The Microphones - Biography
BY Marcus Kagler
When it comes to the art of noise every generation has their innovators. The Velvet Underground revolutionized noise in the 60's, the Sex Pistol's spun chaos into punk anthems in the 70's, and Sonic Youth changed our perception of dissonance in the 80's. In the early 90's a little band from Ireland named My Bloody Valentine homogenized noise and beauty into a heady ethereal brew never heard before and rarely achieved by countless imitators since. Utilizing layers of guitar effects and studio trickery MBV took the structure out of rock music and opened the gates to shimmering heavenly noise. In many circles the quartet are considered the godfathers of the early 90's “shoegazer” movement (a term coined by UK rock journalists to describe their statuesque live sets where MBV stood on stage staring at their shoes while blasting the audience with deafening volume). Look at any “Best Rock Albums of the 90's” list and their swan song full length “Loveless” is guaranteed to be floating around in the Top 10. Today their influence can still be heard in bands like Sigur Ros and Mogwai. Yet for all the brilliance of their studio efforts the myth behind My Bloody Valentine is probably more widely known than any their music. Bankrupting labels, a frontman of notorious perfectionism, and their abrupt disappearance from public view have made MBV a righteous enigma whose enduring genius cannot be denied.
The My Bloody Valentine story is forever linked to their sonic mastermind Kevin Shields. A native of Queens, New York, the Shields family relocated to Dublin, Ireland when he was six years old. Along with friend, drummer, and lifelong band mate Colm O'Ciosoig, Shields formed his first, albeit short lived, band The Complex in 1983. The following year the duo formed My Bloody Valentine, borrowing the name from a Canadian slasher film. Originally consisting of Shields on guitar, O'Ciosoig on drums, vocalist Dave Conway, and a keyboardist credited only as Tina the quartet was more in line with the alternative post punk flavors of the times than the earth moving behemoth they would eventually become. After relocating to Berlin, Germany this first incarnation of MBV released the mini album This Is Your Valentine (Tycoon Records) to an indifferent public in 1985. The following year Shields and company relocated to London, picked up new bassist Debbie Googe and released the Geek! EP (1986 Fever) yet the public still took little notice. The band returned in 1986 with The New Record by My Bloody Valentine EP (1986 Kaleidoscope Records) and began playing gigs around England in earnest. The Sunny Sundae Smile EP (1986 Lazy) garnered the band a small cult following and an opening slot on tour with The Soup Dragons but just as they were picking up speed vocalist Conway quit citing his deteriorating health.
MBV reconvened in 1987 with new vocalist/guitarist Bilinda Butcher sharing vocal duties with Shields, forcing the band to retool their sound toward a denser avant-garde aesthetic. This new incarnation of My Bloody Valentine released the Strawberry Wine EP (1987 Lazy) that summer quickly followed by the “mini album” Ecstasy (1987 Lazy). In 1988 the band signed with Alan McGhee's indie taste maker label Creation and released their critical breakthrough EP, You Made Me Realise (1988 Creation) to rave reviews. The Feed Me With Your Kiss EP (1988 Creation) quickly followed as a teaser for the stunning full length Isn't Anything (1988 Creation). Brimming with thirty-eight minutes of heavy ethereal guitars dripping psychedelic abstraction the album broke down the barriers of conventional rock music and was My Bloody Valentine's first taste of legitimate success. Ecstatic over the masterpiece the band had made McGhee gave the band carte blanch to record a follow up album that would trump its predecessor.
It took three years, an infinite amount of sound engineers, numerous studios, and nearly 500,000 pounds of McGhee's money to satiate Shields manic perfectionism (it's even rumored that once McGhee discovered the band was bankrupting his label he marched down to the studio and demanded the master tapes) but in the end My Bloody Valentine completed their magnum opus. Released in November 1991, Loveless was a sonic behemoth blasting obtuse angelic noise like an angel from heaven. The album was heralded as an instant classic however the end of the shoegazer movement was quickly drawing nigh.
Two months before the release of Loveless a little known band from Seattle called Nirvana released their sophomore effort Nevermind (1991 DGC), and overnight the American grunge onslaught decimated every music trend in its path. Although MBV toured Loveless relentlessly they were quickly becoming a footnote. In 1993 the band signed to Island Records and once again entered the studio. This time they would never return. By 1995 both Googe and O'Ciosoig had left the group. Shields and Butcher spent another two years and another 500,000 pounds in the studio producing nothing but scrapped recordings and only releasing a cover of Wire's “Map Ref. 41N 93W” for a tribute album. Island pulled the plug and My Bloody Valentine faded into distant memory.
Kevin Shields moved on to make limited collaborations with artists like Dinosaur Jr. and Curve. The closest he came to re-entering the spotlight in the late 90’s was by producing two albums by Primal Scream and joining them as a touring member. By the time the first release of original Shields material came in the form of three songs written for Sophia Coppola's film Lost In Translation in 2003, the interest of a new generation of indie rock fans had turned MBV’s into the stuff of legend. Shields, however, remained silent on the possibility of a reunion. Four years later in 2007, Shields announced the Loveless line-up of the band had reunited to complete the album they had abandoned ten years prior. A few months later the group announced a small tour of England followed by several festival appearances and an autumn of 2008 North American tour complete with a curatorship of the All Tomorrows Party’s music festival in New York City. Remastered reissues of Loveless and Isn’t Anything were then slated for a June of 2008 release but have since been delayed because Shields had yet to write the liner notes. Shields has yet to confirm when the new MBV album will be released but after seventeen years of waiting for a Loveless follow up fans can are used to waiting a little longer than usual.