By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
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Ten years ago, an interview with one of the Jesus and Mary Chain's Reid brothers, Jim and William, would have been a train wreck--especially if the interview took place at 10 a.m. At that hour, the boys would be either shaking off a hangover or starting on a new one; besides, they didn't much like talking to the media. Journalists only wanted to ask the duo about the numerous drug references in their songs, or the riots that seemed to break out at every Jesus and Mary Chain gig. Back then, the Reids preferred to let their music do the talking, but if that wasn't enough to convince people they were the best band in the world, they weren't above saying it themselves. They just didn't like having to do it.
But people stopped saying that the Jesus and Mary Chain were one of the best bands around a long time ago. People stopped saying anything about the Jesus and Mary Chain a while back. The band--pink-slipped by its longtime record label, Warner Bros., and abandoned by many of its fans--has had to start all over again, and part of that job is doing interviews, even at 10 a.m. On the phone from his Los Angeles hotel room, JAMC singer-guitarist Jim Reid doesn't seem to mind the early hour. In fact, he requested the time himself.
As Reid discusses his band's latest album--Munki, released in June on Seattle-based indie Sub Pop--and the Jesus and Mary Chain's place in today's world, his Scottish burr is reminiscent of the music that he has been making for the past 14 years: sweet, melodic at times, and nearly obscured by buzz and fuzz. But the rattle and hum in his voice can't conceal the humility that is also present, the kind of modesty that comes when you find yourself out on the curb with the rest of the refuse. When Reid speaks, it's evident from his words that this isn't the same brash young man who once boasted that if Psychocandy--the band's 1985 debut--could be played in front of a stadium-sized audience, the music world would be changed forever.
He isn't likely to be making those kinds of we're-gonna-take-over-the-world statements these days. His old bravado left when Warner Bros. did. Now, he isn't even sure that the Jesus and Mary Chain accomplished anything, uncertain that all those years of combining white pop and white noise had any purpose at all.
"I meet people in bands who seem to give us some sort of credit, but I don't know," Reid says. "I don't know how many people care or how much they care. I just hope that some people do. It'd be kind of arrogant of me to go strutting around saying, 'We've changed a lot of people's lives.' I hope that people have learned a thing or two from what we've done. I think--I hope--that we have had an effect on music and the music scene in some small way."
While it's understandable that Reid would hesitate to claim any place in history for his band after being cast aside by Warner Bros., it tends to understate the importance of the Jesus and Mary Chain. Formed in East Kilbride, Scotland, in 1984, the band was one of the most influential bands of the '80s and early '90s, writing songs that sounded at once like blasts from the past and the sound of the future. It was one of those rare bands that was born fully formed; its best moments were its first.
Psychocandy--voted "Album of the Eighties" by the British music newspaper Melody Maker--sounded like Lou Reed jamming with the Ramones on some old Beach Boys song, while Iggy Pop held a vacuum cleaner up to a microphone; timeless pop melodies hanging 10 on tidal waves of feedback and distortion. Darklands, delivered in 1987, sounded like the same album being played in the desert at midnight. The band's music was beautiful and chaotic and thrilling and everything else that great rock songs--that great songs--should be. As Creation Records boss Alan McGee said when he signed the band to his fledgling label in 1985, "I had to sign them. They were either the best or the worst band I had ever seen."
Creation Records is really where the Jesus and Mary Chain's story started. Though the band's contract with Creation produced only one single, "Upside Down," it was a single good enough to put both the band and the label on the map. Today, Creation is one of the most successful labels in England, and the home to another band led by a pair of bickering brothers, Oasis. At the time, though, the label was little more than an idea and a little bit of money. The Jesus and Mary Chain was just an idea. "Upside Down"--a glorious mess of mumbled vocals and spiraling feedback--sold 35,000 copies, an impressive number for an indie label, enough to help McGee and Creation take its first steps. So naturally, McGee was willing to help when the band found itself tasting the floor after more than a decade on Warner Bros. He signed the band to a three-record contract and helped it find a North American record label.