The Jesus and Mary Chain: ‘If I could transport myself back then, I would give myself a good fucking slap’
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08.07.2024

The Jesus and Mary Chain: ‘If I could transport myself back then, I would give myself a good fucking slap’

jesus and mary chain
Photo: Mel Butler
Words by Simone Anders

The Jesus and Mary Chain can be, and have been, many things.

Their sound is at times brutal without being abrasive. It can be hopeful without being dishonest, gloomy but not defeated, distant and irreverent, but not disparaging or cruel. 

Their hazy, melancholic miasma of distortion and reverb has been the background noise for several generations because of their ability to navigate those soundscapes. If you grew up with them, they sound like a memory – maybe one which you can’t quite place emotionally, but you keep with you fondly. 

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This has been the case for many generations of listeners since they released their first album Psychocandy back in 1985. Forty years later, they’re still at it, touring and releasing new music. Their latest album Glasgow Eyes just came out in March of this year. 

Notoriously mysterious, even controversial in their earlier days, turning their backs to the audiences with sets that would last barely 20 or 30 minutes, brothers Jim and William Reid no longer feel the need for such statements. 

Talking with Jim now, it isn’t hard to still see sides of that young musician, eager to create for its own sake. “I think that with old age you don’t get wisdom, but what you do get is a sense of freedom. We can write sounds now that we wouldn’t write in our 20s because we would be thinking ‘Is this cool? Are people going to laugh at us?’ whereas now we just don’t give a fuck.”

At this point in their respective careers, a great deal of their songwriting is reflective of their own younger selves. Jim talked at length about when the band broke up in 1998.

“It’s obvious that we’ve been around for a while, I mean, we’re no spring chickens anymore. When you’re younger you are looking forward to the future – in your 60s everything is pretty scary, so you reflect a lot about how you got to this state,” he tells me.

He says the past can be felt in songs like Venal Joy and Jamcod, which was written about the band’s falling out and one particularly notorious night at LA’s House of Blues. During the sold-out show, Jim seemed too drunk to perform and his brother walked off stage after 15 minutes, resulting in the audience being refunded for their tickets. 

“It was one of the worst nights of my life but it is good songwriting material,” he tells me. 

“You tend to look back and think that perhaps the band didn’t need to break up for that long and I don’t think it did, but we were full of drugs and we were being fucking stupid, so it was inevitable then. If I could transport myself back then, I would give myself a good fucking slap. Essentially that is why the band broke up, stupid fucking bickering. The scary thing with you 20-somethings is that you never figure shit out.”

Long-time fans of the band would know of the track’s drawn-out guitar sections and feverish lyrical deliveries. Going into their new album, synths take a perhaps surprising primary place.

“When we hit the studio we let the album take its own direction. We’ve tried in the past to make an acoustic record and we were almost forcing a particular sound. Generally speaking, we don’t try to push a direction, although in this one William said ‘Let’s get the Moogs out’ and we got all of these old synths and dicked around with them basically.”

He explains the band has always been into synth music, drawing inspiration from icons like Suicide, Kraftwerk and DAF.

 “This was the record where we would show it off,” he says. I ask if they’re still expecting people to hear their old sound, a call back to their previous work.

“What we have learned to do is not worry too much with everybody’s expectations. If you are making an album for someone else, you’re fucked. If you make a record and you feel good about it, and nobody buys it, you still feel good about it. You still think ‘fuck you, we’re old.’”

He says that’s what happened with the band’s sixth album, Munki. “It destroyed the band. We broke up because of it,” he continues. Munki was their first album not to hit Top 40 on the charts and it dropped just months prior to their split.

“I think it is one of the best records we ever made and nobody bought it! And you stand there and you think ‘We were right and every other fucker was wrong’. If we’d made a Britpop record or a grunge record we’d be looking back at it and thinking ‘Oh God, somebody bought it and it sounds like a piece of shit’. Nobody bought it, but it doesn’t sound like a piece of shit.”

Catch The Jesus and Mary Chain at the Forum on Sunday, August 4. Grab your tickets here