The Jesus & Mary Chain
“Sometimes I do end up in the middle of it all,” says Ben Lurie, who plays rhythm guitar and bass for the Jesus and Mary Chain. Although he’s been in the band since 1989, he can still be seen as the odd man out in a group that’s otherwise composed of brothers Jim and William Reid. It doesn’t really seem to phase Lurie, though. “We’ve known each other forever,” he says.
“Forever” is about how long controversy has followed the Mary Chain. They smashed up the soundman’s gear at the very first gig they played, and from that point on, it’s been a roller coaster ride. Within just the first year of the band’s history, they were arrested both in Germany and the UK, and were even accused of inciting a riot in London. Subsequent years saw more turmoil. Their name made it hard to get gigs in the South as late as the late-’80s (the Bible Belt mentality at work), and also oddly led to an invitation to appear on Dolly Parton’s variety show. Police followed them around, and there were more arrests, including assault charges for Jim Reid in Toronto in ’87 (he bopped some over-zealous fans with his mic stand). Even a coveted spot on the Lollapalooza II Tour led to furor, as the band vocally (and justifiably) complained about the tour the whole time they were on it.
To this day, controversy has a way of finding the band. The Jesus & Mary Chain have a new record out called Munki. Surely, that’s nothing shocking, right? Under ordinary circumstances, it wouldn’t be. Then came the news that their long time label, Warner Bros. (which distributed their record through American in the US and Blanco Y Negro in Britain), deemed the new album unreleaseable. “We played them six or seven tracks,” says Lurie, but they didn’t click with the Warner execs. “They rejected our first two singles. If we sounded like Simple Minds or something, they would’ve kept us. For a while there, we though `fuck, is it just us that thinks it’s good?'” Lurie adds that “legally, we could have forced them to release it,” but the band decided it was time for a change.
The search for a new label turned up some interesting results. In the world outside the US, the band has returned to their roots, signing to Creation, the label that released their original 7-inch way back in ’84. They were on the verge of signing with Creation world-wide (a deal which would have brought them distribution by corporate megalith Sony) when they got an even more intriguing offer in the US. In North America, they’ve wound up at Sub Pop (which is partially owned by Warner Bros., ironically), of all places. “It’s worked out well,” says Lurie. “They’re good people, you can actually have a conversation with them.”
At first glance, Munki can be seen as a bit of a departure for the band. The first track, “I Love Rock N’ Roll,” blares out complete with trumpet fanfares, a Mary Chain first. Terry Edwards, the trumpeter who is also touring with the band, came to the band’s attention due to a JAMC tribute record he was involved in. The band liked his work on the record, says Lurie, so “we gave him a call to see if he want(ed) to come down.” Evidently, Edwards meshed well with the band, as he’s currently touring with them.
The Reids’ sister, Linda, also turns up on the record, singing lead on “Moe Tucker,” one of several songs that may seem to contribute to a theme. With that song, the bookends of “I Love” and “I Hate Rock N’ Roll,” another song called “Supertramp,” and “Fizzy,” with lyrics like “Elvis lives, and Bob Dylan’s dead,” one could easily make the assumption that Munki is a concept album about music. “A lot of people have said that,” says Lurie, “but there’s not a conscious theme. The songs were written over a long period of time.”
There is, however, an intentional thematic connection between the matched set of “Rock N’ Roll” songs. Lurie states, “`I Hate Rock n’ Roll’ is about the business, while `I Love Rock n’ Roll’ is about the essence of the music.” Indeed, “I Hate” perhaps can be seen as the catharsis for all the problems the Mary Chain has had over the years. They seem to be happy with their new situation, though, and as “I Love” shows, have recaptured why they put up with all the problems in the first place. It’s good to know that the band still does “love what (they’re) doing,” as the song says.
For more information on the Jesus and Mary Chain, check out the unofficial fan Web sites April Skies, at http://www.zip.com.au/~niina/jamc, and kill SURF city, at http://welcome.to/killSURFcity. Both are chock full of information and were a tremendous assistance in researching this article.