MARTIN ASTON TRIES TO HEAR WHAT CREATION'S LEADING BEAT COMBO HAVE TO SAY
The scene: Blackwing Studios, London Bridge, an old converted church, where My Bloody Valentine - roughly translated as 'Our Great White Independent Hope' somewhere along the line - have been camped-out for so far 5 days.
The task: to conjure up the next release to follow the independent chart-topping and poll-winning "You Made Me Realise" EP, "Isn't Anything" album and "Feed Me With You Kiss" EP (all on Creation Records) of 1988.
The Interference: A Catalogue 'reporter' who wants to know what makes them all 'tick'. That's Kevin Shields (guitar, vocals, writes music), Belinda Butcher (guitar, vocals), Colm O'Ciosoig (drums) and Deb Googe (bass). Or not 'tick'. Or oversleep.
The occasion: 1) MBV's most extensive UK tour, month-long in the festive 'Valentine' February, followed by a European foray; 2) a special Catalogue single, "Sugar".
The absentee: Colm, for hitherto unknown reasons.
Kevin: No, Creation asked us if we wanted to do a track for 'The Catalogue' and, right at the same time, a friend who works in a studio said that anytime we wanted to mess around in a studio, we could, so went in and made it up.
Is that easy for you?
K: I don't know about easy. That's what we're doing here. We came into the studio 5 days ago with nothing and we've only just begun to get the basic groundwork.
Is that how your songs are always written?
K: Sort of, unfortunately. You've just got us at a certain moment. We're very rarely interviewed in a studio and I'm really pissed off.
Deb: You seem quite calm now. It hasn't got you today.
K: It doesn't get me to me like it used because I make sure I get 4 hours sleep.
You used to stay up all night?
K: When I was younger, I used to be able to stay up a lot longer.
D: Yeah, last year!
You've aged so much this last year?
K: I definitely feel like it.
Is that the pressure of being much more popular?
K: I don't know about pressure, it's just difficult to get through the week with only 2 or 3 hours sleep, and constantly thinking - not just staying up but actually using your head all the time. But we end up writing in the studio before we go in.
D: It's not just in the studio, you have to go home sometimes and write things for the next day.
K: You spend about 12 hours in the studio and then go home and try and make up the next song for the next day. And writing new sets of lyrics. It's difficult to write lyrics in a normal everyday situation. I can just write a tune occasionally but lyrics are harder.
Doesn't that pressure force you to complete songs and lyrics that might not be ready?
K: But that's the only way it's ever done.
And look where it's got you... are you surprised that you've become much more popular?
D: We were surprised when "You Made Me Realise" did very well because none of us knew what to expect of it at all.
Why do you think it happened?
K: Playing live. One thing we had noticed was that trying to play live stuff off the previous "Ecstasy" album (on Lazy Records) and the "Strawberry Wine" single was difficult to enjoy and do it well because of the type of music it was, the vocal melodies... the last thing you felt like doing after playing a bunch of gigs in a row was going, y'know, "la-la-la-la"... live, we're now a lot more, uh, "chchchchchch"...
Is that the sound of feedback you're impersonating?
K: Oh, feedback... the one thing about feedback, the only time we've ever used feedback in the studio was in 1984 for one song on the "This Is Your Bloody Valentine" mini-album, and ever since then, including all the Creation stuff, we haven't used one drop of feedback. When we get reviewed, it seems our name still goes hand in hand with feedback and we don't do that. Like the song "All I Need" on the album, the guitars are making a "eyoowwwww" sound, it's not noise, it's not distorted, it's just a certain sound, of two guitar tracks, and everyone says it's feedback. What it is is people hear something that doesn't obviously sound like a normal guitar or a heavy rock guitar and they go, "ohh, feedback!". When we did use it that one time, it was on a record that nobody in Britain has! We did it in Berlin when we were trying to sound like The Birthday Party and trying to imitate that "Mutiny In Heaven" guitar sound.
Did it ever feel like you were taking a risk by changing direction?
K: No, we could just have easily broken up in the meantime. We were bored with playing live and I was really sick of trying to sing in tune. There are certain kinds of music that have just had it. I was feeling more and frustrated standing up and playing some tunes that we didn't play well anymore. We played the new songs ten times better than we played the old songs which we had played ten times longer. All that's happening to us is that we're learning how to play music that's more suited to us - music that has a very loose feel to it. It's much more enjoyable to play it like that. It's not half as difficult as before.
Will the record you're making here refine what you achieved or will it signify a change in direction again?
K: We've no idea at all actually. We should be sorting things out a bit because we have no firm base for what we're doing. It's very messy. There's no proper form to it. But there's nothing representative of a new direction. The track for The Catalogue is a catchy little tune...
Which you say you only write very occasionally...
K: Well I think all the songs we have are good tunes but the chords get lost in sound and you don't get the benefit of the melody. They'd sound really pretty if they were played really slowly, but played like we do, we always tend to bend the sound with a tremolo and that really makes it sound a lot less tuneful.
Bending the sounds and frequency is the 'acid' treatment of music.
K: I think there is some sort of parallel between some stuff that we're doing and record-based music like Acid or New Beat stuff that in a way has the same attitude, where our reference points are toward the past times, with a certain feel in regards to the sound of the '60s, and we'll 11 take chunks out of the past because it's there and they take chunks out of records which is more a product of the late 80's. It's becoming more and more right to not just worry about whether it's been done before. it's more how It is now, and what have you done with it.
But some groups' music nowadays can sound more like a history lesson than a personal expression. For me, for example, I can't work out Loop's particular appeal. Who do you feel shares your attitude?
K: Probably bands like Spacemen 3, who have over Loop the fact they're more prepared to go in other directions beside the heavy guitar or the weird guitar. They'll go soft and play melodies but they're also a bit more freaked. We like the obvious bands that we're all compared to. We're similar In some ways to bands like Dinosaur Jr. It's a very traditional thing, playing the song like that, but somehow people can tell the difference. I now feel at last relatively confident that were actually playing music that in retrospect will be seen as a product of the times and not so much say a band that might play ska now, in this ska revival which just sounds like the ska revival. It only feels like it has a new angle because it's been away for a while. And the semi-Disco revival that Acid House is falling into. But people think we're crap, that we're trying to sound like the current American bands like Sonic Youth or something like the Mary Chain. That we're a second-rate Dinosaur Jr. Like Sounds can't see the point of us because there's Dinosaur Jr.
The overseas press will see you in the Jesus and Mary Chain tradition, or as the new Mary Chain, in that jaded weary tradition. What are your feelings about that description?
K: It s not jaded but... what's the word... I'm uncomfortable trying to feel on top of the world. I've got no interest in us being a good old rock'n'roll band, like Bruce Springsteen, rushing from one side of the stage to the other, turning the audience into a wild frenzy, but I'm as passionate a person as anyone over what I'm doing, and it's great to play live, to see the audience's reaction. We were a product of growing up at a time when music was still seen as really important and it makes us want to do it, to get up on stage and play guitars... people say why do it, but there is no reason why, it's just built into you. Some people didn't like the album. It clicks with some people but others see it really superficially, they hear a tune and some noises and drums and if it doesn't draw them in, they're on the outside, and I don't know what that must feel like.
Is the music the expression of not being able to be on top of things, not being able to cope with life so easily?
K: It's not a conscious decision or thought, to have an idea and carry it out. But everything is a product of the next idea that comes up because I can't get through without getting loads more ideas in the meantime. So the end product is the product of lots and lots of changes.
Nick Cave said 'life is a sewer and you have to crawl through it'... Jim Foetus, Blixa, etc., all reflect that attitude. Do you have an equivalent?
K: I'm sure Cave is a lot more conscious of what he's doing.
So MBV is the sound of the subconscious? of this 'dream state' that the music press has referred to? It's strange that a band whose songs are considered so much in a dream state only get about 3 to 4 hours sleep at night...
K: Well, what happens is your mind dreams anyway. It says 'well fuck you, if you're going to close your eyes and lie down, then I'm going to dream anyway'. It has to happen.
Does anyone else agree or disagree with Kevin?
Belinda: Umm, I can't think of any reason why we do anything else (laughs).
K: Colm is really outspoken, we often sit here and go 'whaaat?'.
But he's not here...
K: I've decided I'm going to get a Walkman, and when we go away on tour, record all the things, tunes and ideas, and be a bit more organised, because at the moment, it feels like my brain is covered in about three inches of honey with cottonwool on top - it's hard to concentrate. There's this dull blur...
I think that's the result of 3 hours sleep a night and sitting around in studios like moles... do you feel any pressure to change your ways and live up to a 'next big thing', the big white British independent rock hope...?
K: We're definitely going to put a stop to that this year... we're certainly not going to work at anyone else's pace, because we move along in our own way as we always have. Bands have constantly passed us by, our so-called contemporaries like Pop Will Eat Itself, The Primitives, Voice Of The Beehive, we knew all these people because we grew up together in bands at the same level.
(Colm comes in, having waited on and off three hours - and kept missing
because he went back indoors - the night bus before heading home for the usual
3 hours sleep - hence his late arrival.)
But all those bands were more commercial than My Bloody Valentine.
K: They are, but we used to be really commercial as well. We had the chance to get into the same framework as those others, but just didn't want to. We never got the record company offers, but we got the management offers which you need to put yourself in the right condition.
Have Creation put any pressure on, in light of where House Of Love have moved?
K: None really. Their attitude is that if we don't feel good about the records, then we don't have to put them out. At this point in time, we've made our records and put them all out, and now we're not worrying. There's no point in doing that. We could do all that and play a lot of gigs and build it all up but we'd rather do it differently. There are two thoughts about it and I agree with both of them which is a real problem, but I believe in the kind of Prince attitude, where you just put out records and not care about what will make a commercial breakthrough, and each album has got a couple of really good songs on it and a lot of really strange songs and a few really horrible songs, and that's a good attitude to have, not to be too precious about what you do, and we have recorded like that. But there is this new attitude of only releasing a record when things can be better.
Having seen that independent distribution can get records to Number 1, do you think House Of Love were wrong by going to a major and hoping to sell more records?
K: No I think they will. They're already commercially viable for them to sign to a major label. The independent distributors can, but it's all with dance records, which have gone through exactly the same developments, not because it's played on the radio, but because it's come up through word of mouth, through the clubs and into the charts. Rock doesn't have that at all. Well, you can get to a certain level by playing a lot of gigs and build a following and release a single and get into the Top 40, like say New Model Army, but rock music is more dependent on a more traditional structure of selling records. I think this thing about independent record companies can have huge hits is true, but the "You Made Me Realise" EP completely went out of stock at peak time, no-one could buy it and we lost out on sales. It really messed things up badly because people often buy records on impulse and won't go back to buy. There's only a small amount who will buy it no matter what. House Of Love could never be as big as they want to, but if they had been on a major record label all the time, they probably would have broken up sooner but sold more records. (Alan McGee phones up for Kevin at the precise moment...)
That gives somebody else a chance to talk. Does Kevin always do the bulk of the talking?
Deb: Once he starts, you just can't stop him. There's no point. You kind of get lulled into it, and then when somebody asks you a question, you go, 'uhhhhhh'...
Belinda: Sometimes Kevin will purposefully shut up and say, 'you say something', but he knows more about it.
Deb: That's all right because none of us are over-enthusiastic about talking. I quite like listening to Kevin talking.
Belinda: Yeah, you think, 'where does he get that one from?'. Maybe that's the only time you get to hear about the band.
(Kevin returns) K: He yelled at me. No, I'm joking. He did get a shock when he heard we had only recorded just about the drums in 5 days.
Colm: We've had problems with equipment. We had to hire a drum kit which was no good, and it takes about half a day tuning to get the right drum sound.
K: We started using this acoustic guitar on one track that didn't have drums that didn't work and we spent ages trying to work out why. Colm: There was all this buzzing in the whole room, windows ratlling.
K: And nails were coming out of the door! The funniest time was when the speakers blew off the wall, nearly broke the engineer's ankle. One flew off, then the other, and the know the way you put your foot out
Where were we... so if a major offered you that deal, maybe not as high as the House Of Love offer because they're so commercial but...
K: No, at the moment, we're better off with Creation because there's a big difference between us and The house Of Love. They know exactly what they want and what they're doing and they're into being a professional band. They've basically got the potential to be, as rock bands go, one of the biggest, because they've already got an established market and following. We could really change over the years, and record companies need to plan a year at least ahead.
So Creation are content to let you be and if you spend 5 days and only get the drums recorded, then that's how it'll be?
K: I'm sure he (Mc Gee) would love it if we had come up with finished tracks but he knows there's not much he can do about it. It's just one of those things. That's the danger sometimes, just walking into the studio with nothing. You have no security at all, which bothers me. I'd love to walk in with a masterpiece.
You know what they say, Rome wasn't built in a day.
Deb: It would've been considerably longer if we had anything to do with it. It would still be in ruins.
K: That track that you can hear now in the studio, I know I'm really going to like that one. Its got bongos on it too. It's a nice tune as well.
Belinda: It's like 'Marina' ...
Originally appeared in The Catalogue, #67
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