It seems that every generation gets its British band of brothers, with siblings whose volatile personal relationship somehow translates to exhilarating musical chemistry. In the '60s, there were the Kinks; in the '90s, it was Oasis. In between came the Jesus and Mary Chain, led by Jim and William Reid. Known as much for their Lou Reed-like, black-clad ennui as their potent blend of feedback and melody, the infighting Scottish brothers proved massively influential but only flirted with the mainstream in the post-Nirvana '90s before splitting in 1999.
Back in the saddle since 2007, the Mary Chain plays two shows this week at the Warfield Theatre, where they’ll give their beloved 1985 debut album Psychocandy the in-its-entirety treatment it deserves. I caught up with singer Jim Reid while he was still in his U.K. home to discuss on-stage nostalgia, their reputation for riotous concerts, how to impress your kids, and why their first album in nearly two decades is taking so long.
What was the catalyst for this Psychocandy tour?
I guess it’s just that anniversary is coming up, and obviously we had the choice to ignore that or mark it in some way. I guess over the years a lot of people have been trying to get us to do this Psychocandy idea, and we generally resisted, because the time didn’t seem right before. But then we realized that a lot of the songs on Psychocandy we never played live, never, at any time. So we thought it might be quite a good idea to go out and do it, to give those songs an airing -- you know, a live outing. Standing on stage and singing songs like “Something’s Wrong”, which we’ve never ever played. It really does take you back to that bedroom in East Kilbrade. It’s weird, sometimes. Standing there, singing that song, I can just remember us making those little scratchy demos on this four-track we had. It is a real trip down memory lane.
Stepping back to the early days in East Kilbrade, was there a certain moment of recognition of your signature mixture of feedback and melody that we first heard on Psychocandy? Was it conscious or organic?
It was a bit of both, to be honest. We weren’t great musicians back then. We wanted to be in a band, but we hadn’t done the guitar lessons right [laughs]. When you don’t know what you’re doing technically, it forces you to use your imagination in ways that someone with five years of guitar lessons would never think of doing. It’s almost like desperation, like “I want to make a noise. I want to make an interesting sound but I can’t exactly play. What am I going to do?” You pick up a fuzz box, kick it, and it goes [makes explosion sound], and you think, “Yeah, that sounds good. That’s our new guitar sound.”
Lately, the British press has been obsessed again with the Gallagher brothers from Oasis fighting. Did you or William every have to deal with type of scrutiny with the feuding and breakup?
No, it was never really common knowledge that we rubbed up against each other as much as we did. It became so at the end of the first period of the band. It was very obvious that we couldn’t stand the sight of each other, and it kind of spilled over into the music papers. The first couple of years of the band, we’re weren’t like that. We actually got on quite well. And it’s very difficult to pin down an incident or a time period where it all started to go the other way. It was a slow process. It was like, if you imagine there’s only so much oxygen within this thing we call the Mary Chain, and only one of us seems to be able to survive. And there were constant battles to see who would pull through.
What’s your working relationship like these days?
It’s still difficult with us. I guess it always will be. We argue a lot. We still argue. That’s the reason why this album we talked about is taking so long. We just couldn’t agree on certain things. Not even just the music. I’m talking about where to record the thing. We got back together in 2007, and my kids were just babies then. William lives in L.A., and I live in the U.K. I did not want to just disappear for months and miss crucial stages in my children’s development.
Speaking of your kids, are they aware of the influence of “daddy’s band” on so many bands like My Bloody Valentine and others?
They’re becoming aware. They’ve known I’m a musician and in a band, but it’s been a very abstract idea to them up until quite recently. Where I live is a quiet little town [near Devon, UK], and nobody really has a clue about anything I’m up to when I disappear for a three-week tour, or things like that. The kids came with me a couple of years ago, when I put together a festival in Spain [2013 Primavera Sound Festival]. They came along on that, and that’s when I think they kind of got an idea that I wasn’t making all of this up [laughs]. I went onstage at this festival, and they were watching the audience, and they generally couldn’t believe it. And when people were taking my photos and asking for autographs, I think they thought, “Wow, this is real.” Having said all of this, I think they are still a bit embarrassed by it all.
Many fans in the U.S., myself included, were first aware of the Jesus and Mary Chain in the early 1990s, through the Pixies’ famous cover of “Head On” and your spot on Lollapalooza '92, and were mostly unaware of this reputation you had of concerts that caused riots, and so forth. Do you notice different wildly reactions when you play different countries?
Well, I can’t really tell what the U.S. is like now, but back then in the '80s and '90s, the American market was almost impossible to break into, because you had to sound like some slick, overproduced piece of garbage to get played on the radio. That changed generally throughout the world, I think, with Nirvana. I think Nirvana broke down a lot of doors, and a lot of barriers were smashed. That changed what “mainstream” was thought of, and it made it easier for a lot of us. I wouldn’t say it made it easier for the Mary Chain [laughs], but it changed the music scene and the music industry for the better. When we were struggling in the '80s, we always knew we were going to make sense to a certain bunch of clued-in kids and it was never going to go further than that. In places like Europe, people were more used to a sort of spiky, abrasive, jagged edge in music, so you could get away with more in the European market.
What follows this tour?
Well, we’re going to finally try to get this album together, so look out for that. [William] is in L.A. at the moment, so we’re meeting out in Canada to do some rehearsals.
The Jesus and Mary Chain plays 'Psychocandy' at the Warfield Theatre on May 16 and 17.