TD Archive: My Bloody Valentine’s Bilinda Butcher Interviewed

Posted October 1, 2012 in Music Features


When did you start playing with MBV?

I think it was in ‘87. They needed a backing singer and Toby’s dad tipped me that they were having an audition. He met Colm on the ferry from Holland, where the band had stayed for a while. Toby was a year old and I was getting restless.

Did they have a proper audition?

You could have made a film out of it. It was a complete circus! Lots of real fruitcakes turned up. They used to rehearse close to Euston station and next-door was a shop for transvestites. I took the wrong door and went up to the counter and said that I was there for the audition. In the end, it was between me and this girl, Julie, who was going out with Douglas Hart from The Jesus and Mary Chain. She had a club and she knew the band. I didn’t know them at all, but I knew a couple of the songs. To me, it’s quite easy to imitate how people sing, which I guess is quite good in a way, but quite annoying at the same time. When J Mascis asked me to sing with him on a Dinosaur Jr. song, I sounded just like him, you could hardly tell the difference. So anyway I sounded very much like Kevin and I played a Dolly Parton song – that made me Debbie’s favourite.

Did you like the band before you joined?

I still don’t have any records from before I joined them. They were very indie at the time. They all had really cool haircuts and they were very cute. The song titles were really twee, like Sunny Sundae Smile and Paint a Rainbow. It sounds very innocent but the lyrics were very dirty. Paint a Rainbow is about necrophilia and there’s some really disturbing images in that song. So obviously, that was the first song I learned how to play on the guitar.

Had you ever been in a band before?

I had a band with some girlfriends for fun. We did covers of Marc Bolan and classics like Louie, Louie. I sang and played the tambourine. When I was little I played classical guitar for years, but at that stage I hadn’t touched a guitar for a long, long time. So at my first My Bloody Valentine gig two weeks later, I was playing the tambourine and was carrying Toby. We played in a squat and I didn’t dare put him down on the floor. I tried to learn the guitar the best I could, but above all I was always on time for rehearsals. There was actually a guy who joined the band at the same time as me, but he was never on time and when he eventually arrived, he was always stoned so he got the sack.

What about the songwriting process?

It was always Kevin who wrote all the music. Kevin had such clear vision of what he wanted to do.

You played the guitar just like Kevin. Did you have any influence over what you were going to play?

No. Kevin always wanted to uphold the myth about us being a band. In interviews, he never said that he was the one making all the music. He would probably be pissed off if he knew that I’m saying this now! But time has flown since then. I think it was obvious that Kevin did everything. Colm had good ideas but since we were always in a hurry when we made records, Kevin asked us not to play anything.

Did the rest of you ever get angry about that?

No one complained. It was just the way it was. We heard that it sounded fantastic. It would have been a waste for him to instruct me how to play a part, for me to practice to get it right and then record it several times to make it perfect. He could just as well record it himself in an instant. We got to listen to the songs and learn them afterwards. When we played live we were a completely different band from on the records. Naturally it sounded completely different, since we were four personalities who all offered something else musically. But if we had been another band and Kevin had been a different person, I would have thought it would have been fun to go into the studio and try.

Did you socialise with other bands at the time?

We met a lot of bands on tour that we became friends with. Mercury Rev used to come over and visit us in the studio. And J Mascis and his band. He and Kevin are still good friends.

How did you write your lyrics?

A lot of the lyrics are plain nonsense. I don’t know, I didn’t have a plan and I never thought about lyrics until it was time to write them. I just used whatever was in my head for the moment. Kevin didn’t touch them, though he once made me change one thing that he didn’t like. He gave me the melodies in quite some detail. He never sang any words on the cassettes I got but I tried to make his sounds into words. It always became my own thing in the end though. And that was the only power I had in the band.

Were you in the studio when he was recording?

Oh yeah, we were all hanging out in the studio. Kevin wanted us there to hear our opinions – he was no dictator. And I heard all the songs take shape since we lived together.

Were there songs that he wanted to record that no one else liked?

No, I don’t think so. In that case, he’d change them.

Your voice is as much a trademark of
the band’s sound as Kevin’s guitar
playing. How did you work with your voice?

I’m not shy when it comes to being on stage but I’m too shy to sing when there are other people in the room. We used to go over to Ireland and visit Kevin’s family around Christmas and they always started to sing Irish folk songs. None of us could ever do that, except perhaps Colm. I used to go into the studio and sing along to the vocal melody that Kevin had recorded, just to relax. Kevin and the sound engineer would start to listen without me knowing. I was always very nervous when it came to recording and since my voice isn’t very powerful I sit really close to the mic. You can hear all too well when I’m nervous; I get a hopeless vibrato, like Larry the Lamb. (Laughs)

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