Q&A: The Jesus And Mary Chain’s Jim Reid On 30 Years Of Psychocandy
A few months into my freshman year of high school the resident musical genius in our class gave me a dubbed cassette copy of the Jesus And Mary Chain’s 1985 debut, Psychocandy. At that point I was almost exclusively interested in heavier music and skeptical of everything else. But when my 13-year-old self put on the album, I was moved in a way I hadn’t been in the previous decade-plus. Psychocandy was in many ways extreme and uncompromising — both crucial qualities at that point of my life. At the same time, the songs were utterly accessible and vulnerable and emotional; it was like Pet Sounds-era Brian Wilson reborn in a wave of distortion and feedback.
Today, these songs are standards: “Just Like Honey,” “The Hardest Walk,” “Taste Of Cindy.” And three decades later, Psychocandy is regarded as one of the pivotal pop records of the 1980s, if not of all time. It’s included on any list of essential albums, or albums you must hear before you die. It has never seemed like a relic as much as an album that exists outside of time — like it’s always been there. I talked to JAMC guitarist/vocalist Jim Reid about making a timeless classic, and why a 30th anniversary tour — which kicks off a limited North American leg tonight — isn’t just about nostalgia.
STEREOGUM: How did you and William [Reid, JAMC guitarist] decide to do these anniversary shows?
JIM REID: It seemed like an opportunity, because if we don’t do it for this anniversary than it’s never going to happen. It seemed like the right thing to do. Ten years ago, the band didn’t exist [they reunited in 2007], so we couldn’t do the 20th anniversary. This is it, really. People have suggested doing Psychocandy live for a while but it never appealed to us. We thought it would have to be a Psychocandy show like we did back then, but that’s not an option anymore. It’s just too chaotic and based around drugs and drink. They were too much in the picture then.
We suddenly realized that it didn’t have to be that way and we could make it about the record. There are a few tracks on the album that have never been played live. So we also thought it was time to play those tracks. In the UK we’ve been doing two sets and not doing an encore. We do a short set of non-Psychocandy stuff and then we go off for a few minutes and do the record. We have the song “Some Candy Talking” but we play it in the first set because it wasn’t intended to be on the record. It was added to the American album without our consent.
STEREOGUM: What does it feel like to revisit material you did when you were very young when you are well into adulthood?
JIM REID: It’s not much of a shock to the system. Although we haven’t done the album in its entirety, we have played some of the songs in our set over the past few years. It’s not like we’re suddenly playing these songs. A chunk of it we’ve played consistently through the decades. It’s quite encouraging that there is a good cross section of ages [at the shows]. It’s not just old fans — there’s a lot of young kids out there, and that’s very nice. That makes this less about nostalgia and more just about Psychocandy — about people still picking it up after all these years.
STEREOGUM: When you were growing up, was music part of the fabric of your youth?
JIM REID: Yes, although we were into music our parents weren’t. It didn’t come from our mom and dad. They didn’t buy records. We got a record player when we were young and we had no records. So we borrowed a bunch of Beatles albums. It was the first thing William and I got into. That really excited us. After that it was glam rock and then punk. Punk helped us think anyone could be in a band — that we could do it. It opened the doors and let everyone in. The Sex Pistols and the Ramones and Television — that movement just blew us away. Music always seemed like something other people did. Until punk, you never thought about getting on stage. The whole DIY ethic of punk really meant something to us. The final lesson we learned was from the Velvet Underground. Hearing that first record was such a revelation because everything important to us was contained on one album.
STEREOGUM: A lot of bands have toured using this “play an entire album” concept, but the way Psychocandy is laid out, the songs seem meant to be played in a certain order. It fits together in a way few albums do.
JIM REID: I’m glad you say that. We took a lot of care with the record and it’s the reason it’s lasted so long. We never understood why you would go buy an album and the singles would be good but the rest of it was filler material. We wanted to make a record where every song could be a single. And I think we did it. And, that’s the reason we’re even having this conversation.
STEREOGUM: Do you hear that about your other records a lot or is Psychocandy always the touchstone?
JIM REID: Psychocandy had such an impact when we released it. A lot of people are also connected to Darklands. A lot of people were confused by Darklands because it didn’t have the screeching feedback. But that one has also seemed to stand the test of time. When we started the Psychocandy tour it wasn’t too long before people said: “Do Darklands.” We like it just as much. Maybe we’ll do that next?
STEREOGUM: What do you remember about writing and recording Psychocandy?
JIM REID: That it was a long time from Point A to B. We started writing the album before we were even a band, I suppose. It’s hard to trace it from beginning to end. It was a strange experience to record it. Suddenly we are in a rock and roll band and recording the album. People thought we just sort of fell around the studio, but it wasn’t like that. We took it pretty seriously and had a strong work ethic.
STEREOGUM: What was the setup like in Southern Studios in London?
JIM REID: Very basic. It wasn’t how you would think of a recording studio. [Studio owner] John Loder bought two houses and knocked them into one. The recording room used to be a living room and the control room was the garage. The neighbors probably had no idea what was going on [laughs]. It was a strange setup but it was quite magical and it worked. We were in the studio recording during the day, and Ministry was there at night. We’d leave at the end of the day and they would be working through the night. I can’t remember what record it was … the one that came out in 1985 or 1986. [Editor’s note: It was Twitch.]
STEREOGUM: Did you have any interactions with Al Jourgensen when you worked on Psychocandy?
JIM REID: We didn’t have anything to do with each other’s records but we got along OK. He seemed like a nice fellow.
STEREOGUM: How did feedback become such a critical component in your music?
JIM REID: It was a conscious decision. It was not by chance. We were just into noise on rock records. We were into pop music and into experimental music and couldn’t figure out why no one was doing both. The Velvet Underground, in our opinion, were a noise-pop band.
STEREOGUM: What are your recollections of the Peel Sessions that happened before the album was released?
JIM REID: They were about a year before. We had a Peel Session before we even had any record out! That was amazing. We were living in the middle of fucking nowhere and we got this John Peel session. There’s no one like him now. We had this incredible opportunity to go to London and record four songs that would be played on national radio. It was a bit unfortunate that the guys producing had no idea how to record a band like ours. They treated us with contempt, to be honest. But they job got done, and hats off to John for taking the chance.
STEREOGUM: How did they treat you with contempt?
JIM REID: Any studio we went into, people thought of us as a joke. We could barely play our instruments. We would do things like drop the guitar and record the clanging as it fell. These 50-year-old recording engineers were like, “What the fuck is this?” For the Peel Sessions we wanted to break a bottle and record it but they wouldn’t do it. They said absolutely no way. We said, “We were asked to come here by John Peel and do our thing, and your thing is to record it.” They wouldn’t do it. We told them there would be no glass going over their precious studio and they wouldn’t do it. People were just appalled by our lack of knowledge about the music business.
STEREOGUM: Did your inexperience help make a record people remember because back then you didn’t see any boundaries or limitations?
JIM REID: Definitely. We had no idea how close we were to the precipice. We just stumbled along doing whatever the hell we liked. We didn’t know what was acceptable. We just knew what sounds we liked. We were going to give anything a try.
STEREOGUM: One of the bonus tracks on the Psychocandy reissue that came out a few years ago was by Syd Barrett, “Vegetable Man.” Was he a big influence?
JIM REID: We loved Syd. The first Pink Floyd album and his solo records are amazing. It’s not always obvious but he was a massive influence.
STEREOGUM: He was also person who, even before his illness, didn’t see limitations. I’m thinking about the song “Arnold Layne”…
JIM REID: Absolutely. Actually, some of the music in the ’60s was a lot more open-ended and he made the most of that.
STEREOGUM: What kids of stories do you hear from listeners who have been moved by Psychocandy over the past three decades?
JIM REID: People have conceived children with it as a backdrop. People have been married or had a bereavement. It’s been a part of a lot of people’s lives and that’s such a privilege.
The Jesus And Mary Chain Psychocandy 30th anniversary tour dates:
05/01 Toronto, ON @ Phoenix Concert Theatre
05/03 Detroit, MI @ St. Andrew’s Hall
05/05 Chicago, IL @ Riviera Theatre
05/07 Deep Ellum, TX @ The Bomb Factory
05/09 Austin, TX @ Austin Psych Fest Presents Levitation
05/11 Denver, CO @ Ogden Theatre
05/13 Vancouver, BC @ Vogue Theatre
05/14 Seattle, WA @ Showbox at the Market
05/16 San Francisco, CA @ Warfield Theatre