8. Kevin Shields – Primal Scream, My Bloody Valentine
Ok, he was born in the US to Irish parents – but moved back to Dublin at the age of 10. Born in Queens, New York City to a mother who worked as a nurse and a food-industry executive father, Kevin Shields is the oldest of five siblings. Shields’ parents emigrated to the U.S. from Ireland in the 1950s.
He went to a Catholic school that he has described as “a really horrible school run by psychopathic nuns.” When he was 10 years old his family returned to Dublin to live close to the support of their extended family.
Shields has described the culture shock of moving to Ireland from the USA, reflecting particularly on the American consumer culture, saying, “It was like going from, as far as I was concerned, the modern world to some distant past.” The one difference between the USA and Ireland that had a big impact on him was the marketing of music towards teenagers in the UK and Ireland. He said it didn’t really exist in that way when he lived in the U.S. in the 1970s. Shields continues to hold a U.S. passport.
One of the most recognisable aspects of Shields’ music is his thick and dreamy guitar sound, associated with his later recordings with My Bloody Valentine.
Customizing the tremolo system for Fender Jaguars and Jazzmasters, Shields manipulates the tremolo arm while strumming chords. He has had the tremolo arm on his guitars extended considerably and uses tape on one end so that the tremolo arm sits very high on the guitar and is very loose. (Alan Di Perna, Guitar World, March 1992, Pg. 26) With the tremolo arm in this position, his motion is not restricted, allowing him to strum chords without having to alter his motion to accommodate the tremolo arm. To thicken the sound, he plays through a Yamaha SPX 90 using a reverse reverb effect that inverts the normal reverb envelope without making the notes backward. (Alan Di Perna, Guitar World, March 1992, Pg. 152) Augmenting his sound further, he cranks amps to exceptionally loud volumes and uses open tunings, causing speaker “breakup” and increasing sustain. Instead of the usual note bending with a tremolo arm, he achieves a kind of chord bending that Rolling Stone described as, “a strange warping effect that makes the music wander in and out of focus”. Fans who played the vinyl record of Loveless were known to check the records for warping on first playing them. On the subject of 1991 album Loveless Shields remarks,” the songs do have weird timings and things, but the textures come from the guitar tunings.”
Shields has pointed out that he uses far fewer effects pedals and overdubs than fans and the music press sometimes make him out to use. He has noted many times in interviews that most tracks feature one or two main, albeit massive sounding, guitar tracks that give off many layers of sound. This has mistakenly led people to believe he uses multiple overdubs which he has repeated over and over is not how his sound is achieved, at least not before the Tremolo EP. Although Tremolo and Loveless featured more sampling and sampled guitar, (Simon Reynolds, NYTimes, December 1, 1991, Arts Section Pg. 26) one need only play around with a Jaguar or Jazzmaster and Yamaha SPX 90 with some strings in open tunings to get an idea of how he achieves a massive swirling guitar sound with one guitar that to some sound like numerous overdubs. Kevin’s earlier recordings pre-Tremolo consisted mostly of one guitar during the chorus and then a guitar with a different tone during the verses. Tremolo and Loveless involved more sampling of guitars and synths. Shields explained, “Ninety percent of what we do is just a guitar straight into an amp.” (Alan Di Perna, Guitar World, March 1992, Pg. 25-26) “People think it’s all pedals, but all my pedals are graphic equalizers and tone controls. It’s all in the tone.” (Steve Double, NME November 9, 1991, pg. 14) Various effects pedals mainly play a role when trying to recreate studio sounds in a live setting.
In August 2003, Shields was voted the 95th greatest guitarist of all time by the Rolling Stone magazine.
For recent live shows he admitted to using 30 effects pedals to achieve his guitar sound.