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CLASSIC TRACKS: My Bloody Valentine ‘Only Shallow’

Producer: Kevin Shields
Published May 2018
By Tom Doyle

It may be famous for its difficult birth, but Loveless was a technical triumph. My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields tells us the story behind their breathtakingly original album.

Since its release in November 1991, My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless has rightly become regarded as one of the most sonically groundbreaking albums of its era and beyond. A dense, kaleidoscopic swirl of shape-shifting guitars and feedback, it’s best remembered for its opening track (and third single), ‘Only Shallow’, featuring the hypnotic, half-submerged vocals of Bilinda Butcher and the pioneering ‘glide guitar’ technique of band leader, producer and co-singer Kevin Shields.

My Bloody Valentine. Clockwise from top left: Kevin Shields, Colm Ó Cíosóig, Debbie Googe and Bilinda Butcher.My Bloody Valentine. Clockwise from top left: Kevin Shields, Colm Ó Cíosóig, Debbie Googe and Bilinda Butcher.Photo: Camera PressLoveless offered a modernist update on psychedelia and even spawned its own musical genre, with the legions of shoegaze bands who used it as their aural blueprint. Over the years, it has been hailed as a landmark album and influence by the likes of Brian Eno, the Cure’s Robert Smith and Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan.

But the two-year-long making of Loveless between 1989-91 has also become fabled due to Shields’s legendary sonic fixations and meticulous ear for detail. Twenty-five recording studios were used during its making, as Shields left behind him a trail of burned-out engineers, exasperating his paymasters at Creation Records in the process. Even now, he maintains a role as the painstaking curator of My Bloody Valentine’s catalogue, recently overseeing all-analogue vinyl remasters of Loveless and its predecessor, 1988’s Isn’t Anything.

With the latter album, Shields first began imagining a sound that was completely at odds with the production fashions of the ’80s. “The standard sound of, say 1988, for most rock bands was clearly-panned guitars,” he remembers. “Mostly DI’ed bass guitar sounds. The bass drum was very clicky, the snare was very big. Drums using stereo as much as possible, keeping the vocals quite loud and clear.

“The sound that we were going for was more like the sound that we were hearing all the time, which was either hearing music through ghetto blasters or cheap record players or small gigs coming through Bose PA systems. All very boxy-sounding and meshed in.”

Classic TracksWhile Shields was influenced by guitar bands such as Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr, it was actually the Bomb Squad’s productions for Public Enemy that mostly informed his approach. “That drove me towards not just going into the sort of guitar-y world,” he says. “I was more interested in doing anything I wanted with the guitar because I was hearing really cool music made by hip-hop groups that were sampling stuff. And it was slightly out-of-tune a lot of the time. Because the whole thing about sampling back in those days is that people really started to mess with the key....

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Published May 2018