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The return of My Bloody Valentine - And How To Sound Like Them

Published: Fri July 04, 2008  News Feed

*Updated For 2013*

Legendary shoegaze band My Bloody Valentine returned with what's turning out to be one of the albums of the year, and their revolutionary and NOISY sound continues to inspire...

The story of My Bloody Valentine has become part of indie-rock folklore. After releasing "Isn't Anything" in 1988 and kick starting what became known as the (sometimes maligned) shoegaze  movement -with several bands obsessed with distortion pedals and other FX, usually not doing much onstage - My Bloody Valentine went on to record one of the most classic albums of the early 90's, "Loveless" which cost over £250.000 to record and almost brought their former label Creation to the brink of bankrupcity (Creation was only saved from certain doom by signing a band called Oasis...)

"Loveless"(released in 1991) could be considered a "Pet Sounds" of Alternative Rock. It took years in the making ,and genius guitarist/ songwriter Kevin Shields could be compared to Brian Wilson, in his sometimes insane search for perfection, sometimes spending weeks and thousands of pounds to achieve a certain guitar sound no one else seemed capable of noticing.

The end result was a classic album, and its layered guitar sound served as an inspiration to many. Even though "Loveless" was far from a success, it earned My Bloody Valentine a major record deal to Island Records, the same label as U2.

They spent all their cash advance (£500k) building a recording studio, but problems and attempts to fix them caused the band to go into "semi-meltdown", according to Shields, and My Bloody Valentine never released any new music again.

Slowly, the reclusive Kevin Shields started to show up from time to time - recording a song with the Manic Street Preachers, playing with Primal Scream and writing the soundtrack for Bill Murray cult-hit "Lost In Translation".

Finally My Bloody Valentine have announced a new album and are touring this year. They have not been forgotten...in all those years, their legend only grew.

At the venues, free earplugs are distributed, along with the warning that attending a My Bloody Valentine concert without earplugs could cause serious damage.

They are not joking - the noise My Bloody Valentine makes is monumental. Kevin Shields himself uses between 7-8 various 100w amps onstage, and in a venue like the London Roundhouse or Manchester Apollo, the amplified sound from those amps, through the PA, hits you like a tidal wave. Set closer "You Made Me Realise" always ends their set, morphing into a 20-minute long white noise freak out (which they call "the holocaust") that makes heavy metal bands sound like Neil Diamond and inevitably drives part of the audience to leave the venue, such is the loudness...

Read this The Guardian live review, and you'll have an idea!

Kevin Shields has been voted by Rolling Stone magazine as one of the Top 100 best guitarists of all time, due to his creativity, distinctive use of the tremolo arm of his favourite guitars - Fender Jazzmaster and Jaguar - and for exploring new possibilities of sound, using digital reverbs and playing his guitar as loud as humanly possible. For years, fans have been intrigued by his setup and even today it's hard to unveil all his tricks and FX...no wonder, because the amount of gear he brings onstage is astonishing!

My Bloody Valentine Guitar Gear

If you want to sound like My Bloody Valentine, there are lots of FX units that Kevin Shields use that can be found on Dolphin, such as:

Z-Vex Seek Wah II; Boss GE-7 Equalizer; Electro Harmonix Little Big Muff; Boss SD-1; Boss Delay (DD-3?); Boss DD-20 Giga DelayElectro Harmonix Q-Tron; Digitech Whammy; Ibanez Analogue Delay; Boss Tremolo; Boss Acoustic SimulatorJim Dunlop Bass Wah

One of his trademark sounds has been the "reverse reverb" effect, which you can get from the Alesis Midiverb 4 (an update on the Midiverb 2, used by Shields). If you want to explore the possibilities of reverse reverb but don't want to fork out for a Midiverb, you should try the Marshall RF-1 Reflector, which has great reverb sounds including reverse reverb.

Get a good valve amp and crank it really loud! Amongst the amplifiers My Bloody Valentine use you'll see Marshall stacks (JCM800), Fender, Vox (AC30 Head & perhaps some combos) and Ampeg on bass with SVT head and cab. If you want an affordable all-tube Vox amp then the AC15C1 is perfect, few amps can get as loud and evil as the AC series.

My Bloody Valentine Live

There is no Kevin Shields single signature guitar but of course, having a  Jaguar or Jazzmaster guitar is essential! The unique tremolo arms of those guitars provided one of the most important inspirations for Kevin Shields, who said:

"I always just wanted to be like Johnny Ramone. Just be really good at one thing. I think because I was never dexterous, and because I never really learned how to play a scale, or lead guitar, or anything, but because I still wanted to be expressive, that made me use the tremolo arm, which gave me something to work with for a long time. I really get off on hearing, I can't even really describe it, the difference between hitting the same chord one way or another way, and the subtleties within that. So in that respect, more so than flashier guitar players, I can play and it sounds like the amp is turned down real low, and then play and it sounds like it's on really loud. Control."

The Squier range are well worth a look too with the J. Mascis Signature Jazzmaster and Vintage Modified Jaguar.

For the latest information My Bloody Valentine tour dates, view the official website

As if all that wasn't enough here's a breakdown from Kevin (talking to Tape Op magazine) on how he got those legendary sounds on Loveless, You Made Me Realise and when playing with Primal Scream:


"That was the first time I really, really used the tremolo arm the way I got known for using it..."

So the Jaguar/Jazzmaster tremolo arm was integral in getting that famous Kevin Shields tone. Apparently the band weren't using valve amps at this point either, preferring the focused, clear sound of their Fender Sidekick. Get loud with 100 watts from a Fender Frontman or a huge range of effects built in that Kevin would be proud of with the Mustang.

"If I ever had a secret weapon it's the Alesis [Midiverb] and [Yamaha] SPX 90 and again, it's the reverse reverb program."

Kevin has revealed the Alesis to be at the core of his sonic textures on a number of tracks including 'All I Need' & 'I Believe' with MBV and 'MBV Arkestra' with Primal Scream. Get the Midiverb or the affordable NanoVerb to get some rich textures on your own music.


"...a guitar plugged straight into the SPX 90, the reverse reverb, and then we printed that...", "...programmed drums and they're put through this TC unit..." and a BBC sound effects record with a sample of "...like maybe a nuclear bomb going off and we just had that looped constantly..."

While Kevin's recall of the details isn't perfect it's clear that multi effects and experimental techniques were used in abundance. You could certainly do worse than checking out the TC Electronic G Major for some modern effects wizardry, perhaps to process a sample collection and get your own unique atmosphere.


It might sound like bongos but apparently it's Colm "...playing one of those Roland Octopad things."

Still a renowned piece of electronic percussion the Roland Octapad can get you classic sounds of nineties MBV or radical new tones for you to create your own sonic imprint.

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