The Jesus and Mary Chain Have Mellowed With Age — But Only Slightly

'We're all damaged and in pursuit of joy,' says frontman Jim Reid, whose band plays with Nine Inch Nails on Monday and Tuesday, Dec. 3-4.

(The Jesus and Mary Chain/Courtesy photo)

When Scottish brothers Jim and William Reid couldn’t find the music they wanted to listen to on the radio in the early ‘80s, they just melded the proto-punk with infectious 1960s girl pop and invented an entirely new sound with their alt-rock band, The Jesus and Mary Chain.

“It was just the kind of music we wanted to hear, and it’s still that way,” frontman Jim Reid tells SF Weekly. “We switched on the radio when we were kids, and mostly it was stuff that appalled us. We thought, ‘Why is music so bad?’ So we set up trying to rebalance the scales a little bit with the music we wanted to hear. We’d play something like The Shangri-Las and wondered what it’d sound like if The Velvet Underground had been their backing band. And the idea of that sounded incredible to us, so we made it happen.”

From the release of their music-changing debut Psychocandy (1985), featuring “Just Like Honey,” which experienced a renaissance 18 years later when it was featured in Sofia Coppola’s 2003 film Lost in Translation, to their first UK Top 10 hit “April Skies” off Darklands (1987) and subsequent four US Top 5 alternative hits, “Blues from a Gun,” “Head On, “Far Gone and Out,” and “Sometimes Always,” over the course of the next seven years, they’d go on to influence bands like Oasis to Super Furry Animals.  

But the behind-the-scenes experience of making the music was far from honeyed, with the brothers at each other’s throats over creative differences. So The Jesus and Mary Chain disbanded for almost a decade, starting in 1998. It would take another nine years before the group released their glorious comeback album, Damage and Joy in 2016. Another EP and full-length are already in the works.

Reid promises “a relatively short, 50-minute,” career-spanning set when the band, currently on  a cross-country tour with industrial supergroup Nine Inch Nails, hits Bill Graham Civic Auditorium for two nights, starting Monday, Dec. 3.

You once reportedly said that there isn’t a band good enough to play longer than 25 minutes, yet you’re doubling that number with your current set.
I don’t even remember exactly what I said, to be honest with you. But, purely from a selfish point of view, when I go to see a band, I think that if you can’t make the point in like 45 minutes, then you’re just not trying hard enough.

Personally speaking, it suits me to do the length of shows that we are playing at the moment. We have to play longer when we do a Mary Chain headlining show, but I’m not always into the idea of it. But people pay money to buy tickets, so you have to put on a show. It’s the hard reality of life.

Your shows used to be pretty dangerous affairs, with violence breaking out in the audience if you didn’t play for long enough, sometimes culminating with smashed-up venues.
None of the original line-up had made music other than the Mary Chain, so we didn’t know what the rules were. Frankly, we didn’t really care that much. We were just a bunch of kids having fun. There wasn’t much at stake in the beginning. People that were coming to see us — it was out of curiosity. They had read a few strange tales of what it was like at a Mary Chain show and were paying peanuts to see us, so there wasn’t much invested. So we just went out there onstage and did whatever the fuck we wanted to do, and if people didn’t like it, we could live with that.

As it started to gather momentum, you gather with you responsibilities because you start seeing the same faces and realizing that it’s a bit more serious than before. Then you have to put on a show that people are going to feel reasonably OK about.

Neither you nor William wanted to sing initially, and you only ended up the singer because you famously lost the coin toss. How did you get over your discomfort as a frontman?
I’m still not comfortable being a frontman. I’m one of the shyest people you could ever meet. For years, the only way I could think of putting myself in that situation was to be absolutely hammered, and then I could deal with it. But it’s bad for your health, and I ended up an alcoholic. I’m not drinking at the moment, but back then I couldn’t do it sober. I can do it sober now and quite enjoy it, but I kinda look like I’m terrified up there, and it’s generally because I kind of am.

Today I just try not to overthink it. I spent years overthinking it and thinking I had to go on stage and act like Iggy Pop. It took me years to discover you could just keep doing what you’re doing, and if people keep coming, then you’re obviously doing something right. You can just be Jim Reid and people seem to be OK with that.

What does the title of your latest album, Damage and Joy, mean to you?
It’s an English literal translation of the German expression schadenfreude, which means to take pleasure in the misfortunes of others. That’s not what we meant it to mean.

Damage and Joy, to us, is just like The Jesus and Mary Chain — part damage, part joy. Depending what night of the week you catch us, the ratio changes. A lot of people have asked me and William, which one’s damage and which one’s joy. Again, it’s interchangeable; we’re all part damaged and in the pursuit of joy.

You and your brother seem to be on a much better track these days. How do you keep things amicable?
That’s not easy. In the beginning, we seemed to be pulling in the exact same direction, but we slowly, without even realizing it, seemed to be tugging in opposite directions. And then we always fought over the band, but it was pretty much always constructive, where a better record or a better guitar sound would come out of one of our arguments and all the screaming seemed to be healed immediately. But in the mid-’90s it was not that way at all, where we seemed to argue all the time about everything. We were never the best of friends at that time.

There were many years when we couldn’t be in the same room together. But when the band got back together in 2007, we realized that if we were going to stay together, we’d have to give each other some space. Then things started going smoothly, but we weren’t totally gelling yet.

I think recording the recent album brought us back together, because we ended up bonding in a way we hadn’t in a really long time. I suppose, these days, we know each other so well and we know the buttons to push and when to push them and when to leave them off. Weirdly, we’re getting along quite well at the moment, so it feels good, but that could change tomorrow morning.

What are you guys like offstage?
We’re incredibly lazy and do as little as we possibly can. My life is so uninteresting that you wouldn’t believe. I’ve got two young children and they keep me quite entertained and busy, I suppose. But I don’t live in London anymore. I live in the southwest of England, in a small seaside town. So it’s all quite quiet, and my rock ‘n’ roll days are part-time at the moment.

I have to ask: Which bands do your daughters listen to?
Terrible, terrible Top 40 pop trash, really. When I’m driving around and they’re in the car, that’s all I get to listen to, and it drives me mad and there’s nothing I can do about it. It’s up to them; that’s their taste.

I wouldn’t inflict mine upon them. Whenever I tried to play anything that’s not current, they’re like, ‘What is this? This is so old-fashioned.’ And they’re terribly embarrassed by the music I make. They don’t like it. They say, ‘Why don’t you make cool music?’

Nine Inch Nails, The Jesus and Mary Chain, and HMLTD, Dec. 3-4, 7 p.m., at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, 99 Grove St. $79.50; billgrahamcivic.com

 

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