Perfect Sound Forever

My Bloody Valentine

Kevin Shields Loveless-era Interview
by George Light
(June 2009)

Kevin Shields used to be Garbo or at least Brian Wilson between say 1968-1976. But like Wilson he has emerged and now he just can't seem to shut up. I mean he even was videoed for close to an hour by Ian Svenonious. But when Loveless was being made he didn't talk that much. He did do some sort of TV interview before mine.

This interview was originally conducted for KZSU, Stanford University radio station on February 2, 1992 at Slim's, a SOMA San Francisco nightclub owned by Boz Scaggs, between the soundcheck and the show on the Loveless tour. Only a few short quotes from it have appeared in print before (on this site no less). We started at the raised dining area over the sound board in the back of the club.

PSF: I guess I'd just start by asking about the sort of production quote unquote hassles over the album Loveless. The space Glider and Tremolo EP's and the album Loveless was relatively long based on the 1987 standards of lots of records coming out. Could you talk about what you were doing in the studio and what your interests were in terms of doing all the effects.

KS: We basically had not set plans about anything. The whole thing The whole recording and making of the record. Before we reached the album, we had the Glider EP and Tremolo EP. Putting both of those records out prepared us for the album. Like the Glider or the Tremolo EP for example, we didn't listen to any other music when we made that. Because of that, it's kind of in a world of its own. Which is kind of good. But on the other hand, from the point of view of cutting the record volume problems and all the kind of technical side of it... It kind of put us in a really bad position technically. So the album had one ear towards the technical side and the other just towards not compromising the sound just so it would be easy to cut or just put out a record you know. Just from a point of view say if you've got to much mid frequencies then it's gonna sound a lot quieter than if you pull 'em out. Things like that.

So you know it was nowhere near as traumatic as people try and make out. The only trauma was in the slowness. The fact that there was a kind of constant battle not to finish it off quickly. You know because at any point in time we could have finished it off in a few months … at any point from the beginning onwards. After the first seven weeks we had the basic tracks all down to everything … pretty much everything bar one song. Because of that you know we were always in a position where we could just like bang it out but we never wanted to 'cuz progressively, we got less able to work quick and you know the old... it's one those things and the only achievement we really made was being able to keep focus on what we were doing and not lose the point.

And after a couple of years of working on a song you know what I mean you think 'Oh God, you'd miss the point completely.' But the way we worked, we didn't because we hardly ever listened to them. We only listened to them when we wanted to enjoy 'em. And everything was … about 98% of everything was recorded in a pretty good atmosphere. A coupla of things were recorded under bad conditions you know but if there was any kind of a bad atmosphere or anything like that in the studio, we just wouldn't do anything. It helped the music. It just didn't help... It totally ruined the budget and ruined our chances of making any money or all that kind of stuff.

But we'd rather be able to live with the record than bang out a record... you know kinda go on tour, fill our contractual commitments keep everyone happy. You know what I mean. That's business... We're into making a living. We had to sacrifice the past few years to get our bearings. In the future, it'll be pretty easy.

PSF: I've been kinda waiting for this tour to sorta hear what the sound is gonna sound like given the production effects. I mean there are a lot of studio bands who won't tour quote unquote studio bands. There are a lot of quote unquote 'studio bands' who probably SHOULDN'T tour. I'd like to hear your rationale- I was surprised at the soundcheck at how sorta accurate the songs sounded if that's a valid comment versus the album and I was wondering how you feel about playing with … obviously some of the effects are gonna have to be taped or run through a synthesizer or something. You probably can't do them all live {Shields raises a hand] or maybe you can...

KS: The only thing that we don't physically play is the things which were done with the sequencer except for one thing and that's "Soon" with the unhm with the 'diddle de de duh,' that's done we use a sequencer for that live. The thing about a sequencer, it's not like a tape machine- it's less reliable than a human being. It's a stupid thing that doesn't have any sense and quite often decides not to work so you know the element of risk is even more using that kind of technology. It makes you more nervous about getting' up there 'cuz you think anything could happen. It's always letting us down, always causing headaches. But we don’t wanna use a tape, 'cuz if you use a tape when we play live like during the tour we change things as we go along. It's not always the same. There's always modifications and changes and little things just to make us feel more comfortable And you can't do that with tape. It needs to be there so you can just go and change it.

PSF: I noticed the most recent issue (ED NOTE: remember, this is 1992) of Rolling Stone where you had a nice little piece in there. And you talked about … not comparing yourself really … but you mentioned The Beatles as a sort of an inspiration. You just said earlier that you didn't listen to any music while you were making Tremolo. I'd be interested to know what the band considers their influences.

KS: I mean it just goes through phases. Basically, it just depends what phase I'm in. You know I go through a couple of months of The Beatles and a couple of months of The Beach Boys. Only 'cuz they're all classics, you know. It's like discovering all this really classic stuff.

PSF: So this would be your Beach Boys phase now?

KS: Never heard them at that point in time except for "California Sun" or whatever they were. At that point, I hadn't hardly heard a thing. Heard The Mamas and Papas but not the Beach Boys. I didn't like the Beach Boys at that point in time. It's only when I heard Pet Sounds et cetera and all that it kinda locked in

PSF: On CD or album?

KS: Yes, it's just the whole CD business. I'm just another victim of repackaging You know I'm the same. I've bought records 'cuz they were out on CD and I thought "Oh I'll buy that." But modern stuff is just anything and everything. Whatever you hear, that's really exciting.

PSF: What's your favorite record right now or do you have one, other than your own stuff?

KS: [silence] Nothing Nothing. I mean, you know what I mean. I don't but it's concentration or whatever. I occasionally find a favorite song you know.

PSF: Well let me close with sort of an association game here. I'm gonna mention a few bands that maybe you've heard of and maybe you haven't. Want to hear your thoughts. We'll start with (then) recent chart toppers in America, Nirvana.

KS: Yeah think they're really good. I mean the only thing Nirvana are guilty of is getting famous. Still a really good band I mean cuz millions of people buy the record doesn't take away from the record.

PSF: A band that I'm sorta fond of although they seem to have gotten too much press in Britain, The Wedding Present

KS: Yeah They're OK. I've always liked the Wedding Present more than almost anyone else I know friends or everyone I know actually doesn't like them actively doesn't like them I think they find his voice a bit grating You know. [Shields imitates Gedge]

PSF: Speaking of grating voices, how about Cranes?

KS: Again, that's I think I used to really dislike them until they made their last album in the same studio as us and... But to get back to The Wedding Present, I think they're OK Musically, they've got a lot more going for them that they're ever given credit for. Got pretty interesting little melodies in the guitars But you know, there you go. But Cranes, yeah, I didn't like them at all until I saw how they worked in the studio and I respected them for that. Musically, still I'm more biased toward listening or seeing what's there but previous to getting some respect for them I didn't like them

PSF: You told me earlier this is your sort of second jaunt through America. Second time around, any thoughts or perceptions?

KS: It seems like the perfect place to go on tour. It's a country that suits traveling moving on. There's also a lot of romantic notions. It's so documented on films. Everywhere you go, it's like "wow that reminds me of a film." Do you know what I mean?

PSF: Especially in the Bay Area

KS: Yeah, it's just like different palaces have got their own (character)... It's just like in New York. I mean New York's like a movie set. It's more interesting for us here than in Europe. But then again, I'm sure Europe's interesting to people that have some interest but if you don't, then it can be a little bit boring.

PSF: Any final thoughts for your fans here in the Bay Area?

KS: Just uhh come and see us again if you don't think we're any good live 'cuz... until we really have control of our whole sound, you know... the whole production. I don't really vouch for it. But we finally have got to that point in England. But that's only in England; it's the only country we've really got to that stage. So, the stage of getting exactly what we want, PA-wise …

PSF: Is that because of popularity in England?

KS: Oh Yeah. It's simply that we just aren't popular enough to demand. It's fair enough You gotta sort of exist at this level, kind of basically making do with what we got and hopefully some people will stick around long enough until we get our act together a bit. That's the way I feel anyway about it. You know I don't feel overly confident about the whole prospect of playing with lots of different small PA's that... I particularly wouldn't dream of having if I had any control over it. That's just 'cuz we're so … A lot of what we are is about the sound. We use volume as an instrument a lot live. And if we haven't got it, there's one of your instruments- it's like you're taking one of the guitars away. But at least people will get an idea what we're like live anyway.

PSF: Do you have a preferable size or type of venue that you like to play?

KS: It's not really the size. It's just the power you know. This is a fine size. I'm quite happy with small venues as long as we can get it loud. Don't particularly like really big venues. 'Cuz it's after a couple of thousand usually once you get past the sort of three or four thousand level I found it much too impersonal. The people at the back are getting a really rotten deal. It's like sort of like a couple of thousand is the ideal level. But this level is good from the point of view of if you've got a good audience it's brilliant [Slim's holds about 400 people] because the audience becomes 50% of the show. If it's a small place. If they're good, it's great; if they're not good, it's pretty bad. So the audience actually own the gig. You know what I mean? It's their gig. So.

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