The Jesus and Mary Chain – Jim Reid on the 25th Anniversary of “Munki” | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Monday, May 20th, 2024  

The Jesus and Mary Chain – Jim Reid on the 25th Anniversary of “Munki”

“Our relationship suffered but I honestly didn’t think the music suffered.”

Oct 30, 2023 Web Exclusive Photography by Steve Gullick Bookmark and Share

Jim Reid sounds laidback and relaxed when discussing the re-release of The Jesus and Mary Chain’s sixth studio album, Munki. It’s a far cry from the slightly tense interviews of their youth, in which brothers William and Jim Reid often looked like they’d rather be anywhere else on earth than being questioned by the media. You could hardly blame them given some of the generic and uninformed questions they were asked by perma-tanned MTV hosts such as, “So tell me…how did you guys meet?”

Their early career may have been marked by chaos and controversy, meaning their notoriety, which was gleefully fuelled and often overstated by former manager Alan McGee, often got in the way of the brilliance of their music. Music which, it must be said has more than stood the test of time. Perhaps the band’s most dysfunctional recording sessions took place when the band went into the studio to record their 1998 album Munki. The album turned out to be The Jesus and Mary Chain’s swan song prior to their reformation in 2007—as the brothers’ strained and often fractious relationship saw the band implode less than a year after its release.

Munki was an album that seemed to divide critics and fans alike despite combining all the elements that made The Jesus and Mary Chain such a thrilling band. Jim Reid reflects on the initial reaction from their then-label, Warners. “Well, in Europe and the U.S., it initially seemed like business as usual. But in the U.K., if you weren’t aboard the Britpop bandwagon, you weren’t on the radar, and nobody in the music business seemed to give a flying fuck about the Mary Chain,” he tells Under the Radar. “It’s been well-documented that me and William weren’t getting along at the time, our relationship suffered but I honestly didn’t think the music suffered. We were trying to get Munki released thinking the album was as good as anything we’d done before—yet all we got were blank faces. I mean, we took it to Warners and we weren’t surprised that they thought it was shit because they thought every other record was shit. But we started to get worried when Geoff Travis [Blanco y Negro] didn’t like it. He’d been a great supporter of ours and seemed to understand us, acting like a kind of translator between us and Warners.

“Geoff was pretty brutal. He just came out and said he thought it was awful, and stuff like the lyrics didn’t make sense. We were like, ‘Are you listening to the right fucking record here, mate?’ He phoned me up lambasting the record, and I hit record on my answering machine. I’ve probably got the tape somewhere still, but Geoff saying it was shit felt like a real kick in the teeth. Then me and William went to see Rob Dickins [Chairman of Warner Music UK], who was a bit more supportive in the sense that he said that he didn’t mind the record but told us everybody else in Warners’ building fucking hated it. He said they’d put it out if we really wanted them to, but he wouldn’t advise it, and suggested that we’d be better off taking it to a label who was into it.”

Warners also wanted more obvious singles, which led to the band going back into the studio. The sessions produced William’s dark, swaggering “Cracking Up,” and “Perfume,” whilst Jim wrote “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” as a counterpoint to William’s “I Hate Rock ‘n’ Roll.” “It honestly was not written to annoy William,” laughs Reid. “But William is convinced I’d written it to wind him up. I thought ‘I Hate Rock ‘n’ Roll’ was a brilliant fucking song, about all the things that spoiled being in a band which I totally got and agreed with. But I felt it only gave half the story—I wanted to show the other side of the coin, the great things about being in a band. I felt that side needed to be said too.”

Reid admits that the label’s reticence at releasing an album without what they perceived as singles did ultimately make Munki a better album. “But it was the way they said it all,” Reid explains “We felt like something these people had stepped in, the general label vibe seemed to be, ‘Oh fuck! Are you lot still around?’ It was all pretty depressing. And I think it did eventually contribute to the breakdown of my relationship with the brother.”

Their already fragile artistic coexistence had suffered badly during the recording of Munki, and although Reid had no idea that the album would be their last (at the time) he sensed that the music industry’s focus had shifted. But despite the prevailing wind blowing in a Britpop direction, Reid was convinced their music was as strong as ever.

“We weren’t that bothered about being out of step with fashion. We thought Munki might be a slow burner that people would come round to eventually, and we could ride it out. But the storm we couldn’t ride was the storm that was brewing in the band between me and William, which was just going from bad to worse. We started making the record with the intention of going in and completing it within three weeks, but it took about a year and a half. Me and William couldn’t bear to be in each other’s company, and it got to the point where it was just painful to go into the studio and share the same confined space. The atmosphere was horrible. And the fact that there was a pub across the road didn’t help. We’d go into the studio, and somebody would say, ‘Shall we go for a pint?’ There was Nick Sanderson, and Ben Lurie and we all liked a drink so before we’d even got to the letter ‘b,’ when someone said ‘pub?’ we’d practically be at the bar. It would be any old excuse not to work on the record. We got to a point when we thought, ‘Okay, this is getting ridiculous now.’ So instead, we had the brilliant idea of bringing the booze and the drugs into the studio, which was like pouring petrol on a fire.”

With the album finally finished, the Reid brothers’ relationship at breaking point, and a label not particularly enthusiastic about releasing or promoting it, the Reids looked at other options. Jim had bumped into their old manager and Creation Records founder Alan McGee who offered to put it out.

“But fucking typical of McGee he didn’t really see it through,” Reid explains. “Putting it out on Creation at that time was akin to putting it out on Warners because Creation was now part of Sony. We were dealing with Sony more than McGee or [Creation co-founder] Dick Green, so we’d be going into meetings with Sony, and it was like we’d landed from Mars. Those people didn’t have a fucking clue what we were all about, and barely even knew who we were. We ended up being in exactly the same situation we would have been in if Warners had put it out. I could see this was a disaster waiting to happen, but there was nothing we could do about it. It was all we had—we could stick with Warners and nobody was going to promote it, or we could try our luck with Sony, and that’s what we did. And they too did very little to promote it. And in America, it was Sub Pop who did even less!”

Despite the simmering tensions between Jim and William and the acknowledgement that “everything fell apart during that record,” Jim Reid isn’t convinced it was inevitable that the Mary Chain had to split up in 1998 if cooler heads had intervened.

“Really management should have spotted what was going on, and suggested we took a break from each other,” he reflects. “I think the wounds would have healed in time if we had taken a break. I mean when we finished the album we weren’t talking to each other at all. But instead of getting some distance, somebody thought it was a really good idea to book us on a big motherfucking tour! I mean can you imagine when you can’t stand the sight of each other being cooped up on a fucking tour bus for months on end? Had the sensible option happened of somebody stepping in and saying ‘You stay the fuck away from each other and we’ll see how things are in a year,’ I don’t think we would have broken up.”

The U.S. tour began and just two dates in, William had left the band in explosive circumstances. Jim knew that for all intents and purposes, The Jesus and Mary Chain was over as he sought to scrap the rest of the tour.

“However, it was brought to my attention that if we didn’t finish the tour it would have cost us a fuck load of money,” he explains. “So we had to continue but on the understanding that there would be no more Mary Chain after that last show. Sub Pop was like, ‘Oh wow that’s great Jim, thanks for finishing the tour, that’s really good of you’ and they sent a guy out to a lot of dates. There’s something called tour support, which basically pays for your tour and comes out of your royalties. Throughout the tour, the fuckers had been saying, ‘The gigs are going great, and we’re so grateful,’ and then when we’d finished the dates and asked them for the tour support they told us to fuck off and basically said, ‘There’s no Mary Chain without William.’ But hey that’s the music business for you!”

The Jesus and Mary Chain of course reunited in 2007 and the Reid brothers’ relationship is certainly much improved, putting their differences behind them for the sake of rock ‘n’ roll. They eventually released a new album, Damage and Joy, in 2017, however, it was Jim Reid who was initially reluctant to go back into the studio, due in no small part to the Munki experience. “William was keen to do a new album,” Jim explains. “As soon as we reformed in 2007, people were saying you should do another album. And to be honest it took so long because of me, although quite a few years had passed since Munki, it still felt pretty fresh in my mind. The studio can be such a claustrophobic environment, and although me and William were getting on, it wasn’t perfect. And I thought it might not take much to tip us over the edge again. So I kept making excuses, which admittedly was getting ridiculous. Eventually, I thought what sort of band do we want to be? Just playing the greatest hits or doing something fresh? So I finally thought, ‘Fuck it let’s do it.’”

Since the reunion, there have been many memorable moments, from Hollywood A-lister Scarlett Johansson joining them on stage at Coachella in 2007 to sing on “Just Like Honey” right through to their memorable performance at Glastonbury in 2022. And it was the latter that left Jim Reid’s youngest daughter speechless. “Well, we’d already asked Phoebe Bridgers if she was up for a guest appearance during our set and she’d agreed,” he explains. “So we were sitting in our dressing room, and my youngest daughter Candice was sitting there with her wee friend discussing all the bands and artists they wanted to see, and she mentioned Phoebe Bridgers and I said, ‘Phoebe? Oh, she’s coming in here in a minute to rehearse with us.’ And they were like, ‘WHAT!!!’ And then Phoebe came in and it’s the only time I’ve ever seen Candice shut up, they were astonished! So uncool dad became cool dad for once!”

Munki celebrates its 25-year anniversary with a special repressing and remaster via Fuzz Club records, although Reid reveals Warners did offer to release it. “Yeah, a few other people wanted to do it. Warners were interested but we felt we’d already been down that road, I mean they did Damage and Joy and it felt like it was back to the ’90s and that I was speaking a different fucking language to these people again. And then Fuzz Club came along and said all the right things and so far so good.”

The band have also announced a small run of dates in November in the UK, Spain, and Italy, and Reid assures not only will there be more dates next year but there’s also a new Mary Chain album in the offing. “The album’s already done and will be out next year,” he reveals. “It will be a bit different, it’s quite experimental and electronic. Not so much that you won’t recognize it as the Mary Chain, but yeah we fucked about with the sound a bit. So as well as the November shows we’ll be looking to tour the new album early next year I guess.”

The packaging for the Fuzz Club reissue of Munki.
The packaging for the Fuzz Club reissue of Munki.

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