The band was called The Complex and they played "somewhere between Oi! and older punk", Shields remarked. Expanding on how he developed his playing style he 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."

One of the most recognizable 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. 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. 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, 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." "People think it's all pedals, but all my pedals are graphic equalizers and tone controls. It's all in the tone." Various effects pedals mainly play a role when trying to recreate studio sounds in a live setting.

Many have tried to replicate the guitar sounds on Loveless, with varying degrees of success[citation needed]. Shields even had trouble reproducing the sounds himself, as his live guitar sounds at the time varied greatly from those on the record. He was known to try to duplicate the sheer power of the recorded tone by turning on-stage monitors to face the audience, rather than the band. The My Bloody Valentine regular set closer "You Made Me Realise" typically included an interlude using blasts of noise and feedback that could go on as long as 40 minutes of which Shields 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".[5] Many, including Shields, note that the Loveless-era My Bloody Valentine shows were amongst the loudest rock concerts they had ever experienced[citation needed]. Fans even speculated that damaged eardrums had contributed to the post-Loveless absence of My Bloody Valentine.

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.

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Kevin Patrick Shields (born May 21, 1963) is an American-born, Irish-raised vocalist, guitarist, and producer of London-based, alternative rock band My Bloody Valentine.

After My Bloody Valentine went on hiatus in the early 90s, Shields had got work remixing and producing various musical acts. He has also played sporadically with Primal Scream since 1997. In 2003, he contributed music to the motion picture Lost in Translation, and was nominated a BAFTA for his efforts. More recently, Shields had provided musical accompaniment to Patti Smith's reading of her book The Coral Sea. In 2007, Shields announced that My Bloody Valentine had reunited and were recording new material.

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 immigrated 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.

When Shields was 15 he was approached by a 12-year old who asked him if he wanted to be in a band. This band was where he first met My Bloody Valentine drummer Colm Ó Cíosóig.