TD Archive: My Bloody Valentine’s Bilinda Butcher Interviewed


Posted October 1, 2012 in Music Features

Cirillo’s

Was there a particular feeling you were trying to get across with your voice?

I was often very tired when it came to add the vocals, we always worked really weird hours and the vocals often came in the morning after a long night. Sometimes that influenced my sound, more dreamy and sleepy. And the music affected the way I sang a lot.

Did you look up to any other singers in particular?

Not really. I used to like Francoise Hardy a lot, and other singers who were in the same range as me – pop and folk singers. One influence was probably Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth. If I were to name someone, it would probably be her. I like the way she sang, more varied than myself.

Kevin used to tune his guitar differently and use lots of effects. Was it hard to keep track of everything when you played live?

Kevin had an unreal amount of effect pedals – he was the pedal man. I used to have two or three, I know that one was heavy metal distortion but I don’t remember the others. Every song had a different tuning of the guitar so we had to change guitars after every song.

How many guitars did you have?
Live, I think we had seven or eight each, sometimes more.

Kevin is known for playing on a red Fender Jaguar. Did you have a preference?

 

I also had a Fender Jaguar that I used most of the time, in white. But my favourite was a really beautiful green Charvel that I still keep in my bedroom.


I thought Charvel was for heavy metal poodle rockers?

It’s really cute (laughs). I still have an acoustic Fender in darkwood that Kevin used to write songs with when he couldn’t sleep, like You Made Me Realise. He gave it to me, but it was close to being broken a couple of times when we were fighting. When I was cross I put it by Kevin’s door, and in the mornings he’d put it back.

How much did you realise that Isn’t Anything affected people?

There was a feeling that we did something different. Kevin played his guitar in a different way but not only different tuning and the effects. He used the tremolo arm all the time. It started as experimenting but ended with most songs played like that. The sense of us doing something new was really strong.

Did the recording of Isn’t Anything and Loveless differ a lot from each other?

We recorded Isn’t Anything really quickly in Wales. With Loveless, it took a much longer time and no one enjoyed it. Colm had a rough time around then and couldn’t play the drums, it didn’t sound as good as before. All four of us were losing it in our own ways. God knows why. I think back and wonder if it was accumulated weariness and stress. We had no money. Colm was homeless and Kevin’s and my relationship was cracking. Quite frankly we were driving each other insane. The reason the album was called Loveless is because it all was when we made it.

Was Creation nagging you about finishing the album?

Alan McGee was on our case all the time. One of the reasons why it took so long is because he put us in incredibly bad studios all the time. And then he complained that we took so long and that it got so expensive.

Tell me about the lyrics on Loveless.

It was harder to write for Loveless. I listen to it today, groan about how blue I sound and think ‘cheer up missus!’ I think I felt incredibly lost when I was writing. I went to hypnotic therapy.

Why?

Ever since Isn’t Anything I had panic attacks. Toby’s dad treated me really bad, which I’ve told about in No More Sorry. All of a sudden he wanted joint custody and I was frightened. The hypnotic therapy made things from my childhood resurface which explained why I had been living with such a man. I was a nervous wreck and I realised that a lot that happened when I was a kid shouldn’t have happened. A lot of it came out in my lyrics. A lot of discomfort.

Since it was so hard to record Loveless, wasn’t it a great feeling when the album was finally out? Didn’t that relieve the tension?

Creation didn’t do as much for the album as we thought it deserved. The relationship between Alan McGee and us was strained and both Kevin and Alan were suffering. And the hype about the album didn’t come until much later. We went on tour as soon as the album was out too, in our ravaged state (laughs). Very smart…

When you came back from the tour you signed for Island, you bought a big house and built a studio. Can you tell me about the house?

It was in a quite dodgy area with a lot of criminality. Further down the street was a home for newly released criminals. If people had known about our gear they would have come with a full arsenal. So therefore it was always dark inside with all the shutters closed, but we had a nice little garden in the back. We had some fine moments too, it wasn’t always misery.

But the mood and climate in the band didn’t change?

No, the follow-up to Loveless needed to be finished, but everything just broke in the studio. We were haunted by technical problems! In the end we didn’t get any more money from Island, and Kevin and I shouldn’t have lived under the same roof. Colm and Debbie moved out, they couldn’t stand all our fights. After they left, Kevin entered his, by now, famous depression and refused to get out of bed.

So Debbie and Colm moved out and left the band. This was in 1996 right? So the band had more or less split up. What did you do?

I got very depressed too. Since there were no new songs to sing, I went into the studio to try and develop my voice. I thought I sounded too much like Kevin. I sang karaoke to Billie Holiday, Karen Carpenter and Dusty Springfield. Not that I was to sound like them (laughs). I started to dance flamenco and play flamenco guitar. I still do it and I’m quite good. I think it did me good. I had so much energy inside that had to come out. It took a while to adjust to a normal life. I quit smoking. I took anti-depressives but decided that I needed to exercise so I took up tae kwan do and got a green belt before I got pregnant again. But I split up with Davy’s dad and met Billy’s dad and now we’re all very happy.

When did it all end?

I moved out of the house in 1997.

Do you think that all the misery around the recording of Loveless is the reason the album is so great?

Maybe. It was cleansing in a way. A lot of the problems came out in a creative way. The reason why I have such a hard time listening to Loveless is that it was such an honest portrait of how things were and our mental state at the time. Although there was some optimism on the album too. I really think it still stands for something very special.

For some people, Loveless is looked upon as the Holy Grail of indie rock and people say that you would never ever make an album better than that. What do you think?

Now I think it’s a good thing we never released anything more. It would just have been a charade. There were songs that Kevin worked on but they never materialised. It just ended. I think Kevin also thinks that everything about Loveless is exaggerated. He did do things that hadn’t been done before with the guitar and he deserves credit for that, the album is a milestone. But all the reaction to it paralysed his way of creating music. He felt he had to come up with something as groundbreaking as Loveless.

We know he didn’t think what he came up with was as good, but what did the rest of you think?

We never got a chance to go through the same process as with the earlier albums. Everyone was fighting and we went our separate ways. That’s why Kevin couldn’t be creative. It sounds exaggerated, that he was the goose that was gonna lay the golden egg and that he should’ve been wrapped in cotton wool to be able to create the next masterpiece, but the feeling of us being a band didn’t exist anymore. The songs he wrote could have been special. Even if Kevin wrote everything, with some help from Colm, the whole band was needed. He knew that too and that’s why he was so frustrated. He understood that it wouldn’t be good enough if we didn’t all fight together.

I think most fans would’ve been satisfied if the follow-up sounded similar to Loveless.

I think so too. He had a lot of songs that people probably would have loved.

Is it true that it was two full albums that were shelved?

Yeah, it was probably enough songs to fill two albums. But it’s all very blurry, I’m sure that I sang on a couple of songs. As far as I can remember, some of them were finished.

Were Colm and Debbie ever a couple?
What? No, no (laughs). Debbie was part of the lesbian scene. It’s a fantastically funny thought though, them as a couple!

I thought perhaps you were like Abba, two couples…
It’s not that strange a thought since the band turned very Fleetwood Mac in the end – a lot of hurt feelings and tense relationships. Debbie and Colm liked each other very much; they loved each other like friends, nothing more.

Then you did a couple of songs with hip-hop band Collapsed Lung.

I wanted to see if I could create my own song melodies, Kevin always made the melodies before.

And what do you think of the result?

It was fun, but it wasn’t great. I mostly wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. Though I realised that there is no point doing anything musically unless you have a burning desire for it. I used to get really excited when Kevin had written a new song for me.

In an interview in the Guardian once, he said that he sees you as the only other member of the band.

I guess I was the only one who stayed. So technically Kevin and me were the only members for a while. But I think he needed to work with Primal Scream, produce other artists and make the soundtrack.

Did you see Lost In Translation?

I saw it on my own. It felt weird. When Sometimes came on I started to cry. We were touring Japan just after Kevin and me broke up and everything felt really sad. It was just a real shame that the band ended the way it did. Everything was supposed to be so good when we moved to the house and in some way everything just became so bad instead. I think it was a shock to us all. We just should have taken a long vacation, then maybe things would have been different. I remember when we were all in the same room for the first time in ages – when Colm played with Hope Sandoval in London. Colm’s mother took a picture of us. We like each other and get on together, even though I guess we all have a different version about what happened. We have never sat down and talked about everything.

What’s your best MBV memory?

Hmm. I always liked when we sat down to listen to a song we had just finished and had the feeling that it was the best we had ever made. But my favourite memory is really when we used to squeeze in with all the gear into an old Ford Transit and go to a gig. And when we did we always fell asleep on the mattress in the back. That was nice.

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