an interview with Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine
by Bill Pearis
MBV @ ATP NY 2008 (more by Abbey Braden)
My Bloody Valentine shocked fans this year by actually making good on their promise of finally releasing a new album, MBV, back in February -- the one Kevin Shields has been promising since 1991's Loveless. At that time, the band was already starting their 2013 tour which will wrap up here in NYC with shows at Hammerstein Ballroom on November 11 & 12. It's their first NYC shows since the very muddy All Points West Festival in 2009 and tickets are still available. I spoke to Kevin Shields on Thursday (10/24) via transatlantic call about the new record, the tour, Tool fans, the difference between digital and analogue and what to expect next.
Read it below...
So we'll start with something topical. NME just released their "500 Greatest Albums Ever" list and Loveless came in at #18. Arctic Monkeys debut was at #19 and Public Enemy's It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back at #17.
Well I'm very pleased to be beside Public Enemy, they were a very big influence on us. It's always nice to be included on those things.
You sampled PE on one song right?
Yeah, it was called "Instrumental #2" and basically it was the beginning of a this Public Enemy track, "Security Of The First World," which is on It Takes a Nation of Millions, and we made a loop out of it and put some guitar over it. It sounds very similar to "Justify My Love" by Madonna who got sued for it.
I had that on this Creation compilation Pensioners on Ecstasy.
Yeah that's right, it had horrible cover art. You can now get that song as part of the EP compilation we put out last year that has all of the songs that were harder to get.
My Bloody Valentine's about to start their East Coast North American tour.
Yeah the NYC shows are the last ones of the whole 2013 tour. There's no more after that. They'll be our last for quite a while I think. But I never know.
After the shows then back to the studio? You've talked about a new EP.
Right, we've been planning it all year but we haven't had the time. You know, that burst of energy you have when you start touring. "We'll find three weeks and record this." Then when that time comes, everyone's exhausted. So we're going to regroup after the tour ends.
So you've got the songs -- or ideas for songs -- for what you want to record?
I've got a few. At least one of them will wind up on the record. Pretty much they're just tunes, basically, that I have, just me messing around with the guitar. All of our songs just start with a basic tune. Ideas in general just sort of float around in my head, things I want to try out. And all these ideas just build up. But when you've got something like a record to focus them on...it's more fun.
When you're in the studio, does the ability or ease of playing them live ever factor in at all?
Generally no, though part of me knows it would be good to consider things like that. When it comes down to it, I just do whatever I do. Sometimes that makes it difficult to play a song live. Which is a pity. Some songs, like from the new album, while we may play them live at some point...we haven't quite got there yet. We'll have to approach them in a different way. In my head, I'm always telling myself "you know it would be really cool to do something that would be easy to perform live" as opposed to something that take four guitars. In the end, whatever happens, happens.
Had you played any of the songs on MBV live before the record came out?
No, not one. We basically just picked four that we thought would be good to do live. We tried to do "In Another Way" but it will have to wait till next time. Some songs that work really well on a record just aren't as fun to play live. But everything we've done this year just sort of happened. I finished the record and three days later we were on tour. And when we were on tour we were finishing the sleeve. All the plans go out the window. So the plan is to do this EP and then right into another album. Though I have proven myself time and time again that I'm 100% incapable of making myself do anything, who knows what's going to happen. Definitely we'll make another record, that's all I know. When and where? I don't know.
Was the release of MBV like a weight being lifted off your shoulders?
Yes, but because I was working on it right up until, basically, it was released -- which was also when we were touring in Asia -- and at that point we were only doing one of the songs off the album. Then we did another and another and another. So the process has been almost continual? It's only recently that it feels like it's been done.
Yeah you didn't have the normal protracted label release schedule where you finish the record and then wait four months for it to actually come out.
I don't even know why people do that anymore. That all had to do with record shops and the way the press worked, because it was all print. There were schedules, ad buys, all that stuff. You needed that time to fit it all in. Nowadays there's just so much information out there with the internet and things are known immediately. That old way of doing things just doesn't make sense to me anymore. Records have a different lifespan now. The industry doesn't really know what's going on. They used to be able to control things by the way records were distributed but that's now gone to a certain degree. It didn't feel so strange, the way we released the record. We finished it and just stuck it out there.
No regrets about the way you released it? Nothing you'd change?
It's been an interesting learning experience. While the internet is pervasive and one of the main ways people learn about stuff it was also interesting to notice that a huge portion of the population still need to be told. Even though they're on the internet, some people need to be told something is happening. If their particular patterns don't happen to coexist with something, that piece of information doesn't exist for them. Before we put the record out, I would talk to various people -- management, record companies, what have you -- about ways to release this record. One of the things they all talked about was marketing, how important it was and to set things up properly. Blah, blah, blah. I don't relate to that word at all, so I ignored it. So we put the record out, a certain group of people heard about it, a smaller group of people bought it. But what was interesting was to see that huge areas of the world didn't know it existed. Japan, where we're actually reasonably popular, it took about a month for it to really filter down there that this record was out. It's because people in Japan speak Japanese and all the information on the album was in English and they don't browse English-speaking websites. So it was interesting to see how the internet works. It wasn't an "experiment," it was just done, but taken as an experiment in retrospect, you can see why people talk about marketing. Just from the perspective of letting people know something exists.
Maybe that staggered interest wasn't so bad. Your website didn't need to be hammered any more than it already was that night when you released the album.
Yeah, maybe. I don't know what happened there. It just wasn't ready for all that immediate interest. The problem was that when it wouldn't load people were just hitting refresh, refresh, refresh which just compounds the problem.
Are you still working on the analogue remasters of the old records?
Well, I haven't done any work on them yet, but yes that's also in the works. That was one of the jobs I was supposed to do this month, as we've been off for three weeks. But for various reasons I've been bogged down in business-y type stuff. But doing that will probably be before the new EP, the first thing I'll do once the tour ends in NYC. The albums -- the vinyl album -- were never mastered in analogue, even back in the day. I only learned about this recently, but an increasing number of albums after 1979 went through digital processing before being cut to vinyl, even if they were recorded on analogue tape. By the mid-'80s it was standard practice to master it onto a thing called a 1630 -- it was like a big videocassette but it was digital -- and that was the production master that all the records were cut off of. So even though all of the records we made were recorded analogue, they went through a digital process at the very last step. When I was remastering back in 2006, the Loveless master came from this 24 bit, 96k production master, but Isn't Anything came straight from analogue tape. During the cutting process I had a kind of remarkable experience listening to Isn't Anything front-to-back without stopping, which is how you have to do it when the actual record's being cut. A lot of memories came flooding back from the time of recording. A part of my brain, for lack of a better word, that made that record, there was a disconnect from the moment it was mastered and released. But hearing the true analogue, it was like when you smell something you haven't smelled since a child, it brought back memories and feelings together. Memories I hadn't thought about since I made the record. It was a time machine effect. My brain had stored these memories somewhere that could only be accessed by these analogue recordings. So I realized there really is a profound difference between analogue and digital. So I've become determined to let other people experience that too -- not that you're going to have my memories or anything like that. There's something fundamentally different about music that hasn't been digitized at any step along the way. We did that with the MBV album, the vinyl record is pure analogue, no digital processing. Unfortunately there's only a few places in the UK that can do that. We could only find two. I asked the guys who worked there how many people still bring in tape and they said only a handful each year. Steve Albini does. David Bowie did it. It's a tiny minority. I just think it's cool, especially now with vinyl becoming more popular, that people can hear albums the way they sounded before everything got digitized.
So your New York shows are at Hammerstein Ballroom -- where you played when you were touring in Primal Scream back in 2000. What are your memories of that tour?
To be honest, not much! (Laughs.) I remember playing in NYC with them... and that's about it.
Is there a best place to stand at a My Bloody Valentine concert?
Honestly, just in front of the sound guy I guess. (Laughs.) It just depends on the venue, really. A lot of venues the desk is in the back, and the "sweet spot" is about ten feet in front of that. So... in the middle?
Do you have a preference to indoor or outdoor shows? Your last NYC-area show was outside at All Points West.
Yeah, that was interesting. Thousands of Tool fans screaming at us, they didn't understand what was happening. They were very upset and offended. It was pretty amusing. I just remembered the audience -- it was that rare perfect sound, with 50% of the crowd cheering you and the other half screaming for you to get off stage.
Do you have a special affinity for New York since you spent the first 10 years of your life here?
Yeah. It took an awfully long time...in the '70s the media, especially television, was very America-centric. The world was seen through American eyes so when I moved to Ireland, it took me a long time to see things as real there. Reality was somewhere else, where we left. Because of TV, I was constantly being drawn back into that thing I'd left. I kind of missed it. It took me until my 20s before that wore off completely. When I first went back on tour there in '89 it was an amazing surreal experience going back to places I half remembered. I've actually gotten to the point now where i'm not sure anywhere is where I should actually be. I dont' know if that's a good thing or a bad thing. Except that I want to be in the countryside, which a lot of the time I am.
What neighborhood in Queens did you live in?
Flushing. I was born in Jamaica hospital, lived in Flushing and then my family moved to Long Island when I was four. Then we moved to Ireland when I was 10. But we spent a lot of time in Brooklyn to visit my relatives. Most of my city memories are of Brooklyn.
Do you still have relatives here?
Yeah, and my sister lives there now, since the '80s. Plus various aunts and cousins.
Do they come out to the shows when you play here?
They have done. One of my aunts -- she's dead now -- but she was in her '70s then and came out in sparkly dress to see us when we played on the Isn't Anything tour in 1989. J. Mascis did the sound for that gig.
How did she handle the volume level?
They liked it. You know, it's a really weird thing. People with no preconceived ideas, who don't follow popular culture that closely, they don't find what we do particularly strange. The amount of relatives who've come out -- we recently played Ireland and all my brothers and sisters' kids were there. They all had a great time, some of them refused to put earplugs in. And my mother's been at so many of our gigs. Even back in 2008/2009 when we were doing "You Made Me Realize" very very very loudly, she enjoyed it. She said it was like standing in front of a rocket.
My Bloody Valentine -- 2013 Tour Dates
Fri, Nov 1 Roy Wilkins Auditorium, Chicago
Sun, Nov 3 Aragon Ballroom, Chicago
Tues, Nov 5 The Kool Haus, Toronto
Wed, Nov 6 Metropolis, Montreal
Thurs, Nov 7 House of Blues: Boston, Boston
Sat, Nov 9 Electric Factory, Philadelphia
Mon, Nov 11 Hammerstein Ballroom, New York
Tues, Nov 12 Hammerstein Ballroom, New York