The Jesus and Mary Chain interview: Damage & Joy

We caught up with Jim Reid to chat about sibling rivalry, embarrassing genres and the death of the rock and roll album.

Amelia Ward

Last updated: 4th Jul 2018.
Originally published: 3rd Jul 2018

Image: The Jesus and Mary Chain (source)

Few artists have influenced future generations of musicians quite like The Jesus and Mary Chain. Their seminal noise pop album Psychocandy came out in 1985, paving the way for a whole new genre. Taken from that record, psychedelic-tinged classic 'Just Like Honey', swings between feedback-laden guitars and sweet hypnotic vocals and soon propelled them to fame. With the classic formula of two passionate brothers at the helm, William and Jim Reid channeled that sought after explosive sibling spark, the one that time and time again seems to make a band, only to ultimately break them apart.

Amidst raging arguments, the band officially split in 1999 following a world tour that saw William leave before finishing the dates, and after much deliberation, the pair regrouped following persistence from the team behind Coachella. Having gained an unlikely following in Hollywood, 'Just Like Honey' featured in 2003 romcom Lost In Translation, which led to actress Scarlett Johansson performing the track on stage at the festival in 2007.

Latest album Damage & Joy was released last year, followed by a number of gigs across the world. We caught up with Jim Reid to talk about Hollywood, embarrassing genres and the death of the rock and roll album.

First of all, it's been just over a year since Damage and Joy came out, how has it been received?

It's done pretty well, yeah, it seems to be going down well live as well so job done, really. We put some of the stuff from Damage and Joy in the set and put it out there, the scary thing is you think is it going to be a noticeable lull in the set, but no, there was none of that and we felt pretty good about it, and it gets a pretty good reaction live.

Your releases have always charted and done quite well, is that something that's been important to you as a band?

Only in as much that you know you want some sort of measure that people out there are interested in you, it wouldn't say its not the be all and all but if you release a record and nobody buys it then obviously there's no point. So the more people that buy it the more you feel that you're validated and you're not just doing this for some sort of vanity purposes.

It seems at gigs you have this sort of new young fan base, what do you attribute that to?

I think it's probably got a lot to do with social media, it certainly hasn't done us any harm, i think that it's fairly safe to say that we get name checked by younger bands a lot, and I guess their fans will then just go on Youtube and see who these old dinosaurs are and what they were all about, and if it sounds good to them they'll come along and see us live.

So apart form social media and stuff, have you noticed any other big changes in the music industry through your career?

I think that the process of going out on the road is the same as it always has been, but the music business is unrecognisable. The album is dying. It's probably dead really. People just stream one or two tracks that they like now. But yes, it's a completely different thing, streaming has taken over and the state of health of the rock and roll album is not good. I grew up listening to albums, not just little snippets, little bites of music, it was all about the album. Nevermind The Bollocks wasn't like a single or a couple of other tracks. I know that young people are just gonna think 'whats that old bugger going on about' but I love rock albums and I'm sad to see them in such a state.

When you put together Damage and Joy do you think you saw it as a start to finish entity or a collection of songs?

Definitely an entity. I think as a band we can still get away with it I think because there's enough people out there who still give a shit about what an album is but I guess in 10 years from now, will there be? Probably not.

In the past you've spoken about how you've not really found touring and recording that enjoyable. Do you think that since you've got back together you've approached it differently?

I much prefer touring now than I used to, recording... even the recording of the record was much easier than I though it as gonna be. It took so long to record because I was terrified of getting in a studio with William, I thought one of us would kill the other one. The studio is such a confined claustrophobic space, and to be stuck there for months on end possibly, I wasn't sure how that was gonna turn out, and it turned out it worked out pretty well. Recording and touring these days just seems much less stressful.

Do you think that's come with age or appreciation of the lifestyle?

It think it's a bit of both really. I think that when you're young, everything depends on what you're doing at that moment, and it could all explode in your face. But then when you get a bit older you look back and it didn't and you think well, there's probably a good reason for that, and the reason is that you really trust your instinct and you know what you're doing and you just go with it really. You learn that as you go along.

Obviously your relationship with William has been documented to death, but how much of an impact do you think it's had on your music? Was there a difference working with him the first time round?

It's just not the same. I suppose, the kind of way that we work, it's been both difficult and essential. The band probably has lasted as long as it has because of the sparks that fly whenever we try and do anything. Strangely enough, it's much better these days, we will still argue about anything at all.

Is that because he lives on the other side of the world that you don't argue as much?

[laughs] It certainly helps, I can say that it definitely helps.

What was it that sparked the reunion?

I mean I suppose, if I'm being brutally honest, our own careers weren't exactly happening! It wasn't just that, the money was still coming through and I didn't really need to do anything, and for a while I was happy not doing anything. When the band split up back in the 90s, I just couldn't have imagined doing it again and I said 'never again' and all of that stuff, but time heals everything. After a while I started to miss it and so did he, we both thought that the other wouldn't wanna do it and then the Coachella people kept trying to get us back together and we'd always resisted and then one day I was talking to him on the phone and it just became apparent that we both thought it was the other who wouldn't do it. And I said, well I'll do it if you will, and it was as simple as that.

With your two daughters, have you noticed any similarities to you and your brother?

They fight none stop. It's unbelievable, it drives me mental. They just will not shut up, you leave them in a room for more than a minute and they're screaming at each other!

So with Coachella, it seems like a strange comeback gig, to do it in the US, was that in the plan or was it just that they kept asking?

Well they kept going on about it and to be honest, we've always done quite well in America and they seem to be more interested in a reformation in both America and Europe, but here it's never been that great to be honest. When we reformed the British just seemed to be thoroughly unimpressed and not that interested.

Do you think that's the case now?

I think there are enough people out there to make it OK but there's definitely more of a vibe for the Mary Chain when you go abroad.

I read an interview with you where you were talking about your first single, and you said that 'everything hasn't been done', do you think that's still the case in music?

It feels like everything's been done, but somebody will come along and do something else that proves that wrong. It's getting harder, certainly in rock music, I feel that nothing has been new in rock music for a long long time now. It might be the end, I don't know. For as long as I can remember people have been saying that rock music is dead, and who knows, maybe it is. I don't know.

You've been referred to as a shoegaze band, what do you think of that as a term or a genre?

As a term, I've always thought it was a bit embarrassing really. It sounds daft, it was made up by some guy that writes for the NME, I think. As a musical movement?... I think it was all just a bunch of people that were shy and felt like they didn't belong on stage. And fair enough, I've never really felt that comfortable in the spotlight and I'm terribly shy. I've been to see other bands and you think 'god, that guy looks like he just wants to run for the exit,' and I've been that guy. I'm that guy still. 

I read that you flipped a coin to not be the frontman, is that true?

[laughs] That's true. That really happened yeah. 

Have you had a rematch this time round?

Well as soon as I started to get all the attention, William started saying 'I want to do it now' but I was like no, no, no!

Are there any new bands or artists that have caught your attention?

I stopped listening to new music a long time ago actually. I always think if a new bands any good, they'll eventually get through to even me, but the last time I tried to look out for new bands, I find that I just keep comparing everybody to what I know and have been listening to. You hear a band that might sound like Joy Division, you think, well I'd rather just listen to Joy Division. If any band comes along and they're really any good, they wont go away and eventually I'll hear them.

Are you writing any new music at the moment?

Yeah, we've got a couple of ideas, we might do an EP or we might do another album. We will do another album eventually but we might do an EP before it so keep an eye out for that.