Kevin Patrick Shields (born 21 May 1963) is an Irish musician, singer-songwriter, composer and producer, best known as the vocalist and guitarist of the alternative rock band My Bloody Valentine. As a teenager, Shields performed in a number of small unsuccessful bands in Dublin, Ireland before forming My Bloody Valentine with drummer Colm Ó Cíosóig in 1983. The band, which initially experienced little success, became influential on the progression of alternative rock with their two original studio albums, Isn't Anything (1988) and Loveless (1991)--both of which pioneered a subgenre known as shoegazing. Shields' texturised guitar sound, and his experimentation with his guitars' tremolo systems, resulted in the creation of the "glide guitar" technique, which became a recognisable aspect of My Bloody Valentine's sound along with his meticulous production techniques.
Following My Bloody Valentine's dissolution in the late 1990s, Shields was a frequent guest musician, producer, engineer and remixer with various bands and artists, including Experimental Audio Research, Yo La Tengo, Dinosaur Jr and Mogwai. He became a touring member of Primal Scream in 1998 and contributed original compositions to the soundtrack of Sofia Coppola's 2003 film Lost in Translation, which earned him nominations for British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) and Irish Film and Television Academy (IFTA) awards. In 2008, Shields released The Coral Sea, a collaborative live album with Patti Smith.
My Bloody Valentine reunited in 2007 and released their third studio album, m b v, in February 2013. The album, composed entirely by Shields, was in production since the late 1990s when Shields was rumoured to have been suffering from writer's block and mental illness; which led to comparisons in the press between him and other musicians such as Syd Barrett and Brian Wilson. Shields has since been featured on several publications best-of-lists, including Rolling Stone's 100 Greatest Guitarist and Spin's 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. Multiple musicians, including Billy Corgan and J Mascis, have also cited him as an influence.
Kevin Patrick Shields was born on 21 May 1963 in Jamaica Hospital in Queens, New York City, United States. He is the eldest of five siblings born to Irish parents; his mother was a nurse and his father was an executive in the food industry. Shields' parents had immigrated to the United States from Ireland in the 1950s when the couple were teenagers. Shields attended Christ the King, a Roman Catholic primary school, which he described as "a really horrible school run by psychopathic nuns". They lived in Flushing, a neighbourhood in north-central Queens. Aged four, he relocated with his family to Commack, Long Island, where he lived until he was aged ten. In 1973, he returned with his parents and siblings to Dublin, Ireland due to financial conditions and to remain close to their extended family.
Shields was raised in Cabinteely, a south-eastern Dublin suburb. He said he experienced culture shock on moving to Ireland, which was "going from, as far as I was concerned, the modern world to some distant past." Shields stated that the main difference between the US and Ireland that affected him was the attitude towards music culture. Describing the difference, Shields said: "in the US there was no Top of the Pops, there was nothing like that, there was no MTV; and over in Ireland, everything was completely catered to for teenagers." He said that the change was "what got him into music in a really big way."
1979-1982: Early projects:
In 1979, Shields received his first electric guitar, a Hondo SG, as a Christmas present from his parents. Shields and drummer Colm Ó Cíosóig, a friend he had become acquainted with in south Dublin in summer 1978, both answered an advertisement placed by a 12-year-old musician and formed a punk rock band, The Complex. The band recruited Liam Ó Maonlaí, a friend of Ó Cíosóig who attended school with him at Coláiste Eoin in Booterstown, as lead vocalist and the band began rehearsing. Shields said that The Complex formed out of "what all the nerds and weirdos actually do as opposed to the cool people with the leather jackets" who were forming fictional groups around Dublin in the late 1970s. According to Shields, the band played "a handful of gigs" during their short lived career--the first of which included cover songs of Sex Pistols and Ramones.
The Complex disbanded when Ó Maonlaí left to form Hothouse Flowers, after which Shields and Ó Cíosóig began rehearsing with another bassist. In 1981, the trio formed another band named A Life in the Day, which focused on a more post-punk sound influenced by Siouxsie and the Banshees and Joy Division. The band recorded a demo tape, which features the Shields' first experimentation with pitch bending, and performed at local venues but failed to secure performances with more than a hundred people.
1983-1997: My Bloody Valentine:
Following the disbandment of A Life in the Day in 1981, Shields and Ó Cíosóig formed My Bloody Valentine in early 1983 with lead vocalist David Conway. Conway suggested a number of potential band names, including the Burning Peacocks, before the trio settled for My Bloody Valentine. Shields has since claimed he was unaware that My Bloody Valentine was the title of a 1981 Canadian slasher film when the name was suggested.
On Shields' suggestion, Conway contacted Gavin Friday, lead vocalist of the Dublin post-punk band the Virgin Prunes. Friday provided the band with contacts that secured them a show in Tilburg, Netherlands in early 1984. The band relocated to the Netherlands and lived there for a further nine months, squatting in Amsterdam and later in a rural Holland where Shields worked on a farm. Due to a lack of opportunities and correct documentation, the band relocated to West Berlin, Germany in late 1984 and recorded their debut mini album, This Is Your Bloody Valentine (1985). The album, which features Shields performing bass, failed to receive much attention and the band returned temporarily to the Netherlands, before settling in London in 1985.
The band recruited bassist Debbie Googe and released their debut extended play Geek! in December 1985. The EP received little attention and due to the band's slow progress, Shields contemplated relocating to New York, where members of his family were living. However, the band's two successive releases, The New Record by My Bloody Valentine (1986) and "Sunny Sundae Smile" (1987) were minor successes, peaking at number 22 and number 6 on the UK Independent Albums Chart and Singles Chart, respectively. In March 1987, during a supportng tour, David Conway announced his decision to leave the band due to a gastric illness, disillusionment with music and ambitions to become a writer. Conway was replaced by vocalist and guitarist Bilinda Butcher, whom Shields split and often shared vocals duties with. Shields was initially reluctant to take on a vocal role within the band, but said that he had "always sung in the rehearsal room ... and made up the melodies." With the new line up in place, the band intended to drop the My Bloody Valentine moniker but were unable to decide on a name and kept the moniker "for better or for worse".
A series of successful releases followed including a three-track single, "Strawberry Wine", and My Bloody Valentine's second mini album Ecstasy (1987), both featuring Shields on lead vocal duties. During the supporting tour of Ecstasy, My Bloody Valentine signed to Creation Records, who described the band as "the Irish equivalent to Hüsker Dü" and on which the band released You Made Me Realise (1988). According to AllMusic writer Nitsuh Abebe, the EP "developed some of the stunning guitar sounds that would become the band's trademark" featured on the band's debut studio album, Isn't Anything (1988). It influenced a number of shoegazing bands, who worked off the template My Bloody Valentine established with the album, and is regarded as having "virtually created" the genre.
In February 1989, My Bloody Valentine began recording sessions for their second album. Creation Records believed that the album could be recorded in five days; however, several unproductive months followed during which Shields assumed main duties on the musical and technical aspects of the sessions. Shields relocated to a total of 19 other studios and hired a number of engineers, including Alan Moulder, Anjali Dutt and Guy Fixsen. Due to the extensive recording time, Shields and Creation's management agreed to release two interim EPs, Glider (1990) and Tremolo (1991). Released in November 1991, Loveless was rumoured to have cost over £250,000 and bankrupt Creation, claims which Shields has denied. Critical reception to Loveless was almost unanimous with praise although the album was not a commercial success. It peaked at number 24 on the UK Albums Chart but failed to place in international charts. Creation Records founder Alan McGee dropped My Bloody Valentine from the label soon after the release of Loveless due to the album's extensive recording period and interpersonal problems with Shields.
In October 1992, My Bloody Valentine signed with Island Records for a reported £250,000 contract. The band's advance went towards the construction of a home studio in Streatham, South London, which was completed in April 1993. Several technical problems with the studio sent the band into "semi-meltdown", according to Shields, who was rumoured to have been suffering from writer's block. Following Googe and Ó Cíosóig's departure in 1995, Shields and Butcher attempted to record a third studio album, which Shields said would be released in 1998 but My Bloody Valentine disbanded in 1997. Unable to finalise a third album, Shields isolated himself, and in his own words "went crazy", drawing comparisons in the music press to the eccentric behaviour of other musicians, including Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys and Syd Barrett of Pink Floyd.
Rumours had spread amongst fans that albums worth of material had been recorded and shelved prior to the band's break up. In 1999, it was reported that Shields had delivered 60 hours of material to Island Records, and Butcher confirmed that there existed "probably enough songs to fill two albums." Shields later admitted that at least one full album of "half-finished" material was abandoned, stating "it was dead. It hadn't got that spirit, that life in it."
1997-2006: Collaborations and Lost in Translation:
Shields began collaborating with various artists after My Bloody Valentine's disbandment; he performed as a guest musician and often produced, engineered, mixed and remixed others' recordings. Shields contributed guitar loops to two Experimental Audio Research albums, Beyond the Pale (1996) and The Köner Experiment (1997). Beyond the Pale, which was recorded at Shields' home studio in Streatham, credits him with "special thanks" on the album sleeve. He was a frequent collaborator with indie rock band Dinosaur Jr, appearing on and producing Hand It Over (1997) and Ear-Bleeding Country: The Best of Dinosaur Jr. (2001), as well as frontman J Mascis' More Light (2000) and The John Peel Sessions (2003). From 1996 to 2010, Shields contributed as a guest musician to releases by Russell Mills & Undark, DJ Spooky, Curve, Manic Street Preachers, Le Volume Courbe, Gemma Hayes and Paul Weller. Shields has performed as a live musician with the Canadian contemporary dance company La La La Human Steps, contributing the song "2" to the 1995 performance of the same name, Gemma Hayes and The Charlatans. He has also performed with Spacemen 3, with whom he appeared at their 2010 reunion show.
Shields has remained active as a producer, besides My Bloody Valentine, his first credits were The Impossible's 1991 single "How Do You Do It?" and "Tunnel", a track from GOD's remix album Appeal to Human Greed (1995). He further produced Dot Allison' Afterglow (1997), Joy Zipper's American Whip (2003) and The Beat Up's Blackrays Defence (2005). Shields has also mixed and remixed material by The Pastels, Yo La Tengo, Damian O'Neill, Mogwai, Hurricane #1, The Go! Team, Bow Wow Wow and Wounded Knees.
Shields became a frequent collaborator and semi-permanent touring member of Primal Scream between 1998 and 2006. He contributed guitar, produced and mixed tracks on two of the band's studio albums, XTRMNTR (2000) and Evil Heat (2002). Reflecting on Shields, Primal Scream frontman Bobby Gillespie said "Shields brings something that nobody else in the world can bring. He plays guitar the way that nobody else in the world plays guitar." Gillespie added that Primal Scream considered Shields as "part of the family, very much so." Although departing Primal Scream in 2006, Shields has remained close with the band. He remastered Primal Scream's third studio album Screamadelica (1991) in 2010 and contributed guitar to "2013", the lead single from More Light (2013). Gillepsie has since commented on Shields' absence, noting "there's always room for Kevin Shields--always."
In 2003, Shields contributed four original compositions to the soundtrack for Sofia Coppola's 2003 film, Lost in Translation. Shields became involved with the score after being contacted by the film's music co-ordinator Brian Reitzell while in Tokyo, Japan. Reitzell and Shields began impromptu jam sessions in London during summer 2002 where the duo "adopted a late-night recording schedule", which resulted in the single "City Girl". Released in August 2003 on V2 Records, the Lost in Translation soundtrack included three other ambient pieces Shields composed for the film: "Goodbye", "Ikebana" and "Are You Awake?". His contributions to the soundtrack earned Shields nominations for a British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) award for Best Film Music, an Irish Film and Television Academy (IFTA) award for Best Music in a Film, and an Online Film Critics Society award for Best Original Score.
In July 2008, Shields released The Coral Sea, a collaborative live album with the American musician Patti Smith on PASK, a label founded by the duo. The double album features two performances at Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, recorded on 22 June 2005 and 12 September 2006. On The Coral Sea, Shields provided instrumental musical accompaniment while Smith read her book of the name same in tribute to her friend, photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.
2007-present: My Bloody Valentine reunion:
In August 2007, reports emerged that My Bloody Valentine would reunite for the 2008 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, California, United States. Shields later confirmed it and announced that the band's third studio album, which he had began recording in 1996, was near completion. My Bloody Valentine performed in public for the first time in 16 years during two live rehearsals at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London in June 2008. An extensive worldwide tour commenced in summer 2008, featuring appearances at Øyafestivalen in Oslo, Norway, Electric Picnic in Stradbally, Ireland, and the Fuji Rock Festival in Niigata, Japan. The band spent £200,000 on equipment for their world tour, which was their first since 1992 in support of Loveless. Shields launched an independent record label, Pickpocket, in October 2011 with Le Volume Courbe frontwoman Charlotte Marionneau and considered releasing a collaborative "ten minutes of noise" single on the imprint.
EP's 1988-1991, a collection of the band's Creation Records extended plays, singles and unreleased tracks remastered by Shields, was released in May 2012. It was released alongside remastered versions of Isn't Anything and Loveless. In November, Shields announced plans to release My Bloody Valentine's third album online before the end of the year. During a warm-up show at Electric Brixton in London on 27 January 2013, Shields told the audience that the album "might be out in two or three days." The album, titled m b v, was released through the band's official website on 2 February 2013 although the site crashed on its launch due to high traffic. The band began a worldwide tour upon its release. According to Metacritic, m b v received "universal acclaim". Shields has since announced intentions to release remastered analogue cuts of My Bloody Valentine's back catalogue and a My Bloody Valentine EP "of all-new material", which will be followed by a fourth studio album.
Shields has referred to The Beatles and the Ramones as his favourite bands of all-time. Upon moving to Ireland in 1973, he became a fan of "the energy, androgyny and otherworldy production style" of glam rock and has said Johnny Ramone inspired him to begin playing guitar. Speaking about Ramone, Shields said "I realised Johnny wasn't playing guitar--he was generating the sound ... it was just a noise generator." He later remarked seeing the Ramones perform in a North Dublin cinema "changed his life". Other guitarists he admired were Public Image Ltd guitarist Keith Levene and Killing Joke guitarist Geordie Walker. Some of his earlier influences included local Dublin punk band DC Nien, The Birthday Party, The Cramps and Einstürzende Neubauten. In the mid-to-late 1980s, he was influenced by The Byrds, Hüsker Dü, Dinosaur Jr and Sonic Youth--particularly two of the band's albums: EVOL (1986) and Sister (1987). He was also influenced by hip hop music, in particular Public Enemy, whose track "Security in the First World" Shields sampled on the 1988 My Bloody Valentine track "Instrumental No 2". Later Shields has cited The Beach Boys as an influence and expressed admiration for modern artists like Tame Impala.
Shields' production techniques were influenced by a range of producers and artists. He has stated a dislike for the "wet and ... liquid" production values of 1980s music and shoegazing artists; he instead favours the "dry ... and upfront" sound used by Dinosaur Jr and Sonic Youth. He said that the use of stereo in the 1980s was part of a "weak, corporate sound". Shields records and produces largely in mono, an approach influenced by Brian Wilson's production on The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds (1966) and veteran pop producer Phil Spector. He has also expressed admiration for producer Joe Meek and the French electronic duo Daft Punk.
Shields' guitar sound has been cited as one of the most recognisable aspects of My Bloody Valentine's music. His sound has been noted as "using texture more than technique to create vivid soundscapes". He has been listed at number 95 and 2 on Rolling Stone's and Spin's 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time list. During the late 1980s, Shields began customising the tremolo systems for his Fender Jaguars and Jazzmaster guitars; he extended the tremolo arm and loosened it considerably, to allow him to manipulate the arm while strumming chords, which resulted in excessive pitch bending. Shields used a number of alternate and open tunings that together with his tremolo manipulation, according to Rolling Stone's Michael Azerrad, achieved "a strange warping effect that makes the music wander in and out of focus".
Among Shields' most notable effects is digital reverse reverb, sourced from a Yamaha SPX90 effects unit. Together with the tremolo manipulation and distortion, he created a technique known as "glide guitar". Shields effects rig, which is composed largely of distortion, graphic equalisers and tone controls, consists of at least 30 effects pedals. His rig is connected to a large amount of amplifiers which are often set to maximum volume to increase sustain. During live performances with My Bloody Valentine, and in particular the closing song "You Made Me Realise", Shields performs an interlude of noise and excessive feedback, known as "the holocaust", which has often lasted for half an hour and often reached 130db. He remarked: "it was so loud it was like sensory deprivation. We just liked the fact that we could see a change in the audience at a certain point."
Shields guitar sound and performance technique have been regarded as influential, with multiple musicians, including Billy Corgan and J Mascis, citing him as an influence.
Shields has mild dyslexia, "mild to extreme" tinnitus, and tendonitis in his left hand. He contracted tinnitus during the mixing of Loveless in 1991. Though initially worried about the condition, Shields has said he has "come to treat the tinnitus as a friend. It filters unwanted sounds and actually protects my ears. It becomes your first line of defence against audible stress." He said his tendonitis, which he has since 1988, is relieved "once you start to immerse yourself in the sound, any discomfort just disappears." In the mid-1990s, Shields confirmed he was suffering from mental illness but later contracted the statement and said "I'm crazy but I'm not mentally ill."
"The corporate system in the music industry is fully psychopathic, and any creative people who enter into business with any of these organisations come up against a lifetime of issues. You just deal with it as you go along. It'll keep on happening until people reorganise the organisations."
-- Shields on the corporate influence in the contemporary music industry.
Shields has been outspoken out about the corporate influence in the music industry. He has said that Sony Music Entertainment, upon inherting My Bloody Valentine from Creation Records, deliberately hid the master tapes of the band's original recordings in an attempt to delay the release of EP's 1988-1991 (2012). Shields threatened to involve Scotland Yard in the dispute and then said the tapes "magically, suddenly reappeared." He has since called for reorganisation of the record industry, which he has referred to as "sociopathic". As a result, My Bloody Valentine's third album, m b v (2013), was an independent-self release. Reflecting on his decision, Shields said it was "great to release the record without any industry interaction at all, but it also meant that it was a bit too expensive to buy, so we're going to try to make it cheaper by working with various record companies in the future", though ruling out agreements with major labels. In 2013, following the release of m b v, he accused the organisers of the Mercury Prize of "banning" the album for the nominated shortlist. In an interview with The Guardian, Shields said My Bloody Valentine were "banned by the Mercury Prize" due to not having a major digital distribution deal in the United Kingdom. He added "because we're not on Amazon or iTunes ... it's not a real record. Our album's not a real album because it's independent. The corporateness has got to such a point where we've essentially been told that we don't exist."
During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Shields and Bilinda Butcher were in a relationship. Most of Shields' siblings have reached various degrees of fame. His brother Jimi was a founding member and drummer of the indie rock band Rollerskate Skinny, who has since formed Wounded Knees and become co-director of TTT (thirtythreetrees), a Dublin landscape design practice. His sister Ann Marie has worked extensively in the music industry and has managed tours for both My Bloody Valentine and Rollerskate Skinny, as well as being credited for co-ordination on Loveless. His youngest sister, Eileen, is a shoe designer who has designed for Bono, Drew Barrymore and PJ Harvey.