Why They Knew They Were Onto Something Big With 'Psychocandy'

19 February 2016 | 3:06 pm | Steve Bell

"We were aware at the time that it wasn't going to be a record that would come out in November and be forgotten in July."

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Just over 30 years ago — in November 1985 to be precise — Scottish rockers The Jesus & Mary Chain released their debut album
, one of those rare breed of records whose title accurately sums up its contents: a stunning diorama of bubblegum and pop music dragged through a wringer of distortion and noise, the results unlike anything that had existed before.

Formed by guitarist brothers William and Jim Reid in the town of East Kilbride in 1980, The Jesus & Mary Chain initially spun their wheels for a few years, but once they decamped to London and joined forces with Primal Scream's Bobby Gillespie (who became their drummer) and industry figure Alan McGee (who became their manager) they took the world by storm with this thrilling opening gambit. Psychocandy is now universally accepted as a seminal statement in alternative rock, but in 1985 only the band themselves knew their potential.

"We thought, 'Well, we're on a fast track to nowhere and if we're going to do this thing with music we'd better really get our shit together.' "

"We had pretty high expectations to be honest with you," recalls Jim Reid of their Psychocandy-era mindset. "We had the bunch of songs and we did feel quite confident — we felt we were making a record that was going to have lifespan. Thirty years would have probably blown our minds, but we were aware at the time that it wasn't going to be a record that would come out in November and be forgotten in July. We knew that we had something that was a bit different from the normal, so we were quietly confident I suppose."

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The mid-'80s is often remembered as a musical wasteland, but as the Mary Chain were taking their cues from yesteryear, they effectively existed outside of that era.

"We were into a lot of American bands that no longer existed," Reid continues. "Our influences were more things like Iggy & The Stooges and stuff like that. Suicide did still exist but we were only into what they were doing in the '70s, and obviously [we loved] The Velvet Underground and '60s garage bands like The 13th Floor Elevators. We were into all sorts of different music, and at that time we were big time into Dusty Springfield and stuff like that. It may not come across in the music but we loved Burt Bacharach and we loved Nancy Sinatra — it was all there for the taking and we took."

It helped that the Reid brothers had been bouncing music off each other for years and enjoyed shared tastes, even if this bond did take a while to develop.

"William's three years older that I am so he kinda got there first for most of those things, but by the time punk came along we were both at the right age to appreciate that, so punk kinda brought us together I think," Jim remembers. "Even before that we were both into glam-rock and stuff like that, but punk was the thing that brought us together not just musically but we started to become kinda closer then as well. I guess I wasn't the annoying kid brother so much anymore, by the time you get to 15 or 16 there's not that big a difference from an 18- or 19-year-old, so punk kinda brought the idea of us forming a band to the table as well.

"We started to realise that it wasn't just guys from other planets who started bands, it could be two little pipsqueaks from East Kilbride and that was enormously exciting. We talked about starting this punk band which never really came together, and in '82/'83 we thought, 'Well, we're on a fast track to nowhere and if we're going to do this thing with music we'd better really get our shit together,' and that was it."

And while they may have been just too young to experience the punk era firsthand they certainly embraced its 'fuck you' ethos: The Jesus & Mary Chain's gigs in the lead-in to Psychocandy's release were marred by acrimony, chaos and violence.

"It was pretty mental back then," Reid marvels. "The first stages of that period were quite exciting I guess, but then it started to become almost a bit too predictable — you'd go to your show and people would come armed with fucking crowbars and baseball bats, and you'd think, 'Well, this is not really what we'd intended.' So we basically decided to nip that in the bud and we went away for about six months and didn't play live anywhere and just hoped that when we came back that would have blown over. And we did, it had, and that was quite a relief."