With the news that My Bloody Valentine have released their catalogue across streaming services for the first time, it seemed like a good opportunity to dust down our cover story from Uncut’s March 2018 issue. Here, then, is the band’s full, epic tale – told by Kevin Shields, Colm Ó Cíosóig, Debbie Googe and Bilinda Butcher, original singer Dave Conway and a host of friends and collaborators.
PERFECT SOUND FOREVER
A landmark of songwriting and sonic adventure, Loveless by MY BLOODY VALENTINE didn’t come cheap. As the band’s members explain, this was a recording plagued by poverty, illness and a commitment to “plough through hell”. From Amsterdam, via squats, LSD and chinchillas, this is also the story of the enduring genius of the band’s visionary songwriter KEVIN SHIELDS. “I still can’t really figure out what it is he does,” says PAUL WELLER. “But I know something: only he can do it.”
To the residents of South Kensington, the sound comes from everywhere and nowhere. For an hour, a strange and unaccountable low frequency rumble rattles windowpanes and shakes paintings off their hooks. This is summer, 1989 and My Bloody Valentine are busy conducting a sonic experiment.
At this time, the band has taken up residence in a 16-track studio tucked into the side of a large warehouse space. As befitting one London’s most affluent boroughs, this space also had an art gallery attached to it. “We dragged the amps out to make it as loud as possible,” recalls Kevin Shields, the band’s chief architect. “It was just me and Colm [Ó Cíosóig, drums]. He was on bass and I retuned all the strings so they were all really low and floppy. We just created this huge, grumbling noise. The room was shaking and the lights were flickering. It put us into an altered state of consciousness. The second we stopped, we heard a noise outside. Apparently, the owner had been banging on the doors for about 40 minutes. The gallery didn’t have any soundproofing. He’d heard this crazy noise on the other side of the borough. By the time he got to the studio, the whole building was vibrating. The doors were locked so he couldn’t get in. He was furious, but he couldn’t stay angry with us because he thought we were crazy. You see, Colm and me were laughing like a pair of 5 year-olds. We felt like we were on the strongest drug in the world. That’s when we realized, ‘There’s something in this. What would happen if other people got to feel this, too?’”
As far as it goes, it is possible to pinpoint Shields and Ó Cíosóig’s wilful seismic disturbances as a transformative moment in My Bloody Valentine’s history. The band had always been preoccupied with what to say and how loud to say it: even during their earliest days, on the fringes of Dublin’s post-punk scene, when they drew from The Cramps’ gothic-psychedelic edge and the avant garde musical philosophies of Einstürzende Neubauten. But the wild, heavy drones they conjured that day in West London introduced new perspectives and focus to Loveless, the album they began recording a few months later. “As a piece of work, Loveless is a whole universe in itself,” says Colm Ó Cíosóig. “Every time I listen to it, I hear different things in it. It’s like listening to wildlife or whales or something. It has its own space and time.”
Since it was first released in 1991, Loveless continues to exert a mighty pull on Shields and his accomplices. This month, he finally unveils a new analog edition of the album – along with its predecessor, Isn’t Anything – that has taken him two arduous years to complete. “I got the best I could get,” he says. ”But it’s not over yet. There’ll be a double album version of Loveless eventually…”
“Kevin is always open to going anywhere, but he thinks in very abstract ways,” admits Debbie Googe, the band’s bassist. “He isn’t a very linear person – he doesn’t go from A – B. He goes from A – K to somewhere in the middle. He meanders around things.”
Abstract? Meandering? Certainly, the My Bloody Valentine story can be both of those things – we shall discover colourful digressions involving a haunted tape room, a colony of chinchillas and inner journeys into uncharted hypnagogic states. But critically, the My Bloody Valentine story is also about the fierce connection between four people, even during trying times. “It’s an incredible, fortunate meeting of people,” says singer/guitarist Bilinda Butcher. “We all love each other so much that we just stay together, no matter what. We’ve got this thing nobody else has; it’s really special. Each of us knows that. Even now.”
“I don’t look for extreme life, I don’t,” explains Shields. “But for some weird reason extremes happen all the time, good things and bad things.”
Even at the start, My Bloody Valentine’s story was informed by a degree of chaos. Arriving from Queens, New York in Cabinteely, Co. Dublin, Kevin Shields discovered punk rock began shortly after his 14th birthday: “The first song I ever played on a guitar was Buzzcocks’ ‘Harmony In My Head’.”. At school, a fellow student in Shields’ Kung Fu class happened to be getting a band together: he already had the attention of Colm Ó Cíosóig, an enthusiastic drummer with no immediate expertise. “The first rehearsals Colm and I did, he didn’t even know about a beat,” recalls Shields. “He was just hitting his drums randomly, and I didn’t know about tuning.”
United in the first instance from the desire to play Motörhead’s “Bomber”, Shields and Ó Cíosóig’s earliest bands rose and fell in line with their personnel. One early accomplice was Liam Ó Maonlaí, later of Hothouse Flowers. Shields found himself asked to leave one group after he discovered a phaser pedal – “I was so fascinated by the sound, I didn’t want to turn it off. I enjoyed moving past the point of reason.”
A union of like minds, the work Shields and Ó Cíosóig began together was made for people not catered for by the mainstream. “We were pushing boundaries,” says Ó Cíosóig. “We had a Tascam four-track portastudio and a synthesizer. We’d make tapes with weird noises and drones and then improvise over them.”
An advertisement placed in a local record shop drew the attention of David Conway, who became their singer in summer, 1983. “He was crazy, a bit like Lux Interior,” says Ó Cíosóig. “It was great to have a wild man upfront, it made the gigs a bit more fun.”
The band – not yet called My Bloody Valentine – played their first gig on August 18 at a small Dublin venue, the Ivy Rooms. The name arrived a short while later, suggested by Conway in the bar of Dublin’s North Star Hotel. Gigs and line-up changes followed; but alas, “we weren’t popular in Ireland,” relates Shields. Taking advice from Virgin Prunes’ frontman Gavin Friday, they moved to the Netherlands. “In Holland, you get paid by the government for gigs, even if there’s no one there,” says Ó Cíosóig. “It was like a union fee, I guess. We sent a demo tape. We got one gig and decided to emigrate.”
Without a regular bass player, they were joined on a Casio keyboard by Conway’s girlfriend Tina Durkin. “When it worked, it was good,” says Ó Cíosóig. “Those early Casios had this cool, organy sound like a Farfisa, which gave the songs a distorted groove.”
“In Amsterdam, we stayed in a dive called The Last Water Hole,” remembers Shields. “It was pretty rough; it was run by bikers. There were no sheets on the bed, just a cover on the mattress. Everyone slept in their clothes.” A sympathetic promoter offered them the run of his house in the countryside near Gouda. Aside from a commendably well-stocked record collection, the band discovered the house also contained a modest cannabis factory in the attic.
“We were pretty broke so were started smoking weed instead of tobacco,” says Ó Cíosóig. “I got used to carrying a big tobacco pouch full of weed around with me. One day, I walked into a police station in Amsterdam with a huge bag of weed in my pocket without even realizing it was there. We tried to get work. Kevin managed to get a job herding cows for a couple of months.”
A move to Berlin in winter 1984 facilitated an introduction to a dynamic local promoter, Dimitri Hegemann. Under his patronage, they record a mini-album – This Is Your Bloody Valentine. “The studio was so cheap that the engineer who was doing the mixing for us had to do a live gig that night, so he had to leave at 6pm,” says Ó Cíosóig. “It took an afternoon to mix the record. One of the tracks was mixed in 10 minutes. We just put the faders up. ‘Done! Next track.’”
Debbie Googe came to My Bloody Valentine by a circuitous route. Originally from Yeovil, she had been involved in Somerset’s anarcho-punk scene in the late Seventies, where her band Bikini Mutants self-released a cassette on local label, All The Mad Men. In the mid-Eighties, she was in London, working at the Rio cinema in Dalston. Her then-partner, Annie Lloyd, was based in Berlin, where she fronted Hegemann’s band, Leningrad Sandwich. When My Bloody Valentine decided to relocate to London, Lloyd recommended Goodge as a potential bassist. “They were so sweet and innocent,” she laughs. “Colm took ages to decipher. We used to practice in the squats where Kevin and Colm lived. They were pretty smelly, as you can imagine with three boys in a very small room and no open windows.”
As it transpired, the London squat scene proved critical to the band’s growth. “We lived a very free life,” confirms Shields. “I liked it that way. It was very positive. Most of our gigs were squat gigs, too. Some of the squats in London, they’d literally take out the first floor to make it more like a venue. We played in a squatted church in Bath once. It was like Mad Max. Kids running around with ripped clothes and hair black with dirt. It was the hardcore end of the convoy people, basically. They really didn’t like us. I have a tape of that gig somewhere. It’s very funny. You can hear us playing, then they got us to stop and you can hear a guy with a real hippie voice saying, ‘Hey, man. We told you to stop. It’s too loud.’ That was late ’85.”
The picture that emerges of My Bloody Valentine during this period is one of guileless aspiration. The music – evident in songs like “The Devil Made Me Do It”, “Tiger In My Tank” and “The Love Gang” – was reaching for an aesthetic ideal not yet completely formulated. “They needed to get something down that was more in spirit of what they were like when they played on stage – which was astonishing,” recalls Joe Foster, who produced the band’s 1986 EP, The New Record By My Bloody Valentine. “There was total chaos going on.”
“They were great,” says Bilinda Butcher. “I was a bit of a fan. They were a bit different. They all had bowl haircuts. Dave was quite impressive as a frontman. Then my boyfriend at the time said they were looking for a backing vocalist and I went along for an audition. I remember Kevin was hitting pedals and amps, chucking things around. His glasses were stuck together with a plaster. I knew the words to some of the songs; I think that did it for Kevin. For Deb, I sang Dolly Parton’s ‘Bargain Store’ a capella.”
In fact, Butcher was walking into a more fluid situation than she might have imagined. The band was growing restless with their direction; then, shortly after a tour in 1987, Conway decided to leave. Shields was now unsure how best to manage this situation. Take on lead vocals himself? Or was a more radical approach necessary?
As Shields sees it, the arrival of Googe and Butcher – while two years apart – necessitated a change not just in the band’s personal dynamic but also their sound. The music the quartet first made together – a single, “Strawberry Wine” and a mini-album Ecstasy, both in 1987 – was, they all agree, necessarily transitional. Stylistically, the songs shared a number of attributes with the jangly independent music of the mid-Eighties.
“It was the first time I’d ever written lyrics and sung them,” recalls Shields. “I remember coming home from Waterloo in the morning going, ‘I’m a songwriter!’ In ‘87 early ‘88, we very, very, very quickly decided that we didn’t like them. Then we were going to drop the name. We just wanted to erase the whole history.”
“You can hear where we’re going in songs like ‘Clair’ or ‘Please Lose Yourself In Me’,” says Ó Cíosóig. “But we wanted to rock out more. We were very inspired by the American scene – Dinosaur Jr, Sonic Youth and Hüsker Dü. Then Kevin got a great new guitar, discovered the tremolo arm and the reverse reverb effect. That gave him a whole new place to play in. A whole new sonic world.”
“I used reverse reverb all over the Ecstasy and ‘Strawberry Wine’ records to no great consequence, because I was using it the way it was meant to be used,” explains Shields. “Then in ’88, I discovered that it was extremely sensitive to velocity and how high you hit the string. You could make huge waves of sound by hitting it softer or harder. At the same time, my friend Bill Carey from Something Pretty Beautiful lent me his Fender Jazzmaster. It had a tremolo arm. I played it on ‘Thorn’. The second I did that, something jumped inside me. It allowed me to play in a way where I don’t have to think about what I was doing, I just feel it.”
Change came, and not a moment too soon. My Bloody Valentine showcased these exciting new developments in late 1988 via two EPs, released a few months apart on Creation Records, “You Made Me Realise” and “Feed Me With Your Kiss”.
“To me, the biggest shift was ‘You Made Me Realise’,” says Googe. “I remember when we were mixing it, Kevin said, ‘What do you think?’ I said, ‘It sounds like Jefferson Airplane.’ He said, ‘Fuck that!’ and started pushing things.”
“When we were doing ‘Feed Me With Your Kiss’, I made the bass so heavy it popped the speaker off the wall,” admits Shields. “Instinctively, the engineer put his foot out to stop it hitting the ground and it broke his foot.”
“By the time we got to Isn’t Anything, it wasn’t just the sound that had changed,” continues Googe. “It was something about the way the songs were falling rhythmically. It sounded different. It felt like a different thing entirely.”
Foel Studios, Wales, summer, 1988. My Bloody Valentine take up residence to record their debut album, Isn’t Anything.
“It was quite a spooky place,” remembers Bilinda Butcher. “The studio was in a converted barn. Kevin used to fall asleep there a lot and wake up completely freaked out. The guy who owned it, Dave Anderson, had been in Amon Düül. He had some weird stories of stuff that had gone on there. There was a time where something peculiar happened and the tape went into a strange shape on the tape machine, like a pyramid.”
Sessions were dictated by Shields habit of sleeping long into the day and working through the night. “When it came to doing all the vocals, Kevin only had about two hours sleep a night,” remembers Ó Cíosóig. “That’s where the weird, broken lyrics come from – this dream state of the language itself being twisted around and placed in a different space.”
Paranormal activity? Fugue states? There would be more of those to come. But for now, despite such otherworldly conditions, the music of Isn’t Anything was surprisingly gritty. “It was purposefully raw,” acknowledges Shields. “We didn’t add compression or reverb to the vocals. We kept to single takes. The idea was, it’s just us doing what we do – without trying to be something that we’re not.”
“People weren’t prepared for Isn’t Anything,” says Jeff Barrett, who was then working as a publicist for Creation Records. “I went up and down the country with the Valentines. I remember a gig at Nottingham Trent Poly where they were phenomenal. It didn’t feel necessarily year zero, it didn’t feel like scorched earth, but I knew it was going to be a big record. It put a fire up everybody’s arse. There was some good British noise bands. You could go see Godflesh or Jackdaw With Crowbar. Loop were doing their thing. But there was something different about this. The Velvets weren’t the reference point. It was contemporary.”
While Isn’t Anything was an exciting artistic breakthrough for My Bloody Valentine, over the next year the band found the pressure mounting. Shields recounts two failed attempts to record follow-up EPs during early 1988. Domestically, meanwhile, his relationship with Butcher was also beginning to unravel.
“At that point, things were breaking down between us, I think,” she says. “We were living in this house together and we’d see each other – but be in different spheres. Loveless is called Loveless not just because of our relationship breaking down, but because the whole process of making Loveless was difficult.”
Shields’ best work – then, as now – comes to him during the hypnagogic state when the brain transitions between wakefulness and sleep. Butcher recalls him writing songs at night on the sofa in the flat in Brixton, often nodding off with a guitar on his lap. During an American tour to support Isn’t Anything, a fan gave Shields a cassette of The Beach Boys Today! and Pet Sounds. “I fell asleep to it all the time,” he says. “It became part of my life. Maybe because of it, I developed a certain ideas about production.” Inspiration came from other sources too: from his home on Brixton’s Tulse Hill Estate, Shields was exposed to a vibrant mix of gospel, reggae, ragga and – crucially – hip hop. These various factors began to coalesce, towards the end of 1989, into a follow-up to Isn’t Anything. The making of Loveless has been the subject of much conjecture and myth making over the last 27 years. Joe Foster, then an ally at Creation Records, attempts a definitive take on what went down between September 1989 and January 1991. “There are all kind of stories. Some of them make it look like Kevin was an Orson Welles-like genius. Others make it look like he’s a stoner, just useless. Neither of those things were true.”
What Foster leans towards is a kind of third way, where Shields’ creative vision for Loveless was effectively frustrated by bad luck, administrative ineptitude and the band’s own slow, meticulous working practices. The experiments Shields and Ó Cíosóig conducted in South Kensington during June and July, 1989 initiated a shift in Shields’ attitude to the possibilities of sound. Among the songs they worked up was an embryonic version of “Soon”, which would later lead off the band’s Glider EP. In September, the band decamped to Elephant studios in Wapping, south London, for an eight-week period where, Shields claims, “we put down about 20 songs.”
Their relationship with Alan McGee’s Creation label, however, was faltering. “They were penniless, they couldn’t afford £1,000 to do the next Felt record,” says Shields. “They knew we were slow and decided there was no point putting us in an expensive studio. They found these good deals, but that meant the studio wasn’t looked after properly or it was run by weird people. At Elephant, we worked at lot at night and the studio owner was always hanging around. He told us he was hiding out as MI5 were after him. The tapes were confiscated three or four times, because Creation didn’t have the money to pay the bill. That characterised Loveless. Then Colm got really ill.”
“I was going to be evicted from my squat,” says Ó Cíosóig. “I didn’t have a new place. Creation couldn’t even afford £300 deposit for a flat. I’d go to the studio and then as soon as I left, I’d walk the streets looking at places to squat. This was November, it was cold, and I’m out walking the streets. All that got to me. I had this nervous breakdown. I was able to function mentally, but my brain to arm muscle control mechanism stopped working. I managed to get it together for a couple of songs – two songs on the record have live drums. ‘Only Shallow’ and ‘Come In Alone’.”
“It was like a fucking meltdown,” recalls Shields. “So then we got the idea that we would program the bass drum parts and he would just play the hi hat and the snare.”
“The initial process of doing drums was very lengthy,” says Debbie Googe. “You would turn up every day and not really do anything because Kevin and Colm were tuning a drum. You lock into that. It becomes what you do. A lot of time goes by. We were all perilously close to losing our sanity at a certain point. For me, I guess, my sense of self-worth got a little low at times. I wasn’t doing an awful lot.”
“It felt like ploughing through mud,” says Butcher. “Kevin was going through such a lot. I would swan in and out when I was doing my thing, whereas he was there all the time, dealing with everybody, with Alan McGee and the engineers.”
Even now Shields shudders as he recalls the perceived intransigence he encountered first hand in recording studios. “When we recorded ‘Glider’, I remember the guys at the studio saying, ‘You guys are out of your mind, what you’re doing.’ At another studio, one of the engineers wanted to run a pizza place, the other one wanted to move into advertising.”
“Kevin had a vision, we could all see it,” adds Ó Cíosóig. “We needed a proper studio from the get go that didn’t break down, where there were no faulty channels and no crap going on. We were firing engineers all the time. We didn’t do things normally. They’d be freaking out. ‘That frequency, 4hertz, is distorting! You can’t do that!’ ‘We don’t give a shit about your fucking 4khtz! It sounds good. So what?’ They couldn’t get the weirdness of the record, the warpiness. It didn’t help when you had somebody sitting in the corner looking at you like a freak.”
“I used to really love watching Kevin creating his various sound booths in various places – his little blanket tents,” remembers Goodge. “He would construct these things out of foam and blankets and God knows, these crazy little shanty towns inside the actual studios.”
Aside from Ó Cíosóig’s work earlier on, Shields recorded much of the album alone. Butcher recorded her vocals late in the process, at London’s Protocol and Britannia Row studios between May and June, 1991. “Kevin would give me a guide vocal and I’d make up lyrics for it,” says Butcher. “He might not be singing real words, but it would sound like something to me so I would write down what I thought he had sung.”
In February, 1991, the Tremolo EP brought into woozy focus Shields’ gifts for crushing sonic power and delicate vulnerability. One track, “To Here Knows When”, appeared on Loveless, when the album was finally released in November. “I always thought Loveless was a really great pop record,” says Googe. “Kevin has got a really strong sense of melody that people don’t always pick up on. People talk about how he reinvented guitar – which is true – but actually the reason it works and why people remember it is because you do go away whistling these little hooks.”
“How many studios did we work in?” says Shields. “25, I think. It nearly sank us, to be honest, but it didn’t quite. It was just a lot of bad luck. Some people, they would get into a situation like that and then stop to regroup. That’s the smart way to do it. Otherwise you use too much energy and it slows you down. Don’t just plough through hell.”
Had it ended there, Loveless alone would have granted My Bloody Valentine an unshakeable place in rock history. But the protracted process that led to its follow-up proved the band unable, in this instance, to play the cards they had been dealt. “I don’t know what the hell happened,” reflects Bilinda Butcher. “I look back and think, ‘God.’ I mean, that was really mad.”
The plan, everyone now agrees, seemed sensible at the time. In 1992, My Bloody Valentine signed with Island Records. Shields bought a house in Streatham and began building a recording studio at the property. “We did it really fast,” says Shields. “We got the house in January ‘93, paid for it in March, we had the studio finished in June. Then the desk died.”
“We didn’t understand all the technical aspects of wiring a studio,” admits Ó Cíosóig. “Problems with electricity, tones, frequencies. It took months to try and figure that out; engineers were scratching their heads.”
A second desk proved to be equally problematic. Meanwhile, Island proved unwilling to help the band recoup their outlay. Shields estimates they lost a year. There were other considerations, too. “The house was full of madness,” admits Googe. “We smoked way too much weed. It was like the Partridge Family on acid. It was quite a mad scene. And then there were the chinchillas. I think Kevin bought one as a present for Bill. They thought it might be lonely, so they got another one. Then, like rodents do, they bred. At its peak, I think there were 13 or 14 chinchillas and they had the whole of the upstairs floor.”
“I don’t know what kind of pressure Kevin must have been under to follow up Loveless,” admits Butcher. “But a lot of songs got written there and eventually things were recorded there. That was a spooky place too, I have to say. There were some weird things going on around the tape machine. Both Colm and I saw this apparition like a hooded monk hanging out round where the tape machine room was. Kevin saw all sorts of stuff there. He was going on a voyage of I-don’t-know-what while he lived there.”
“I started getting into serious mind meditation shit after we finished the  tour,” explains Shields. “I read a book by Terence McKenna about using psychedelics as a way to explore the mind. I started experimenting on myself. I’d close my eyes and visualize a cow, for some reason. Then I realised I couldn’t just see the cow, but pass around it. It was solid. That led on to an infinite amount of experiences. I really looked forward to having my own time when everyone went to bed. I’d sit there, close my eyes and trip out. In a very short space of time, I was flying around this solar system: my imagination.”
Shields admits that the music made during this period was essentially “lot of ideas… we were trying not to write songs in a normal fashion. We were listening to a lot of drum’n’bass. We were experimenting with vibrations – how when something’s really distorted it shakes as well and that creates a rhythm. But we lost momentum. We were all right to make a record in our heads, and we were excited by the studio – but somehow it went a bit sideways.”
“There was work done,” adds Googe. “But we were dysfunctional, ridiculously slow. Every day, Colm would get up and say, ‘Today’s the day we’re going to make the record!’ Then Colm left. I really missed him! We were always up first and we’d sit and have our coffee together in the morning. Then I left. I’d driven over to Island to deliver a tape of the Wire song we recorded [“Map Ref. 41°N 93°W”]. It was a Friday evening and as I was driving back to the house, I thought, ‘For my own sanity, I can’t go back.’ So I went back to my flat and phoned Kevin. That was late 1997, I think.”
“I moved back into my council flat in Brixton,” says Butcher. “But I wasn’t leaving, I was there waiting, anytime, to do whatever we needed. But after we all left the house, I think Kevin felt a bit abandoned.”
One regular visitor to Kevin Shields’ Streatham home during 1998 was Primal Scream guitarist, Andrew Innes. In his home studio, Shields was working on mixes for Primal Scream’s new album, XTRMNTR. “At the time, Kevin wasn’t living a 24 hour day,” recalls Innes. “He’d get up at 6 o’clock at night and then work all night. But he’d work through the next day and go to bed at a different time.”
Shields’ involvement with Primal Scream lasted from 1998 – 2005, where his talents were felt both in the studio and the live arena. “In the studio, he’d say, ‘What do you want me to do?’ We had these little phrases, descriptions of what particular sound we wanted. ‘Can you get that one where you’re cutting down the trees?’ He’d hit the pedals and it would sound like a chainsaw. Live, there were certain tracks on XTRMNTR that were aggressive; we’d hold him back and hold him back and then give him the nod, ‘Kev, hit that button.’ He’d take it to the next level of intensity and pain. There’d be some little kids down the front and they’d be smiling and by the time Kev had played three songs, you could see they were thinking, ‘This isn’t actually very funny.’ It was brilliant.”
Brian Reitzell, meanwhile, speculates that Shields was financially “trapped in Primal Scream. It’s not such a bad trap but still a trap.” As drummer for Air, Reitzell had met Shields on tour in Japan in 2001. A few years later, he approached Shields in an altogether different guise: as the soundtrack producer for Sofia Coppola’s new film, Lost In Translation. Reitzell remembers making three, week-long trans-Atlantic trips to Shields’ studio in Camden between November 2002 and March 2003. Reitzell describes a familiar pattern for these sessions: “We had a different engineer each time because Kevin would burn them out. We would show up at the studio and the engineer had to be there at eight o’clock, but we wouldn’t roll in until 11 at night and then we’d work through until nine or 10 in the morning.”
Along with insight into the recording process, Reitzell also also offers a tantalizing glimpse of material that didn’t make the final cut. He outlines trips to a Camden shop selling instruments from around the world and an attempt to “put an e-bow on one of these weird Asian stringed instruments” that was ultimately ditched. “Kevin and I also did a cue with Martin Duffy on electric piano and Duncan McKay playing layers of trumpet – both from Primal Scream. It was full on Miles Davis / Gil Evans trip. I loved it, but it didn’t make the film.” They also recorded “three proper songs” – although only one, “City Girl”, appeared in the film when it was opened in September 2003.
Critically, Reitzell says that the success of the Lost In Translation soundtrack allowed him greater financial latitude on his next film with Coppola, Marie Antoinette, for which he “grossly overpaid” Shields to do two remixes, facilitating his economic independence.
It is possible to view Shields work with Primal Scream and Brian Reitzell as a process of rehabilitation after the Valentines’ split in 1997. In the immediate aftermath, Shields undertook remix work – for artists ranging from the Pastels to Placebo, Mogwai and Yo La Tengo. He also quietly continued to work on the band’s long-gestating fourth album. “I would bump into Kevin here in Camden on his way to the studio, doing the album,” says Googe. For Shields, though, a turning point came in 2005, when Patti Smith invited him to participate in The Coral Sea project at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall. “I never really used the tremolo arm after the last recordings I made in 1997,” says Shields. “I can’t add that way of playing on as an effect for people, so I developed a whole different approach with Primal Scream. When Patti asked me to play Meltdown, I got my tunings from the My Bloody Valentine days and a bunch of guitars and we improvised. Patti really inspired me to start playing guitar again like I used to.”
Paul Weller witnessed first hand the rejuvenated Shields when the two collaborated together on a track, “7&3 Is The Striker’s Name”. “When he came down to here to the studio, be had a big bag of effects and pedals,” he tells Uncut. “They were all buzzing and cracking, almost on the point of explosion. I watched Kevin during that session and I still can’t really figure out what it is he does. But I know something: only he can do it.”
For the other members of My Bloody Valentine during their extended hiatus, time passed in different ways. Colm Ó Cíosóig began playing with Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval. Debbie Googe “floundered for a while; I’d been ‘Deb in My Bloody Valentine’ for years and I didn’t know who I was” before she formed Snow Pony with her then-partner, Katharine Gifford. Bilinda Butcher, meanwhile, opted out of music to raise a family. “But I never gave up faith that it was going to happen again,” she says. The band are all individually keen to stress that they never actually fell out with one another – “They’d had enough of me, but they didn’t hate me or anything,” laughs Shields. In 2006, they received an offer of $300,000 to play the Coachella festival; “it put the idea into our head,” says Shields. In 2007, they decided to make a go of it, booking five nights at London’s Roundhouse. Coachella, meanwhile, upped their offer to a million dollars – but, according to Shields, ”it was too early, we’d literally just got it together in time to do those Roundhouse gigs, so even for a million dollars we couldn’t do Coachella.”
“The first day of practice, it was like I’d gone to the toilet and come back in,” remembers Goodge. “There’s a lot of shared history and familiarity that comes in to play in those situations. But we’d had eight, 10 years away from each other. We chose to come back.”
On June 13, 2008, My Bloody Valentine performed in public for the first time in 16 years during two live rehearsals at the ICA. An extensive world tour was announced, to run through the summer and autumn months. And in the middle of all this sudden, unexpected activity Shields mentioned that the band’s long-gestating third album was at last near completion.
Finally, after 20-odd years of prevarication, false alarms, teases and disappointments, m b v was released through the band’s website on February 2, 2013. Ó Cíosóig describes the album as “closing up a chapter. A lot of the music was from back in the time, the house, pre-implosion. There were some great songs there.” Shields reveals that he began writing the oldest track on the album, “New You”, in April, 1994 “the night after I heard Kurt Cobain killed himself.” Another song, “Only Tomorrow”, was only slightly younger – dating from around 1996. “I went back into the studio and recorded some drums over the drum loops to give it a bit of character,” says Ó Cíosóig. “Give it a bit of push and pull.”
“The m b v record has a theme, for want of a better word,” says Shields. “It’s about change and death and what was happening in the world, as I saw it in the late Nineties. Nostalgia is part of that. Funnily enough, it all made even more sense in 2012.”
Six years later, and Shields seems confident that a fourth album will appear soon. Early forays in the studio began in Ireland over summer 2017. “Kevin was working on drums with Colm,” says Goodge, identifying an all-too familiar pattern in My Bloody Valentine’s recording processes. There was lull, meanwhile, as Shields concentrated on the new vinyl editions of Isn’t Anything and Loveless and a collaboration with Brian Eno, called “Only Once Away My Son”.
“I know he’s got some stuff pretty much nearly ready for me,” says Butcher. “I’m really looking forward to it. It feels really exciting. Kevin’s working on songs in the way he always does. He’s always got millions of songs going round his head.”
“I’m keeping things clear in case I’m needed for Valentines stuff from April,” says Googe. “Certainly, from June on I think we’ll playing live. Between June and August, stuff will happen.”
“Everything’s going really well,” adds Ó Cíosóig. “I’ve been recording with Kevin recently He’s got his studio, I’ve been helping out. The trip. It’s now or never, I guess.”
“In the last few months,” says Kevin Shields, “when things have got quite tense with the remasters, I’ve pulled back from it. I really want to make this new record and I don’t want to get burnt out. You see, I don’t feel like I’m finished. I will be exploring things until I’m dead. I feel like if I don’t do this myself, no one else is going to do it.”
“We all expressed a desire to do something different…”
DAVID CONWAY, the band’s original singer, recalls his time in My Bloody Valentine
“Summer 1983 in Dublin — I had just finished with a band I’d been in for a little under a year. One day, I was in an old independent record shop called Freebird. I noticed a handwritten advertisement placed on a notice board from a band looking for a vocalist. I called the number and spoke to a guy called Mark Ross who was at that time playing bass with Kevin and Colm. We arranged to meet up outside Sallynoggin church in County Dublin. My first impression when I saw Kevin and Colm — accompanied by Mark — was that they looked reassuringly normal.
“Back at the Kevin’s family home in Cabinteely, Kevin and Colm had taken advantage of the fact that the Shields family were away on holiday to set up a drum kit and a couple of amps in the front room. They played a few pieces for me and I was hooked. At this point Kevin’s guitar style was mostly dominated by heavy chords and riffing filtered through layers of distortion, chorus and analogue delay effects — a big, scary wall-of-sound, I think you could say. Colm’s drumming style was already in evidence: a really driving, atavistic attack. In a way they struck me as outsiders — as far as the prevailing Dublin music scene was concerned; an attitude that expressed itself in what I could see as a genuine commitment to do something different.
“Initially, in the first few months or so, the songs tended to mostly emerge from the basic rehearsal process. Kevin and Colm — and, while he was still us, Mark — would come up with the music and I would put the vocals to it. At this stage — between July 1983 and April 1984 — we were also composing backing tapes on a four-track Tascam 244 portastudio, which we incorporated into our live gigs. Though Kevin took responsibility for the lion’s share of this, we all usually contributed something. In fact, this general approach to song-writing — eventually ditching the backing tapes — lasted through a few line-up changes including the writing and recording of This is Your Bloody Valentine in West Berlin in December 1984.
“After we re-located to London and Deb Goodge joined, the approach to song-writing changed. I think we agreed that it was important to write real songs. While I came up with the words — which I would run by Kevin and Colm to see what we all felt did or did not work — most of the melodic lines incorporated into the vocals derived from Kevin’s ideas, since he was creating music with very specific melodic/harmonic/rhythmic relationships in mind. The first really tangible results of this approach appeared on The New Record By My Bloody Valentine.
“There were two major reasons why I left the band. From late 1986, I began to develop rather severe gastric ailments that became increasingly debilitating to the extent that playing gigs — and even rehearsing — started to become extremely difficult. Aside from that, I had begun to feel that — after recording the Sunny Sundae Smile EP — I had less and less to contribute to the band in terms of the direction we seemed to be pursuing. The split itself was amicable.
“The last time I saw MBV would have been at the Brixton Academy when they did the Rollercoaster tour with the Jesus and Mary Chain, Dinosaur Jr and Blur. As for what I thought of the band they became, I suppose it didn’t take me by surprise quite as much as it might have done with many other people. When I first heard ‘You Made Me Realise’, it took me back to when I first met Kevin and Colm and we had all expressed the desire to do something different. To me that record — and the band MBV became — finally validated that promise.”
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