’s why we continue to do it.