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Lush Life -
My Bloody Valentine's Pink Elephants

By Gina Harp

After spending two years and an estimated $500,000, My Bloody Valentine emerged from the studio last year to release their second full length album, Loveless. Incorporating sequencers and samplers, Loveless is a moody, shimmering wash of ambient thrash. Layer upon layer of dreamy vocals flow like molten lava across thick, seductive guitars. As a slew of new bands are just now beginning to recycle the fuzzy guitars/soft vocals approach MBV created over five years ago, the Ur-text has rewritten itself. MBV's current incarnation-Bilinda Butcher (guitar, vocals), Deb Googe (bass), Colm O' Ciosoig (drums), and Kevin Shields (guitar, vocals)-drowned the world of guitar pop in 1988 with the release of the You Made Me Realize EP and their first album, Isn't Anything. Since then the London-based foursome have proven to be vastly influential in their own time-as well as drawing kudos from edge pappies like Brian Eno. To behold MBV live is a transcendent experience. Onstage the four meld into one protoplasmic blur-weaving an enveloping blanket of sound that drips down your frontal lobe like electric molasses. The emphasis here is on noise, but nice noise-an aural panabrator for the entire body. Behind this ethereal wall of sound are four modest individuals. Deb is the vibrant, invigorating bass player, muscles rippling as she slaps her instrument into submission. Bilinda radiates a demure sexiness. Her blue eyes betray a femininity as soothing and beautiful as her voice. Kevin, the unassuming leader of the band, does not appear to be the source of the hedonistic lyrics and seductive sounds he so brilliantly manipulates- his mild manner masking his turbulent muse. Colm is a typically gregarious drummer with an untainted willingness to try anything once. With Loveless, My Bloody Valentine have established a new pop paradigm for the 90's and beyond. Wim Wenders should have commissioned MBV for his Until the End of the World soundtrack, for Loveless is truly midnight radio for the millenium.

What did you set out to do with Loveless?

KEVIN SHIELDS: There wasn't much preconception. I knew I wanted more melodies and instruments than vocals. On the first album-except for one or two songs-there's no actual hook or melody line from anything other than the vocals. We did that on purpose. The only preconception for this one was that I wanted to start trying things with the guitar or sampler over the melodies. Every song on the new album has a melody line that's as strong and memorable as the vocals. There are differences, but they're subtle. Like the vocals. The vocals on the first album were songs like "All I Need"-with six or seven vocal tracks to make up one vocal track. But on this album some of the vocals have as many as eighteen tracks overlayed.

We started using a computer at the beginning of the album just for mundane things and through using it, we realized its potential. So we started to use it more and more. We went from never using samplers or sequencers to using them extensively.

Why do you mix the vocals as low as you do? They seem to blend in just like any other instrument.

COLM O'CIOSOIG: They are an instrument, basically. They don't seem that quiet to us. What's the point in making them really loud so everybody else who doesn't listen to music that way can hear them, when we can hear them fine?

You've obviously influenced the British indie scene, but people like U2 and Brian Eno are also publicly recognizing your work. Does this mean anything to you?

KS: I liked it when Brian Eno said some good things about us because he had nothing to gain from it. It wasn't like people were going to say, "Hey, let's check out some Brian Eno records" because he mentioned My Bloody Valentine. It was just a nice compliment. Like anybody else, if someone pays me a compliment, I take it. I don't take anything too seriously, though.


Your music suggests intoxication. What drugs do you enjoy?

KS: Not a lot really. I like feeling in control. I prefer my own inspiration as opposed to being_ I don't like being conned, if you know what I mean. I don't like to be tricked into thinking something is something when it's not. I'm not against other stuff, but I'm not really into it either.

I must tell you that seeing you guys perform live is as satisfying as good sex.

KS: If everybody felt like that, we'd be very popular!

What's the weirdest thing that has happened to you on tour?

KS: I turned into a cartoon one night. I suddenly had the ability to be as flexible as a cartoon character. It lasted for about ten minutes. I couldn't stop because I was getting unnerved by it, then it went away. That's the weirdest thing so far. It happened on the tour bus. I know it sounds pretty crazy, but_

On the You Made Me Realize EP and Isn't Anything album I picked up on a lot of sexual themes, but I don't get the same feeling from Loveless. Maybe because I can't make out all of the lyrics. Are they similar?

KS: It's not quite the same. It's similar, but a lot less direct. Mainly because we'd done it already. It'd be uninspiring to write the same sort of lyrics over and over again. Before, the bluntness was refreshing.

How important is sex to you?

KS: Ah_ I'm human, you know. As humans we've been programmed-whether we like it or not-to hold something like that in very high regard.

I was picking up on things like S & M_

KS: Not necessarily. There's elements of that in so much of life, in so much of how people behave. The industry version of S & M is completely stylized and fetishized. The reality of S & M is definitely not a big deal to us. It's just another thing to deal with. In Germany, for example, there was a whole S & M band. Literally. It was a movement in Germany, and I went to a few "gigs" featuring very experimental bands. There was all this really extreme S & M stuff onstage. It was quite interesting. We're not really like that, though. We don't tie people up and put them onstage.

Why not?

KS: Because it's such a hassle. We've got enough problems as it is worrying about bloody effects pedals and stage props all over the place. The films are a nightmare, let alone carrying around extra people for all that stuff. We do like to make life as easy as possible. But that's because we make life difficult enough as it is by just trying to do what we want to do.

Do you have any tattoos or body piercings?

KS: I don't, no.

Does anyone else in the band?

KS: Debbie's got an earring through her nose. That's it really. I'm not really into it. I think it's because I had to wear a brace when I was a kid, which I hated with a passion. I had this horrible sore metal thing in my mouth and I had to wear glasses. So from an early age I've wished for a lack of interference from such accessories. As it is, I'm quite happy to be not bothered.


I understand that you used to be part of a "squat scene" in the mid to late 80s and that quite a few groups-like the Jesus and Mary Chain and Loop-were spawned from that scene.

KS: Yeah. It's not as easy as it used to be, but it still exists. There's about 300,000 people. Most bands in London have lived or live in squats. It's the only sensible way to live when you haven't got any money and want a bit of freedom. If you're not doing much, it's a great way to live. I find it much more stressful living in rented accomodations-the quality of life has a much more doomed feeling about it. When you squat it's fluid, easygoing, fun. The disadvantages are that you have to be around for it to work. When you're busy with a band, there's no time to look out for the place and make sure you're doing your share. That's what we did for a long time. Most bands I know have, at least in London. Basically, it's just breaking into a Council place, putting your own lock on it, and it's yours.

C O'C: It's good fun, squatting. That's basically what brought us to London, the fact that you could squat. You could live somewhere and not have to work or pay rent and bills. Scam money off the Council. Have a house with all your friends in it. Do what you want to the house-knock walls down, paint it up, do whatever you want. Have parties, a rehearsal room_

How long ago was this?

C O'C: The first squat I got was in '85. I was doing OK between '85-'89. After that I went through a bad year-squatting in various places and getting evicted all the time. At the beginning of this album, I was essentially homeless. After every day in the studio I'd walk down the streets until I'd find an empty house to live in. It was just too much. Things are getting more difficult, especially if you don't have time to do it or a group of people who are organized to help you out. So I had to stop-it was just too difficult. If you go away on tour for three months, you come back to find your place is gone. There was pressure to get a rented place. Which is fine, because I was getting money off the Council to pay the rent. So if I needed a place for that last week, I'd just rent a really nice flat. It was fun, loads of parties. There were always tons of people coming in and out of our household.

Did this have a lot to do with the music scene at the time?

KS: When we first played in London, the only gigs we could get were squat gigs. There was much more of a scene than there is now. But then again, we're not in that scene so much anymore. We're genuinely a bit out of touch. You have to be around all the time. Things happen spontaneously. I'm sure there are probably squat gigs, but there used to be more when we first came to London. Now it's patchy. There are still a lot of people squatting, but it's harder and there's less time for things like setting up little venues in squat buildings. People are more into surviving at the moment.

COLM NOW, WHERE DO YOU GET THOSE NOISES? Colm, you take care of a lot of the technical work_

C O'C: Not really. I take care of the computer stuff, samplers.

I was wondering what you did differently with this album. It seems like a lot of production went into it. C O'C: A lot of time was spent recording things. As well as repeating. To actually get the recording onto tape to re-record and try to fix it_ There was a lot of time experimenting. What sparked your interest in doing all of this experimenting?

C O'C: We've always experimented-for years. It's just finding the time and money to do it.

What sort of pressures did you encounter from outside sources in recording this album, or do you have all of the creative control you want?

KS: There's no question about how much control we have. The records can't get made unless you make them the way you need to make them. We don't do demo tapes, nobody hears what a song sounds like until it's nearly finished. Nobody. No one is allowed to come into the studio-there's no point. I don't like when people hear stuff that's half finished because they go away with weird impressions.

It seems like it'd be hard to recreate a lot of sounds from the album, do you use pre-recorded stuff for playing live?

C O'C: It's just a matter of getting the balances right. We've been running sequencers live, a few pushing things, a few weird keyboard riffs. That's about it. It's just the sound. The actual stuff on the album is actually quite simple. It's very simple to play, it's just a question of getting the right sound. The guitar sound is quite difficult to get sometimes. It's a bit different live.


How much of your personality is transmitted through your music?

KS: I don't know. I mean, I'm not trying to be something when I'm making a record, so probably a lot of it. But I have no idea, really.

Do you have any other outlets for your creativity? KS: No. No?

KS: Well, I do have total say over how the covers look. Any kind of art work-it's not just approved, it's always my idea. Some of them I do completely, like the You Made Me Realize EP. For Isn't Anything, I didn't take the photograph but I altered it. Joe Dilworth was the photographer, but the positions of people, the colors, and the way it's bleached out was all my idea. For Loveless I just picked stills off the video (for "To Here Knows When") and used them.

Why did you decide to call the album Loveless? KS: No big reason. I knew people wouldn't be able to pin down any particular meaning from it. Plus it didn't sound like a miserable record. If it was a really miserable and sad record, calling it Loveless would've been a bit stupid. The feel of the record has a kind of optimism to it. A lot of the songs are a bit chirpy-chirpy little melodies. But they're not really happy. So it just seems to suit it, that's all. MOB SCENE

How did your last American tour go?

C O'C: It was good fun, but really hectic. By the time we got to New York we were completely wrecked-walking around with hunchbacks. And then we had the mafia threatening us when we arrived there. The biggest promoter on the east coast was doing our gigs there, and he had us set to play at the Cat Club, which is really shitty. One of those uptown clubs where rock stars go to hang out and pick up chicks. These friends of ours said they could organize a gig at the Pyramid Club on our night off. So we decided to go ahead with that. This was being organized while we were in Canada, making our way down. Three days before we arrived in New York we start getting frantic phone calls from New York saying, "Don't do that gig. You'll be in serious trouble if you do." We were like, "Ah, that's stupid. We want to do a gig, what's wrong with it?"

They were saying, "No, you can't do it, he'd be very offended. You've got to pull out, it'd be a big mistake." We were saying "Oh, fuck it. We're just going to do it anyway. Who are they to tell us not to play?" The next day it got even heavier, with the guy's secretary phoning up, real panicky, saying not to do it because we'd be in serious trouble and never play New York again. There were tons of fliers all around the city for the Pyramid gig, but not for the promoter's gig. The guy was really mad-it was basically a pride thing, he didn't want anybody stealing something from his patch. So we arrived in New York and came up to the venue to find a bunch of heavy thugs waiting to break our legs. We cancelled. Everybody was really freaked out-we're not used to promoters threatening to break our legs. It was totally ridiculous.


What do you make of the current indie scene?

C O'C: That word means nothing-"indie" is a horrible term. Like "alternative" or "postmodern," as they say in America. We're lucky that doesn't exist over here. What is postmodern? It's the same with indie. Indie ten years ago was something totally different than what it is now. People think of jangly guitars and soft vocals and think that's indie. It's just independent music, but when you pigeonhole or narrow it all down to a certain brand, indie becomes an undesirable term. But really any term is undesirable.

Pigeonholing is America's favorite national pastime.

C O'C: I guess it makes it easier for peoples' brains to sort things out.

Originally appeared in Mondo 2000, August 1992. Copyright © Mondo 2000