Jim Reid never saw Syd Barrett and punk as opposed. Neither, he thinks, did Johnny Rotten. Throw the Sex Pistols in with Barrett-era Pink Floyd and you might just get something close to approximating The Jesus and Mary Chain, but it would still be missing the sound of The Ronettes’ Be My Baby played by The Velvet Underground and drowning in the clamour of seventeen industrial sledgehammers.
Laced with romance, melody, and cavernous reverb, The Jesus and Mary Chain’s 1985 debut Psychocandy remade pop in the group’s own image. With it, Jim and brother Will boldly sought to correct pop’s failure to provide an escape from their bleak and suburban teenage existence. Their efforts were far from in vain; the sharp burst of success the influential album enjoyed made it seem that they had pulled it off. If just for a few glimmering moments, these two brothers from East Kilbride had set things right. While Jim is quick to lament that the Mary Chain could never truly displace the hegemony of the boring, bland and the mass produced, he would by no means deny that the group arrived at something special.
The story does not end there. Over the years these notoriously temperamental brothers have survived riots, ego clashes and catastrophic band implosions. The Mary Chain continue to play music to this very day. They are coming to Australia this March – buy yourself a ticket.
Before they land in Australia for a seven-date national tour, we took five with Jim Reid from The Jesus and Mary Chain.
HAPPY: Hello! Jim! How are you going?
JIM: Terrible. Not too well thanks… are you calling me to ask me questions?
HAPPY: Well I’d like to ask a few.
JIM: : Sure.
HAPPY: So I’ve always been interested in this element of psychedelia – not just the sounds but also the imagery – which runs through popular culture and perhaps your own work with The Jesus Mary Chain as well…
JIM: Well now I wouldn’t really think it would have too much to do with The Jesus and Mary Chain. I wouldn’t explain them as a psychedelic band. We were a bunch of people who used to drop acid and that was psychedelic. We used to do that back in [the early days] but we haven’t touched acid in a very long time.
HAPPY: Well that’s right I’m talking about, the early days. I think at some point you did a cover of Vegetable Man which is a Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd song…
JIM: Yeah. Well, I think Syd Barrett, even though he came out of that whole psychedelic scene – there was a lot more going on with Syd. He was an acid casualty you know? Syd was just another… another genius you know?
HAPPY: How did you turn on to the music of Syd Barrett growing up in East Kilbride in the 1970s?
JIM: Well I heard some of the early Floyd singles like Flaming and Arnold Lane and it just sounded like nobody else really. From there on I heard the Piper at the Gates of Dawn album and then went on to Syd’s solo stuff, which in some ways takes a lot of work to get in to but once you get into it it’s very rewarding. It’s kind of child-like but not. There’s a lot going on in these records. It’s a damaged mind. It’s kind of sad but at the same time, those are great records.
HAPPY: As someone born a little later, it’s always been fascinating to me how people were finding out about this older music. Today you could go on YouTube and find out everything you need to know about Syd Barrett in the space of 20 minutes…
JIM: Well it was the same then, but slower. Somebody would namecheck something, “Syd Barrett!” Or someone would be in an interview and mention Syd Barrett. And those Pink Floyd singles I mentioned, they were big hits. You could still hear them on the radio in 1977. You could still hear that music. They were still there, they still had a presence. Pink Floyd had become one of if not the biggest bands in the world so you would hear that [early] music sometimes on the radio. It just stood out from everything around it. It sounded ‘60s psychedelic but you could tell immediately there was something else.
HAPPY: But as you mentioned it was 1977. Punk was something which was really happening for you and for your brother Will…
JIM: Well Syd did all right out of the punk scene as well. The Sex Pistols were into Syd Barrett. Apparently, they tried to get Syd to produce the [Never Mind the] Bollocks album. They were trying to get Syd Barrett. I think Johnny Rotten was a big Syd Barrett fan. Quite a lot of the punk bands were actually. And that’s what I was talking about before, people would namecheck Syd Barret and quite often. A lot of the punk bands did.
HAPPY: Flash-forward to Psychocandy in 1985. The dominant narrative about The Jesus and Mary Chain is that the band was very disaffected with what was happening in modern pop at the time. Is that something you would agree with?
JIM: Yeah. I mean it was kind of the driving force with the band, that we didn’t like the music that was going on at the time and that’s kind of been constant throughout the band. I’m not madly in love with the music I hear on the radio today. You think, “This is just rubbish!” And you ask yourself what can you do about it. You can’t do much, but what you can do is make music of your own and hopefully enough people will get into it to make the whole process worthwhile. I mean that’s been the driving force of the Mary Chain: “They’re not good enough what can we do about it?”
HAPPY: You have just finished touring the US with Nine Inch Nails. I was actually lucky enough to see one of the shows at Radio City Music Hall in New York. It was an interesting arrangement given the history of the two bands, Trent Reznor having opened for the Mary Chain way-back-when. How are you feeling coming out of that whole experience?
JIM: I mean it was definitely – it was an experience. We were unsure about it at the beginning. We’ve definitely never toured like that. We were unsure how we were going to be going in front of a Nine Inch Nails crowd. They were pretty good! You never know with those bigger bands, whether [their fans will] give you the time of day.
Nine Inch Nails and their crew were very – we got everything we could have asked for. They were very respectful, it was very much appreciated, and we got to play places like Radio City Music Hall. I mean you see those [kind of] places – I’ve walked past it in the street many times. I had no idea what it was like inside, it’s incredible. And we got to do many venues that were like that which we would never have gotten to do so the whole thing was great. [Nine Inch Nails] are kind of shy and awkward people and we are too. There was a lot of shy awkwardness, definitely but I’d much rather have that than going around and high fiving people all around the place. That was pretty good.
HAPPY: Well tying into that you’re coming to Australia very soon and will be playing the Sydney Opera House which is another big, spectacular venue. Do you approach things differently when you’re going into these larger spaces?
JIM: Well not really. I mean I try not to prepare for any show to be honest with you because it’s the same. Whether you’re playing a football stadium, a minor venue or a club it’s about trying to play to the people standing in front of you whether that’s 100 or 100 thousand. Don’t overthink it, just go out there and do what you do. Overthinking is something that can be done, and you said you saw us in New York at Radio City Music Hall? I was terrified at those shows. I’ve played others similar to that but for whatever reason, I was very nervous for those shows. I couldn’t quite get into my groove, but everyone seemed to get something out of it so there you go.
HAPPY: Is there anything you would like to throw out there to those coming along to your Australian shows?
JIM: Oh well you know just that there will be a mixed bag of songs so you shouldn’t worry too much whether we’re going to play your favourite tune or not. We do something from all albums. If you are a fan of the Mary Chain, you won’t be disappointed.
Catch The Jesus and Mary Chain live in Australia this March. Tickets are available here.
Thursday 7th March – Sydney – Sydney Opera House
Friday 8th March – Brisbane – Tivoli
Saturday 9th March – Monday 11th March – Golden Plains Festival
Tuesday 12th March – Melbourne – Forum
Thursday 14th March – Melbourne – Forum
Friday 15th March – Adelaide – The Gov
Saturday 16th March – Perth – Astor Theatre