My Bloody Valentine talked ‘Isn’t Anything,’ cow invasions & more on Tim’s Listening Party
My Bloody Valentine took part in a discussion on Saturday about their great 1988 album Isn't Anything -- which is being reissued on vinyl next week -- for Tim's Twitter Listening Party series. It was originally announced at that this would just be with frontman Kevin Shields, but the rest of the band -- Debbie Googe, Bilinda Butcher and Colm Ó Cíosóig -- were also on hand to offer recollections and insights on the album's tracks as we collectively listened to the album.
The album was mainly recorded at Foel Studio in Wales. "In those days a lot of studio people thought we were nuts and usually went into a kind of bubble and just did what we asked, kind of in a trance, everything sounded wrong to them, we were lucky in Wales and they seemed to enjoy the trip we were on."
Kevin said that most of the album was "first and second take, mainly because we wrote in the studio so by the time we came to record , it was in that magic place where you know the arrangement but are still working on 50% instinct." He added, talking about "You Never Should," that all the songs on the album "are purposefully raw and we had mostly just done everything as we would live with no extra bits or vocal double tracking to sound nicer. We also had a no comping vocals from different takes rule , everything had to be a single take from beginning to end, we did break the rules on quite a few songs tho as the rules were just ideas."
On the album's classic opening track, "Soft as Snow (But Warm Inside)," Kevin said, "This first song was also one of the only ones we rehearsed at our Kentish Town squat, the descending bassline at the beginning kind of drove the other 10 people we lived with a bit mad. I think that’s all we played for 3 days , but they also seemed to like it, we never really rehearsed much in those days."
Kevin said that "Cupid Come" was about Rowland S Howard of The Birthday Party. "I’m pretty sure the lyrics were inspired by a story about Roland Howard and cum in a coffee cup, all the indie girls worshipped him, including us lot." Bilinda, however, has a different memory. "I remember having an out of body experience when Kevin had gone to the launderette. I was floating around the ceiling of his room and thought he was lying in his bed and was trying to grab him so that I could come back down. That’s where my lyrics came from."
One of the best anecdotes involved cows and the recording of hypnotic track "All I Need." "This was recorded around the time we had the cow invasion incident," Kevin said. "The local cows seemed to like these new sounds very much and surrounded the studio getting really worked up and excited, freaked out the owners. After that the studio seemed be haunted by cow sprites, images of things with big almond shaped eyes would come to me when I was falling asleep trying to write lyrics, I decided they were cow sprites, maybe they weren’t."
Colm added to the cow story. "Kevin was working on a guitar sound ... playing quite loud and using the tremolo arm making sounds a bit like a cow mooing. As he was playing it the sound got bigger and seemed to surround us ... then we realised that the cows in the field next to us were coming to honour their guru... we could hear them starting to surround the studio. Kevin kept going and they were starting to go mental.. engineer Dave Anderson came running over to save us thinking we didn’t know what was going on .... not sure how many cows ... 20-30 ... it was getting a bit scary though."
Belinda says she remembers "the fighter planes from the RAF headquarters flying by regularly in Wales and the cows mooing when Kevin was recording," and on the subject of livestock, "I also rescued a sheep that had a prolapse."
Not everything was recorded at Foel. "We had 2 months in Foal studios in Wales to make the album but we felt it wasn’t enough," Kevin said, "so we got a little more time in a tiny basement studio and wrote / recorded 5 or 6 more songs, they were all good I think." Those included some of the album's most iconic tracks, including "(When You Wake) You’re Still In A Dream" and single "Feed Me With Your Kiss." Kevin noted "Kiss" was "the first song we recorded in the 11 day session, when we were getting the bass sound the speaker fell off the shelf ( it was a tiny studio with NS10’s on a shelf at head height on the left wall )...the engineer instinctively put his foot out to stop it, it broke his foot but he was a good sport about it and I remember it as a good atmosphere recording wise, except for the 10pm curfew due to being in someone’s basement."
Another from that 11-day session was the ethereal "Lose My Breath." As to the latter, Kevin notes it was made "on the most basic cheapest equipment possible, we did it again in a very nice studio for a John Peel session and it sounded so much worse, shows equipment is not ‘that‘ important."
You can "replay" the My Bloody Valentine Isn't Anything listening party in real time while listening to the album here.
My Bloody Valentine signed to Domino Records earlier this year and are their albums on vinyl on May 21 -- you can pick up 2013's m b v in the BrooklynVegan shop.