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My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields: a tale of creative hell, insanity and chinchillas
What do unhealthy perfectionism, a house filled with barbed wire and chinchillas, a record label on the brink of bankruptcy and one of the most influential albums of the ‘90s have in common? The answer to that head scratching riddle: Kevin Shields, producer, guitarist and mad genius extraordinaire, responsible for My Bloody Valentine’s critical success, financial disasters and a series of meltdowns.
Kevin Shields – My Bloody Valentine
The Irish indie rock band My Bloody Valentine never achieved mainstream success, yet they were highly influential. Their sound inspired bands like The Smashing Pumpkins, Radiohead, U2 and Nine Inch Nails. In 2003 the band contributed five songs to the soundtrack of Lost in Translation by Sofia Coppola. But their most famous album Loveless dates from 1991. It was a critical success, but the band were dropped soon after its release, even though they were the biggest band on small indie label Creation’s roster.
A brief history of disaster
Why would any label want to get rid of their biggest band, you ask? To quote the head of the label, Alan McGee: “It was either Kevin or me.” The album, despite its critical acclaim, almost bankrupted the label. Not because of disappointing sales but because the production cost was astronomically high – in fact one of the highest of all time.
Creation had to cough up half a million bucks for production alone. McGee had to mortgage his own house and his partner’s hair literally turned grey overnight. When the Irish band signed in 1988, they were supposed to record their album in five days, in one studio.
However, Shields decided to produce the album and that’s where the trouble started. Proving almost impossible to work with, it took three years, 18 studios and 16 sound engineers – most of whom were only allowed to make tea and watch as Shields worked his magic. Shields became obsessed with sound structures and backwards reverb effects, played all the instruments himself and got severe tinnitus in the process. Careful suggestions to hurry the hell up were met with passive aggression of epic proportions, like Shields locking himself in the studio for three days and focusing on one activity: meticulously scratching off the top layer of his guitar scratchplate with a razor.
To give you an idea of the sounds other than passive aggressive scratching coming out of the studio:
The Joy of the Guitar Riff – My Bloody Valentine / Kevin Shields – YouTube
The hermit’s life, with barbed wire and chinchillas
When the album Loveless was finally done, so was the label’s patience. Losses were cut, goodbyes were said and My Bloody Valentine had to look for a new label. Island Records was willing to sign them and the band got a handsome advance, which they spent on building their own studio. Five years down the road and a million bucks down the drain, two songs were released and the band broke up altogether. Then came a personal meltdown for Shields and the hermit’s life followed. For a few years, he locked himself in one room of his house, filled with barbed wire and rows and rows of cages filled with chinchillas.
That was in 1998. In 2003 Shields joined society again, contributing a couple of songs to the Lost in Translation movie soundtrack and went on tour with his old mates from Primal Scream. In 2007, My Bloody Valentine got back together, they started touring again and promised they were “100% going to make another record, unless we die or something.” Nobody died, but the album took another 5 years and was finally released in 2013.
After that, things once more went silent. Perhaps Shields went back to collecting chinchillas or maybe he’s working on another masterpiece, who knows? Let’s just hope there’s a new album before flying cars are introduced and that My Bloody Valentine will inspire a truckload of upcoming artists with their brilliant, yet money slurping shoegaze sound.