The Jesus And Mary Chain
Jim Reid on alcoholism, brotherly tension, and the creative process...

The Jesus And Mary Chain’s Jim Reid swears by the rock and roll cycle. “There's only a certain amount of elements that people kind of borrow and re-assemble”, Jim says, “and if you're old enough to have been around the whole cycle you've seen it all. Whenever, I do listen to new bands I end up doing that thing that older people do where it's like 'Oh that bit sounds like Joy Division, and that bit sounds like The Doors'. I’m sure older people were doing that when Jesus and Mary Chain came along".

It has been nearly 20 years since their sixth and last album, 1998’s ‘Munki’. In that time Jesus and Mary Chain have missed a whole cycle in the laws of rock and roll. Having formed in East Kilbride in 1983, the Mary Chain legacy has grown in their absence.

They enjoyed a moment of cultural penetration with their classic 1985 track ‘Just Like Honey’ playing in the final scene of the 2003 Oscar nominated Lost In Translation. It brought their distorted wall of sound to a mainstream audience. “I think it’s a hit single now of sorts,” ponders Reid. “It wasn't top of the charts but its a very well-known song by anybody's standards. There are certain songs that you think are stonking, great big hits that sometimes weren’t. I think a lot of people think that was a bigger record at the time than it actually was.”

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Having re-formed in 2007, a ‘Chinese Democracy’ delay between albums is finally over. Today's release of new album 'Damage And Joy' today brings a new set of Mary Chain songs to new and old fans alike.

“I was a bit nervous about the whole thing,” Reid explains on recording the new album, “and then suddenly it seemed like several years had passed. I thought we either make this record now or we don't make a record at all and I'd like to have a record out.”

‘Munki’ was fraught with tension (an explanation for the long delay) with the two brothers and leaders of the band, William and Jim struggling to reconcile their differences. “I knew there was at least one, probably more, great Mary Chain records,” Reid admits, “If only we could get over that bickering in the studio bullshit that we seemed to get bogged down with in the nineties.”

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If only we could get over that bickering in the studio bullshit...

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'Damage And Joy' was the first time they had made a studio album with a producer - Killing Joke bassist and producing extraordinaire, Youth. “We tried in the eighties and nineties,” says Reid. “We met several but rarely got beyond a meeting”.

Recording most of the album in Spain at Youth’s “flash” studio, the band were stuck in isolation with nothing to do but crack on making the next great Jesus and Mary Chain album. It could have been a disaster, leaving the two Reids to continue their studio bickering from ‘Munki' but maturity inevitably prevails after twenty years.

“Strangely enough it did go very smoothly” Jim reveals, “and we are getting on better than we have in a long time. As far as I'm concerned I think this was a massive opportunity. The chance of getting another Mary Chain album out there and we could blow it by petty bickering in a studio. That would have been a massive fuck-up. I think that was what was going on in my mind and I think it was the same with William. We were just getting on with the recording and it turns out we ended up bonding. It was quite pleasant being in the studio with William again and not the usual bullshit that sometimes went with that.”

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Evidence of this maturation is in Jim Reid’s home for the past ten years - Devon, a place hardly renowned for its plethora of rock band frontmen. It’s a far cry from the Drugstore studio in Elephant & Castle, London that they used to hole up in around the nineties. “I don't think it matters where you live,” Reid says. “I think where you lived in terms of where you grew up is something that you carry around with you for the rest of your life but I think where I'm living now could be anywhere.”

That tag that Jesus and Mary Chain carry around with them is the town of East Kilbride. Eight miles south of Glasgow the secluded town has a population of 74,411. “Glasgow has a kind of vibrancy,” Jim says, “East Kilbride doesn't have that. East Kilbride is eight miles away from Glasgow but it feels like more.”

“With us you felt like wherever it was all going on you were nowhere near it. That isolation made you treasure things more. Things like discovering the Shangri-Las when I was 11. It was much more important to people that lived in little places like that.”

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I used to think in order to go on stage and be a singer you had to really go mental...

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“You think the idea of making music is not something that is possible if you live in that kind of place. You love it but it'd never cross your mind that you could be in one of those bands. Then when punk happened it dawned on us that actually "fuck no". Everyone was saying form a band it's easy and then you would hear a band like The Ramones and think that does sound easy. I mean it's not. To be in The Ramones is one of the hardest things in the world but it sounds easy. And thats enough to make you want to get up and get off and get out of that place.”

If The Ramones or The Sex Pistols (it’s a tight one) were the punk band of the 1970s then Jesus and Mary Chain were the torchbearers into the 1980s. They would play short, chaotic sets which would end with the crowd climbing onto stage and smashing the band’s equipment. The only problem was the band weren’t naturals when it came to rowdy delinquency.

“All the wild shows was a result of a bunch of guys that were really quite meek that couldn't do it unless they were absolutely fucked up. And that's what we used to do. I used to think in order to go on stage and be a singer you had to really go mental. I wanted to be Iggy [Pop] and I found that I couldn't and the only way I could get anywhere near that was to get absolutely wasted. It's bad for your health and you don't really achieve what you're trying to, you just end up like a drunken fool. It took years to learn that.”

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This coping mechanism left an indelible mark on Reid: “I still do struggle with drinking. I do have a problem and I don't mind discussing it. I'm a drunk, I'm an alcoholic. And I sometimes fall off the wagon. I'm on the wagon at the moment. So, good.”

While the studio bickering has ended and there’s no riot to call time on their gigs any-more, one element of life in Jesus and Mary Chain remains - Reid’s distaste when it comes to rehearsing. A worldwide tour has been planned to celebrate the release of 'Damage And Joy' and Mary Chain are about to go in and practise. “Rehearsing is like going to the dentist,” Jim sighs. “I hate it. You're stuck in some horrible little room. The sound's never good. It's just so we can all learn.”

He enjoys playing live these days but admits he still gets nervous and has to “sweat it out” before going on stage. “Everybody thinks I don't [like playing live] because I'm quite timid and shy,” Reid says in relation to his stage persona, “and these days I'm sober, so on stage I can't do the ol' Mick Jagger. All I can do is go out there and sing Jesus and Mary Chain songs. Banter between the audience and bands. I can't do that without sounding like Des O’Connor.”

Their reserved nature influenced a generation of shoe-gazers. As with The Ramones they taught the kids in the next rock and cycle along that you didn’t need to be Mick Jagger to look cool on stage and produce a cacophony of ear-piercing, transcendental sound. And finally we have a new Jesus and Mary Chain album with which we can borrow and reassemble.

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'Damage And Joy' is out now.

Words: Richard Jones

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