When it comes to groundbreaking bands without peer, one of the few acts whose work could seem at home anywhere from a concert hall or rave venue to an experimental musical production would have to be My Bloody Valentine. After a derivative, half-goth start in the mid-eighties, the band came into its own with a series of releases on Creation Records, starting with the startling singles "You Made Me Realize" and "Feed Me With Your Kiss" and the album Isn't Anything, all released in 1988.
The mind-fucking fusion which MBV offered, with roots in everything from free-form jazz and Sonic Youth to hip-hop and the Cocteau Twins, yet ultimately utterly of itself, immediately vaulted the band to preeminence, as lyrics of obsessive love, lust and destruction became part of a loud, queasy, yet thrilling and often astoundingly beautiful guitar and rhythm wash that pushed the possibilities of rock and roll instruments to the limit and beyond.
Cheap imitators (admittedly some better than others) started to flood record stores as a result, but the band stuck to its guns, releasing the Glider EP in 1990 (which began with what many consider the band's masterwork, "Soon," an awesome collage of MBV's noise/beauty aesthetic and dancefloor euphoria), the Tremelo EP in early 1991, and the album Loveless in late 1991, a release that has rapidly proven to be one of the most influential and unique of this decade and many years before it.
After a lengthy tour for the record in 1992, though, the band seemed to have dropped out of sight, departing Creation in the UK for Island (though remaining with Sire/Reprise in the US) after rumors that Loveless' recording costs nearly bankrupted Creation. A fine cover of a James Bond theme song popped up on a charity compilation in 1993, but otherwise all that was known was that the group had built their own studio in London and were recording something. The rumors grew as the recording continued, with everyone from producer friends of the group and critic Simon Reynolds to Bob Mould offering theories and explanations over what was happening.
However, 1996 looks to have ended the lengthy drought. With contributions to the latest in the Red Hot series of charity records, OffBeat, and to Whore, the excellent Wire tribute album, MBV have served notice they're still around, while more full releases are due imminently.
Ned Raggett, host of KUCI's long-running Ned's Musical Dustbin show [Thursdays 2-4 p.m.], had an unprecendented live on-air interview with MBV mainman guitarist/vocalist Kevin Shields, calling via phone from England. In the course of the almost 45-minute long interview, fully transcribed below, Shields covered everything from where the band's been to where it's going next and back, leaving fans of the group giddy with anticipation over the next steps of one of the truly original musical forces existing today.
We have, live on the phone from the UK, someone who I could go on about from a band I've been playing songs of for years now, and here's my chance to talk to him: Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine. Thanks again for taking the time! First thing I wanted to ask was about the recent appearances the band has been doing, starting with the things on the OffBeat compilation. I understand it was just a 30-second guitar track that you recorded and sent in to see what people could do with it?
What happened was I called Paul from the Red Hot organization (the AIDS charity group which organized OffBeat, among many other charity releases), and he phoned me up and told me about the thing they were doing, and sent me a video - it's got little to do with the album, though they're related - and said, "What they're looking for is incidental music, so they could do a sort of collage effect." That was the idea, and I think a lot of the stuff people gave them was complete tracks, so it didn't turn out like that. For me it was a good chance to see what it felt like giving people stuff without really controlling it just to see what people did.
What did you think of the two results [note - Mark Eitzel, former lead singer of American Music Club, and techno act Skylab were the two acts which worked with Shields' guitar track]?
[Eitzel's] seems really short, and doesn'tŠI don't really have any great opinion about it, to tell you the truth! But I really like the last thing. The way they mix it with Skylab is interesting, the possibilities, because I haven't done it before. On MTV they're always taking bits of people's music and doing that to it, but you've never heard anyone doing it with any kind of real care. It was good to hear. When I did [the track], it was so quick and so easy to do. It was so complete and perfect that it could be used the way it was used, or it could be played by itself and it could make a lot of sense that way. I really enjoyed it! I'll like listening to it for years, and it only took me an hour. For someone like me, who has spent years not making records, even though I've got my own studioŠthat's the point, in a way. Now that I'm a situation where I can't take forever, I can't stand the idea of taking too long to do stuff.
I do want to ask, since this was the first collaboration you did, I recall that Andrew Weatherall [remixer of just about everybody, main man in Sabres of Paradise] remixed "Soon" back in 1990. But there hasn't been much in the way of remixing since, which is odd, because you always seemed aŠI don't want to say 'mix-friendly' band, but a band always open to working with modern dance music techniques. Do you see in the future more collaborations and mix opportunities?
I think it might be more collaboration-type things, actually. I'm going to do a remix of a Cocteau Twins track, and I'll do more things with other people. But as far as getting songs remixed by other peopleŠthe stuff we're going to do is My Bloody Valentine. I don't think we're going to be letting people remix stuff. After Andy Weatherall did that thing, I saw the good side and the bad side of it. It was good, but I realized that I still preferred the original. I like what he did, but I liked it because of what he did, because our input into it was minimal. That was it, really. I thought remixing was a bit okay. I'm not against it, but I'm not enthusiastic about it. I'll do it for someone else, and I will do stuff more like what I did for the Red Hot thing, and that's just basically giving people stuff if they ask for it.
So it gives you a freeing opportunity to try things you wouldn't normallyŠ?
Yes, that's what it is, of course, but on my side of it when someone says, "Can you do something for it?" I can go, "Okay, but we don't want to take a lot of time on it; we just want to see if we can do something that's any good." So you bash out a few ideas, and out of three, one of them can turn out good.
Moving on to the other recent compilation that the band has appeared on, Whore, the tribute album to Wire, with a very interesting version of "Map Ref 41°N 93°W" there, originally from 154, I believe?
I note that while a lot of artists on the comp provided little liner notes explaining how they got into Wire, you didn't, so I wanted to ask: have you all been long-time Wire fans in the band?
The thing about Wire is, sometime in '85 or '86, I knew this guy who worked in a record shop; he was a mad Wire fan, a really big fan. I'd heard one or two things by them, and they didn't have any real effect on me. But then one day it hit me that some of the stuff they were doing was done ten years ago, and it was very strange, like 'What is this music?' Other stuff was very catchy, almost Beatle-like, with harmonies and nice vocals. I just thought it was really liberating that someone could do that, because I'd come across a couple of bands before that were like that, and there were a couple of bands in the past that were like that. But whenever you come across a new example, and the fact that this was done ten years ago meant a lot to me, and helped form my whole idea of what we could do. When the idea was put to us to do a Wire cover, I thought it would be good to do, if I could do one of the Wire songs that inspired me, I suppose, to not be afraid of being a pop group. Not a pop group with an intent to be pop stars, but a pop group in a sense that you're writing music that's essentially pop music, easy, instinctive music, but you're also doing other stuff, because that comes the same way, as opposed to placing limits and saying, "Well, we can't do that, it's too catchy." To me it seems like a real tragedy, when people do that. You often wonder about a certain band, do they write really good songs and then just not do them because it sounds too good, or too catchy, or takes away from the mood that they've got? Like Metallica, they always have to be within a certain area, they have to be Metallica. I don't know; I just like the idea of people who can do anything, a bit like the way the Velvet Underground used to do it.
Like the gentle pop tunes up against the lengthy, free-form experiments?
Yeah, what was good. They were into what was good, and I don't think they put a big distinction between what John Coltrane was doing and what the Beach Boys would be doing. I think that's the key. To me, between John Coltrane and Brian Wilson is something. It's good, and that's what makes it the same, a sort of good.
Do you think many bands nowadays are too restricted by one particular influence, they only just follow one path, as opposed to various things? Do you think that's a chronic problem, or has it always been one?
I think music has been in a prettyŠodd, dark state since the end of the sixties, really. Lots of brilliant music has occurred since then, but there's something cold about most of the stuff. There's a certain amount of cynicism and self-protection going on in music, and everyone suffers from it to some degree. That seems to be obvious when you hear it. I don't know if you notice it, but if you listen to typical '80s music, and the snare drum's really loudŠthere's just something cold about music made in the '80s. If you listen to a lot of stuff from the '60s, even mainstream stuff, and you listen to what the rhythm is, how it feels, or the groove, or whatever it is in music, all of the instruments make up the whole feel. It gets to the point where a couple of things make up the rhythm and everything else is just ambient sound. For us, that's kind of how we were, in a strange way. That's the weird thing, that's why we came to a halt. I don't know; suddenly I just realized that the only thing I want to do is create something that seems to beŠsomething that's kind of off the ground. It's not really lumpen, stuck to the ground, marching forward music; it's more like in the air, a nice strong emotional connection somewhere. For me it's hard to do that and not be sidetracked into concepts, stuff that in the end a lot of people would like and appreciate, but somewhere in it to me it would be cold and damaged. For me, what I'm trying to do is see how long I can stick it out, and I think I've done it, stuck it out as long as possible, so I can pretty much lose all my old bad habits that I'd developed.
Speaking now of the very lengthy time between now and Loveless, we fans have heard 8 million rumors about what's going on. So to help clear some of that up, some of us have heard [drummer] Colm O'Coisoig has left. Is that true?
So the band is now just the trio?
It's just me and [guitarist/vocalist] Bilinda [Butcher], really. [Bassist] Debbie [Googe] has been in the band for years, but she stopped playing on the records in '88. She only played on one song in 1988. To tell the truth, she only played on one whole record in 1985. She hated playing in the studio; she liked playing bass only if she could attack it. Well, maybe she's changing now, but that's the way she wanted to do it. She didn't have anything to do with making the records. Colm had something to do with making the records, but not that much. It was always more of a closed thing between me and Bilinda, because we were together at the time. When we went through this long, long period of not being too sure of what we were going to do, that's when they decided to take the chance to do something else, because it wasn't really their thing, if you know what I mean.
At this point, do you foresee recruiting other people for live performances, or do you think you're just going to trying and stick with the two of you?
What I want to do - I don't expect it to work initially - is get a new band, four new people, and to pretty much try and not to make the mistakes I made before. I hope the people I get will be, in a way, people I can be equal to. I don't want to get people where automatically there's this thing that I'm the guy. It's our group, and ultimately we're in charge, but it's a pretty horrible feeling being a boss. It comes naturally with me, being the guy in charge of whatever I'm involved in, but I don't like relating to people when it's not more of a collaboration atmosphere. It's not really been like that, really. It's been an idea or dream of mine I've got, to get a group of people who can play in their own way but are really into it. Put it this way: the way it was was that me and Bilinda could always rely on each other to deliver what we were going to do. Everyone else in our organization around us weren't like that. We would feel left out. I suppose what we want to do, now that me and Bilinda are the only two that are left, is to bring in people who are just as committed, very driven about just trying to do something past what's comfortable, what gives them a comfortable lifestyle. Unfortunately, believe it or not, no matter how it looks, a lot of people in the avant-garde world are, strangely enough, keeping themselves at the same level of psychological comfort. They've got their niche, and they want to stay in it. For us, it has to constantly beŠit has to be new again. It doesn't happen that much, historically speaking. Maybe we're banging our heads against a brick wall, but maybe the key is that if you bang your head against a brick wall long enough, maybe for four years like we did, maybe you can go through it.
Leading into that, I've a friend who's heard some of the stuff recorded in 1994 and early '95, and it's been understood that you thought that material didn't cut the mustard. Is that stuff that's simply been recorded and nothing's going to be done with it, orŠwell, what exactly has happened? I'm trying to get a sense of what's been done.
I made up a lot of tunes, right, and even now you'd still wind up with eight hours of music and just a lot of stuff. You can see it in a new way when it's that much. You go, "Okay, now let's get past this point." A lot of the music that we recorded and a lot of the songs that we started recording from scratch, it was all because we were working so closely with computers. Colm was very involved for quite a while, up until last year. It just wasn't working out; the atmosphere was very negative. It was very technical, and we trying to break technical barriers. The creativity side seemed to come in with me when we were starting something off, and when we finally got everything working properly, doing everything in ten minutes. It was crazy; everything seemed dead before it had arrived. We did an album's worth of half-finished stuff, and it did just get dumped, but it was worth dumping. It was dead. It hadn't got that spirit, that life in it.
You've mentioned working with computers. Based on what you've been saying right now, it sounds halfway between frustration at getting used to working with new equipment and, on the other hand, something liberating, trying something new from scratch. Is that the case?
I don't know if I follow your question, but basically I don't like shying away from technology on principle, but after all this time I've come to a certain conclusion on technology and where it's not worth dealing with. Some of it is not worth dealing with because it seems to pull people in a certain area, and that area is slightly cold. Technology is capable of producing a human, warm music. Whatever you can imagine, technology can do it. But the methods in which you have to use the stuff, all the computers and stuff, it's so unmusical it's unreal. I see it as the same problem as why a lot of classical music is ultimately cold music: it doesn't touch people. Why is it always that essentially folk music, from jazz to whatever experimental, avant-garde rock music, is ultimately a kind of folk music, it feeds into one area and ultimately influences itself? Whereas avant-garde classical music, or straight orchestra-based music, it seems like very few people are able to come along and do something that touches people in a big way. I think it's because of the way they do it. When there's too much intellect involved, I think it's ultimately dead. It can impress people, in a Wagner way, complicated, but it's boring! Kind of like progressive rock! It keeps on going wrong; people get into a progressive rock state of mind and justify what they do by monumental sort of achievements. Ultimately all music, whether the people know it or not, is very culturally influenced and socially influenced. Otherwise music wouldn't sound so different all over the world.
It's interesting you should make that comparison to avant-garde classical music, because I remember Brian Eno saying when "Soon" came out that if a classical musician had written it, it would have won the major awards of that year. Did you find that a strange comment at the time?
I didn't know that Brian Eno liked us at the time, so it was nice to hear! I like that kind of thing where somebody tells all these people who take themselves extremely seriously that they aren't really very relevant, where people who exist in a more contaminated world are more relevant. It was nice, but I don't want comfort. It's better, like when you're a kid, where everything's a big adventure and you don't know what to expect. It seems so easy to create an agenda, an area of music, an area you can work within. The amount of people that have given names to what we doŠ I'm not talking about the indie/underground scene. Even in the avant-garde world or the jazz world, they've taken us on, to some degree, and created theories about what we do. I think they decided it was something to do with music that was expressing a state of nothing. I was like, "Yeah yeah, nothing to do with me!"
It seemed like there was a lot of rhetoric back in 1990-91, where not only were there you guys, releasing stuff like the Glider and Tremelo EPs and the album itself, but also, bluntly put, the copycat bands that were popping up on Creation and elsewhere during that shoegazer period. How did you regard what was going on?
I thought it was cold - unimaginative and cold. A lot of the people were very nice; maybe it was just because quite a few of them liked our band and I would always see the nice side of them or something. It wasn't the kind of music that would have made me terriblyŠwell, maybe it would'veŠbut it wasn't out there enough. It seemed a little bit staid. It's a funny thing, and you might think it's funny, but I can't stand people who sing softly for the sake of it. Something like Dusty Springfield singing a Burt Bacharach song soft, that's controlled, focused, and it's quite intense, actually. But a lot of people were singing in a dreary, drawn-out, choir sort of way. I hated that! We used to try and avoid that ourselves like the plague. It was weird that we were seen as the same. It taught me a lot about people's perceptions. It taught me that we could have knocked off an album in a few weeks and it would have gotten virtually the same reaction by people at large. It was only those individuals out there who seemed to get it. Most people seemed not to take us as doing anything more or better than all the other bands out there.
Noting that, what do you think of current bands who own up to an influence, maybe in ways that are not as obvious? I'm thinking of Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins, who's been a long time fan, Flying Saucer Attack, Seefeel perhaps. Do you think what these people are doing is more effective, orŠ?
It's more emotional. It's more their thing, and if they're influenced by us, it's like a kind ofŠyou know the way you hear something, like me, I got influenced by a lot of classic songs, and it influences the way you approach things and phrase things. It just sinks into you. But ultimately what you're doing is totally from yourself. I think most of the people that are around, not shoegazing-type bands, that are in any way influenced by us, if they are, have been in the right way; it's the same way as we are with everyone else. They're an entity unto themselves. The only thing that ever bugged me, as I said, and it was as much a lesson, and I appreciated that as well, was when you get compared to an awful lot of bands where you're thinking, "Wow, they're doing exactly what we're avoiding," and everyone says, "Oh, you're all the same," or, "You're part of the same musical style," and you think, "Mm." You just learn a lot about how people see things. Put it this way: it was really good at helping ourselves not take ourselves too seriously. Most of what people said we just really profoundly disagreed with. I didn't make a big deal about it. Whatever I did say, I always felt like I was being hurtful. They were all young bands, just starting out, and I didn't want to criticize them too much. I didn't like it!
It's interesting, your talking about going against tides and expectations, since that ties in, more on a conceptual level, maybe, with some of the stuff you did on the live tours back in '92, and I'm especially thinking, of course, of your version of "You Made Me Realize." I saw two performances back then, one at the Roxy and one at the Palace, which I gather was one of the last times the band performed back thenŠ
The last time we played in AmericaŠactually, the last time we played anywhere! The one in Los Angeles. It was a shame, because it wasn't loud. I remember thinking we played technically well, and I remember playing and going, 'It's not loud.' Because when it's loud, you can see ripples among the people as they all get hit by certain frequenciesŠ
To put your mind at ease, I think it was loud enough!
Loud in a caustic way, but not in a low-frequency way, not in the stomach way. In the ears, yeah. I think we definitely tried to push that as far as we could ever push it. But I think in the future I want to make it a lot more physical, in a body way.
That actually sounds a bit like Throbbing Gristle, of all bands, the way they tried to make sound visible.
I think that's a good thing! I think that's real. It's like when you play an acoustic guitar, weirdly enough. The only way you can imitate an acoustic guitar effect on your body when you're sitting there playing it is to have a Marshall amp at full. It's quite perverse, in a way. People perceive loud music as somehow being really confrontational and aggressive, but really what you're doing is being sensual. At least that's the way I feel; I know Dinosaur Jr. are like that as well. A lot of bands are trying to get that feel when they're just sitting around playing with their amplifiers; then it feels right. When it feels dislocated from you, when it feels quiet, then it's wrong.
On the level of sheer loudness, then, "You Made Me Realize"Šwell, I knew what was coming at the Palace show since I had seen the Roxy show, something long and drawn-out, but I could just tell there were a lot of people around me who weren't aware, so I spent the thirty-five minutes or so seeing people clump together or move closer or work back, so even if it wasn't the full impact you were after, you didcaus e something!
That was the best thing about all the gigs that we did, was doing that song. It was very interesting to see the audience not begin to react in a stereotypical way. You learn - well, I learned! - that audiences are like one organism, with a head, a body and legs, with the legs at the back while the head's at the front shaking itself. When we did that song, it transformed the audience into a different thing altogether. All the people at the front could behave no differently from the people at the back. It put everyone into their own head, because they couldn't talk to each other either. Live, I certainly want to have that more of an effect, an awful lot more, and I think we can.
I noticed that on the tour you used a lot of backing tapes to build up your sound. Are you planning on relying on that much again this time out? It seemed at points that you were trying to recreate the stuff on Loveless and earlier songs as wellŠI don't want to say too perfectly, but in some respects it was a bit predictable.
Huh. That's funny, though, because we didn't use any backing tapes!
We did use a sequencer for the bass drum and the tambourine parts, and bits in "Soon," "I Only Said," and "To Here Knows When," and that was the only thing. Everything else was completely played.
In that case, I guess everything just came across as being much more like the album than I thought possible.
It's just the guitar. As far as I could figure out, people hear the guitar and imagine about five things happening at the same time, because of the pitch change. This isn't my theory, but it seems like when it changes pitch and moves up and down like that, some part of peoples' brains separates each part of that pitch variance into a layer. The brain goes, "Right, there's about five guitars there." But on the record, there's never more than two or three guitars at any one point. There's less guitars on our record than there is on an R.E.M. record, let me put it that way. When there's one guitar, it's full-on. When we play live, we're playing the same as we are in the studio, it's pretty much the same. People know that we use something besides just playing live, and they just think it's tapes. One of the things that created the tape effect was that Colm had a sampler on-stage, and we'd have stuff from the record, the few incidental bits connecting the songs. Colm triggered them, played them whenever it came into his mind. They were basically a couple of bits. The way they were on the record, it was the bits between "Soon" and the one before, and sometimes he'd just play that because he'd take too long between songs, and he'd just start making noise for people from nothing. Some of the greatest compliments we got paid were the reviews that went on about the fact that they could hear lots of stuff that we couldn't possibly be playing, moving our mouths but obviously not singing, just miming. I thought, "Brilliant!" People were actually thinking we couldn't do that.
That's what I had been thinking all this time! I didn't mind in the least!
It is funny when people realize how little there is. The way I've got the guitar and the amps all set up, I've got it so there's two completely different sounds, with a bit of delay between them. I play both of them at the same time, which means I'm out of time with the music slightly, depending on which part of the music I'm listening to.
Is that part of the 'glide guitar' effect I've heard so much about?
That was just a joke! But all I mean by 'joke' is that I came to the conclusion that 'maybe I'm playing guitar in a new way,' and I thought, "Right, I'll call it 'glide guitar.'" And that was it. After a year or two, you began to see it in people's terminology. The idea was that that was the way it moved, that's all.
I seem to remember it first cropping up in one of the '88 articles that Simon Reynolds didŠI'm trying to recall where I first saw it. My girlfriend, who's heavily into guitars, wanted me to ask you about that, and now I've just asked!
Just bend the tremelo arm when you play a chord. It just goes, "Beeeeooooowww." That's it! It's so simple, it's unbelievable it hasn't happened before! That's the funny part, because you don't really presume you've invented a new type of playing, when there are so many millions of people playing the guitar. You don't think, "Oh, I've found a new way of playing." It's just whatever comes into your head, you go, "Aahh...whatever!" Then after a while it dawned on me that people seemed to shy away from playing like that. I can imagine why they wouldn't get into it, because if you're not into it it sounds like shit. It sounds really terrible, a gratuitous bending of chords out of tune. But if you're into it, you move it, somehow, with the music.
Shifting away from My Bloody Valentine stuff, I did want to ask about the new Experimental Audio Research album (Beyond the Pale, available on Big Cat Records in America). I did notice that it was recorded back in 1992, and we were wondering, why so long for it to be released?
What happened was, they asked me if I would want to play on it back in '92, and I went, "Yeah, all right, sounds good," and then we just didn't get around to it. When I finally got around to it, I played on two tracks, didn't like what I did on one, so I took it off, and that was it, really. They just used one. They mixed here in our studio. I was around when Eddie [Prevost, member of AMM and part of the E.A.R. project] was mixing it, and I had no real opinions on it. It was interesting to watch him working, that's all, to see someone treating what you've done in a different way.
Would you think you'd be doing more with them in the future, or notŠ?
There's the slight chance I might play live with them, like a free-for-all type thing. I didn't make a commitment; it depends how things are going. Sometimes we're nearly totally in a groove, and then we just lose it for a few weeks.
I understand you've become a major drum-and-bass fanatic and a fan of other modern forms of dance music. What do you find most intriguing about these variants?
The drum-and-bass stuffŠsome of it is so unpredictable. You're listening to it, and you just have to listen to it. You have to listen to it almost like you have to listen to a John Coltrane record, with everybody freaking out. You just listen; you don't anticipate anymore, and just move along with it. People are claiming machines and working with them in new ways.
Time's about up, so some last quick questions. When is the album due, do you figure?
We made a deal, because we'd pushed things so much, and got enough money to last until June. Considering that I've got everything else sorted out, it's a good little motivation. You go, "Hmm, we're running out of money, we'd better hurry up!" It's that back up against the wall feeling, but I'm fully armed! That kind of feeling - it's good, it's positive. Definitely an EP out this year, because that'll be finished within a month. The album I can't really say, because one thing I've learnt is that what I think seems to bear little resemblance to reality.
Finally, do you find yourself a satisfied artist? Do you go back listening to your old stuff and thinking, "I can do better, do more," and do you think you can ever achieve a state of satisfaction?
I can listen to the old stuff now and like it in a fond kind of way, and I can hear things in it that are good that I've never listened to before. But it's such a long time ago, actually! It's weird, but it's good. I feel quite lucky to have been able to have disappeared for quite a long time, and to be in a position to get on with it again. I can't imagine actually being satisfied. If I ever get into the point where I feel some sort of satisfaction, I'll probably spontaneously transmutate into something else anyway!
And then move on to the next level! One final thing: when the band is put together and you think you're ready for it, will there be dates in the U.S.?
Yeah. I think once we start playing there, we'll keep on coming back for a couple of years! I try not to repeat things, insomuch as we took a long time making the last one from '88 to '91, and instead of repeating that we did something even worse! Either we won't play at all or we'll play a lot, that's probably the reality.