Photography: Steve Gullick
I was born five years after their debut album, but that didn’t stop me from obsessing over The Jesus and Mary Chain. For as long as I can remember, their music soundtracked different times in my life—Psychocandy made me want to start a band; “Sometimes Always” was my first favorite track. As a kid, I’d listen to their records, memorizing every lyric, worshiping every fuzzy riff, praying for the day I was old enough to see them live. Then they broke up.
After 18 years, The Mary Chain is finally back with a brand new record. Belonging somewhere between Psychocandy and Honey’s Dead, Damage and Joy sounds like classic Mary Chain, with a twist—the advancements of modern production. But unlike most bands, who get together after a long hiatus to try to recreate the magic of whatever made them famous, William and Jim don’t give a fuck—that’s what’s always made the band so exciting. They’ve never played by anyone else’s rules, and they’re still able to deliver that same irresistible mix of dreaminess and distortion.
As brothers, the Reids may never be able to get along. As bandmates, they provide the perfect balance — William’s guitars alternate between shimmering and deafening, while Jim waxes poetic. The record maintains the sweet sludge of tracks like “Dirty Water,” while sticking to the grit of “Cut Dead.” But Damage and Joy doesn’t feel like a return for The Jesus and Mary Chain. It just feels like they never left.
BULLETT called Jim in the UK, to talk Sex Pistols, studios and sibling rivalry.
Why’d you decide to do an album now, after 18 years?
We decided to do one when we got back together in 2007—at least William was quite keen to do one then. I was a bit worried, because the previous record we’d made was very hard to do, and we weren’t getting along in the studio at all. I was worried we were going to get back into that again, and I thought we should just wait. But then time passed, and people kept asking ‘When’s this record was coming out?’ so I got with William and we just started doing it.
What inspired the record?
Same as always—just what’s going on inside your head—your fears, things that make you feel good, things that make you feel bad, things that happened to you during the course of your life.
Was it hard to getting back into things after such a long hiatus?
The studio part of it—we were worried about. We thought we should get a producer, even though we’d never used one before. It would just be an extra person in the studio that could be helpful, and we also thought it would be someone that could settle the arguments—if the shit hits the fan, we could get this other person to oversee things, like United Nations. In the end, I got on pretty well with William—we basically worried unnecessarily.
How would you compare Damage and Joy to the rest of the Mary Chain catalogue?
When we make a record, it’s really just a record to please our own ears—and hopefully other people will get into it, too. We don’t really try to fit in with whatever’s going on around us. So, to me, it just sounds like another Mary Chain record.
What was the hardest part of making the record?
The hardest part is always when we’re recording and thinking, ‘Does anybody even care? Why are we doing this?’ I knew I was going to like the record, and so would William, but I don’t ever really know whether or not anybody else gives a shit.
Does it get annoying when people compare everything you do to the first record you ever made?
It would, if they did, but not everyone does. I mean, Psychocandy got more attention than the others. That used to bother us back then, when we were doing Darklands. But if all those people got into that record to the degree where they still want to come see us play, at least 30 years later, then it’s fantastic—I’ll take anything that comes our way. And people have said wonderful things about Psychocandy being the soundtrack to them meeting their wife and having children—I could never get tired of that, really.
Has the Mary Chain sound changed a lot since then?
I think they all our records sound different from each other in some way. But clearly, they’re made by the same people—you should expect a certain amount of similarity. I mean, you’re not going to stick it on the record player and hear a jazz reggae fusion coming out of the speakers. With the Mary Chain, you know, to a certain degree, what you’re gonna get.
When you first started, a lot of people called you ‘The New Sex Pistols,’ and compared you to Joy Division. But you always said you’d rather sound like The Beatles. If those bands didn’t inspire you, who did?
Those bands did inspire us, we just denied it at the time. I mean, who wasn’t into the Sex Pistols and Joy Division? Punk for the masses—it seriously influenced us. But we were also into The Beatles—they were the first band that really made an impact on William and me when we were just little kids. Then glam rock with Bowie and T.Rex. And let’s not forget The Velvet Underground—probably the most influential rock band there ever was. But when punk came along, it was a revelation. Before that, pop stars may as well have been from another planet. But then punk came and it was little snot-nosed kids with no money to buy clothes just like yourself. The whole DIY ethos of anybody can do this, you don’t need guitar lessons—you can just buy the cheapest guitar and be in a band and that would be exciting.
So it was the DIY aspect that drew you to punk?
It was just the excitement, really. It sounded like amphetamines—deranged and instantly attractive. When you heard stuff like “New Rose” by The Damned, you just couldn’t ignore it. I still remember the very first time I heard those records.
In the early years, everything written about the Mary Chain focused on the violence of your live shows. Did you ever feel like the music was being overshadowed by your raucous live performances?
Oh, it definitely was. And not just that, a lot of people used the word ‘hype’ during the time, which seems to suggest there was no substance—that the band had nothing really to offer other than a few cheap headlines. It seemed like a locomotive we couldn’t control after a while. But then we did go away for about six months, hoping the whole violence and riots at gigs would blow over, and thankfully it did. Then, when we came back, it was just about the music.
Did you ever think people would still be talking about a record you made when you were 24?
We kind of hoped they would. When we were doing Psychocandy, we were listening to a lot of old garage bands from the ‘60’s, and we were hoping at least that would happen—that little kids would be going into dusty little record shop and buying Psychocandy, then starting a band because of it.