Back in 1985, there was really only one musical experience more jaw-dropping than a spin through Psychocandy, the gear-grinding noise-pop debut from Scottish brothers Jim and William Reid, who'd dubbed themselves The Jesus and Mary Chain. And that was catching one of their first ephemeral Stateside concerts, wherein they played a feedback-drenched set with their backs to the audience that lasted less than 20 minutes. Fans were stunned. Many stomped angrily back to the club box office to demand a full refund.
Now, the group is hitting the road to mark Psychocandy's 30th anniversary by performing the trailblazing record in its entirety — including breakthrough funeral-march single "Just Like Honey," plus cuts they've never attempted live before, like "Cut Dead" and "Something's Wrong." And Jim Reid — phoning from his culturally isolated abode in a sleepy seaside town in the southwest of England, where he spends most days entertaining his two rambunctious children, ages 7 and 11 — would like to set the record straight on a few things.
First of all, the vocalist swears, he and his guitarist sibling never intended to appear snooty or standoffish. "The thing that people don't understand is, we were very awkward people, not very confident," he allows. "And I particularly felt extremely, extremely shy being on stage as a frontman — I had a lot of trouble coming to terms with that." In fact, he adds, he became the anchor entirely by accident. "Me and William tossed a coin to see who wouldn't be the singer, and I lost the toss! That's how I became the singer in a rock 'n roll band."
The next thing Reid knew, the lads from East Kilbride, Scotland, were barnstorming across America, which he found utterly terrifying. In his mind, he recalls, he wanted to emulate that serpent-writhing godfather of punk, Iggy Pop. But he just couldn't do it.
"It was overwhelming for me," he recalls. "So we used to get really, really drunk and stumble about the stage, thinking, 'Well, this will have to do.' And I'd have 'em turn the lights down really low because I didn't want people looking at me. It took me many years to actually feel comfortable enough to go out there and not feel like I wanted the Earth to open up and swallow me."
Like The Ramones before them, The Jesus and Mary Chain tapped into a rich '60s-jangly vein of Beatles, Beach Boys and Phil Spector girl groups, then injected guitars that squealed white noise, like an angry hornet under glass. It's little wonder that keen-eared Alan McGee immediately inked them to his fledgling Creation imprint after hearing just one JAMC soundcheck in 1984.
"You kind of digest all of the music that's coming at you, or it filters through you," says Reid, who's currently in the planning stages of a new JAMC album. "And if you're any good, you'll kind of reinvent that music into something unique. Rock is more successful when you try and emulate your heroes, but get it wrong and make something utterly unique. And we were no different. We were just sitting there with our Joy Division, Sex Pistols, and Velvet Underground records, and trying to make something out of it that was our own."