MY BLOODY VALENTINE -- THE CLASS OF '91
Their debut album, 'Isn't Anything', influenced a whole generation of shoegazing
sonic rockers. Now, with 'Loveless', My Bloody Valentine look set to start
a whole new revolution. THE STUD BROTHERS catch up with them at long last.
Pic: TOM SHEEHAN
My Bloody Valentine are back. On November 11, they release their second
album, "Loveless". We were there at the beginning. We first came across them
five years ago. We saw them at the now mercifully defunct Croydon Underground.
There were only about 20 people there, all gazing prophetically at their shows.
We swaggered in drunkenly, downed a couple of pints of snakebite, briefly
heckled the band with a few snappy on-liners like, "Play a fucking song, you
noisy bastards!", then swaggered drunkenly out again to catch last orders
round the corner.
Several days later, we penned a review of exaggerated savagery we still
blush to think of it. The review was published unexpurgated. No one, no reader,
no writer, not even the Valentines' PR rose to defend the group. It seems
extraordinary now, but there was a time when My Bloody Valentine meant nothing.
Just a year later, with the release of "You Made Me Realize", they were being
talked about as the most significant new rock band since the Mary Chain.
And now, of course, they appear to mean everything. Their debut album, "Isn't
Anything", released in 1988 to massive critical acclaim, has belatedly come
to define 1991, its muted noise-pop clearly inspiring Lush, Moose, Chapterhouse,
Slowdive, even Curve.
We're sitting with Kevin Shields, Bilinda Butcher, Colm O'Ciosoig and Deborah
Googe -- My Bloody Valentine, the spokespeople for a generation -- in a surprisingly
cosy Streatham living-room and sharing a one-and-a-half litre bottle of the
finest French vinaigre we've generously brought along to break the ice.
The spokespeople for a generation have a reputation for not saying much.
Not true. Kevin Shields, the Valentines' co-guitarist, co-lyricist and co-vocalist
(the Valentines are very much a democracy) is remembering the good old days
of Croydon Underground. Kevin hasn't forgotten our review but he is being
very nice about it. He is, as we were told he sometimes be, disarmingly magnanimous.
Five years ago, Kevin admits, My Bloody Valentine were nothing special.
"Our first couple of singles ("Geek" and "No Place to Go") were absolute
failures, they were so unrepresentative of what we wanted to do. Like 'Geek'
(business-like power-pop), the only good thing about that now is the title,
it seems so appropriate. We still get letters from fans who've paid £15 for
it in a second-hand record shop and are demanding their money back."
It was when the band were on the verge of splitting up, after their first
singer, Dave O'Conway, had left and Bilinda Butcher had joined, that they
suddenly and, they admit, unexpectedly discovered themselves.
"For a long while," says Kevin, "we were just carried away with the idea
that we could think of tunes. And we were nervous of the idea of doing anything
too extreme. We'd think of things then chicken out because we thought they
might stand out too much, sound wrong for us. Then, when we joined Creation,
we were about to split up so it didn't seem to matter what we did, we could
do anything. So we did and it was a lot more fun. We just started giving into
whims, there was this tremendous sense of freedom. We weren't getting any
more popular, we weren't getting any less popular, there was nothing left
And, as it turned out, an awful lot to gain.
Kevin mentions to us in passing that we walked out of Croydon Underground
shortly before the Valentines performed an embryonic version of "You Made
Me Realise". Certainly makes us realise now. It's a bit like seeing the Pistols
at the 100 Club and buggering off before they do "Anarchy in the UK". History
in the making and we're on the Number 68 to Thornton Heath.
What a couple of absolute wallies.
BACK! BACK! BACK! IT'S THE END OF CREATION.
Between "Isn't Anything" and "Loveless", My Bloody Valentine have released
just two EP's -- "Glider", that went Top 50, and "Tremolo", that reached Number
24. Even Michael Jackson is more prolific than that.
My Bloody Valentine's prolonged silence has allowed for vivid flights of
fancy by the press. Journalists gleefully speculated that the Valentines,
under pressure to record an album as influential as their debut for Creation,
were literally paralysed by fear (extraordinary stuff). When it finally became
clear that the band were in the studio writing and recording and had been,
on and off, since 1989, the same twatmongers snickered that the album was
costing so much money (the figure of £350,000 was bandied about) that their
record company boss Alan McGee would be forced to sell his beloved Creation.
Kevin seems faintly amused.
"We never felt we had to live up to anyone's expectations with 'Loveless',"
he says "except our own. The reason for the delay was that we made two EP's
after 'Tremolo' that we just didn't feel were good enough, so they were never
released. They weren't bad, it's just that they didn't excite us in the sense
that they could make what we did before seem irrelevant. We made them like
we'd made all our previous records, just went into the studio and wrote a
lot of stuff really quickly, but that way of working wasn't working anymore.
"Basically we'd done everything we could working quickly, making songs up
on the spot. We had to slow down or we start repeating ourselves."
My Bloody Valentine are extreme perfectionists. Perfectionists are notoriously
frustrating people to work with and, should you choose to humour them as McGee
and Creation clearly have done with the Valentines, very expensive. For "Loveless,"
11 tracks were culled from 25 because, as Colm explains to us, "If any one
of us is unhappy with any particular sound we stop there and then, the song
goes." Recently this perfectionism has taken on what some might consider almost
pathological proportions with Deborah and Kevin turning up uninvited at factories
where the cassettes of "Loveless" are being run off and inspecting the goods
for sound quality. (Kevin: "People say cassettes are bound to be crap but
you'd be surprised. There are things you can do.")
It's this sort of antic that's led people to imagine that the Valentines
would bankrupt Creation.
"It's true that we've spent over a quarter of a million," says Kevin with
a shrug, "but that's been over the last three years, including the videos,
EP's, everything. 'Loveless' cost about £100,000 and that's already paid for,
Creation paid for it bit by bit as we went along. As for them being up for
sale, they're probably the successful independent going. They've just done
a massive licensing deal with America."
So "Loveless" cost £100,000 and £100,000 is a hell of a lot of money. When
it's in your pocket. When it comes to present-day recording costs it's actually
not that much. And when you hear "Loveless", when you hear how fucking magnificient
it is, you'll be blown away by just how much 100 Big Ones can buy you nowadays.
Now we had feared this album might be a brilliant, icy but ultimately unlistenable
experiment in sonic architecture. And indeed some of it is (mere) ambient
cacophony where the band and, by the sound of it, whole orchestras appear
so distant and distorted you get the feeling the songs weren't so much recorded
as picked up on some spectral satellite-dish. "Touched" for instance is reminiscent
of David Lynch's nauseous soundtrack to "Eraserhead" -- the racket of industry
smothered to the point where it's sickeningly soporific. "To Here Knows When"
is Enya on angel dust heard through the unerring buzz of an ancient PA.
These sculpted soundscapes are ingenious but not necessarily moving (as
with Chemical Dub Reggae, you probably have to be seriously drugged to enjoy
their noise and nuance). It's when the Valentines limit themselves to writing
rocksongs and popsongs that they truly excel, truly stir you. Structureless
they're incomparable. Structured you're suddenly aware of just how revolutionary
this band are. The most extraordinary moments on "Loveless" come when the
Valentines deign to treat us to a few tunes, and they do so often (so often
in fact that certain egghead mindfuckers are already bemoaning the lack of
pure white noise). This album rocks and when it's when it rocks that you're
so awesomely aware of just how much bettter the Valentines are than their
imitators, and struck by why so many groups HAVE imitated them.
The Valentines are literally, audibly transcendental. Take "Only Shallow",
the opener. It kicks off sounding like an angel riding a starpowered Harley
and ends with a mellifluous motor-echo disappearing into silence. We're not
kidding, it's "Born to be Wild" for the shoegazing generation. Basically,
kids, it's a fucking corker. "When You Sleep" hits you in the heart like "Freak
Scene" and the Mary Chain's "Hardest Walk". "I Only Said" is a slow, relentless
rock monster, perpetually gutted by the piercing sound of acetylene-lance
Creation's press office are claiming that "Loveless" will become the most
influential album of the Nineties. We're inclined to agree with them. We daren't
be wrong twice.
AND IT SEEMS LIKE THEY'VE NEVER BEEN AWAY
Kevin thinks otherwise. He's almost certain that "Loveless" will get a critical
"I think we're gonna get a panning," he says. "In a weird way, even though
we haven't done an album for three years, we've been overexposed. I mean,
a couple of months ago you couldn't read a review without seeing our name
mentioned. It was ridiculous. It was like, 'Oh my God, there's gonna be a
definite backlash. People are gonna hate us just because our name's mentioned
He may have a point. My Bloody Valentine have enjoyed/suffered a great deal
of attention this year, despite not having released anything since January.
Because, as we mentioned earlier, 1988's "Isn't Anything" has cast a very
long shadow over 1991. Every other group this year has quoted that album as
an influence. But it's only been that - an influence. It would be virtually
impossible to rip off a Valentines song wholesale, as you can with, say, The
Rolling Stones, The Byrds or Big Star (Alex Chilton's supersonic Sixties janglepoppers).
Nevertheless '91's notion of noise has largely been credited to My Bloody
Is imitation the sincerest form of flattery?
"Well, I don't think these people ARE imitating us," says Kevin, once again
exercising his famed magnanimity. "Something that's never recognised is that
everyone I knew who was into music, everyone who's now in 'The Scene', were
into The Smiths but were also into Einsturzende Neubaten and The Birthday
Party and The Cramps and all sorts of bands you weren't supposed to be into
if you were a Morrissey fan. So it was really only going to be a matter of
time before that interest was reflected in music.
"It's like when we started they (the crits, us) said we were just Mary Chain
imitators, that's what you slagged us off for, but the thing is a lot of people
had been hankering after that sound and the Mary Chain just got there first.
We have a demo-tape in Dublin that we made before we heard the Mary Chain
that sounds more like the Mary Chain than anything we've done since. I really
think most of the bands that are accused of imitating us would be doing something
similar whether they'd heard us or not. We came out first so now they're in
our shadow a bit. But I don't think it's gonna stay that way."
My Bloody Valentine were nothing. Five years, £250,000, one seminal album
and a whole Scene later, they're back.
[included in part of inset column, which also contains a then-complete discography:]
COLM O'CIOSOIG (drums)
Colm was educated at a mixed Catholic school run by Christian brothers and
nuns. He met Kevin Shields at the age of 12. He is not above wearing grey
PVC fake-snakeskin jeans. Colm was once a bus-conductor.
<BILINDA JAYNE BUTCHER (guitars/vocals)
Bilinda joined MBV in 1986. A long-time follower of the group, she spent
her first few months confounding them by unknowingly altering their songs
with her own mental embellishments of them. Bilinda's probably the best-educated
of the bad, having O levels, A levels and almost a degree in dance. "I dropped
out after one year," she says "because I developed this unfortunate condition
where I had to go to the loo all the time. It took such a long time to get
leotard off and on it made it impossible to carry on. Not to say embarassing."
Bilinda currently lives with Kevin and her eight-year-old son Toby in West
Norwood, South London.
KEVIN SHIELDS (guitars/vocals)
Kevin spent the first 10 years of his life living in New York, the last
nine in London and the time inbetween in Dublin. In his teens, this bespectacled,
thoughtful and thought-provoking songwriter was a member of a notorious Dublin
street-gang who "used to get chased off other people's estates". Kevin's been
a driver's mate and a hamburger salesman. He's also the reason why the rest
of MBV have acquired a reputation for reticence - he won't let anyone else
get a word in edgeways. "I talk out of nervousness," he says "I talk all the
time. I even talk in my sleep."
DEBORAH GOOGE (bass)
Sultry, reserved, almost aristocratic, Deborah says the only reason she
turns up for interviews at all is for the free drink. Deborah was on and off
the dole for nine years and consequently boasts a strong repetoire of amusing
anecdotes on the drudgery of work. She once spent two days methodically stacking
pictures of bricks for a quantity surveyor.
Originally appeared in Melody Maker, November 1991
Copyright © Melody Maker Magazine