Backstage Pass: William Reid of the Jesus and Mary Chain

By  Dimitri Coats

The Jesus and Mary Chain will go down as one of the most important, influential and coolest bands of their time. Their use of guitar feedback and primitive drumming, combined with a somewhat traditional early ’60s song-writing style, made them stick out in the ’80s as the next logical step in art-punk-pop after The Velvet Underground.

JesusMaryChainSM94.jpgPut it this way: If The Pixies covered your songs, you did something right.

When I listen to Psychocandy, I feel like I’m sitting on a chair of nails inside a room filled with pink smoke. In the early days, The Jesus and Mary Chain’s shows caused riots when the band would leave the stage after only 20 minutes. Their sound is both simple and chaotic, beautiful and dark, romantic and detached.

William Reid writes the lion’s share of the music and lyrics. His younger brother Jim is the singer and the one who deals with social situations. Their feuding is legendary. The closest comparison would be the Oasis brothers. Mary Chain (as William refers to the band) is from Scotland. He once said to me, “No drinking? That’d be like saying, no family!”

I was lucky enough to watch the band’s return to the stage a few months ago in Pomona, Calif. (the night before their big Coachella gig). It was their first time performing in nine years.

William is a friend. We usually hang out and play video games, jam and talk. He rarely gives interviews, but I managed to bribe him with a rare Mazzy Star bootleg.

During the entire interview I can hear what might be Jesus And Mary Chain demos leaking out of a pair of headphones at William’s feet.

Goldmine: You’ve obviously achieved more than most people. Have you achieved everything you want to achieve?

William Reid: I have not achieved more than most people.

GM: Yeah, you have.

WR: No, I don’t feel like that. I’m thinking of bands that I love, and I haven’t achieved what they’ve done. Like The Sweet, you know? And The Slade. I love the British bands that were me and Jim’s heros. We thought they were just f**king brilliant.

GM: I like that record Desolation Boulevard.

WR: Well, Slade and Sweet and Marc Bolan. I mean, that’s what I’m talking about. In America, people have absolutely no recognition of anything like that. They don’t. They really don’t.

GM: Yeah, Marc Bolan was like Elvis over in the U.K., but here it didn’t really take off in the same way.

WR: I’m talking in the ’70s when people were like, “Don’t even look at that,” and I was like, “Wow, this is f**king Bowie and Marc Bolan,” and America was like, “Don’t even look at them. Don’t touch them!” and I was like, “Come on! These guys are the geniuses of the ’70s!” And then Bowie made it, but Marc Bolan didn’t make it. He was like … gone.

GM: Hey, do you feel like a rock star?

WR: Do I feel like Phil Collins or something? No, I don’t feel like a rock star. I really don’t. I really don’t.

GM: What would you say if someone told you that all that great guitar feedback you’ve done on all those records was just a bunch of noise?

WR:
Yeah, it was noise, but it was the most beautiful tenderness. It was this thing that just sorta happened. I don’t think I will ever feel that sort of like…almost like a dream feeling again in my life.

GM: Do you write most of the music and the lyrics in the band?

WR: When it comes to The Jesus And Mary Chain, I write most of the lyrics and the music. But when it comes to making the record, I kind of like to say to my brother, Jim, “Hey, is this gonna be a fast song?” He’s kind of like…

GM: The vibe guy?

WR: The vibe guy? Well, kinda. Yeah. He kind of knows how it’s gonna be. ‘Cause I’m thinking, ‘Yeah, it’s gonna be really fast,’ and Jim’s like, “No, no, no.” Like Just Like Honey. When I wrote that I was thinking like “DEE DUH DUH DUH DUH DUH!!!” And Jim was like, “No, bring that down a bit,” and I was like, “No, Jim. No, Jim. You don’t know.” And he was like, “Please, please, please, just bring it down a bit.” He was right. He was totally right. He was like, (sings softly) Listen to the girl as she takes on half the world. So he won. So he won. Are you recording this or what?

GM: Yeah, yeah. Is it true that you guys were really into stuff like the The Shangri-Las? You thought that “Leader Of The Pack” was like the perfect song?

WR: Yeah, of course we did. We loved that stuff. It was unbelievably beautiful. And now Phil Spector is like, “Oh my, oh my!” I mean, he did kill her, right? Come on. Come on. Poor bastard. Ask me another question.

GM: If you had to choose between The Clash or the Sex Pistols, who’d you’d pick?

WR:
The Sex Pistols.

GM:
Why?

WR: Because they were the first and the best.

GM:
What about The Cure or The Smiths? You gotta pick one.

WR: Oh that’s horrible. You can’t ask people that. That’s too cruel.

GM: Why?

WR: Because those are two great bands.

GM: So you can’t choose between those two?

WR: Yeah, but you don’t want to. You know what I mean? You don’t wanna hurt anyone. I know these people.

GM: I’ll move on. AC/DC or Black Sabbath?

WR: Oh, AC/DC.

GM: Why?

WR: Because they’re much more… I like the riffs. Good riffs. Good riffs.

GM: Have you ever punched your brother in the face and made him bleed?

WR: No. When me and my brother fight, it’s like … we don’t wanna hurt each other. You know what I mean? Or if it is in the face, it’s kinda like “POW!”

GM:
Hey, one time when I was over here, I put the Psychocandy CD in your hands and I said, “Isn’t that a great record?” And you looked at it, and you broke it in half, and said, “I don’t understand you.” What did you mean?

WR: No, I never done that.

GM: Yeah, you did, dude.

WR:
You sure?

GM: Yeah. I’m positive.

WR: Somebody that looked like me. You know, there’s a lot of people that look like me. I’m telling you. It’s the hair.

GM:
Who had the hair first — you or Echo & The Bunnymen?

WR: Echo & The Bunnymen.

GM:
Do you like that band?

WR: Love that band. Think they’re f**king bunch of geniuses. I love that band. But I know that band. For some reason, we have some problem with each other. But I love them. Brilliant.

GM: What if Bobby Gillespie said, “Let’s do one show where we combine Primal Scream and Jesus and Mary Chain and do a whole set? Would you do it?

WR: (Sticking his middle finger in his mouth and then in the air) Are you recording this?

GM: Why did you guys start playing longer than 20-minute sets?

WR: Because we had more than 20 minutes worth of songs. I’m sorry, but that’s the truth. People were thinking, “Wow, there’s a strange vibration whenever they choose a song.” We were like, “Nope.”  It’s not a strange vibration. It’s nothing to do with floating or whatever. It takes a while to write a song. You ever written a song?

GM: Many.

WR: It takes a long time. You can’t do it like that (snaps fingers).

GM: You know what my favorite Jesus And Mary Chain song is by far? The one that really hits me in the f**king spine? The Living End. What’s going on with that song? Did you ever own a motorcycle?

WR:
No, but I did have a good friend that died on a motorcycle. He was like the guy who all the girls wanted to go with and stuff, and it was a shame. He eventually died on his motorbike. I never saw it, but I heard about it. His head was totally split open. His brain was all over the road. And it was kind of strange, because I was going through a different sort of thing. I wasn’t being like, “Ah yeeeeahhh! Everybody’s looking at me.” I wasn’t like that. But it was with this guy. And he died, and it was like wow! That’s why I don’t go on motorbikes. Just don’t like them.

GM: Is there anybody you look up to where you’d be into coming onstage for a few songs?

WR: Yeah. The Beatles. Otherwise no.

GM:
Which album is more important to you — Sgt. Pepper’s or Pet Sounds?

WR: Sgt. Pepper. I don’t like Pet Sounds. I think the Beach Boys were brilliant, but I don’t think they were as brilliant as John and Paul. I think John and Paul and George and Ringo were the bes,t and everybody else was just not as good. Put it this way, the Beatles are unbelievably f**king good, and The Rolling Stones are brilliant. It doesn’t mean The Rolling Stones are rotten. It just means compared to The Beatles, it’s hard to equal The Beatles. Come on, do it! Somebody do it!

GM: How about Bob Dylan?

WR:
OK. It’s him or The Beatles.

GM: Love And Rockets. Brilliant or good?

WR: They’re good. Yeah, they’re good.

GM:
Did Bauhaus have an influence on you?

WR: Not the band, but the art thing.

GM:
Were you influenced by Einstuerzende Neubauten?

WR: Of course we were. We totally ripped them off. We did. We did. We took a 20-second sample.

GM: For what song?

WR:
I don’t remember. I don’t even remember the Mary Chain song, actually. But we did do that, and it was good fun.

GM: There’s gonna be a new record, right?

WR: Yeah, probably.

GM: When you played Coachella, and it was your first big show after having not played in nine years, and there’s people like Scarlett Johansson backstage coming to see you guys, it was a big deal. There was a little bit of pressure, and you guys killed it, right?

WR:
I think we did. You’re right; it was a big pressure.

GM: Have you made your best record yet? Do you think you can top yourself?

WR: You know what? I think I can top myself. In fact, most of my life is thinking how many ways there are to top myself. But making my best record? It’s really hard to say, because, obviously, you’d love to say, “Yeah, I’ve made all my best records. I can sit down and be proud.” But, yeah, there is part of you when you do think that you’ve achieved a lot that makes you want to go, “F**k! I’ve somehow gotta just push it a little bit.” And you never how to do that until you actually do it. To f**king make things different, to f**king achieve something, it’s so hard to do. And then part of you is going, “ZING! ZING!”

GM:
Who in your life has come up to you that blew you away because they were a fan of your band?

WR: David Bowie once came up, and I was, like, freaking out. I didn’t say anything. Jim usually talks. And not just David Bowie, but Iggy Pop. Lots of people. It was very exciting when somebody made a difference.

GM: You said that Jim does most of the talking?

WR: If we meet David Bowie and Iggy Pop, Jim will do the talking. I’m just a fan, and I just can’t do it. And Jim’s pretty good. You know, like, Elton John or whatever. And I’m like, “Oh f**k! How can you talk to Elton John like that?” He’s good at that.

GM: Who figured out that he had a great voice?

WR: Well, I was kind of the singer in the beginning, but when I sang, I kind of used my nasal voice, and Jim kind of uses his throat, like, really cool. And it was like, “OK, Jim, you’ve gotta be the singer,” and he was like, “No, I won’t do it.” And eventually everybody was like, “Come on, you f**king bastard. You must do it.” So he reluctantly became the singer.

GM: It seems to me in interviews you’re really proud of him as a singer, and he’s really proud of your guitar playing and song-writing.

WR: Well, because we’re brothers, and we really do love each other. I know it sounds all wimpy and stuff, but we do. We love each other. We appreciate each other. Yeah. Why not? Why wouldn’t you? You know, it’s your brother.

GM: If you could change something about him, what would it be?

WR: That’s a pretty heavy question actually. If I could change something about my f**king brother who I love … but it’s actually good, because there are a couple things that I would change, but I don’t think I’d wanna change them to make him more pleasant to me so much. I’d wanna change things to make it better for him. My brother Jim’s a beautiful guy.

GM: You guys did a lot of speed back in the day didn’t you?

WR: You know what? I’ve never done speed. I did it, but I didn’t enjoy it. It was like, 1986. Yeah, we did a lot of speed, but I hated it. I just couldn’t stand it. Then I met a girl who turned me on to marijuana, and that was that.

GM: Were you guys pretty clear headed when you guys were making those records, or were you wasted?

WR: You mean like Psychocandy? No, totally clear-headed. I mean in the beginning, yeah.

GM: If you could change one thing about yourself what would it be?

WR: I wouldn’t let people into my house with a recording device.

GM: Are you happy now in life, or were you happier on Creation Records?

WR: You presume that my life is like, blocked into now and Creation Records. I actually have things like relationships with women where I was with this girl and this girl. That kind of thing matters to me more than Creation Records. I don’t give a s**t. I don’t even remember.

GM: Was one of the happiest times in your life when you were with Hope Sandoval, then?

WR: You’ve got that DVD! Did you bring that tonight?

GM: I did.

WR: Oh! Can we watch it?

GM: Yeah, sure. Can you answer the question first?

WR: OK, let me tell you honestly. I was in love with Hope, but it was the unhappiest time in my life. It was like horrible, horrible, horrible. Hey, what’s that in the background?

(William is listening to one of the songs coming through the headphones.)

GM: Is that you?

WR:
Hey, you’ve got to hear this. This is my song from 2002. A lot of them are f**king brilliant. I’ve got a couple songs that are so f**king amazing like, (sings) “I killed Kurt Cobain. I put the shot right through his brain. And his wife gave me the job ’cause I’m a big fat lying slob.”

GM: When’s that coming out?

WR: I don’t know.

GM: It’s not finished?

WR: Oh yeah, it’s finished. It’s finished.

GM: It’s mixed?

WR: Couple times, yeah. It’s mixed a couple times.

GM:
How did all these shows go? All this touring and playing on television and all that?

WR: It’s kind of weird, ’cause I’m kind of shy. You know what I mean? I mean, you know me. I’m not like, “I wanna run in the street!” I like to get stoned, and I like to hide in my house while I get stoned. But I also want to push Mary Chain forward. You know? Especially now. We’re getting paid a bunch of money. Lots of good shows and stuff.

GM: When you think about making another record and really going for it and realizing that you’re gonna be on the road a lot all over the world, is that something that excites you or scares you?

WR:
To be honest, making the record is the most important thing. Going and doing the shows and blah, blah, blah. To me, that’s all negotiations. You play in Belgium one year you get paid $4,000 and then you play another year and get paid f**king $93,000. To me, all that stuff is negotiable. Making the record, that’s non-negotiable. You’ve just got to do that.

GM: Is the new record gonna have a lot of that feedback?

WR: No, I don’t think so. To me, it’s like saying, “Hey, next year are you gonna wear 1985 clothes?”

GM: Why is guitar feedback 1985?

WR: Because that’s what we done in 1985. If that was all we’d done, yeah, I’d do that every year of my life. But we’re smarter than that. We’ve done other things. We can entertain a f**king audience right now, and we can f**king be creative with a guitar. We don’t need to be showing you 1985’s tricks.

GM: Have you guys ever done vocal harmonies together?

WR:
No.

GM: How come? You both sing in the band.

WR: It’s kind of hard to do. I’m serious. Vocal harmonies are really hard. If you can’t do them right… You ever tried doing vocal harmonies?

GM: Yeah.

WR: It’s not easy. You’ve both got to be in perfect pitch. It’s not easy.

GM: Do you consider yourself a great guitar player?

WR: No.

GM: How about a creative guitar player?

WR:
Yes.

GM: Do you miss living in Scotland?

WR: No. No, I love living in America. I’m here. I’m here forever.

GM: There’s nothing you miss about it?

WR:
Yeah, of course. Not enough to make me wanna live there.

GM: What do you miss about it?

WR:
My mother, the TV shows. Americans don’t understand that, but TV shows like Carnation Street and stuff… you don’t want to miss them if you’re a crazy person for TV shows like that.

GM: Have you ever been in another band besides this band?

WR:
I was in Mazzy Star for a couple months. Do you remember I told you to bring the f**king Mazzy Star thing?

GM: I have it.

WR:
Let’s put it on!

GM:
OK.

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