With the Manics set to dominate the summer with appearances at Glastonbury, V99 and T In The Park, Nicky Wire offers his thoughts on Helsinki, puppet shows and the day Richey fell asleep onstage.
How are you?
"Very good. I've just had the most amazing weekend of sport in my entire life [It's the Tuesday after Wales beat England in the Five Nations]. I must have watched about 30 hours of television from Friday to Sunday, what with the golf and the boxing and the rugby. Absolutely amazing. And I'm happy to be home. We've just been on five-week tour of Europe, the longest ever. It's blissful to be back."
Was it a strain being away for that long?
"Yeah but it was alright because we're actually popular for once [laughs]. In the old days it would have been a lot more stressful because we were playing 2000-3000 seaters every night. It makes a hell of a difference."
What was the most interesting place you visited?
"Helsinki. It was amazing. We sold out this massive ice hockey stadium, about 10,000 people. You've seen cold and snow but nothing like this. It's more Russia than Scandinavia. Me and James were in the hotel doing interviews and all of a sudden we saw Sean outside the hotel, yomping trough the snow [laughs]. He just wanted an excuse to buy some proper snow gear. And the crowd were just pissed out of their minds. Massive drinkers."
You're having something of a festival binge this year...
"[Defensively] It's no different from what we did three years ago, to be honest. I think we did Reading, Phoenix and T In The Park back then. The last couple of years I've had to sit back and watch Glastonbury on BBC, and get bored shitless by all the other bands. I want my mother to have the chance to watch something good. And it'll be nice if it sounds good: when we played Glastonbury in 1994 they thought Richey was the lead guitarist and turned him up. We were playing 'Life Becoming A Landslide' and it sounded horrible. 'Eurggh-ner" Eurggh-ner!'"
Early on, the Manics were very anti-festival...
"Yeah but we still played them. It was one of our Ten Commandments, of which probably only two or three remaim, that we'd never do festivals. But when we did Reading, it was the first time we'd played 'Motorcycle Emptiness' live, I remember two journalists, who'd had an E saying that it was the greatest thing they'd ever seen."
Glastonbury 1994 was seen as a real turning point...
"We just felt completeley vindicated. It was the height of our Bible-ism: we were all at our thinnest, we were all at our most mental. It was just fantastic being onstage in front of all those hippies. It was very confrontational - from James coming on in his balaclava, the combat gear, all the way through."
You also said 'Build a bypass over this shithole.'
"Yeah [camply]. That was funny, wasn't it?"
Do you retain a lot of anti-hippy sentiment?
"Oh yeah. If someone comes up to me with a digeridoo or someone's into a trance meditation [sic] I just walk the other way. Or a puppet show [laughs]. I just hate that kind of shit: stalls selling the most crap jewellery in the world. I'll just stay on the bus anyway."
Reading in 1994 - Richey was in hospital and you played as a three-piece...
"That was fantastic. That was camouflage period as well. We did a version of 'Penny Royal Tea'. I remember Evan Dando asking us were Richey was. I saw a video of that on foreign TV and it looked amazing."
What's been your worst festival experience?
"The much-documented Garden Festival in Belgium in 1994, when Richey fell asleep on James' foot during 'Life Becoming A Landslide'. We did a gig in the afternoon and another one in the evening, so Richey had to peak twice, drinking-wise. He had theory that if he had a kiwi fruit and half a bottle of whiskey, everything would be alright. He was asleep for a good five or six minutes. There were literally about five people there. Richey jumped in the audience and there were no one to catch him. If it had been concrete it would have been all over. What a way to go."
What about supporting Bon Jovi at Milton Keynes Bowl in 1993?
"Pretty depressing, it was naff. We were as naff as everyone else. It was me and our tour manage who wanted to do it. James was adamant that we shouldn't do it and Richey was in between. I don't think Sean wanted to do it, either. Billy Idol was wandering around in dreadlocks and I remember Jon Bon Jovi, sweet boy that he is, saying 'I'd like to thank Billy Idol and the Maniacs...' But 'Roses In The Hospital' did really well after that gig. We were convinced it had made the difference."
What are you listening to at the moment?
"I've got the Mogwai album. And Wilco. I heard the Super Furries' single on the radio last Friday - a real ray of sunshine. What do I think of the Blur album? It's brilliantly patchy. I think 'Trimm Trabb' is amazing. 'Coffee And TV' is my kind of song. And I think 'Caramel' is amazing. It must be about smack. Even with my naive knowledge of drugs, caramel must stand for drugs. It's a good career move - distancing themselves from the rat race. They seem a bit more mythical for doing it."
You're now friends with Marilyn Manson, apparently...
"Not friends, but... yeah. We met him at the Big Day Out in Australia. He's a lovely bloke; so clued-up, much more than people give him credit for. He burst into our dressing room and I was like, 'No!' I thought they'd been laced with poisonous drugs. He said [American accent], 'Hey man, do you think I'd try to kill you?' The last gig they did in Australia, when they got bottled, was one of the best things I've ever seen. He pointed at one of the people chucking bottles and goes, 'Why are you so pissed off? Is it because I fucked your mother and your girlfriend? Come up here boy, I'll fuck your shitty little ass.'"
Your next single is called 'Masses Against Classes'. Is it as confrontational as it sounds?
"Yeah. It's like 'You Love Us', really. I think people have missed us rocking out. 'This Is My Truth' was the end of the third era of Manics and the fourth era is about to come. The last two albums were bound up with a general accepting of stuff for the first time. The next phase will be different. Having accepted stuff, you start to reject it again. I still want the next album to sell millions, though. It's not going to be 'The Holy Bible'.