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From the Majors to the Minors

Jerry Crowe is a Times staff writer

Rock music acts from Elvis Presley to Nirvana have vaulted from small, independent record companies to major labels on their way to the Top 10.

But the Jesus and Mary Chain, the Scottish band whose mixture of alluring melodies and slashing guitar textures has had a major impact on ‘90s rock, is taking the opposite route.

The group has gone from the giant Warner Bros. record family to tiny Sub Pop, which will release the Mary Chain’s “Munki” album on June 9.

The band had a chance to jump to another major last year after its Warner-owned U.K. label, Blanco Y Negro, released the group from its contract after dismissing an early recording of “Munki” as too derivative of its past work, Sub Pop executives say.

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Instead, the group signed in England with Creation, the home of Oasis, and with Sub Pop in the United States.

“They wanted to work with a label that was really into what they were about, who loved their music and understood their vision,” says Megan Jasper, general manger of Seattle-based Sub Pop, best known for launching Nirvana. “Sub Pop sort of fit that need.”

Led by brothers William and Jim Reid, who share songwriting and vocal duties, the Jesus and Mary Chain is probably best known in the U.S. for its song “Head On,” which was an alt-rock radio hit for the Pixies in the early ‘90s.

Will record buyers care that the Mary Chain has moved from a major label?

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“It certainly won’t make any difference to their die-hard fans, and it’s worth noting that they’ve got plenty of those,” says Cheryl Botchick, music editor of the CMJ New Music Report. “When Bob Mould moved to Rykodisc after being on Virgin, his fans responded in a big way.”

She suspects that Mary Chain fans may respond in kind. CMJ includes “Munki” among its four “essential releases of the week” in its June 8 issue.

“I enjoyed it a whole lot,” Botchick says of the album, “and I haven’t been into a Jesus and Mary Chain record in quite a few years. It’s nice to hear them do kind of a return to form.”


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