The Chain Event: Jesus and Mary Chain make their comeback

Onstage bust-ups, classic records and performing live with Scarlett Johansson are all on the agenda as the iconic Jesus and Mary Chain discuss their brilliant comeback album, Damage and Joy.

Having proven a huge hit on the festival circuit since reforming in 2007 after a decade-long hiatus, legendary Scottish noiseniks The Jesus and Mary Chain have finally gotten around to releasing their first album in nearly two decades, Damage And Joy. Once again utilising the band’s familiar mix of noise and melody, the record nicely picks up where the Mary Chain left off, and at its zenith reaches the lofty heights of their very best work.

The band’s creative core, brothers Jim and William Reed, had a famously combustible relationship during their ’80s heyday and, according to Jim, the fear that old tensions might resurface was the primary reason for the long delay in entering the studio.

“We had songs lying around and we could have recorded an album,” says the singer, recalling the early days of the Mary Chain reunion. “But to be honest, I was a bit nervous about going into the studio for various reasons, mostly to do with how horrible and painful it had been to record Munki, which came out in ’98. I didn’t want to go back into the studio if there was any chance it would end up like that again.

“I resisted for quite a long while, but people kept asking about this album, cos we had said we were going to do it. To be honest, I did want to do it, but I was just scared it would get messy again. But so much time had passed, and people kept asking about it, so I thought, it’s getting ridiculous now – we better do the record.”

When the band did eventually re-enter the studio – with celebrated producer Youth drafted in to oversee the project, as well as act as mediator if necessary – they found that they quickly slipped into a comfortable creative groove. The result is an exhilarating collection of raw rock and roll, which is starkly at odds with the bland nature of contemporary UK guitar music.

“I think rock will come back, but it’s going to be driven underground,” muses Jim. “The musical landscape is just unrecognisable now. It’s almost like rock with an edge is going to be like jazz music has been for the last 50 years – it’s going to be in the margins, but there will always be people who want to hear that kind of music.”

Certainly, when they started out, the Jesus and Mary Chain were never ones to hold back on their subversive punk instincts. Indeed, a recent BBC documentary featuring the band showed Reed drunkenly baiting the crowd at one show, accusing them all of slavishly following musical trends.

“Oh god, I think I know what you’re talking about,” groans Jim. “That was down to idiotic drunkenness, basically. You get drunk and act like a fool, but if you do it onstage with microphones it comes back to bite you on the arse. I’ve done so many things like that which I’ve utterly regretted, where it turns out the show was recorded or there’s a bootleg or what have you. I used to find it hideously awkward to go onstage – cos I’m incredibly shy – but I definitely wanted to be Iggy Pop (laughs).

“The only way I could approach that was to get absolutely rat-arsed, so there would be some surreal moments – and some highly comical ones. Unfortunately my stage persona back then was more Rab C Nesbitt than Iggy Pop, but in my mind it was all Iggy and the Stooges.”

Did the band ever come to blows onstage?

“No, never onstage,” says Jim. “Publicly, there was a horrible incident when we played the House of Blues in LA, but the band had actually broken up the night before. There were blows then, but it wasn’t between me and William – it was between William and Ben Lurie, who was in the band at the time. William had decided to leave the band and that was going to be his last show.

“As usual, I got incredibly fucked up. I remember I was so out of it that I forgot I was onstage – I just started ranting at William. Then suddenly I looked around and I saw all these people looking at us, and I thought, ‘Oh yeah, this is a gig!’ I think afterwards the audience were given their money back!”

Undoubtedly one of the Mary Chain’s high points was the blissfully fuzzed-up rocker ‘Just Like Honey’, which in 2004 was used in the memorable final scene of Sofia Coppola’s Oscar-winning Lost In Translation. It must have been nice for the band to soundtrack such an iconic moment.

“It helps that it was a really good film,” nods Jim. “Our songs had been used in movies before but never quite like that – it was very well-placed and it certainly didn’t do us any harm. It introduced the band to a whole group of people who otherwise wouldn’t have heard us. There wasn’t a load of money in it or anything, but there was a lot of exposure.

“We subsequently performed the song at Coachella with Scarlett Johansson – we’d been thinking about who we could get to do the end bit. I think William had heard that Scarlett had an album coming out, and we thought, ‘Why don’t we ask her?’ You just never know. As it turns out, she was a Mary Chain fan and happy to do it. She was lovely, very down to earth.”

Damage And Joy is out now.

 

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