Aside from an eight-year hiatus, noise-poppers the Jesus and Mary Chain have been together and productive for more than four decades — and stuck to their guns creatively.
How could a hysterical, screaming, improvised onstage meltdown from the mid-'80s — titled "Jesus F—" — possibly foreshadow this?
"The first six months of the band was the only time that you could get away with doing things like that," Jim Reid, their co-leader with brother William, tells GRAMMY.com. "People have paid next to no money to see you. They're not really your fans, because you don't have fans yet. So, you just went out there and did whatever the f— you want."
This involved any number of onstage provocations, fueled by Dutch courage — swinging at the audience, cursing them, playing with their backs to the audience. Of course, the rest is history: they got their act together, at least enough to make masterpieces like 1985's Psychocandy and 1987's Darklands.
After six albums, the chemicals and resentments came to a head in 1999. The Reids wouldn't fire up the project again until 2007, nor release a new album until 2017. But the Mary Chain have forged on.
Despite their tumultuous history, their new album, Glasgow Eyes, out March 8, bears remarkable artistic consistency; it's like the verbal and physical fisticuffs never happened. On tunes like "jamcod," "The Eagles and the Beatles" and "Hey Lou Reid," the Reid brothers' creative compass remains unswerving: Whatever they started doing in 1983, they're still doing it.
"We started because we didn't like the music that we were hearing coming out of the radio," Reid says, calling the pop hits of the day "diarrhea." And if the mainstream still alienates you in 2024, well — look at it all through Glasgow Eyes.
Reid spoke with GRAMMY.com about the past, present and future of the Jesus and Mary Chain.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
In the Glasgow Eyes press release, you said something succinct yet kind of holistic and profound: "Our creative approach is remarkably the same as it was in 1984, just hit the studio and see what happens." Can you expand on that at all?
Well, that's just the way it works. To be honest, when we go into the studio very often we don't have a clue what the record's going to sound like. We've got songs. We don't write in the studio. So, there are a collection of songs, but they could go in any direction.
Generally, we deliberately try not to plan what the record's going to end up [as]. But the only thing that we did see with this record, is we wanted to get out the synths and drum machines. We used things like that in the past, but never quite so upfront.
Did that come from what you were listening to at the time? Darker, older stuff?
We've always listened to that kind of music, but I guess people might not have actually realized that. We love all of that krautrock stuff — Kraftwerk and D.A.F. and Can and all of that. All of those kinds of bands are massively important to us.
It feels like on the earliest Jesus and Mary Chain material, the outré stuff was the yin to pop's yang.
Well, yeah, that's kind of it with us, really. It's the whole package: it's psycho and it's candy.
Regarding that great '80s-ish dark music, what have you been listening to lately?
I'm terrible because I don't listen to much new music. I'm pretty satisfied with my old record collection, and I play kind of a mystery jukebox. Every record I've ever bought since I was 12 is on this computer here, and I just sit with the computer on random play.
I'll just trawl through the records I've had for a long time and I'll dig something out that way. I heard something the other day — it's not a new band, but I can't remember how I heard it. Somebody played it, maybe. A band called Crocodiles. I quite like them. It sounded really good.
When it comes to releasing new music, is the landscape of 2024 destabilizing for you?
Yeah, the musical landscape has always confused us, to be honest with you. Mary Chain never really belonged. We never fit in. We didn't fit in 1984 when we started, and that was why we started.
We started because we didn't like the music that we were hearing coming out of the radio. We thought the radio was ill; we thought it was sick. It was spewing out all of this diarrhea, and we thought, well, it's got to be some better music that can come out of that thing than what we're hearing now.
I'm sorry, but just Kid Creole and the Coconuts — and Spandau Ballet — did not float our boats in 1984 or '85. So it was rubbish then in a kind of way that that's always been the driving force for the Mary Chain. We just think that everybody else's music just isn't good enough. So we will kind of do it to our satisfaction and that's it.
Did you ever meet Mark E. Smith from the Fall back in the day?
I never met Mark E. Smith. He was kind of terrifying from what I can understand. I would've been scared to meet Mark, but loved his band.
I ask because Hex Enduction Hour is one of my favorite albums of all time, and Smith consciously crafted it as a reaction to "bland bastards like… Spandau Ballet."
Oh, God, yeah. That was the dark side of the '80s. Those were the bands that came along and hijacked music and destroyed its soul, I suppose. Take the 1960s and the 1970s. You turned on the radio, and you heard the Rolling Stones singing "I Can't Get No Satisfaction," and everything was good in the world. Same in the '70s, to a certain degree. It was starting to become less so in the '70s, but you could turn on the radio and you could hear Roxy Music or the Sex Pistols or David Bowie.
We got to the '80s and it was like, What the f—? What's going wrong? So, me and William used to sit there and think, Why did we get the '80s? It's not fair. This is our time, and it's the f—ing '80s.
But there were great bands. There were bands like the Fall, the Cocteau Twins, and the Birthday Party, but they were made to take the crumbs that were left over from the main event, if you know what I mean.
One thing I really admire about Glasgow Eyes is that it sounds like you guys. I feel like many bands from certain eras — I won't name any names — slowly bland down and start to sound like each other. Not the Mary Chain.
Well, that's it. That's all we ever try to do: make a Mary Chain record.
A lot of bands… make a record for their audience. And to us, that's the wrong way around. What you do is you make a record for yourself, and if it's any good, you'll get an audience. But as soon as you start making music for other people, you've had it; you're lost. It's the cart before the horse.
I'm sure you've seen that over and over and over, in your decades in the industry.
Yeah, I see it all the time. Everybody thinks, The last record didn't sell as much as we hoped it would. So, what should we do? Who's selling loads of records right now? Oh, U2; let's make a record for the U2 crowd then. In the 1980s, almost every other band sounded like they were trying to be U2.
How did you guys negotiate that territory? I'm sure 30 years ago, the brass was throwing hot new producers at you, or trying to get you on trend bandwagons.
That was it. Our record label were forever trying to run producers down in our throat. Because we produced more or less all of our own music. [2017's] Damage and Joy was the first time we've ever actually brought a producer into the studio, and that was Youth.
We met Daniel Lanois in the late '80s. And I can't remember what album it was, but at the record company's insistence, we met Daniel Lanois and we had this meeting. And he was saying things like, "Yeah, what we'll do is, we won't get a recording studio. We'll get maybe an old church and we'll get all of the gear in there and we'll just get stoned."
We were like, "I'm not sure about this, Daniel." And he was like, "What are you listening to at the moment?" And we said, "Well, we're listening to a lot of hip-hop actually." And he was like, "Hip-hop, are you kidding me?" You could see him looking for the exit thinking, I want to get out.
The drugs that I was into at that time, I certainly wasn't interested in sitting getting stoned with Daniel in a church with U2's music playing in the background. I was more into getting off my tits on cocaine listening to stuff like Run-DMC at that time.
I enjoy imagining this.
It was never going to happen. And then we went back to Warner Brothers — it was Rob Dickens running Warner's at that time… and the guy was shouting at us, "You guys are losers. "Yeah, we're losers. But we're losers that are making pretty good records, Rob, so f— off.
There were a few other comedy meetings with producers. I won't go into it, but it was the same deal every time. They would just come along and say all of the opposite of what we had imagined for the record in question — and so it would just never work out.
**The fruitage of this is that you can make whatever kind of music you want in 2024. Take us through the early stages of making Glasgow Eyes, when you had dumped all your toys on the table, as it were, and began trying to make sense of them.**
William's a bit better, but the thing about me is I'm not very technical at all. I love the idea that this technology is out there to be used, but if it was left to me to actually figure out how to use it, it would never get done. But thankfully, that's what studio engineers are for.
We recorded at Mogwai Studio in Glasgow; it's called Castle of Doom. And Tony Doogan's the house engineer there. With Tony, it was like his record collection was probably the same as ours. So, it was going to work.
And then the way it works is you can just say, "That little sort of slightly detuned synth riff that's on 'Der Mussolini' by D.A.F.," And he would go, "Yeah." I don't know how many times in the past when you [reference these things] and [engineers] just go, "Uh, what?"
So it was really good that we had someone in the studio that could speak our language. And he made all of that technology accessible to us. It would be a few sentences to describe what you were looking for — and then, a couple of presses of buttons and twiddles of knobs later, and you'd be hearing what you just described.
Sounds like you had a lot of old-school reference points.
It's weird when you get to my age, yeah, they were old school. But you're thinking old school is probably the noughties. To me, old-school is like the f—ing 1920s. I'm old, man.
So it was things that I considered to be quite modern. I think of Kraftwerk as a futuristic band — because they are. They made records in the early '70s, but to me, it still sounds like new music. I can imagine people in 50 years would listen to Kraftwerk records and think that it had been made then.
The best music is timeless, and they were just way ahead of the game. Way ahead of the game.
At what point did Glasgow Eyes really start to take shape?
Well, that doesn't happen right away. It's the same every time: you start making the record and at some point you think you're losing it. It's not happening. You're thinking, This is going to be embarrassing.
It's almost like you will the record into shape. It goes from this unrecognizable beast into this recognizably Mary Chain [work], and then better and better and better. And then almost like within a couple of days you start to think, F—, this sounds pretty good. And then you start to feel really quite smug about it.
And by the end of it you're like, woohoo, we've done it again. So there's some sort of black magic. It's slightly mystical, but it kind of starts to take shape by itself. But it only happens after some trauma and some sort of serious nervous breakdowns in the middle. And then it just seems to come together. I don't know; it's alchemy.
I can't name too many other bands from your scene who are still grinding it out like this, and staying creative.
There's not many of us left, but Primal Scream are still doing it, man. They're as good as they've ever been. [Singer] Bobby [Gillespie]'s our old drummer and he's rocking it out. And I went to see them a few weeks ago and it's great. He's still great. He's still going.
Growing up with the Mary Chain, I remember reading stories about how you guys had a… tempestuous relationship with your audience. Which included a lot of provocation from the stage. Is that true?
Well, it is, but a lot of it was insecurity on our part.
Well, it was a couple of things. One, we'd never been in any other bands before. Lou Reed did a  album called Growing Up in Public; well, that was us. We made all of our mistakes in front of an audience, and often in front of cameras, and often on TV shows.
But we were very, very insecure, and I was incredibly shy. And the only way that I could get the nerve to get on stage was to get wasted. I used to swig down bottles of whiskey before I went onstage — then, I'd be up there, swinging at people and stuff like that. Or telling the audience to go f— themselves.
But it was all based on my own insecurity and that was it. I was unable to deal with the situation that I found myself in. And we quickly learned that you couldn't continue doing that. So we found a way to make it work.
Did you guys really play with your backs to the audience?
Yeah. We were literally so embarrassed and so awkward on stage that we would turn around and every now and again, glimpse over our shoulders at the audience, like, He's still here. Oh, God.
I'll leave you with this: how has your creative relationship with William been over the past several decades?
Well, at the beginning, we were so in tune with each other. It was like we totally, totally agreed with everything about what direction the band ought to be taking.
The band broke up in 1998 for a while, and that was because we just totally lost touch with each other. We used to argue about creative decisions. By 1998, we were arguing about anything.
We couldn't stand being in the same room as each other. And it was a very messy breakup. In 1998, we were trying to f—ing eradicate each other. And then for a couple of years, we couldn't talk. The band broke up, we didn't speak to each other.
[In 2007], the band got back together. Our relationship healed a bit. It's better now than I think it's been for years.
We argue. We always will. We always have. But it's more productive and it's less nasty. And towards 1998, we used to say things that no one ought to say to another human being. And once you've said those kind of things, they can never be taken back.
And I know there are things that he said to me and I've said to him — that even though the wounds have healed, I'm still kind of thinking, But f— you, man. I remember when you said that night.
So now when it's getting that bad, you think, Oh, we're approaching that line, step back. So it works much better now than it used to. We're OK.
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