It is one thing to treat us mean and keep us keen. In their early days, when they would take to the stage late, drunk and virtually incapacitated to play chaotic 20-minute sets with their back to the crowd, the Jesus & Mary Chain were not known for their high audience satisfaction ratings. At least, in hindsight, there was a delicious frisson to such an unequivocal “f*** you” – and those 20 minutes rocked intensely.
But now that the Mary Chain are older, more accommodating and more inclined to follow the example of many a band of their vintage – that is, to accept an offer to reform the group, play some prestigious festivals and then get to work on new material – this waiting for a mooted new album has been a different test of patience.
To recap: the Jesus & Mary Chain were one of that rare breed – a band of a generation. A surly foursome from the non-cultural hotbed of East Kilbride who rebooted the potent Velvet Underground melody/noise template, they were a thrilling proposition from the off, and then gradually over the years a slightly less thrilling proposition. Their classic debut, Psychocandy, helped fire the starting pistol on the nascent indie scene – in Scotland and well beyond – and was fondly followed up by Darklands, but subsequent releases made progressively less of an impact and the tensions between fractious frontmen Jim and William Reid eventually paralysed the band.
Jim muses: “The music business the way it was back then, it was very hard to stop for a minute or two and just take stock and decide whether you were going in the right direction, because everybody was always telling you you’ve got to keep the ball rolling, you’ve got to keep the balls juggled.”
The Jesus & Mary Chain finally called it a day in 1999, shortly after the release of their sixth album, Munki. But they reformed, not without trepidation, eight years later to headline California’s Coachella festival. Not long after, Jim Reid first mentioned that the group were working on a new album, but a cocktail of parenthood and paranoia were to delay its appearance for the next decade.
Reid quite readily shoulders the blame for the group’s inability to deliver. He was reluctant to spend much time away from his young family, and his unhappy recollections of making Munki cast a long shadow.
“It just about killed me,” he recalls. “It was a very, very painful record to make and that was my last memory of making an album and I wasn’t really in any rush to get back into that situation. I had no reason to suppose it wouldn’t be that way again. We were prepared for World War 3. We went into the studio wearing flak jackets.”
But on this occasion, there was one key addition to their armoury. The brothers chose to work with a producer for the first time in their career, recruiting the redoubtable Youth – ace bassist, studio guru and “a big cuddly hippy,” according to Reid.
“We thought if the shit hits the fan Youth can be the judge. We thought he would be the peacekeeper, the United Nations in this situation. As it turns out, we got on alright. There was no big bust-ups, there was one or two arguments but there was bound to be. It was pretty civilized all in all, for the Mary Chain anyway.”
Given the protracted gestation of the album, now named as Damage and Joy, the results sound remarkably effortless, insouciant even, with all the melodic clout of classic Mary Chain. Job done, reckons Reid. “The only thing that I wanted to do was make it unmistakably Mary Chain – stick the thing on and within about five seconds you would know it was a Mary Chain record.”
One of the advantages of taking so long to step in to the studio was that the brothers had a stellar batch of tunes from which to cherry pick – from the bittersweet War On Peace and blithe harmony of The Two Of Us, to the garagey groove of All Things Must Pass, a song which first surfaced on the soundtrack to TV show Heroes, and the prescient Los Feliz (Blues and Greens) on which Reid drawls “God lives in America, in the land of the free…wishing we were dead instead”.
Reid also shoots from the hip on the more personal opening track, Amputation, which opens with the plea “trying to win your interest back, but you ain’t having none of that”.
“That was written a few years ago, and it sounds like it’s about a relationship, but the relationship is really the band and the music business,’ he says. “It felt at that time as if we were living in exile, as if we were surplus to requirements. It never felt like we were welcome at the party. I suppose when we were younger, that pissed us off because we wanted to be embraced and accepted, strangely enough – it didn’t look like we were trying to be but we actually were. We’ve never really found a place that we fit I think. The eternal outsiders, that’s definitely us.”
Or homecoming heroes perhaps. On the day their first album in almost 20 years is released, the Mary Chain will find themselves back in their old stomping ground of Glasgow, headlining Barrowland on the opening night of the 6 Music Festival. For now, though, Reid is simply feeling relieved that the long promised album has finally been delivered.
“It was like a boil that needed lanced,” he remarks wryly, before careering headlong into another teaser prediction. “There’s another album we could record next week if we wanted to, especially since we’ve done this and it wasn’t anywhere near as scary as we thought it might be. Yeah, I’d like to do more records.”
Damage and Joy is released by ADA/Warner Music on 24 March. The Jesus & Mary Chain play Barrowland, Glasgow, also on 24 March.