An hour before the Jesus and Mary Chain’s one and only performance at this year’s South by Southwest music conference in Texas, I started counting. One quickly led to 50 and then 100 and eventually more than 300.
THE JESUS AND MARY CHAIN
That’s how many people had queued up in front of me to see and hear a band whose stature and influence have grown exponentially since breaking up in 1999. It was a rare reunion show, and everyone in line felt like we were playing the lottery. We were nervous. Would we get into the club? I did not.
‘People tend to be reverential toward us these days, which is a new thing for us.’
That night, back in March, was a remarkable reminder of just how good time has been to the Jesus and Mary Chain. Equally in awe of the Stooges and the Shangri-Las, brothers Jim and William Reid started the guitar band in their native Scotland in the early ’80s as a reaction to the electronic pop music exploding around them.
In 1985, the year they released their seminal debut, “Psychocandy,” Madonna, Wham!, and Tears for Fears ruled the charts. By contrast, the Jesus and Mary Chain was punishingly loud, dense with reverb and squalling distortion, and — somehow, miraculously — sweet as candy. Just like honey, to lift the title of one of their best-known songs, which was used to great effect in the 2003 film “Lost in Translation.”
Reunion appearances in 2007 went well enough to persuade the band, with both Jim and William at the reins, to head out on the road again this year. They have a two-night stand at the Paradise Rock Club starting Tuesday; surprisingly, tickets were still available at press time.
“I suppose there’s less pressure,” Jim Reid says this week from a hotel room in New Orleans. “The last time was the big comeback, so there was a bit of pressure to deliver the goods. This time we just do what we want.”
A reunion of any sorts seemed unfathomable to Reid back when he and William called it quits.
“At that point, I couldn’t have believed that the Mary Chain would ever play again. It was such a bad vibe,” he says. “It’s cliche, but time does heal these things. Years went by, and you look back on why the band ended, and it seemed for no good reason at all. We were bickering over just about everything. It was probably a lot to do with drink and drugs.”
Asked to describe his relationship with his brother now, Reid chooses his words carefully.
“It’s never going to be easy between me and William. It used to be, but it never can be again, I don’t think,” he says. “We now know when to back off from each other, whereas back in the ’90s, it was full-on assault. Now we realize that’s a negative way to approach the band.”
At the same time, he admits their sibling rivalry was part and parcel of what made the Jesus and Mary Chain so potent: “There was always something in the music that came from the animosity between us,” he says.
In the wake of the Mary Chain’s demise, its aesthetic became something of a blueprint in indie rock. Danish duo the Raveonettes, in particular, make music that pays homage to the Reids’ brand of savage beauty. In 2008, the Magnetic Fields tipped its cap to the Mary Chain with “Distortion,” an album that unabashedly mirrored the feel of “Psychocandy.”
“People brought it to our attention through the years that other bands had learned a thing or two from listening to the Mary Chain, which was always flattering,” Reid says. “That’s what the music is there for. It’s there to be borrowed and reworked. We did it with the bands that we loved. I’d much rather have bands sounding like the Mary Chain than the drivel that was floating around at the time in the early ’80s.”
Reid says he and his brother were precise about constructing their sound.
“We spent a long time planning what the band ought to be. Me and William would sit up all night and discuss the perfect rock ’n’ roll band,” he says. “We were very unhappy with the state of the music scene at the time we formed. We thought, ‘Why doesn’t anybody make music like we want to do?’ Since nobody was doing it, we thought we’d do it.”
As this new tour rolls on, Reid is hesitant to predict the band’s future.
“I think the next thing is to finish this new album we keep talking about. I’m pretty sure if we get around to recording it, it will stand up with the rest of the Mary Chain stuff,” he says, adding that he and William both have families now and don’t live near each other.
Reid doesn’t say so outright, but he seems amused by the resurgence of respect for the trail he and his brother blazed more than 25 years ago.
“People tend to be reverential toward us these days, which is a new thing for us because we’re used to being treated like [expletive],” he says. “We’re usually the kind of band that gets kicked out of the night club rather than ushered in on the red carpet.”