Having formed in the early 80s and disbanding sixteen years later, The Jesus And Mary Chain would go on to influence a new wave of Scottish music and take post-punk-alt-pop to worldwide acclaim. Here, Isabella Eastwood talks to Jim Reid about down time (both forced and voluntary) and the state of the music world in 2021.

I started the interview with Jim Reid of The Jesus and Mary Chain with an attempted ice breaker, one of those “isn’t the world small, apparently you used to hang out with my friend’s wife’s mother and her brother” scenarios, but alas, it tanked as Jim couldn’t remember them. Nevertheless, the Scottish frontman didn’t hold it against me, and dutifully answered all my other questions and probing around addiction, Brexit, and kicking people during gigs.

Throughout your music career and the up-and-down relationship with your brother, a lot has revolved around coming back to it slowly, dipping your toe in, testing the waters and seeing how it's going to go. Tell me about that!

JR - We broke up in the 90s and we were out of the picture for nine years, so coming back then was weird, probably weirder than it is now, because we’d been away from music for nine years. I dabbled a little bit but nothing serious, and actually when I walked away from The Mary Chain in 1998 I thought that was it for me. I couldn't imagine ever making music again. Certainly not with The Mary Chain. Really, at that time, I just thought it would never happen. I didn’t want it to. I had to think of my sanity. So when we got back in 2007 it was just weirdness beyond weirdness.

And I had no idea how that was going to go down, a bit like this really. I suppose you don't know until you get out there. And it works out. I mean me and William [William Reid, Jim's brother] exorcised a lot of demons in that period, we buried a lot of hatches, and they weren’t in each other which was quite helpful. It worked out then so I’m sure it’ll work out now.

I mean the world is radically altered since the last time we stepped out there so it is weird, before it was just your own personal world that was in turmoil. Now, it just seems like everything's fucking beyond recognition what with Brexit and COVID, you know what I mean?

It’s definitely quite mental… Might this frustration about the way things are at the moment be food for more creativity?

Creativity maybe, but not in a “shining a light on COVID” or anything or Brexit. I find the songs that are about everyday occurrences tend to be rather mundane. Our songs tend to be a bit more introspective. And that's just what works for us. I mean, obviously, I'm interested in the world at large, but I think that's difficult to put that into a song. I wish I could do, and I wish I could do it in a way that fits within the framework of what The Mary Chain is, but I don't think I can. I don't think William could either. It's just not what we do.

But creativity, yeah. I mean, when you're stuck at home, you have to think about things and you get ideas for music. We are currently making an album, but we started it before COVID. We got some ways into it and then the world just stopped, it was the weirdest thing. And then we went back into the studio a month ago to pick up where we left off. So we're looking at an album coming out probably late next year.

Is it strange to come back to this music after so long? I mean it isn’t the first time you’ll be ‘revisiting’ music, but writing and creating can feel very much of the time, so you can come back to it and it feels completely alien to you because you're in a completely different space.

It's weird in a way just because touring stopped and the recording stopped. But there's still a guitar in the corner, you can still pick it up and make music. It's just that nobody's listening. You're in your living room and nobody's hearing it. But when we were at the studio in 2019 I wasn't as prepared as I should have been. So in a way COVID meant that I could get my shit together by the next time we were back. I wouldn't say that I completely did, but I did to a degree.

Yeah and the other thing that we are coping with in Britain is not just COVID. We've also got Brexit to deal with. I mean, that's a massive trauma for this country. And it effects the EU but we’re the ones that left. Britain is a different place from what it was like pre-Brexit, a different landscape. It feels like this country's going down the plughole. And it's scary to witness. I'm going to be in my 60s and I've never seen anything like these two things [Brexit and COVID]. And it's just really terrifying at this stage to suddenly see things that we never could have imagined happening coming to be. But anyway… life goes on!

I came back to London in September after being away for a while and, seeing all the news, I was asking myself, 'why am I returning to this post-apocalyptic country where everything seems to be just breaking down?’ – it was a little anxiety inducing. But yeah, life goes on. I wanted to touch on something quickly that you mentioned earlier, that being in music was quite unhealthy for you. The kind of troubles a lot of musicians had – and still have – in terms of  wrestling with addiction whilst they're in the industry. The touring, the fame, the pressure: it’s a story we hear over and over again. Has it changed at all? What are your thoughts on this?

It's not so much being in a band, or the pressure that sends you down that path. It's the fact that you can do it. I mean, there's almost no other way to make a living, where not only can you be an addict, but you're encouraged to be an addict. If you worked in a bank, and you were in there having drunk a bottle of whiskey and cutting about four grams of coke… (Jim chortles, I giggle along) could you imagine it? That was me on tour in the 1980s and 90s. It got to the point where if you turn up sober people are disappointed. People want you to be fucked up. It’s part of what they expect. And I found that when I finally gave up drink and drugs – I can't say that I've completely given up because I do fall off the wagon from time to time, but more or less, I'm pretty sober these days – that when I met people, they were kind of disappointed that I wasn't falling around the place. So being in a band, people encourage you to be a fuck-up, it’s what people want from guys in rock bands.

I think that is often packaged together with this tortured artist trope as well.

I think a lot of people in bands use that tortured artist thing as an excuse that really that just, you know, you're getting wasted every day while you're at work just because it's allowed. If you were allowed to do it and you worked in a shop, you would probably do it there too. It just makes life easier if you're totally fucking wasted and you know, you don't feel anything. And so, you know, everybody would do it and get away with it. But you know, it's like being ill, so you have to stop at some stage or die.

RTL

It seems getting trashed is also a cultural thing, especially in the UK, and like a lot of people I've always had a bit of a questionable relationship with alcohol. But I find it makes it easier at the beginning and then over time, it just makes it harder, and harder, and then everything is miserable. Very quickly the lows heavily outweigh the highs.

I would go along with that. And it does but by that time, with me anyway, I was too deep into it. I couldn't... I just couldn't get out of bed unless I had a drink. I used to drink from the morning when I woke up until I passed out at night, and that went on for years and years. And after a while, there stops being anything good about it, but it’s too late. You just can’t cope with anything without a drink.

I mean when you read about your history as a band there are also some pretty mental stories. It’s like that was almost expected because it was the scene but when you read back it sounds outrageous! 15-minute gigs, getting into fights, kicking people in the front row…

It was kind of intense, but also, it wasn't? It seems weird to say but didn't seem that odd at the time. But let’s address those things you said, one by one! 15-minute shows, we did do those. But we were doing it when people were paying next to nothing to get in to see us, it’s not like anybody felt ripped of. By the time that we were gathering some sort of reputation, and people were paying actual money to come and see us, we didn't do that then. We did that at the very beginning, thinking, these people paid peanuts to see us, so we’ll do what we like. As far as kicking people in the front row, I never kicked anybody that didn't lash out at me first… I did hit people in the audience but only after they either seriously verbally abused me or actually physically abused me. You know, I defended myself. It’s weird because nobody would do that now, but it’s weird, I once got arrested in Toronto for hitting somebody over the head with a microphone stand. (He laughs again.)

Things are definitely a lot more sanitised now, things like that don’t happen anymore. Maybe they should, maybe they shouldn’t. Who’s to say.

It's one of those weird and pointless questions but, would you have done anything differently or is the experience exactly what it had to be?

I think life’s too short to dwell on things like that. There probably are things that I would do differently, but nothing major. I mean, all those things that happened, they happened, and for reasons that were good reasons at the time. Shows erupted into riots I probably regret because people could have got seriously hurt. Thankfully nobody did. I mean, what happened was there was a couple of shows in the 80s where riots happened, and then it became the thing then that people would come to The Mary Chain shows with wear iron bars up their sleeves and things like that, anticipating violence. That was the point where we thought: “if this continues somebody is going to get really, really badly injured, or die”. And to be honest, I wasn't concerned for myself. I can live with whatever happens to me. But if somebody else in the audience who just wanted to come along to hear us sing songs ended up getting their fucking head kicked in, because of these idiotic shows that were going on… That would have weighed on my conscience. So we went away for about six months and didn't play any shows at all. We hoped that by the time we came back that it would all have been forgotten. And we did come back and it was forgotten so all was well that ended well.

And so coming back to shows now. You said you're a little bit nervous for the upcoming tour. But I suppose you're also quite excited? A lot of people feel very differently about it, some musicians hate it. What are your thoughts?

I have a strange relationship with the concept of touring, probably all my life. At the very beginning, I really enjoyed touring, but it was more about just the excitement and the travelling. And I never feel comfortable on stage which is why I started to drink and take a lot of drugs back in the 80s. Basically I’m about as shy as you can imagine. Finding myself being a singer in an outrageous rock and roll band. I just couldn't cope with it. I could only do it if I was fucked up. And I did that for years and years and years. I never played a gig sober until the 21st century. Those gigs in the 80s and 90s. I was wasted at various degrees. Sometimes just a little bit, sometimes a lot, but I could not cope with the idea of a sober show.

So that’s what it was like … I enjoyed the whole life, being in a band, travelling, the excitement… but the show was always the thing that scared the bejesus out of me. I've gone through different phases, different stages. Now, I get very nervous but I prefer to be sober on stage. I thought that that would be something that I couldn't do, but once I found out I could do it, I realised that it's much more enjoyable. I enjoy it now, it’s a lot more relaxed. But now I hate the touring in terms of travelling, it’s so tedious. It's really boring to get from one place to the other. But the actual bit where you go on stage now, I'm still nervous. People assume that when we’re on stage we’re not enjoying ourselves because we look like we are fucking terrified. But the way I look on stage is the way I look when I’m having fun,  unfortunately.

The fans gearing up to see the show can expect two sets: “We’re playing Darklands, from start to finish, in order, as one set and we're doing another set. It's just going to be a collection of more obscure Mary Chain songs from that same period. B-Sides and what have you, maybe some of A-sides.”

The Jesus and Mary Chain play den Atelier on Sunday 21 November, ticket info here