My Bloody Valentine self-released a surprise new LP, 22 years after their critically acclaimed, fan-adored, awe-inspiring—and what many call a masterpiece—Loveless. But what exactly the band were doing during those years in between is a topic that’s provoked equal speculation and frustration, as well as lots of gossip and assumptions. I first met Kevin Shields, the band’s front man and Oz behind the curtains, in 1999, right in the middle of this “off” time. I was happy to have a new conversation with Kevin before he started a tour with My Bloody Valentine. We speak here about future plans for the band, the real way digital and analog fit together, and what he thinks people still get wrong about him. They perform Sunday night at Desert Daze. This interview by Tiffany Anders." /> L.A. Record


October 11th, 2018 | Interviews

Kevin Shields: That’s only half true. I mean … a lot of people record digitally on ProTools now, but what’s better about vinyl—even if you record on ProTools—is they do it 24-bit. It’s higher resolution than the 16-bit/44khz which is like a CD, so it’s still better. For myself, I like to have both. I like the accuracy of digital. Even though I record analog, mostly—we do a bit of ProTools stuff, like if we sample drums, that gets digitized, but the guitars and vocals and stuff are analog. But when I mix it, I mix it down to tape and a digital medium. I like both, really, to be honest for different reasons. Especially in this day where there’s computers and the internet is the main way people hear music, I like that I can do things analog. When I master stuff I make sure that it’s actually mastered analog as well. I think what it is … since about the late 1970s, people had the good idea that they could use a digital delay basically to cut a record. The tape machine that people would use to cut a record would have a special head on it because when you cut a record, you gotta have two signals. One is for the lathe to know how wide the grooves should be, and the other one gets cut onto the record. The lathe would kinda have a computer which would allow it to know how wide the grooves should be cut and that never gets cut, and the cut signal would be analog. But then what people started doing around 79—I don’t really know when it started but it became more standard in the 80s—people would start to use a digital delay in it. That would be the thing that would actually be cut onto the record. The analog signal would be used for the preview and the digitally delayed signal would be the one that would actually be cut onto the record. So a lot of the records that we’ve all heard since 1980—or around that period anyway—were digitized before they were cut onto vinyl. Even back then most people were still recording analog, [and] nobody thought digital was a bad thing. It was a new way of doing something in a very precise way. But somehow it seems like kind of a shame, you know, when you have an analog record or an analog tape and you’ve got to digitize it just to get it onto a vinyl record. So even now, there’s not a lot of places that can do it—do a pure analog cut. Mostly when you go to a mastering place and you bring tape along, you’re going to digitize it before it gets onto the record, which is a bit weird. Maybe I was talking about that. A lot of the vinyl I grew up and loved would have been digitized before it got cut into the record. In a weird way, I remember when I was young thinking that records had a sound … it sounded like a record, but probably I was hearing that digital sound, and loving it in a way. Like, ‘Well, that’s a record.’ I think digital’s cool in that it’s a thing and it has a sound, but I don’t know, not in a Luddite kinda way, more like … When you listen to music and A/B it like you go like analog/digital, it’s not such a big deal if it’s good quality digital. But if you listen to analog music for an extended amount of time and then you hear it digitally it does sound … something’s different.
I’m not a purist at all—for my job I have a digital server and that’s how I have to listen to music for my projects. But in my living room I have a record player and it’s sort of become ‘me time’ when I put on an album. I hate to say it but I’m inclined to spend more time with it, and digital is more instant gratification.
Kevin Shields: Most music I hear, I hear digitally as well. I listen to a lot of music from my phone like a lot of people, and I don’t mind it. I don’t really think about it that much. But I did find when the Beatles did the mono box set and they did all the records in pure analog cuts, it was really fascinating listening to the records just purely analog on a record player. It’s a really different experience, you know, so I don’t know. I do love it, so I’m just going to keep pursuing it until I can’t or hopefully it’ll take off even more. Often when we’re buying tape, I wind up buying all the tape in the UK and Germany—wherever I can buy it, we usually buy all the tape they got. There aren’t that many people using tape really. And people go on about how it’s really expensive and all that, but it’s not that expensive. It’s kinda expensive, but not really. If you wanted to record two or three songs, that would cost you $300. Not that crazy.
You were talking about EPs and I’ve been really into 45s lately. People should release more 45s. In the digital world, you’re going from one song to the other with playlists, and even record shopping I find it so much more enjoyable than immersing myself in flipping through daunting albums and their daunting price tag. You kinda have more freedom to buy more. Even for recording, I thought—it’s cheap to record a 45.
Kevin Shields: I haven’t done it—I’d like to do it. This EP will be 45 RPM but a 12 inch. But maybe I’ll wind up doing that. I used to love singles in the past.
You played at the Sigur Ros festival in Iceland solo, and when I heard that I had to kind of wrap my head around it—what did that mean for you to play solo?
Kevin Shields: When they asked me to do it, I just thought … again, it would be a part of this whole thing of just doing stuff. Literally two weeks before I did it, I wrote about an hour’s worth of music especially for that and it turned into about five songs that were just stretched out. I made five pedal boards, [had] five amps and ran the whole thing at the same time and just played and had Tim from Godspeed playing with me on drums. It was all really spontaneous and improvised, even though there were tunes—in the sense there were chord structures and stuff, the vocals just came in where they came in. I had some basic lyrical ideas. We just did it. Some people liked it. I did manage to clear half of the room by the end. [laughs]
The sign of something great, in my eyes!
Kevin Shields: I didn’t mind. The people who really liked it got it, so that was cool.
That was completely improvised—so will any of that be on the EPs?
Kevin Shields: Actually, one of them I’ve kept. I like them all—well, maybe one I’m not so crazy about now, but of the five of them there are four that I definitely want to do something with. What was kinda … not liberating exactly, but kind of inspiring was writing music I knew I was going to perform quite soon and just play. I wasn’t thinking about making a record—I was just making something I was going to play in front of people. So it was interesting to see what came out that way. It was different than stuff I would normally write and a bit more immediate, but a bit more … I don’t know, meditative? But direct at the same time. It was just a good experience to do it. One of the tunes will be on the EP—I sorta stole it for myself. Not too much planning going on here at the moment—just doing it and seeing what happens.
It’s cool you’re going out and doing new material just for the hell of it. I think that attitude might be lacking in some bands.
Kevin Shields: Yeah—in some ways it does kinda make things more simple. Some people might think, ‘Oh, the band are getting a bit kind of punk rock’ or something. But—in a weird way—that was bouncing off a lot of the stuff I started a year and half ago, which was very much about writing these songs that were purposely created to layer on top of themselves to have this sorta double-reality effect. I really loved all that, but that led me to create really simple songs as well. That’s why I think that’s gonna come out first because that’s where I was more recently. This is a completely different thing, but you know a lot of post-punk music that came out around the early 80s … something about a lot of those song structures and the way the guitar itself wasn’t necessarily holding down the melody of the song. It was just the bass line and the guitar interweaving with each other. I feel like if I don’t do it, someone is going to do stuff like that soon. It has an element of a lot of electronic music but it’ll be more played, where it’s more interweaving parts.
Are you thinking of the Fall?
Kevin Shields: Less like the Fall, more like Public Image, Killing Joke, or even the Cure where it was like different parts—they were all necessary to make the whole. Often what I do is work with the guitar [so] it doesn’t need any other sort of instruments, but I think that’s one of the strands that I’ll be working on—stuff that’s more interwoven like some of that post-punk stuff was.
What about the collaboration with Brian Eno? How did that happen?
Kevin Shields: He just asked me. It started because he was doing a film project and part of it was that he’d collaborate—not collaborate so much as he would have a bunch of guests. When I did the thing, it was more like ‘It’s Brian Eno, with me kinda playing and being involved,’ but he produced and made it what it was. I was just literally making sounds playing guitar and he was making sounds as well. He’s an amazing interpreter. It wasn’t like I did something and he made it into something that I felt separated from. I was like, ‘I want to make something with energy’ and he’d amazingly sort of create something that I described. It was a lot of fun for me.
Were you in the studio together?
Kevin Shields: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah—that was the fun part of it. Going into the studio and hanging out and talking and going for some walks to the hardware shop. [laughs] We—I mean we, but he really—created a bunch of tracks. It wasn’t like a 50/50 collaboration, really. It was more like ‘Brian Eno featuring me,’ really. Like I said, he was producing the whole thing and mixing it, and I would just kinda say ‘energy feel’ or whatever and we would make my guitar sound like that. I’d play a certain amount of time and he’d elaborate on it on his computer. He works really fast, really fast and spontaneous. Like in four hours we’d have a whole track, then he’d work on it. I think it took about three days. And we made about three things, three song things. He would say ‘play’ and I’d play and it would just turn into this giant sound thing and then he would just do stuff and do stuff and mix it. For me, it was like having a master class with Brian Eno. It was very cool.
I’ve only heard one piece. Is that all that was released?
Kevin Shields: So far two of them have come out. The first one came out on the Adult Swim [Singles Series]. And then a vinyl record was made for Record Store Day, and that was two tracks, like a 12-inch single.
When I came across that track, I thought, ‘Oh, it would be so cool if they collaborated on a score.’ I know you did the Lost In Translation stuff—how did you write specifically for film?
Kevin Shields: Again that was a really good experience of seeing how something is done. Essentially what happened was Brian Reitzell—who was the music supervisor for it—was basically making tapes for Sophia Coppola to listen to while she was writing the script. That created a theme, for lack of a better word, so she decided she wanted to have some My Bloody Valentine music in it. Then she decided it would be cool if I just contributed something, and that it wasn’t just My Bloody Valentine. So Brian came over from America to my studio in London while the film was being made. I got a script before they even started filming, and then saw all the actual sorta rushes? I guess not rushes, but the unedited film, and the idea was that maybe I’d do some of the music while it was panning around Tokyo and stuff. Then Sophia came to the studio and listened to it, and she decided it wasn’t quite right and then her and Brian thought maybe actually write some music. One of the things I had written was in exact timing to one of the scenes, you know—writing it while watching the scene. We had a monitor—LCD TV—and we would start watching these unedited [scenes], and I was just creating music, really. And Brian was encouraging me, and we wrote a bunch of stuff, and started trying to put it in different parts to see how it worked. The song ‘City Girl’ was originally in different parts of the film, but I got a little attached to it, and I didn’t want to make stems …
Oh really … ?
Kevin Shields: Yeah, so that kinda made it unusable because normally what you do is give stems so they can balance it out for the actual scene. I didn’t want to do that—I just wanted it to be a song. But it was very much written in the atmosphere of the film. It was a really good experience to see how something gets put together like that.
Would you be interested in doing more score work? Like an entire film?
Kevin Shields: Definitely. Someday I’d like to do that.
You and Brian Eno!
Kevin Shields: That would be fun.
Your show here was for FYF and that got cancelled, and your last show was at FYF and that had it’s problems—what happened at the last FYF?
Kevin Shields: I don’t think it was anyone’s fault—it was a power problem. It got over stressed and just went down. It was a lot of electronics dying all of the sudden. It wasn’t just the PA that died—a whole bunch of stuff over the area died. We don’t know if we caused it, the energy or the volume … we don’t know what happened, really. All we know is we started playing and everything just started falling apart. It was something to do with power—power collapsing.
When I saw you at the El Rey—the first time you guys came out after reuniting—I was so blown away by Colm and Deb. I had no idea, seeing you live for the first time, that it was that powerful and solid. On the record I just never locked into that. But seeing it live I understood why the shows had been talked about because hearing it all together was pretty amazing.
Kevin Shields: When it comes to energy, for sure—when we play live it’s definitely about everyone. It’s not about me, even though when we make records it’s mostly myself. Live it’s kinda its own thing. Debbie very much puts her personality into it the way she plays and so does Colm. That’s the cool thing about not playing with just a bunch of session people—they’re people with their own way of doing things.


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