TOKYO (TR) – In recalling his first trip to Japan, back in 1987, Jim Reid, the front man of noise-pop band The Jesus and Mary Chain, remembers fans in the audience genuinely enjoying the performance.
For a band that had, to that point in its career, experienced numerous altercations and a near riot at shows, such a response seemed out of place.
“I really do enjoy coming to Japan,” the vocalist says during a recent interview by phone. “It’s so different from what we are used to. People seem a little bit less tainted and more enthusiastic sometimes than, you know, if you play London, (where) people seem as if they’ve seen it all before.”
The Scottish band, currently in the midst of recording a new album, returns to Japan later this month (note the updated schedule included below) to recreate the feedback and pop of the album “Psychocandy,” its groundbreaking debut from 1985 that figuratively flipped a middle finger to the music industry.
“It was a bit of trip down memory lane for us,” Reid, 53, said in a heavy Scottish accent of the practice sessions. “People have been trying to get us to do the ‘Psychocandy’ shows for quite a while now, and we’ve resisted because there just didn’t seem to be any kind of reason to do it. And then the 30th anniversary was coming up, and then we just sort of thought, ‘Well, you know, for the 40th anniversary we’re probably going to be too old or dead. So it is now or never.'”
“Psychocandy” is a collection of pop melodies over a mix of guitar reverb and pounding drums. In starting to rehearse, the band was a bit apprehensive about whether they were going to be able to reproduce the whole album live.
“What people don’t realize is there’s a fair chunk of the album that we didn’t play at the time,” Reid says. “There are songs on ‘Psychocandy’ that until this tour were never played live. So we wanted to go in and see if the album was going to work, and luckily it did. And we all felt pretty good about it.”
The three shows the Mary Chain will play in Osaka and Tokyo (note the updated schedule included below) are promoted by Kyodo Tokyo as a part of a new venture with British magazine NME, which before the emergence of digital media was one of the go-to publications for the latest information on new bands.
When Reid was young, he sought out the latest music through the John Peel show that ran on the BBC’s Radio 1 and television — with mixed results.
“In the pre-Internet days, information and music was gathered from, sort of, a small collection of sources,” he says. “I mean, when I was really young we watched ‘Top of the Pops,’ a show in the U.K. That was, like, the one weekly music show that was on, and it was mostly crap. But every now and again something like T. Rex would be on or David Bowie, and that would make it all worthwhile, that would make up for the six weeks of previous garbage.”
Since then, the Internet has increased accessibility to music, but Reid believes that is a double-edged sword.
“The effect of watching David Bowie on ‘Top of the Pops’ was electrifying — it made you want to make music,” he says. “In some ways, you know, because it is so easy to hear and get to everything now, the effect, the impact of hearing ‘The Jean Genie’ on TV on ‘Top of the Pops’ for the first time, that’s gone now.”
In the early 1980s, Reid and his brother, William, inspired in equal parts by the likes of The Velvet Underground and The Shangri-Las, began experimenting with music in their hometown of East Kilbride, which is about 20 miles from Glasgow. The key to eventually forming The Jesus and Mary Chain would turn out to be a chance meeting with Bobby Gillespie.
“We weren’t even in Glasgow; we were in East Kilbride,” Reid says, slowing down his speech to emphasize the geographic and cultural separation. “We were struggling to get anyone to pay attention to what we were doing, and through a series of, like, sort of, accidents, basically, Bobby got to hear a tape of ours, and he called us up.”
Gillespie, who would later go on to form Primal Scream, was initially intrigued by the demo tape since the other side included a Syd Barrett compilation.
“To find like-minded people back then was just an absolute rarity,” Reid says. “(Gillespie) had a friend, Alan McGee, who was starting a record label in London. He hooked us up with Alan, and the rest, as they say, is history.”
McGee’s label, Creation Records, would go on to release the band’s debut single “Upside Down” in November of that year. In 1985, the band, which by then had added Gillespie on drums, would then go on to release three singles on label Blanco y Negro.
“Psychocandy” was released in November. The opening track, “Just Like Honey,” which includes the distinctive drum beat from “Be My Baby” by The Ronettes, set the stage for a melodic sonic assault that flipped the industry, primarily concerned with synthesized dance music, on its head. It peaked at number 31 on the Billboard chart in the U.K.
By this time, the band had become notorious for its extreme live shows. Their short, 20-minute sets often included outbursts (typically by one or both of the brothers) and fights with the audience. Sometimes they played with their backs to the crowd. A show at the North London Polytechnic ended with the audience wrecking the stage in what the local press deemed “a riot.”
In 1987, the Mary Chain followed “Psychocandy” with the far less chaotic “Darklands,” which featured only the Reid brothers and a drum machine. The band was invited to play a single from the album, “April Skies,” on “Top of the Pops.” Perhaps fittingly it did not go well.
“We basically never got asked again because we got drunk and fucked everybody off,” Reid says. “So that was it — that was our flirtation with pop stardom.”
In December of that year, they made their first trip to Japan, which included playing Shibaura Ink Stick Factory in Tokyo. It was here that Reid got the aforementioned taste of Japanese omotenashi hospitality. “I remember in between the songs we got applauded, they clapped their hands,” Reid says of the audience.
“Darklands” may have cut the abrasiveness of “Psychocandy” but it did not reduce in any way the continual bickering between the brothers. From the formation of the band, they fought — and it only escalated with each record. By the time they released their sixth album, “Munki,” the two were recording material separately. The group split not long after a show at the House Of Blues Los Angeles in September of 1998 was cut short due to an onstage shouting match.
The Mary Chain reformed nine years later. Next year, Reid expects the band to release its first album in 18 years. For the first time, it is working with a producer, namely Youth (Martin Glover) of Killing Joke.
Make no mistake, the combustible relationship between the brothers is still in fine form. “Let’s be honest,” Reid says, “that’s the reason why we’ve got a producer in now, because anytime we go into a studio we end up just, like, screaming at each other, (to the point of) walking out. Having a producer is like having a parent-slash-referee in the studio with us; someone who kind of says, ‘You are misbehaving now; go sit on a naughty step,’ or something like that. So it kind of works outs. So, no, the volatile relationship continues, and will do until one or both of us is dead.”
The new record is half finished, and Reid thinks it will show that the band still has something to offer beyond its legacy of being the band that made “Psychocandy.”
“Nowadays, it is probably more about the songs we have,” he says. “You know, back in the ‘Psychocandy’ days, we had no records out, it was our first album, we had a lot to prove. I think we proved that we’ve got what it takes to a certain degree because I’m having this conversation with you 30 years later. So we did something right.”