My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields is used to being ahead of the curve. After the release of the band’s 1988 debut album, Isn’t Anything, and their 1991 follow-up, Loveless, Shields sat in waiting. Not for album sales, or fame, or fortune. But just for someone to get it.
“I’m really used to people not getting things. I’m not worried about that—I think they will get them. And when you know something’s good, it doesn’t matter,” he says. Now, some 27 years since its release, Loveless is widely considered one of the most influential albums of the 90s. But it took its sweet time getting there. “It came into its own, really, by the weird coincidence that it was the end of the 20th century and people were doing these polls of the best records and it started appearing everywhere because people had lived with it for the last five, six, even seven years. Then it became apparent that it really connected with a lot of people.”
After waiting so long for the collective switch to flip, Shields welcomed the recognition. “Well, after having seven years of people not really getting it and ignoring it, it’s sort of a nice balance!” Today, it’s impossible to escape My Bloody Valentine’s influence on music.
Their iconic wall of sound—a collage of hazy distortion, woozy layered guitar and melting vocals—welcomed a new age of experimentation and sonic textures that have inspired everyone from Beck to Radiohead to Hole. Robert Smith of the Cure famously stated that MBV “pissed all over us.” How’s that for praise?
While most people swore it was studio trickery and dozens of layered guitars and effects pedals, Shields achieved his signature “glide guitar” technique by simply tuning two strings to nearly the same pitch before bending them with the tremolo arm of his guitar. He made the sound discovery completely by chance when he borrowed a friend’s Jazzmaster. “My friend Bill, he's like, ‘You gotta use my guitars.’ And one of them was a Jazzmaster, a red '64, and it just happened that the tremolo arm was set kind of unusually high, you know? Just by pure luck”, he recalls. “It happened that the actual strings on this guitar were quite heavy. And I was like, ‘Man, this is hard.’ I said, ‘Oh, I know what I'll do. I'll just tune the two strings together, and I'll bend it like that.’”
Despite their universal cult status these days, Shields recalls that very few people knew what to make of the first two albums when they came out. No one had ever heard a sound quite like theirs before and people actually thought their records were physically warped or damaged. “I remember doing interviews back in '88 when we were in Germany and a woman, she came to interview us for a TV thing in Germany, and she came with the record and said, ‘I'm so sorry, but your record, there's something wrong with your record.’ And we're like, ‘What's wrong with it?’ and she goes, like, ‘It's just completely all warped sounding.’ And it was like, there was that mentality, you know? Of, like, there's something wrong.”
In 2013, some 20 years later, the band dropped their first new music since the release of Loveless. And just like the albums before, Shields believes that people still haven’t fully grasped m b v yet. “People haven’t got what that [album] is yet. It hasn’t clicked yet. It will click, but it hasn’t clicked quite yet.”
Like the previous records, m b v wasn’t made with a concept in mind, but rather, a feeling. And that feeling is closely tied to Shields’ take on the current state of the world and his predictions for what will inevitably happen next in its cycle. “[m b v] was made with such an overwhelming feeling that it’s beyond a concept. It’s actually what’s happening in the world right now. I was very much in that place [of feeling] when I started the record in the mid 90’s, and now the world is catching up with that, everything is becoming apparent, the insects are disappearing, and people in a few years will literally be going to shit, you know what I mean?”
But there’s a silver lining to that, too. “The nice thing is that the bad guys, their time is coming really fast because survival will kick in and people will say, ‘Alright! Time to get out of the way guys, it’s time for people and life’, you know?” Hard to follow? Don’t worry. If Shields’ thoughts are as prophetic as his music, this will all make sense in a few years’ time.
There are truly few bands that have left a legacy quite like My Bloody Valentine. And while some of us may have gotten it from the get-go, for Shields, it doesn’t matter all that much—as long as it made you feel something. When asked what he wants people to take away from his music, his answer is pretty simple. “Nothing, really. Just that it makes people feel more connected to everything than less connected and less isolated. That’s what it’s about.”
Originally released in 1958, the Jazzmaster® was overlooked by the artists it was designed for and eventually discontinued. Left to dwell in pawn shops and dusty stock rooms, it was discovered and embraced by musicians who used it to create entirely new sounds and genres, from surf and noise rock to shoegaze and alt-country. 60 years after its introduction, the Jazzmaster remains the go-to for the misfits and anti-heroes looking for new ways to push the creative boundaries of music.