Loveless isn’t simply My Bloody Valentine’s shoegazing masterpiece; the 1991 album is also the basis for one of alt-rock’s greatest yarns. It’s been reported that MBV leader Kevin Shields spent three years and a half-million dollars painstakingly piecing together Loveless in the studio, bankrupting the band’s label, Creation Records, in the process. On the 15th anniversary of the LP’s release, Shields tells MAGNET that things aren’t always as they seem.
The two things we’re really known for are spending Creation’s money and making records with loads of overdubs on them. The exact truth is this: About a month before we started Loveless, Creation pulled away from Rough Trade distribution and said, “Our contract is up with you. We don’t want to sign again.” By the time we resumed recording in September of ’89, Creation was already bankrupt.
When we first started Loveless, no one signed to Creation. When we finished the damn record, they had hit records and bands on Top Of The Pops. They were a very successful label. All that stuff about us nearly breaking Creation because we spent all their money is literally 100 percent lies.
Another interesting fact is that we were only in the studio a year and 10 months. We spent six months out of the studio touring behind (1990’s) Glider EP, so really, we were only in the studio a year and four months. The last two months, it was £600 a day. Every studio before that was between £200 and £250. If you actually do the math, you realize that those figures don’t add up (to the records’s reported £250,000 price tag). About a year after Loveless, Creation got in trouble, right before Oasis, because Primal Scream spent £1 million on Give Up But Don’t Give Out.
Creation’s financial situation had nothing to do with us, except we made them much richer by getting tons of bands to sign to them that wouldn’t have otherwise. We signed to Creation because of the Jesus And Mary Chain. I do sound like I’m being pretty negative about the whole Creation thing, but it’s more that I just get bored when people ask me. I’m just going to tell the truth now. I always used to gloss over it, but I’m bored of glossing over the truth.
Basically, Creation was out of their minds on drugs. No one was prepared to front us the money to get our act together or give us the money to get equipment. Between having nowhere to live and having no real equipment, we were actually getting somewhere with an audience. When we made Loveless, no money had arrived. We thought we had proven ourselves; at that point, it was the whole music scene that came after us. People were into the whole juxtaposition of the kind of gentleness with the extreme violent side of the music.
Creation founder Alan McGee is kind of an unusual character. Our relationship with Creation was mostly through label manager Dick Green. McGee was really excited by us, but he was never around. We’d see him once a month or once every few weeks, but he didn’t understand when we’d do the slow songs. When we were recording, he told me that it should be more like (1988 EP) You Made Me Realise. He spent all that year trying to get us to release another song off Isn’t Anything called “(When You Wake) You’re Still In A Dream” as the next single. We were like, “No, we’re finished with that now. We’re moving on to a new thing.”
Basically, when he’d come to these sessions in January and April of ’89, I just said, “I don’t want you to come to the studio anymore.” He didn’t like that very much, but before we even started Loveless, there was a problem. I know he was only trying to be helpful, but he was jumping around saying, “This has to be the best record ever made!” He was looking for a group to be the next Primal Scream or the Sex Pistols. We were his biggest bet. Instead of us including him and bringing him in, we just sort of pushed him away. They thought it was strange that I wouldn’t let them in the studio—like I was being overly artistic—but it was more because a studio for us was like home. We were all homeless until after Loveless got made.
The way I saw it—because I was the producer and kind of in charge of everything—I was a bit of a tyrant. I would just really be strict. It got to the point where I lived with these songs for more than a year, and the melodies were only in my head.
I’ve always told people exactly how I’ve made a record. The average My Bloody Valentine track is about one or two guitar tracks: less than a White Stripes or Cramps record. I could only get away with having one or two guitars at any one point because if you put a few on, then it took away from the effect, it sounded smaller and smaller. Basically, a My Bloody Valentine record has the same amount of tracks on it as most bands’ demos do.
When making records, I got it into my head that some of the big no-no’s were no echo, no reverb, no chorus or flanger and no panning. The one effect I would use was this reversed reverb effect, which is very reverb-y, all of these things I was against, right? But the irony was that with these effects, you could actually play harder and it sounded really different. If you played softer, the sound changed dramatically. I would work with a tremolo to get this other dynamic and suddenly had a language I could kind of express myself with, which I never really had before. I found a voice, and I could do it well.
After a while, I was playing in such a way that people thought it was some weird effect or studio manipulation. People in the press couldn’t get their heads around it. We were going for a sound that drew you in. When people make records, they add; they try to clarify everything with cue and compression and stuff. Everything has its own space and doesn’t sound like it’s happening in the same place. We weren’t trying to make anything stick out too much. Everything was quite full on. The vocals, especially. We were kind of amused that people would think we were singing softly, but in fact we were singing in a very controlled way. Then we’d get compared to a lot of other shoegazing bands; they were doing everything we hated, using loads of chorus, flanger and all these effects on their guitars and singing genuinely softly and it was all whispery. It was so hard to get away from that. We were singing as loud as we could to sing the way we wanted to. (Singer/guitarist) Bilinda Butcher’s voice in particular had a really breathy quality to it, but she sounds like that when she sings pretty loudly, too. Neither of us could sing in a shouty sort of a way.
Anyway, people forget now that “alternative” is just another way to make a million pounds. Back in those days, it was really hard to get a publishing deal if you weren’t on a major label. We only got our publishing deal around Christmas of 1990 because we had done our licensing deal with Warner Bros. We never got paid a penny for any records we sold in America. We’ve never been accounted to by Warner Bros. Alan McGee and Dick Green were only 27 or 28 and weren’t experienced. They were guys who had never in their life managed a band’s career. They’d only had bands who’d done well, like the Jesus And Mary Chain or the House Of Love, who’d leave the label the minute they were playing to 1,000 people.
The really sick part of the whole story is that we’d been offered two different major-label contracts. Seymour Stein wanted to sign us to Sire, but we didn’t want to sign a major record contract. We wanted to be in charge of everything. We signed to Creation for £15,000 even though we’re being offered £150,000. I would never accuse Creation of ripping us off. It was all down to the human inexperience, drug taking and lack of awareness and petty mistakes. I resent Alan McGee’s lies, but he can’t help it. He lies about everything. That’s just his style. If people choose to believe that, that’s their business.
A lot of people say the reason My Bloody Valentine didn’t make another record is because we couldn’t. That’s mostly true, but not because we couldn’t make another record, but because I never could be bothered to make another record unless I was really excited by it. And just by fate or whatever, that never happened. I’m quite optimistic about the future, even though experience has taught me that I’m probably just delusional. I do feel that I will make another great record. We are 100 percent going to make another My Bloody Valentine record unless we die or something. I’d feel really bad if I didn’t make another record. Like, “Shit, people only got the first two chapters, but the last bit is the best bit.” It’s just that it’s taken me such an oddly long time for that to happen. How long will that take to transpire into an actual physical record? I don’t know.
—interview by MacKenzie Wilson