May 2024

The Gear of Kevin Shields


August 16, 2012

By Daniel Brooks
My Bloody Valentine is a magnificent noise, an astonishing balance of the visceral and the atmospheric, a beautiful barrage of rock-solid pop slathered in ethereal commotion. Rooted in melodic songwriting that would certainly stand on its own in any form, the band elevated the sonic experience with layers of giant, undefinable and unpredictable guitar sounds to create a new, otherworldly form of musical expression.
My Bloody Valentine was formed in Dublin, Ireland in 1983 by American-born guitarist Kevin Shields, drummer Colm Ó Cíosóig (Cusack) and vocalist Dave Conway. They went through several lineup changes and a move to West Berlin before recording their 1985 debut EP titled “This Is Your Bloody Valentine.” When the post-punk goth rock record failed to earn any real commercial or critical attention, they relocated to London and recruited bassist Debbie Googe. With Googe and Ó Cíosóig nailing down the rhythm, their next EP, “Geek!,” released in April 1986, and the October 1986 follow up titled “The New Record by My Bloody Valentine,” elevated the band’s profile. Frequent gigs in London and a growing following throughout the U.K. looked promising, but Conway was growing disillusioned with music, and in 1987, when health issues began troubling him, he quit the band.
Nothing screams alt rock like a Blacktop Jazzmaster

In 1988, My Bloody Valentine’s new, fully developed sound earned the attention of Creation Records owner Alan McGee, who approached the band after a show with a recording deal. Working quickly, they recorded five songs in less than a week for their EP “You Made Me Realize,” followed in November with their first full-length album “Isn’t Anything.” Both recordings earned the highest critical acclaim the band had known to date. Their new sound was both visceral and hypnotic, their songs, created almost entirely in-studio, were timeless, revolutionary and beautifully enigmatic and their shows were powerful and exciting, despite their introverted stage presence. Because they barely moved while onstage and rarely interacted with, or even looked at, the audience, the British press labeled them “Shoegazers,” which quickly became the name of an emerging sub-genre of new bands that clearly reflected My Bloody Valentine’s influence.
The band went into the studio in early 1989 to begin work on the follow up to “Isn’t Anything.” As the year passed and no new album appeared, the British press speculated that Kevin Shields’ perfectionism was crippling the band’s progress. In the interim, they released two well-received EPs, “Glider,” and “Tremolo,” with a short tour in the summer of 1990 to support “Tremolo.” But by the time “Loveless” finally appeared in November 1991, it was rumored to have cost half a million dollars, enough to nearly bankrupt Creation Records. For everyone else, “Loveless” was worth the wait.
And what an album it is. Googe and Ó Cíosóig’s majestic rhythm section, Belinda Butcher and Kevin Shields’ enigmatically melodic voices and the flawless blend of their guitars into a seismic presence that elevates the smart pop compositions at its core to previously unimaginable heights. Songs like “Only Shallow,” “When You Sleep” or “I Only Said” could be performed with nothing more than a guitar and a voice and still impress with the depth of their composition, but with the sonic architecture of perfectly exaggerated noise it all turns into an artistic masterpiece that gets better every time you listen.
Unfortunately, despite the critics’ overwhelming acclaim and the continually growing audience, “Loveless” sold too few copies for Creation Records to recoup the time, money and goodwill spent making it. My Bloody Valentine was dropped from the roster in 1992, and although they signed to Island Records shortly thereafter, no new albums appeared and the band, essentially, stopped working. The band’s 2008 reunion led to many live performances, but now, more than 20 years after “Loveless” the long awaited new album remains a rumor.
My Bloody Valentine certainly created their own unique niche in the Pantheon of seminal Rock acts, and one of the most vital aspects of their status is Kevin Shields’ utterly inexplicable guitar. While it may be beyond anyone to tell you how he achieved his sonic artistry, we can certainly look at the tools he used to create that sound.
It is almost unimaginable to picture Shields playing anything but his Fender Jaguars and Jazzmasters. Both have a versatile, malleable sound and a surprisingly stable and expressive tremolo arm that allowed Shields to create his hypnotic, tone-shifting effects. Between his guitars and his pair of Marshall JCM-800 Half-Stacks (for stereo, of course) Shields used a Marshall Shredmaster Overdrive/Distortion pedal to push the amps, a pair of Boss GE-7 Equalizers to fine tune his stereo-split tone into a pair of Boss PN-2 Tremolo Pan Pedals to shift the sound back and forth between the two amps. A Digitech WH-1 Whammy allows for manual control over the pitch while a Digitech PDS-8000 Echo Plus Delay Sampler offers some of the finest lo-fi looping capabilities for truly complex and otherworldly layered guitar textures. A Dunlop Rotovibe adds a subtle taste of modulation for to give the sound a bit of shimmer.
For consistency’s sake, Shields put an ADA MP-1 Midi Preamp in his pedal train to compensate for the widely varying tone of the rental gear with which he was sometimes left. And the midi-controlled Yamaha SPX-900 Digital Multi Effects Processor provided another 50 effects capable of being stacked five-high for just a little extra spice. Maybe Shield’s genius it the key to getting his sound out of all of this, but maybe you would find your own world of sound if you plugged in and experimented with it. Who knows?

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