My Bloody Valentine's Kevin Shields On Reissue Delays: 'Sony Hid Our Master Tapes'

from the inevitable-'artist-signed-a-contract'-trolling-in-3...2... dept

Shoegaze legend My Bloody Valentine has never been mistaken for a prolific band. With their last album (Loveless) having been released over two decades ago (1991 to be exact), anyone who's been holding their breath waiting for a followup has probably been revived enough times that friends and family are considering adding a DNR order to their living will.

Now, at long last, there are signs of life. On May 7th, Sony Records is set to release remastered versions of MBV's two full albums and several EPs [exclamation points!]. Not only that, but MBV co-founder Kevin Shields is strongly hinting at an actual new My Bloody Valentine album [more exclamation points, tempered with a "we've heard this before over the last 20 years, but still..."!].

While the new remasters will be appreciated, it's a project that's been in the works since 2004. Most of those familiar with Kevin Shields' perfectionism (the obsessiveness that saw the band go through 19 recording studios and nearly as many producers while recording Loveless, nearly bankrupting Creation Records in the process) probably chalked up this extra-long delay to excessive amounts of knob twiddling. But in an interview with Pitchfork, Shields points out that this time it wasn't him:

The [remastering] process actually started in 2001, when we managed to come to an agreement with Sony, who inherited us from Creation. Part of the Sony deal was that I wanted all of the EPs made into one package because, back in 2001, you could get the albums pretty easily but not the EPs. So it was basically a compilation of all the EPs, and that was it.

Then we decided to do Isn't Anything and Loveless as well-- if we're gonna remaster [the EPs], we should remaster everything. In 2002, I tried to start working on it, but the studio that had the tapes, Metropolis Studios, lost them; the analog multi-tracks were all missing for a year. Only after I started threatening to get Scotland Yard involved did they magically, suddenly reappear. The true story is as yet to be determined, but we'll fight that one out in the near future.
Tapes going missing isn't completely unheard of. When bands lie dormant for years at a time, the labels generally don't place a premium on keeping everything sorted out, especially when they can do things like issue faux-remasters by pressing the "+Loud" button while the CD is in the tray. Shields points out that Warner (who handles American distribution) did exactly that when issuing supposed vinyl "remasters" in 2003:
For example, in America, Warner Bros. licensed Loveless and Isn't Anything to Plain Records, and they basically just ripped [the audio] off the CD and put it on vinyl [in 2003]. They did an awful, terrible job. It was done without my permission, and the sound quality was 100% wrong. It was a rip off to anyone who bought it. But I didn't know anything about it until they were in the shops. We actually got an injunction against it being imported into the UK at the time because it was technically a bootleg but, in America, Warners operate under their own law, so it might have been slightly legal in the United States.
But Shields states that the missing master tapes wasn't the result of simple oversight:
The contract we did in 2001 basically gave me ownership of the tapes, and then the Sony regime that existed when that contract was signed left. And when the new regime came in, the tapes disappeared. That was relevant because even though I was the owner, it would only revert back to me if I remastered from the original tapes-- if the tapes were gone, I couldn't remaster from them and hence I couldn't ever own them.
[Fun note: Pitchfork asked Sony to comment on this and got this smiley chunk of PR spam in reply: "We have really enjoyed working on these hugely iconic re-issues with Kevin, and can't wait for the release." We know this isn't true because no one enjoys working with Kevin Shields. (HAHAHA ONLY SRS. 19 studios! Thousands of pounds!!! Engineers not being allowed to listen to vocal takes!!!?!)]

So, keeping the tapes away from Shields meant preventing him from reclaiming control of his band's output or being compensated for any interim sales. In fact, despite continued interest in My Bloody Valentine's catalog, the band is still operating in the red:
Also, you don't get paid if you don't own it-- you know, we've never been paid one penny from the United States from any of the records we've ever made. In the record company's world, we're always in debt. But the strange part of the story is Loveless alone sold enough copies in its first year to put us out of debt. But somehow Warners have managed to create a situation where, hundreds of thousands of records down the line, we're still in debt. That's why the compilations aren't coming out on Warner Bros. They're extremely in breach of contract as well at the moment.
Despite all of this, Shields remains largely pragmatic about this situation. It's not that it isn't unfair or stupid or flat out ugly. It's just that it isn't uncommon:
I'm no victim here-- this is just the way it is for everybody. It's a bit like being in the middle of a battlefield and getting shot in the arm and going, "Why me?" I mean, to put it very, very, very simply: The corporate system is fully psychopathic, and any creative people who enter into business with any of these organizations come up against a lifetime of issues. You just deal with it as you go along. It'll keep on happening until people reorganize the organizations.
Shields expands on this, pointing out that this two-decade gap between the original albums and the reissues could have been a lot shorter, if there had been any sort of cooperation from the labels involved.
Well, the organizations are [psychopathic], but probably 70% of the individuals in them are decent people. But a significant controlling minority have no empathy. They don't give a shit. If you put them in a situation where they can't make any decision but one that is in your favor, they will-- but that can take years. That's the game. Most people just give up with time and go, "I'm a victim." The only reason I've got the reputation for delays and spending a long time on things is because I just don't stop. We've had incredibly huge obstacles in our way-- no tapes, no royalties, no cooperation on any level-- and we sort it out.
Apparently, this is what it takes do a proper reissue: eight years, two labels, Scotland Yard and Shields' willingness to keep pushing on despite the labels' best efforts to keep him and his music as far apart as possible. I eagerly await the naysayers who will point out that the label system is still the artists' best friend, preferable to self-publishing, Kickstartering, etc. while simultaneously pointing out that "Screw the artists! They signed a contract!" Fun stuff, this cognitive dissonance.


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  1. icon
    Chargone (profile), 2 May 2012 @ 6:40pm

    Re:

    or at least, one could be forgiven for thinking so and there's nothing he can really do about it.

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