Jim Reid Explores The Jesus And Mary Chain’s ‘Darklands’

As their new tour dates click into gear...

The Jesus And Mary Chain's debut album 'Psychocandy' was a feedback strewn line in the sand.

The band's ear-bleeding sound shredded classic pop – the girl group era, Spector's hits, surf pop, pre-Beatles rock 'n' roll – into a million pieces, while their blunt, ultra-short live shows attracted acrimony and violence.

With Alan McGee's instantly infamous 'art as terrorism' quote ringing in their ears, The Jesus And Mary Chain's central duo Jim and William Reid opted for something different on 1987 follow up project 'Darklands'.

Shorn of feedback, it revealed a songwriting duo infatuated with classicism while adding a brooding sense of introversion; utilising drum machines, The Jesus And Mary Chain re-positioned themselves as black-clad purveyors of petrol-scented rock 'n' roll with a mechanised beat.

Soaring to undreamt of heights – 'April Skies' became a bona fide hit, while 'Darklands' itself broke into the UK Top 10 – The Jesus And Mary Chain became an unlikely household name. Indeed, 'Darklands' is any many ways a greater summation of the band's sound than their seminal debut – the brooding songwriting, the 60s elements, and the pervasive sense of being trapped on the margins.

With The Jesus And Mary Chain playing 'Darklands' – and it's associated singles and B-sides – on a variety of UK shows this week, Clash caught up with Jim Reid to discuss their influential album, their future plans, and why they still feel like perennial outsiders.

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Your debut album ‘Psychocandy’ was a colossal opening statement. After its release, did you purposefully seek out a different path?

We definitely did want to do something different. The vibe at the time was that a lot of people were saying, ‘Psychocandy’ is great but you’re going to ruin it… split up! You can’t top that record! So we were a bit put out. And say, probably six months after ‘Psychocandy’ we were a bit lost, and a bit in need of direction. So we stepped back a bit. There’s two years between those records, and that was because we just needed to go back and re-think it and decide what we wanted to do.

We were pretty sure what we didn’t want to do. We didn’t want to make ‘Psychocandy’ No. 2 which there seemed to be a lot of pressure on us to do. I think a lot of people would have been happy with that. But to us, there would have been no point so we went away and came up with a different idea of The Mary Chain – which is, I guess, what you do with every album… you kinda reinvent your band with each new record.

‘Darklands’ is marked by the use of drum machines, but you’d experimented with those since the beginning of the band, hadn’t you?

That’s right. I – we – have always been suckers for that rock ‘n’ roll sound done with a drum machine. You hardly ever hear it. Stuff like Metal Urbaine. There were others. It’s just a great combination. Drum machine and rock music. It’s not very often explored. Part of it was that we didn’t have a drummer, as well. We could have gone either way – we could go down the drum machine route, or go down the drummer route. We didn’t have a drummer so the decision was made.

On ‘Psychocandy’ the vocals are often battling against all-out noise, but on ‘Darklands’ they’re much more distinct. Where did that shift come from?

I’m not one of those singers that does vocal exercises and stuff like that… it’s much more straight forward than that. I suppose, if anything, ‘Psychocandy’ the noise got talked about a lot, and we started to think: well, hang on, what about the songs underneath the noise? So I guess we were pushing the songs up-front in ‘Darklands’. It’s more of a song-driven album. There was nothing to get in the way of that, really.

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It’s a hugely productive period for the band – even the B-sides have become fan favourites. Were the two of you writing a lot during this time?

Yeah. The B-sides had a freer vibe about them because there was less pressure. There’s a kind of attitude with a B-side of fuck it, you’re getting this one for nothing so anything goes! And so you tend to just think, well, let’s try out something else, do different things.

I personally think some of the Mary Chain B-Sides are some of the best records we ever made. And we’re doing quite a lot of them on this tour. We’re doing two sets – obviously the ‘Darklands’ set, and then another set of seven or eight songs that are B-sides and singles. I love those B-sides from that period onwards. ‘Psychocandy’ the B-sides were just kinda studio fuck-arounds, really, but by the time we got to ‘Darklands’ we started taking them a bit more seriously.

The singles on this album are absolutely golden – in terms of sheer muscle memory, can you remember recording ‘Happy When It Rains’ for example?

I mean, it was all pretty quick. And it just seemed to go in a blur to be honest with you. It seemed as though we were on fast forward at that time. I mean, once we got it up and running it just all fell into place… to be honest, I can’t remember it! I can’t remember recording that. It was a fairly fast record to make. But I don’t have that many memories of it… which is weird, because we were actually sober in the studio at that time!

Does sobriety have a part to play in ‘Darklands’, then?

We were always sober up until I think ‘Stoned And Dethroned’… it started to slide a bit in terms of discipline. We’d bought the Drugstore, which was our own studio, and unfortunately it had about three pubs within gobbing distance. So that was that!

How did it feel to be in the Mary Chain at that point? The rhetoric around ‘Psychocandy’ had placed you very firmly as outsiders, which must be a tough role to weather under?

It was nerve-wracking and stressful. We felt pretty good about ‘Darklands’ but we weren’t sure if everybody was gonna go with it. We weren’t sure if everyone was going to go: fuck it… no feedback? What the fuck?! That’s what we signed on for, we’re not into this! It was a bit scary, but we just had to hold our nerve… which is what we did.

To us, it was all about trying to make a record, and knowing you’re going to look back on this record one day… and we’ll regret the decisions we made. So fuck it: no matter what happens let’s not make it that that’s what happens! Let’s make a record we can stand by, and say: yeah, I did that. And we hoped that people would be listening to it in 30, 40 years time, and here we are – we’re doing a tour of it! Thousands of people are coming. So, job done, really.

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Actual bona fide hit singles, too. You’re on Top Of The Pops with this record! Was that unexpected?

It kinda was. When we were doing ‘Psychocandy’ it seemed like there was no route through for the Mary Chain. It seemed like the deck was stacked against us almost. Although it sounded like a more commercial sounding record – sonically – it didn’t really sound like what was going on in the charts at the time. So we gave up on the idea of hits… we didn’t expect it.

We brought out ‘April Skies’ to dip our toes in the water… we were actually still making the album when that single came out. And it was a hit! And that was like: fuuuuuucking hell! It was a huge surprise. It was great – watching T-Rex as a kid on Top Of The Pops, that’s what it was all about.

It’s remarkable to watch those vintage episodes of Top Of The Pops now, because it’s such an anodyne atmosphere. It must have been a curious experience, put it that way.

Yeah. I was shitting myself, basically. It’s our one and only Top Of The Pops performance, by the way. We never got asked back! Seriously. I’m naturally shy, and I found the whole experience excruciating. And the only way I could get through it was to get absolutely fucking rat-arsed. Which seemed to annoy absolutely fucking everybody at the BBC! They just thought we were the most unprofessional bunch of fuck ups they’d ever seen. Which is probably true! But you do what you do to get through a situation, and that’s what I did. We had other hit singles after that, but they never ever asked us back on Top Of The Pops again.

Performing this material now must be an interesting experience – you’re different people, and different musicians, too. Is this a different take on the record?

No, it’s gonna be the record. We sold tickets for people that want to hear that record played in its entirety. I personally hate it when you go and see bands and they do some sort of jazz fusion version of the record. I went to see Lou Reed in the 90s, in a tiny little place in New York. He played this song for about four minutes, and I thought: there’s something familiar about this, but I don’t know what it is. And then suddenly I realised it was ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’ and I thought, fucking hell talk about murdering your own song?!

I don’t want to be one of those. If you like the album, it’s going to be that. There’s a real drummer on it so it won’t have the mechanical drumbeat, but if you like the album you’re not going to be disappointed by the way we put it across. There’s no reggae versions, there’s no jazz-funk. It’s just that album, basically.

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Coming up to date, your previous album ‘Damage And Joy’ was fantastic – will you be aiming to make a follow up in the near future?

We’re recording a record. We started recording an album just before COVID hit and then obviously we couldn’t continue with it, but we were in the studio last month for the first time in two years… so we’ve resumed the recording of that album, which should be out hopefully sometime next year. Probably towards the end of next year, as we’ve still got to mix the fucker. But we’re working towards a new record.

New generations have cited the Mary Chain as an influence – do you still feel like an outsider band?

Yeah. We’ve never really been accepted. It’s one of those things… we’re out on the peripheral parts of the music industry just doing our thing. That’s just what we do. In a way, we’re comfortable in that. Our brief flirtation with pop stardom in the 80s… it was scary. I don’t know if I liked it. I like being in our own little corner getting on with what you like to do. You bring a record out every now and again – some people get it and a lot of people don’t listen. So be it! That’s OK with me.

Have you read Bobby Gillespie’s book yet?

Is it out yet?!

It is, yes.

I didn’t even realise that. I knew there was a book in the works. I must read. But we’re thinking of doing a book at the moment. A Mary Chain book. But not either one of us personally, just one about the Mary Chain.

How does it feel to go back down these little rabbitholes of your memory?

I mean, sometimes it’s painful. Sometimes it’s pleasant. I guess like anybody – there’s bits of your life that you look back on and think, fuck, I could have done that differently. Well, y’know, the thing is with being in a band is that you’re doing it in front of everybody. Lou Reed called it growing up in public. That’s what it’s like being in a band. All your mistakes are in front of an audience.

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Catch The Jesus and Mary Chain playing 'Darklands' in full at the following shows:

18 Manchester Albert Hall
19 London Roundhouse

Words: Robin Murray

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