Q&A: Jim Reid, Lead Singer Of Jesus & Mary Chain



BY JONATHAN VALANIA Hard to remember now but there was a time when the Jesus & Mary Chain divided the population of planet Earth into two camps: Those who were sure they were the Second Coming and those who thought they were the end of Western Civilization. Such was the response 30 years ago to the band’s debut, Psychocandy. History would, of course, judge it a seminal and deeply influential classic. After a lengthy hiatus, the band is active again, and recently released  the most def Damage And Joy, their first LP since 1998’s Munki. Don’t call it it a comeback, call it a return to form — and yet another reminder that the band once derided as unlistenable noise has become the soundtrack of our lives. In advance of the re-activated Jesus And Mary Chain’s show at Union Transfer on Monday May 15th, we got  frontman Jim Reid on the phone from his home in Devon, England, and he spoke candidly and at length about noise and melody, drugs and religion, and life 30 years after lighting the fuse on a cultural flashpoint that’s still blowing up in our faces like an exploding cigar that just keeps giving.

PHAWKER: First things first, let’s just go over some ancient history. How did the name Jesus and Mary Chain come about?

JIM REID: Well, I mean, it’s the same as any other band, I suppose. We looked for ideas and stuff, like, things that we thought would be cool and not like any other bands names. We actually had a gig before we had a name. We kind of arranged this London show with [Creation Records founder] Alan McGee. It was based on demos that we’d made. But we’d kind of made all these demos under various names, most of which were absolutely shite, to be honest with you. The one I can remember was, I think, The Poppy Seeds. We were The Poppy Seeds for awhile.

PHAWKER: The Poppy Seeds? [laughs]

JIM REID: There were others that I can’t remember. And then it was William that just said, I don’t know where he got it from, but he just said ‘The Jesus and Mary Chain.’ And at first it sounded like, “Naah, no way.” And then you kind of think about it, you think, ‘well, fuck, that sounds like no other band.’ So we went with it.

PHAWKER: Were you guys raised Catholic?

JIM REID: Eh, no. I mean, religion wasn’t a part of our lives. I mean, it’s kind of a fascinating subject. I discovered The Bible when I was like in my late teens and out of curiosity read through it to see what it was all about. But, in the end, came away with the idea that it’s kind of a lot of mumbo-jumbo. For a different set of people and a completely different time it probably stopped people from killing each other before there was any such thing as the law. Stuff like that. So it served a purpose for then, but, you know, I just don’t think it really belongs in the modern era.

PHAWKER: And now that there is a thing called Rule of Law it provides and excuse for people to kill each other.

JIM REID: Yeah, exactly. That’s the irony isn’t it. Now people kill in the name of God.

PHAWKER: When did you guys come up with the idea of combining Phil Spector-style pop melodicism with, you know, White Light/White Heat-style noise?

JIM REID: Well, we were always into both pop music and noise music, so we kind of thought, well, why can’t we combine the two? I mean, we weren’t the first, I would never claim to be. I mean, the Velvet Underground didveverything that we attempted to do, but 20 years earlier. But, you know, that was one of the facets of the Velvets that we absolutely adored, that they could, on the same album, they could have “I’ll Be Your Mirror” and then “[I’m] Waiting for the Man.” You know, you say, ‘well, fuck,  that’s it. That’s the answer.’ Why be tied down to one style? At that time, you know, there was people making noise music, and there’s people making pop music. But nobody was combining the two. And we thought, well, that would be us. That’s what we would do.

PHAWKER: What role, if any, did drug use play in the creative development of the band and its sound and/or songwriting?

JIM REID: In the very early days, drugs weren’t important to us at all. I mean, we would take the odd line of speed to stay awake and stuff like that. We were more into the alcohol more than anything at the beginning. Toward the end, it was like, we were into, you know, various things. I mean, I probably took too much cocaine and I dabbled with like, loads of other drugs. I mean, you name it, I’ve probably tried it. And William got really dope. What we call dope is like hash and marijuana. So we were on different planets at that time. There’s many reasons as to why the band completely crumbled in 1997. But it was probably to do with the fact that our minds were in different places due to substance use.

PHAWKER: From the vantage point of hindsight, it’s a little hard to believe that Psychocandy could have been such a divisive and controversial album. And yet I was there, and it was. People either thought you were the Second Coming or total frauds.

JIM REID: Well, I mean, at that time it wasn’t just the album that was controversial. I mean, at the time we could barely play our instruments. We only just seriously picked up the guitar a few months before we made that record. We had a guitar knocking about and we had a bass guitar knocking about for five years or so. I’m not joking, like, those guitars were gathering dust in the corner. I can’t remember why, but at some point we thought, ‘well, you know, we’re going to miss the fucking train right now unless we get our shit together.’

PHAWKER: [Laughs]

JIM REID: So, we picked up those guitars and we learned a few chords, and that was it. And we thought, well, fuck it. You know, if it’s good enough for the Ramones then we can do it as well.  I mean, we could, we could hardly play. And we were really awkward on stage. And to deal with that we would either, as I said, would get, we’d be stoned off our tits, or we’d be so drunk so we couldn’t stand up. But we would do it in a way that I think, nobody’d seen anything like that on a stage before. We played this show in a place called the ambulance station in London. And I just remember that I was, I was so nervous. I mean, that’s the thing. People thought we were like snot-nosed little punks. But the reality was we could barely play and we tried to compensate with attitude.  I remember walking on the stage for that show, and I was so drunk, I couldn’t stand. I mean, I mean it, I couldn’t stand. I fell into the fucking drum kit about three times. Having to re-setup and stuff like that. I think people just saw the spectacle and it was something like they’ve never seen this before. You know, everyone spends, like, four months rehearsing, and, you know, I mean, twelve years of guitar lessons. And here’s these little guys, that, they can’t even stand up. You know what I mean? And the noise, it’s just like, earsplitting. And at that point, I don’t think the songs came across at all because it was all just like, stumbling about and making a hell of a fucking racket.

PHAWKER: People seem to think you guys had this, like, snotty punk attitude, turning your back to the audience and keeping the lights really low, but I’m guessing that it was more about shyness and stage fright.

JIM REID: We were hiding. I mean, I was shy, I’m still really awkward on stage. But that’s the thing that most people didn’t get. I suppose that’s because we didn’t explain it. We were kind of all caught in the limelight and our way of dealing with it was to act arrogant. You know, we’d say ‘fuck you, we have the best band in the world.’ And…they kind of believed that [laughs].

PHAWKER: I think that if you don’t honestly believe in your heart that you’re the greatest fucking band in the world then you should never get on stage.

JIM REID: Umm-hmm. Yup.

PHAWKER: You guys were famously quoted for saying, ‘Nobody’s good enough to play longer than 20 minutes.’ That quote was heavily criticized at the time. But — and I’m calling from Philadelphia, where in a couple of days Bruce Springsteen will be putting on a series of three hour shows — but I’m here to tell you still I think you’re totally right.

JIM REID: Well, I mean, especially with the Mary Chain back then I mean, a Mary Chain show, it was just like…it was a spectacle. We would go out there, and we would explode, fall apart. You couldn’t stretch that out for an hour, two hours at that time, that would have been ridiculous. So what we did is we made it as kind of brief as possible to make a stab at maximum impact. And…as far as like, Bruce Springsteen is concerned, I mean, if he’s happy doing it, and his band are happy, like, sitting there for, like, fucking six hours on end listening to it, good luck to them. It’s just not what we are into. We do about an hour now, and it’s because we’ve got so many albums and songs that we can sort of soldier through. But I just, I just think that, you know, any more than that, people are just going to start getting itchy feet.

PHAWKER: It’s been 30 years since Psychocandy, which is hard to believe. At a certain point you went from a cultural event to a career. Do you guys ever miss, sort of being at the eye of the storm?

JIM REID: Not really, ‘cause it was too intense. I mean, with Psychocandy, the year of Psychocandy was like, if I’m being honest it was probably one of the best years of my life. But there was aspects of it that were also the worst. I remember when Psychocandy came out, and like, what the reviews were saying: Great album, they should split up now because they can never equal it. And you know what, yeah, we understood what people were saying. And we thought, well, fuck it. Can we equal it? What do we do next? In a way, I love that year of Psychocandy, but there were other years that maybe we didn’t have as much success, but we made records that I felt pretty good about. And people bought them and people came, and people sort of, like, slapped you on the back. In a way, that was, like, better. There was no big, eh, you know, there was no big hullabaloo. We weren’t in the eye of the storm as you put it. But, you know, it was kind of chill.

PHAWKER: And for the record, I know we talked mostly about Psychocandy. But, I actually think the last record you guys made, Munki, in 1998, was your best record.

JIM REID: Well, I’m really, really pleased that you say that. Because, em, I mean, I don’t know if it’s our best record, but it’s certainly as good as any other record. I think, you know, I know why we made all of our albums. So, they all kind of make sense to me, still. But it’s saddened me that when Munki came out the band was falling apart. The Mary Chain were very out of favor in the U.K. music scene at that time.  And so it just kind of slipped through the cracks. But, yeah, I agree. It’s certainly as good as any other Mary Chain record.

PHAWKER: Now, since that time, you guys have only released one new song, “All Things Must Pass” back in 2008. Is that because of business issues? Or is that because of creative issues?

JIM REID: Well, it’s largely because William lives in Los Angeles and I live in the U.K. Apart from that, we have kind of different ideas as to how to make the record. I mean, the songs are there. I’m not worried at all about the songs. I’m just worried about how we record those songs. And that’s been the contentious issue. And that’s the reason why that the record has, thus far, not been recorded. It will get recorded, but who knows when. Soon, I hope.

PHAWKER: Very good. One last question here. I’m curious, what’s a typical day in the life of Jim Reid? I’m picturing you sitting in a dark room wearing sunglasses, alone, smoking and brooding. For 30 years.

JIM REID: [Laughs] I live in a charming little seaside town in Britain. And I get up early in the morning. I’ve got children, although I’m separated from my family. If I have the kids, I get up in the morning and I, sort of maybe take them to the beach. If I don’t have the kids, I get up in the morning, and I have a whiskey breakfast. And then it’s all downhill for me.

PHAWKER: [Laughs]. Very good, very good. Thank you very much for taking the time to answer my questions. I wish you luck with the tour and look forward to a new record from you guys somewhere down the line.

JIM REID: Well, same to you. Thank you very much for taking the time.