My Bloody Valentine
My Bloody Valentine
My Bloody Valentine started out as a fairly mundane indie band, often drawing criticism for imitating other pop-rock acts before them. However, the group would eventually reinvent themselves to develop a truly original style—in fact, a whole new sub-genre of rock music. With their groundbreaking hybrid of ethereal melodies and studio-oriented, discordant sounds, My Bloody Valentine perfected the art of creating heady, non-specific hypnotic trance-rock melded with thrash-rock and usually indiscernible lyrics, influencing the independent music scene in the late-1980s and beyond. “My Bloody Valentine produce a sound that is at once familiar yet unrecognizable. Their guitars sputter and wobble like a melted data disk flung from an exploding starship,” wrote Alan DiPerna for Guitar World.” But somewhere in the din, traces of human life are detectable—pop melodies! It’s like hearing pop music for the first time—the way a visitor from another planet might hear it.”
Thus, in the end My Bloody Valentine proved themselves as an individual force in avant-pop music, rather than as mere clones of their predecessors. Instead, other rock bands sought to pattern themselves after My Bloody Valentine, known as MBV to fans. After releasing
Members include Bilinda Butcher (joined band in 1987), vocals, guitar; Dave Conway (left band in 1987), vocals; Debbie Googe (joined band in 1986), bass guitar; Colm O’Ciosoig (born in Dublin, Ireland), drums; Kevin Shields (born on May 21, 1963 on Long Island, New York; relocated with his family to Dublin, Ireland, at the age of ten; siblings: sister, Ann Marie Shields, who later served as MBV’s touring manager, and younger brother Jimi Shields, a former member of Rollerskate Skinny before joining Lotus Crown), vocals, guitar, songwriting; Una (left band in 1985), keyboards.
Shields and O’Ciosoig formed My Bloody Valentine in Dublin, 1984; released Ecstasy and Wine, 1989; released pivotal album Isn’t Anything, 1988; released Loveless, 1991.
the pivotal Isn’t Anything in 1988, MBV saw their major breakthrough with the acclaimed Loveless. Released in 1991, the meticulously produced album filled with gravity-defying textures stands alone, without argument, as one of the decade’s most important audio statements. Since then, however, MBV, well-known for their perfectionist tendencies, have yet to release a follow-up to their grand statement. As of 2000, fans and critics alike continued to wait patiently for MBV’s forthcoming record.
The primary source for MBV’s sonic inventions and adventures is from the mind of a quiet, American-born Irishman named Kevin Shields, the group’s principal songwriter as well as vocalist and guitarist. Born on Long Island, New York, on May 21, 1963, Shields relocated with his family to Dublin, Ireland, at the age of ten. His sister, Ann Marie Shields, later served as MBV’s touring manager, while younger brother Jimi Shields was a former member of Rollerskate Skinny before joining Lotus Crown. Shields, forced to leave his comfortable American childhood and acclimate himself to a new culture, at first found it difficult to adjust, but he eventually managed to shake his identification in the neighborhood as the American kid on the block, emerging from his shell by age 13 with a vengeance to join one of Dublin’s many street gangs. “Nothing serious,” the musician explained to Melody Maker. “We used to invade other people’s estates…. It wasn’t exactly Ice-T and his homeboys, but it was exciting.”
After moving to Ireland, Shields also learned of the glam rock phenomenon via the English television show Top of the Pops. “When I was a kid in America the only rock bands kids were into were, like, Three Dog Night, bands like that,” he recalled in an interview with Options Magazine’s Mark Kemp. “In England, even little kids were totally into glam rock, like T-Rex and even Roxy Music. Because it was glam rock. It was pop music.” Around the same time, Shields befriended Colm O’Ciosoig (pronounced “o-COO-sak”), a shy boy who shared Shields’ interest in punk and glam rock, and at the age of 14, together with O’Ciosoig, Shields decided to form a band. Back then, O’Ciosoig, who went on to play drums for MBV, played bass guitar and encouraged Shields to learn to play lead guitar. Shields, who really wanted to play bass, reluctantly agreed. The two friends led various punk and pop bands during their teenage years, and upon leaving school, O’Ciosoig took a job as a bus conductor and Shields as a driver’s mate, all the while delving further into their own musical experimentations and noise-rock sounds.
However, Shields went through a period of questioning his skills on guitar. Now considered a wildly original player who implements texture more than technique, he advises other guitarists not to put so much pressure on themselves to become innovators. “About ten years ago, I virtually gave up playing guitar because I thought I could never do anything as truly different as most of the guitarists I liked. You meet a lot of people who are obsessed with originality; they feel it’s unworthy to play anything that’s vaguely familiar. They think it’s cheap somehow,” Shields said to DiPerna. “I guess I fell into that. I gave up the guitar in favor of synthesizers for a couple of years and then got literally bored out of my mind with the idea of being original. It seemed like a tedious, self-righteous thing to do. So I decided to just follow my whims, play for a laugh, go out and jam on garage rock. That’s how this band started.”
Thus, in 1983, with Shields on guitar and O’Ciosoig on drums, the duo gathered a revolving door of other musicians and started playing Cramps and Birthday Party-inspired music around Dublin. In 1984, they officially formed My Bloody Valentine—a moniker inspired by a Canadian B-grade horror flick—with a more stable lineup that included Dave Conway on lead vocals and Conway’s then-girlfriend, Tina (last name unknown), on keyboards. Soon thereafter, the newly established quartet moved to Berlin, Germany, where they recorded and released their debut mini-album, This Is Your Bloody Valentine. Making little impression in Berlin, MBV, without their keyboardist, returned to Great Britain and settled in London, recruiting Debbie Googe as a new member on bass guitar. In mid-1986, MBV released a second predominantly pop-oriented record, a 12-inch EP entitled Gee/cthat, like the debut, lacked originality.
Later that year, MBV signed with Joe Foster’s fledging Kaleidoscope Sound label and released The New Record by My Bloody Valentine EP, a record that saw the group using a broader musical palette and revealed a new influence, the Jesus and Mary Chain. After this, the group switched to the Primitives’ label, Lazy, and released in 1987 the Sunny Sundae Smile EP, Conway’s final record with the group. Here, My Bloody Valentine married bubblegum pop with buzzing guitar noise, a formula maintained for both the Strawberry Wine EP and the mini-album Ecstasy, released later that year. Both of these records were later compiled and released as the LP Ecstasy and Wine in 1989.
Meanwhile, after Conway’s departure and before recording Strawberry Wine and Ecstasy MBV had enlisted guitarist/vocalist Bilinda Butcher, who had recently dropped out of dancing school and given birth to son Toby, the product of a former relationship, at the time she joined the group. By now, the MBV lineup had stabilized to include Shields, O’Ciosoig, Googe, and Butcher. Shields, who became romantically involved with Butcher, recalled the day she joined MBV: “Bilinda couldn’t play the guitar when she joined the band,” he noted to DiPerna. “She initially joined as a singer, and she just kind of learned guitar. First she played really simple textured things—only a few notes. Now she essentially plays what you might call ’rhythm guitar.’ On the records, I tend to play most of the instruments, mainly because of the way we write. I tend to write the music as I go along, and it’s just easier for me to play it. We don’t really think in terms of whose part is whose when we’re recording. Later on, we’ll arrange it for live playing and work out who will do what.”
Conway’s leaving and Butcher’s arrival, as well as a move to Creation Records (Sire Records distributed for the United States market), also signaled a major shift in musical direction and recording techniques; a typical MBV performance would consist of slowly gyrating feedback and distortions, from which emerged the sighing harmonies, or fragile melancholia, of Shields and Butcher. The drastic change was first apparent on the formidable You Made Me Realise EP and the pivotal album Isn’t Anything, which included the guitar barrage “Feed Me With Your Kiss,” both released in 1988. Finally, after years of struggling for recognition, MBV had unearthed a completely new sound, and their status skyrocketed. “Isn’t Anything is the most important rock album of the ’80s,” wrote Alternative Press, who ranked the effort number 46 on its list of top 99 albums of 1985 through 1995. “Guitarists Kevin Shields and Bilinda Butcher introduced a new aesthetic, creating unbearably sensual, alien environments through furious tremolo-bar wrenching and outrageous distortion.” In agreement, Entertainment Weekly awarded Isn’t Anything with an “A+” rating.
It took three years for MBV to perfect songs for a follow-up album. In the interim, they released two EPs: the richly-textured Glider in 1989 and Tremelo, an extreme piece of music which reached the British Top 30 in 1990. By this time the leaders of the avant-pop soundscape, MBV had a profound impact on other up-and-coming “shoegazing” bands, such as the Boo Radleys, Slowdive, Chapterhouse, and more, who tried to imitate their on-stage persona of looking downward while performing and drone-swarm sound using methods—flangers, chorus pedals, etc.—that Shields despised as facile. “I always feel I’m disclaiming what we do. Our music is very simplistic, although people rarely perceive it that way,” the songwriter pointed out in an interview with Guitar Player. “People also assume that I use tons of effects, but the only effect I use that you really perceive as an effect is backwards reverb.”
When Loveless finally arrived in 1991, the music world was blown away, reinforcing MBV’s influence on the independent scene in both Great Britain and America. “A challenging storm of bent pitch, undulating volume and fractured tempos, Loveless has a calm eye at its center, an intimate oasis from which guitarists Bilinda Butcher and Kevin Shields gently breathe pretty tunes into the thick, sweet waves of droning distortion,” wrote Ira Robbins in Rolling Stone. “Despite the record’s intense ability to disorient—this is real do-not-adjust-your-set stuff—the effect is strangely uplifting. Loveless oozes a sonic balm that first embraces and then softly pulverizes the frantic stress of life.”
Moreover, legendary pop/rock artists such as Bono of U2 and David Byrne declared MBV as the most intriguing band on the music scene, and Brian Eno told Rolling Stone that MBV, one of his favorite bands, “set a new standard for pop” with “Soon,” the closing track of Loveless. Honored with a multitude of press recognition as well, Loveless was included in Rolling Stone’s “Essential Recordings of the ’90s,” Spin ranked it at number 16 for the publication’s “90 Greatest Albums of the 1990s,” and Melody Maker listed the album at number seven on its list of the “Top 30 Albums of 1991.”
However, during the recording process of Loveless, MBV had run up massive studio bills with Creation, and thus made another label switch to Island Records. Although both Island and Sire fully supported the group’s next venture, MBV embarked upon a long gestation period. “In retrospect,” Shields told Simon Reynolds of Alternative Press in 1995, “we had a totally overambitious plan to find a premise, build our own studio, and get the record out by July 1993. We’d just completed the ten-month Loveless tour, and we’d all this nervous energy. Not sleeping a lot puts me in a manic state.” Thus, because of equipment trouble in their own, newly constructed studio in south London, along with Shields wanting to distance MBV from the band’s imitators and a preoccupation with jungle music—the fusion of hip-hop, dub, ragga, and techno that emerged from London’s underground scene in the mid-1990—MBV have not released a new album since Loveless. However, some articles reported that the band actually did finish an album, but Shields decided it was not good enough and shelved the tapes.
While waiting to record, the members of MBV took on other side projects. Shields produced, remixed, and guested with other bands, such as Yo La Tengo and J. Mascis of Dinosaur Jr., and worked with Sonic Boom for his side project Experimental Audio Research, releasing Beyond the Pale in 1996; Googe started working with Snowpony as a bass player, O’Ciosoig did some engineering and began drumming for the group Clearspot, and Butcher made guest appearances singing with various bands.
This Is Your Bloody Valentine, (mini-album), Tycoon, 1985; reissued, Dossier, 1988.
Geek, (12-inch EP), Fever, 1986.
The New Record by My Bloody Valentine, (EP), Kaleidoscope Sound, 1986.
Sunny Sundae Smile, (EP), Lazy, 1987.
Strawberry Wine, (EP), 1987.
Ecstasy (mini-album), Lazy, 1987.
Feed Me With Your Kiss, Creation, 1988.
You Made Me Realise (EP), Creation, 1988.
Isn’t Anything, Creation/Relativity/Warner Brothers, 1988; reissued, Creation/Sire/Warner Brothers, 1994.
Ecstasy and Wine, Lazy, 1989.
Glider (EP), Creation, 1989; Sire, 1990.
Tremelo (EP), Creation, 1990; Sire/Warner Brothers, 1991.
Loveless, Creation/Sire/Warner Brothers, 1991.
Robbins, Ira A., editor, Trouser Press Guide to ’90s Rock, Fireside/Simon and Schuster, 1997.
Alternative Press, October 1995.
Guitar Player, May 1992.
Guitar World, March 1992.
Melody Maker, January 4, 1992.
New Musical Express, December 10, 1988.
Options Magazine, 1992.
Rolling Stone, February 6, 1992; March 5, 1992; April 2, 1992; March 23, 1995; May 13, 1999.
Select, February 1992.
Stereo Review, June 1992.
Sonicnet.com, http://www.sonicnet.com (June 11, 2000).
Unofficial My Bloody Valentine WWW Site, http://www.expectdelay.com/mbv/index.html (June 11, 2000).
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