My Bloody Valentine is famous for many things.
Having formed in Ireland 35 years ago, the band essentially created the genre of shoegaze — the diffuse blending of atmospheric programming and ear-shattering guitar sounds. Loveless is a masterpiece generally regarded as one of the best albums of the 1990s, still stunning and surreal nearly 30 years after its release. Their blistering live performances combine trippy visuals with an immersive aural experience, creating a unique assault on all the senses.
But maintaining a prolific recording and release schedule? Yeah, not so much.
Loveless took two years to make, in large part due to the obsessive attention to detail of Kevin Shields, the legendary guitarist, multi-instrumentalist, and creative engine behind My Bloody Valentine.
The group upped that ante by waiting a full 22 years to release the next proper follow-up, 2013’s M B V, an album so powerful and moving — nearly matching the heights of its towering predecessor — that the two-decade hiatus almost seemed worth the wait.
So, it may come as a surprise that Shields is eager to put out a series of rapid-fire releases in the coming year, belying his longtime reputation as a meticulous auteur. Shields says the plan is to issue two EPs this year, followed by a “mini-album” in early 2019. A cerebral, brainy artisan, Shields is trying to avoid overthinking things for the upcoming albums.
“I just want to get stuff out and see what happens,” says Shields, whose group plays two shows at the Fox Theater on July 20 and 21, their first performances in the Bay Area in five years. “I wanted to work on instinct and not worry too much about being conceptual, because I knew that would probably take too long.”
A four-piece out of Dublin, My Bloody Valentine first gained international recognition in 1988, with the release of their debut full-length album Isn’t Anything. A swarming collection of dissonant, guitar-based numbers that combined jagged industrial sounds with celestial melodies, the album featured a disarming combination of beauty and ugliness that has since been imitated ad nauseam. Shields and fellow vocalist Bilinda Butcher provided the dreampop element to the songs, while drummer Colm Ó Cíosóig and bassist Debbie Googe comprised the abusive rhythm section.
While Isn’t Anything wowed listeners, the band truly exploded with the release of Loveless, the 1991 album that continues to set the standard for ambitious indie rock-heads everywhere. It is nearly impossible to describe the sound of the guitars from My Bloody Valentine during the Loveless era. Shields used layers upon layers of feedback, distortion, and strange tunings to create a swirling, disarming effect, rendering listeners unable to determine where the guitars ended and began. Amorphous, ever-changing creations, the songs felt dreamlike and hazy, evoking the album’s iconic cover art: a blurry photo of a guitar awash in an eerie sea of red.
The secret to Shields’ success was the use of the tremolo effect — a rapid-fire, repeated variation of notes that blended them together, giving the guitar sound an alien, discomfiting emanation. Shields’ dynamic guitar interplay became a source of fascination — until the band went on its lengthy, uncertain hiatus in the mid-’90s.
Shields says he was deep into meditation during that break, often feeling like he was “between two worlds.” He joined Primal Scream — the Scottish electronica-pop group led by Bobby Gillespie—as a touring guitarist in the late ’90s, but he neglected to use the tremolo effect that had gained him fame. It wasn’t until 2005, when Patti Smith approached him about a collaborative live musical project called The Coral Sea, did Shields begin to wield his instrument in his familiar fashion.
“I purposely didn’t use a tremolo the whole time I was Primal Scream because it’s something that really depends on me being fully in control,” Shields says. “And then, literally a day before I did the Patti Smith thing, I recorded live and I just started playing guitar the way I used to play it, and it was an amazing feeling. Really, Patti was the one who kind of kick started me back into doing my own thing.”
That resurgent feeling helped prompt the band once again into active status, as they resumed playing live in 2008 and began work on the long-gestating follow-up to Loveless. Despite the decades-long break, the diffuse lives of the band members and a changing musical landscape, Shields says he had no doubt that My Bloody Valentine would return to the fore.
“I always had about four or five tunes in my head that I had to make for another My Bloody Valentine record,” Shields says. “I was just singing them all the time — walking down the street, wherever. Around 2006, when I was remastering a bunch of our old music, we all kind of found ourselves sitting together in a pub by a weird coincidence. That’s when things really started to get moving. But I always knew we were going to play together again.”
Although the band is once more coming off a lengthy hiatus — it has been five years since they last performed live — fans can expect the same overwhelmingly loud renditions that have become a hallmark of My Bloody Valentine — particularly in America.
“I really enjoy touring The States,” says Shields. “Unlike Europe and Japan, there are no sound restrictions.”
Shields says the band now has around 10 new songs, which will be split up between the upcoming EPs and the next album, which could turn out to be an EP as well. He says the band will play as many as four of the new songs live (one of them already debuted during a performance at Robert Smith’s Meltdown Festival in London in June.) Shields says the first EP will likely be comprised of “warmer” and “nice and slow” songs, while the follow-up will contain “heavier” and “more messed and crazier” tracks.
Either way, he vows to put out music soon — knowing that the band has a history of delaying gratification for its enraptured audience.
“I want to be immediate,” Shields says. “We will be playing songs live in America that we haven’t even recorded before, which is a huge departure. I don’t know why — but I have this strong feeling of urgency — like these songs need to be heard now.”
My Bloody Valentine, Friday and Saturday, July 20-21, at the Fox Theater, 1807 Telegraph Ave., Oakland, $49.50-$69.50, foxoakland.com