Kevin Shields from My Bloody Valentine: “We wanted to sound like a band that kills their songs” | My dear love
IIn early 1988, My Bloody Valentine decided they were, as their de facto leader, Kevin Shields says today, “done.” You can see how they were able to come to this conclusion. They had started life in the early ’80s as a post-punk band from Dublin, moved to Berlin at the suggestion of the Virgin Plums’ Gavin on Friday, and became a gothy proposal inspired by the birthday party and the Cramps, then moved to London and transformed into what Shields calls “a conceptual band”, their childish record covers covering up songs about necrophilia and incest.
The problem was, no one understood the joke; the general consensus, as Shields sighs today, was “that we were this bunch of Jesus and Mary Chain crap copyists.” Following the departure of their lead singer, Dave Conway, they adopted a jangly 12-string guitar style with negligible response.
Shields says he’s always had a vague idea of something else, music that sounded like “the most beautiful songs with the most extreme physicality and sound.” He was partly inspired by listening to the live album The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl in the ’70s – he was mesmerized by how the band’s performance was almost drowned out by the sound of screaming fans – and partly by a concert that ‘He had had. seen in Berlin, where Einstürzende Neubauten had covered Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra’s Sand by “blowing things up, blackmailing herself, all kinds of kinda creepy things.” Shields had almost captured what he was after a few times on My Bloody Valentine’s Ecstasy album in 1987 – he had even buried a song, Clair, under a sample of Beatles audience screams – but no one had noticed. : Ecstasy had flowed almost without a trace.
And so My Bloody Valentine – which had finally solidified with drummer Colm Ó Cíosóig, bassist Debbie Googe and singer-guitarist Bilinda Butcher – embarked on what was supposed to be their last tour with the intention of playing ‘ `very quickly and aggressively. … Like a band killing their own songs… tearing it all to pieces, really ”. They were going up just as hard as they could; a surprised audience member compared the experience to “standing in a wind tunnel”. Alan McGee, the boss of Creation Records, was equally surprised. He’d previously thought of them as “pretty much a bunch of jokes,” he later recalls, but found himself saying the words “for the sake of the shit” to a friend as they played. Then he offered them a recording contract.
What happened next is an indie legend. Shields borrowed a friend’s Fender Jazzmaster guitar and found that if he applied a digital delay effect while holding the tremolo arm, it created a unique and confusing sound that became his trademark. The next single, You Made Me Realize, with its unexpected burst of screaming and rhythmless noise midway through, was not only rapturously reviewed, but hugely influential. Within months, John Peel listeners would be struck by the sound of other bands trying to copy the distorted guitars of My Bloody Valentine and the whispered voices half heard; the following year, there were enough of them to warrant a subgenre, mockingly called shoegaze.
But none of them really sounded like My Bloody Valentine, because with each release, Shields changed the sound of the band. Having finally managed to nail the music to his head, he kept moving it in unprecedented directions. Their 1988 album Isn’t Anything carried the hip-hop influence on the opening, Soft as Snow (But Warm Inside), as you’d be hard-pressed to find anything in front of it that sounded like the sound barrier alternately. disturbing and elated on All I need. The Glider EP, in 1990, stirred dance music into the mix. By the time of the 1991 EP Tremolo, My Bloody Valentine was drawing rave reviews (Brian Eno claimed he was “setting a new standard for pop”) and utter disappointment: stories of buyers returning Tremolo to the store, convinced that there was something wrong with the record, that it couldn’t be supposed to look like this, are legion.
“Because we had spent good years not being particularly respected, it wasn’t like we were thrilled,” Shields says of the group’s sudden rise. “We were kind of cynical, like, ‘Yeah, yeah, okay.’ I realized I was already in my own universe, but I couldn’t explain it to anyone and I wasn’t going to try either. I realized it didn’t really matter what people were saying, we’ll just see where it goes.
Besides, it’s not as if their ascent to a position of esteem and influence went smoothly. On the one hand, there was their desire to perform live at ever more strenuous volume levels – to give people, as Shields puts it, “an incredible physical experience, a true transcendent experience” – or even to prolong the time. passage of noise in You Let me realize until occasionally it has lasted 45 minutes.
Shields has a habit of sounding the most reasonable thing in the world for a minute – the bands are loud, he shrugs, but most gigs are “ridiculously quiet … something you consume, that you don’t consume. – then admit that My Bloody Valentine got to a point where they were playing at such a volume that they were causing structural damage to the rooms. “Pieces were falling from the ceiling. It sounds like overkill, but I’m serious – we were really worried that a roof would fall off eventually, ”he says. “It was a matter of time before a serious accident happened.”
Not everyone was impressed. There’s a bootleg recording circulating among fans of a late ’80s London gig degenerating into chaos – the man of sound gave up and fled the building. Shields says it was one of the less extreme reactions. “At a gig, a butcher was literally chasing my sister with a cleaver – he wanted to cut the cable because it rocked his shop so much when we were doing You Made Me Realize. Police arrived and arrested our tour director during You Made Me Realize. They arrested him, put him in the car, interrogated him and let him go and when he came back we were again to play. Countless, countless situations.
Then there was the mythology that developed around the group. In truth, they had always been slightly mysterious, with their uninviting approach to interviews and their largely inaudible words. Shields says that “30-50%” of the guesswork on online lyrics sites is “completely wrong, sometimes in really key areas. Part of me really likes the folk song element – people change things, have their own version of reality – and part of me thinks I should go through them like a teacher, correct them. “
But the mythology really grew over the long sessions of their 1991 album Loveless – which, depending on what version of events you believe, nearly went bankrupt or nothing like that – and took on gigantic proportions when, in the aftermath. From the success of Loveless, My Bloody Valentine signed with a major label and then did not release any music, except for a few covers, for the next 21 years.
Shields became almost as famous for missing deadlines as he did for making music. You could, if you were so inclined, to deduce a lot from the point in our conversation where I point out that we have spent the allotted hour for the interview and Shields waves it with a slight, “Yes. [the record company] said one hour, that’s just… a guideline. Some of the more sinister rumors suggested that Shields had dug into the wall in an attempt to keep up with Loveless, an album that regularly appears on the biggest records released.
Calling from his home in Ireland, Shields doesn’t look much like the damaged Brian Wilson of the dying days of popular myth. He is friendly and talkative, funny and engaged and sometimes wants to unravel such myths. At one point he pulls a series of songs off Loveless – an album often billed as absolutely unprecedented – and happily tells me who they were ripped from. Neil Young, above all, although What You Want is apparently an homage to Cure’s Just Like Heaven. “I had the pleasure of telling Robert Smith this once and he looked at me like he didn’t believe me,” he laughs.
The truth about years of inaction, he says, is much more prosaic than people realize. “Basically I know when the switch is on or off. When the switch is on, all is well, all is well, and when the switch is off, all is useless. I would go: OK, I’m not trying, I’m going to watch TV, I’m going to read magazines. This is why Loveless has become this seemingly long and drawn-out process, because I found out pretty quickly that when the circumstances around me turn the switch off, I just feel like it’s a job, or I feel too much emotional and psychological discomfort around me to do. music in a pure way, like everyone should be making music.
With the switch seemingly more off than on, the group quietly split up. Shields eventually gave up, joining Primal Scream and dabbling in remixes and movie soundtracks. My Bloody Valentine finally reformed for a succession of concerts in 2008, prompting it to return to the unfinished follow-up of Loveless; mbv was finally released, virtually without warning, five years later.
Surprisingly, given My Bloody Valentine’s continued influence on the following artists – you can hear their echoes not only in alternative rock, but also in the more abstract electronics and fringes of hip-hop – it often sounded without previous in 2013 that You Made Me Realize had done it. at the end of the 80s.
Since then, there has been nothing on the way to new music, although they have signed a deal with Domino, who reissued their back catalog of You Made Me Realize this year, and Shields insists that ‘a new album is imminent. Or maybe a double album. Or maybe an album and a few other tracks (“I don’t think I have to make that big statement all at once; I can get away with getting stuff out”). But certainly something, he said; they now reserve on time at the vinyl pressing plant.
The point is, he says, that he always wanted My Bloody Valentine to publish more music than they did. “I write a lot of songs, and they’re pretty good, and I like them quite a bit, and I’m like, ‘Well I’m sure if I put them out I would be at least as consistent as anyone from. other, but… ”He pauses and sighs. “When a band releases an album and it’s not really good, I feel bad. But when music makes me feel good, it’s like the best; there is something special and magical happening that is not easy to compare. And that thing becomes the only thing that interests me. She must have that effect on me. If it doesn’t have that effect, I don’t want to be part of it. “
The vinyl editions of the My Bloody Valentine catalog are now available on Domino