MY BLOODY VALENTINE -- THE SWEETEST ABRASION
'Loveless' was a strong candidate for Album of the Year in both the MM Critics'
Poll and The Readers' Poll and their 'Tremolo EP' spawned a host of imitators
overnight. THE STUD BROTHERS meet the band whose genius is only matched by
Though he's been a good deal more than co-operative, Kevin's several swoons
short of passionate. His problem is that he talks about music as only a musician
can. Kevin talks about zoom effects' processors, about GHS boomers and 10-gauge
strings and, more comprehensibly, though no more enthrallingly, about mixing
desks, recording studios and record producers.
Who knows, maybe it's our problem. We neither understand, nor care to understand,
the mechanics of sound. It's too, well, mechanical. We want Kevin to talk
about music's magic, about warped videos made and played in the mind's eye,
about exploding eardrums, literal and metaphorical, about girls and boys and
letters from lunatic fans. Not the physical, but the metaphysical. Popwise,
so help us, we wanna believe in Father Christmas.
But Kevin and the rest of the Valentines find that kind of conversation
embarrassing. It means they'll eventually have to talk about themselves. And,
since Kevin and the rest judge that they experienced nothing of any import
prior to the band, they have, thus far, maintained a deafening silence when
asked about anything more personal than their latest wah-wah pedal.
It's disappointing because My Bloody Valentine are so singularly, dreamily
great. "Loveless" was unquestionably their greatest moment to date, a sound
so other and so out-of-it that we were moved to comment at the time that it
seemed not so much recorded as picked up on some spectral satellite-dish.
"Loveless" was, is, extraterrestrial pop. It's difficult to imagine human
beings were responsible for it at all, let alone these four polite, frustratingly
normal young people.
"We're just like the people who buy the records," shrugs Kevin.
Kevin Shields moved from Long Island to Dublin at the age of 10. He spent
his pre-pubescent years quietly and awkwardly, finally coming out of his shell
with a vengeance at the age of 13, joining one of Dublin's many street-gangs.
"Nothing serious," he says. "We used to invade other people's estates. Twenty
or us just wandered in. It wasn't exactly Ice-T and his homeboys, but it was
Around that time Kevin bumped into Colm O'Ciosoig, who was starting a band.
Colm, at the time a bassist, now the Valentines' drummer, suggested Kevin
learn to play the guitar. Kevin, who wanted to play bass, had, reluctantly,
After leaving school, Colm took a job as a bus conductor and Kevin as a
driver's mate, jobs that they admit brought out the yob in both of them.
"It's incredible," says Kevin, "the moment a man steps into a van he learns
how to wolf-whistle."
Later, for the sake of the band, the two of them, along with the Valentines'
original singer Dave O'Conway, moved to London where they met Deborah Googe.
Deborah was a proud member of the long-term unemployed, only occasionally
taking temp-work when the bills needed paying. She joined the band as their
The Valentines then spent a long time going nowhere fast, except in Germany,
where they became very minor celebrities. This was around 1985. By 1987, they
were sick and tired of the whole business and ready to split up. It was then
that they met their present guitarist and vocalist, Bilinda Butcher, a very
young mother who'd just dropped out of dance school due unbelievably, but
quite reasonably, to persistent bouts of cystitis.
"I had to keep going to the loo," she says, "and I couldn't get my leotard
on and off quick enough. I missed all of the classes."
Bilinda now lives with Kevin and her son in West Norwood.
The rest, as they say, is history. Even the Valentines' most vociferous
critics will admit they've been the single most important influence on recent
indie rock. Love 'em or hate 'em, where would Lush, Slowdive, Moose, Ride,
Chapterhouse or Curve be without them? "Loveless" spent over six weeks at
the top of the indie charts and went Top 10 nationally. There's no doubt that
My Bloody Valentine have an awful lot to celebrate.
Talking of celebrations, we all agree that Christmas is really a time for
the kids. Does Bilinda's son still believe in Father Christmas?
"Well, he did last year. I always go home to Kevin's parents' at Christmas
and there everyone's really enthusiastic about the idea of Santa. Especially
Kevin's mum, she's always looking out the window waiting for Santa to come.
But Toby's going to a new school now and I have a feeling he's not gonna believe
in Father Christmas next year. I don't know what I'm gonna tell him if he
asks. When I told him that the Tooth Fairy wasn't real he said that he'd read
a book where it said that every time you say a fairy doesn't exist then a
fairy dies. It's awful, such a responsibility. I wouldn't dare tell him about
Father Christmas, but I have a feeling he already knows. It'll never be the
What did he find in his stocking?
"Some skateboard stuff."
So he's an Anthrax fan, a skatecore kid.
"Well, he's into rock. He says he doesn't like dance, he's into rock. He
really likes the Ramones. You won't believe it but he really liked them when
he was in his cradle. He has mixed feelings about us. He liked 'Slow' a lot.
He hated 'You Made Me Realize', but he did like 'Slow'. I don't think you
can really skate to 'Slow', but I'm sure you can to the Ramones."
"God, it must be great enjoying Christmas as a kid," sighs Deborah. "The
best present I ever got was tonsilitis when I was 13. Everyone used to go
to my sister's, every year, every single member of my family gathered in the
same room. I like them, but I'm the youngest of six and it was difficult,
so tonsilitis meant I could stay home and watch telly. It was brilliant, on
my own in my own house, in front of the telly with a tin of spaghetti. It
was great, tonsilitis."
Kevin, until now we imagine happily pondering he sickeningly extravagant
childhood in America where, even back then, Christmas was very commercialised,
shivers a little. Kevin has a reputation for being something of a hypochondriac.
Apparently, he will, at the least mention of even the mildest infection, break
out in a sympathetic phantom rash which he'll then contentedly discuss with
anyone willing to listen.
"I'm not a hypochondriac," he says, defensively. "Every time I go to the
doctor there's always something major that's wrong. It's just that it's never
what I think it is. Last time I went because I thought I was getting cancer
in my leg. My whole leg went numb over the space of a few months and then
it started to get sore. It was really painful. I went to the doctor and found
out it was because of the way I was playing the guitar in the studio. He said,
'Does anything ever press just there?' and I said, yeah. It was my guitar,
it'd crushed a nerve. So there was something wrong. I wasn't making it up."
Bilinda pipes in, scolding him gently.
"Kevin, what about the other night when you said you were having a heart
Kevin looks only half-guilty.
"That was my arm. I keep falling asleep on the settee lying on my arm and
my arm went dead. I was sure it was all over. But my arm was dead, I really
wasn't making it up."
"Come on, Kevin," says Deborah indignantly. "What about when you said you
had skin cancer?"
By now, Kevin looks truly aggrieved. Skin cancer was, he tells us, a fair
assumption. Apparently, he suffers from an extremely rare dermatological condition,
the symptoms of which exactly mimic those of skin cancer. Basically, he gets
a mole, the mole moulders, itches, aches and then flakes away, leaving an
angry rash in its wake. It seems he inherited the disease from his father.
"He's going blind as well," says Bilinda, cheerfully.
Blind, too? So Kevin's a blind leper with a heart condition.
Should you really be in a rock and roll band?
"I shouldn't, actually," says Kevin, obviously pleased that, at last, someone's
taking him seriously. "The last time I went to the doctor he said I can't
listen to loud music anymore."
"Yeah, I still have good hearing, but it's a lot less than it used to be.
I get too much enjoyment out of blasting my head off and it's taken its toll.
Apparently, it's common. In 10 years' time, because of the Walkman generation,
50 percent of people will be walking around with hearing problems."
"We've all got ear problems," says Bilinda.
"Yeah," nods Kevin. "When you have your eardrum burst by feedback it's frightening.
It happens quite easily. When you're onstage in front of all the speakers
and you get microphone feedback, it's incredible. You literally lose your
balance and feel sick. But I understand that and I just like to know exactly
what's wrong with me."
"I don't like to even think about what's wrong with me," says Bilinda, "and,
often, whatever's wrong with me just goes away. The other night I had a really
bad headache, these tender spots on my head. Then last night I got this massive
swelling. I thought, 'Oh no, maybe I've got something wrong with my lymph
glands or something horrible', but then I thought, 'No, you're just talking
a load of crap', and I forgot about it and it went down."
"I always have toothaches go away because I hate the dentist," says Kevin,
"I love going to the dentist," continues Deborah, equally mysteriously.
"Every time I got my dentist has a new joke or riddle on the ceiling, and
he's got a really good light, really psychedelic, sort of pink in the middle
and it goes out into loads of different colours. It's great, though I think
what I like about it most is that I never have to have anything done."
Here, Bilinda launches into one of the most bizarre conspiracy theories
we've ever heard. According to Bilinda, for years dentists worldwide have
been inadvertently poisoning their patients with toxic fillings. Some time
age they discovered their mistake but, rather than coming clean as, say, Deborah's
dentist would've done, they arranged an international cover-up. Furthermore,
under the auspices of the crowning heads of Europe (and with the blessing
of such clandestine organisations as the British Dental Association) cavity
cowboys and hack hygienists everywhere agreed to carry on poisoning people.
Frankly, it sounds like a load of bollocks to us, but who can tell? It would
certainly explain the disappearance of the Tooth Fairy. It's also a good deal
more diverting that foot pedals, GHS Boomers and all the other metal-cased,
data-based hard truths we, all of us, spend far, far too long worrying about.
Nineteen ninety one was a great year for My Bloody Valentine. Do they feel
"I suppose anyone who does what they love for a living should feel lucky,"
says Kevin. "But no, not really. See, it's just been the music. It's never
been about us or image or artwork or hype, we've never pushed ourselves as
personalities. It's always just been the music. And it's the music, and only
the music, that people have taken to."
And that, truly, is the elusive but irreducible truth. Magic. Not the mechanics,
but the inexplicable magic.
Originally appeared in Melody Maker January 4, 1992
Copyright © Melody Maker Magazine