Kevin Shields, frontman of the critically beloved dreamy noise-pop band My Bloody Valentine, sees his band's recent return to active status a bit differently than those of us on the outside. Then again, considering his vague and occasionally contradictory statements about the band, it's hard to say just how he sees anything.
Here's what we can all pretty much agree upon: Beginning with This Is Your Bloody Valentine in 1985, the Irish/English band's lineup of Colm Ó Cíosóig, Debbie Googe, Bilinda Butcher and Shields put out a string of EPs and the acclaimed 1988 album Isn't Anything. Then, in 1989, the band started work on its second LP, a process that took two years and a succession of studios and engineers; according to legend, the process nearly bankrupted the band's indie label Creation and caused more than one nervous breakdown among the suits. But Loveless, the album that eventually emerged in 1991 from the difficult sessions, proved one of the most influential, enduring records of the decade. Loveless, along with EPs Glider and Tremolo from the same period, captured achingly beautiful melodies, Butcher's half-awake vocals and Shields' signature guitar sound—a gorgeous wedding of subtle pitch-shifting and shimmering reverb with thick distortion. Sick of the stress, though, Creation then dropped the band, and Island signed Shields and company before they started on a follow-up in 1992.
After that, things get hazy. Between bouts of recording and scrapping material, Shields worked on other people's music as a producer and engineer and toured as a guitarist for Primal Scream. Despite this work and his soundtrack contributions to 2003's Lost in Translation, he earned a reputation as a crazed Brian Wilson-type recluse. Shields says this was just media myth-making, that he was going out as much as ever, but didn't have much in the way of news to share with the press, that's all.
My Bloody Valentine plays Wednesday, April 22,at the Palladium Ballroom.
Recluse or not, more than 16 years later the world still awaits the indie-rock Chinese Democracy. So when Shields announced in 2007 that the band would get back together again for the first time since 1992, fans and critics rejoiced at what looked like, for all intents and purposes, a reunion.
But Shields doesn't see it this way. He maintains that, over the years, he and the others in My Bloody Valentine had remained friends and still saw each other frequently, despite Ó Cíosóig's move to America (where he collaborates with Mazzy Star singer Hope Sandoval in the Warm Inventions). Rather, Shields explains his band's six stateside stops as a do-over on the Loveless tour.
And this time, the band is bringing all the amps it couldn't afford on the £20,000 budget that hampered its last world tour.
"When we finished the last time we played live in '92, we didn't think that would be our last gig," he says by phone from a Hollywood hotel between rehearsals for the band's Coachella performance and short subsequent U.S. tour. "The great thing is, playing together, we're just doing it the way we were planning to do it at the time, except with the right equipment and the right sounds. The first time round, it wasn't quite right. This time, basically, we just did it right.
"For us, it didn't feel like a reunion so much as like we finally managed to do it the way we wanted to back then. It was kind of expensive, but it was really worth it because we finally got what we said we were going to do. It just took a hell of a lot longer than we thought it would ever take."
As highly anticipated as this Loveless World Tour, Take 2 may be, it will also be short-lived. The shows scheduled through August will be the last the band plays in its current incarnation, Shields says.
"After the end of August," he says, "we'll have a radical change."
Just what that change means, though, isn't so clear.
"Everything," Shields elaborates. "Lineup—we might expand a bit. In that respect, we'll add another member to the group, just to do more stuff. And sound-wise, absolutely. You know, it'll be..." he stammers for a moment, hesitates, then sighs before concluding, "taking a different approach."
But despite this maddening vagueness about both the forthcoming album and what the band will do after the Loveless follow-up, details emerge that make the idea of a new MBV album feel tantalizingly concrete. The bulk of its 11 tracks were recorded in 1996, along with one track from 1993 and one new recording of a song Shields wrote during that time period but never got around to playing. The band tried to finish recording it at the beginning of the year but, as one would expect from the chronically tardy band, did not. They'll try again in June and July and hope to track it up by the end of the year, Shields says. And they might play some of the 13- to 16-year-old "new" songs on the upcoming U.S. tour, depending on how they sound in rehearsals. They're more melodic songs, Shields explains, but less poppy and with more elongated chord progressions—seven or eight chords per verse, as opposed to the three- or four-chord verses of the band's early '90s material.
"It's a bit more expansive, I suppose," he says.
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Once they've got those songs recorded, the band will stop dealing with the past and start with a clean slate, Shields says. What that will entail, though, he again has no idea. As much time as he's spent listening to music since last writing for MBV, he's hard-pressed to say what will influence the band's future.
The one common thread he has found in the hours and hours of music he has recorded since Loveless is in classic American popular music, such as the songwriting of pre-'60s musical craftsmen like George Gershwin, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. That, and the tapes of old blues that Primal Scream singer Bobby Gillespie would play after gigs.
"That style of folk-blues music, I would say, is weirdly enough like Loveless," Shields says. "That style of songwriting, where you have the verses and then the instrumental breaks. I suppose, if I were to say there's any kind of music in the world that feels really natural to me, it's that kind. Not just folk-blues, but folk music in general.
"I go through phases where I'm really into something for a few months or a year, then I don't really listen to it for years," he continues. "I couldn't really say anything in particular [that will influence future MBV music]. The smallest things have the biggest influences on me sometimes. I'll see something on television, or hear something, and I'll just have this moment of realization that stays with me forever. And it really is something that happens in a few seconds and has a massive impact."