First things first James, when are you gonna get over to Holland so that I don't have to keep traveling all over the place to see you?
"I don't know actually, I'm not sure. I mean I must say that I haven't had that much of a response from Holland in terms of doing my solo stuff. But, you know, I'll definitely try and get back there with the Manics. I mean, I'll be going back out with the Manics next May or something. I gotta admit, it's hard to gauge how much interest I'd get out there as a solo artist, to be honest."
How do you feel as, as you once put it, with the Manics you wanted to be the most intelligent band on the planet. (James laughs) How does the front guy for all that feel going out on the road, without those guys and on your own?
"I suppose it was always a short fall. Cos you know it was always Nick and Richey that said that stuff, you know. So it was always a short fall when it comes to me I suppose. I take comfort in the fact that we're all the same people. We all had the same interests. I mean, I've fiercely enjoyed politics since I was fourteen years old. Politics has always been my soap opera, so you know I've always been grounded in it. But Nick and Richey have always been much more... I tell you the difference I became aware of, is when I was writing lyrics. I realized that Nick and Richey had written lyrics from a high point of understanding. They'd understand something and then they'd write. Whereas I was writing to try and understand what I was writing about, so I think that's the main difference between me and someone like Nick. So when you're talking about all those old statements, I suppose it's a shortfall for me to be very honest. I actually, you know, like I said politics is my soap opera. I enjoy it. I always make sure I read something like Simon Jenkins and others every week. I always watch Question Time. I even watch BBC Parliament Channel but you know, I think there's a difference between actually making judgements and just being engaged by it. I'm engaged by it."
So do you find that, using Richey and Nick's words, did you use that as a kind of blanket where you could go and say what you want because, in the end, it was somebody else's words?
"No I enjoyed the sabre rattling of it all. I enjoyed being their physical front, kind of thing. I always enjoyed that. That's some of the more shocking things that I've found out doing the solo stuff is, things are never as complicated as you think they're gonna be. I thought there was gonna be a moment of clarity when I was singing my own lyrics. I thought there was gonna be this ray of light and it was gonna be this perfect cinematic moment and I would feel true catharsis. And I didn't. It didn't feel that different or different at all from singing Nick and Richey's lyrics. And I was very shocked by that. One thing I think I've figured out is that, for all those bullshit definitions of catharsis, for me it's always been about the meeting of the physical and emotional, so for me it's always been performing live. But in the writing and in the singing and recording of these songs in the studio I didn't feel any different and that was kind of a shock for me."
Do you think you would of, or could of, done this album if Ocean Spray hadn't have turned out so well?
"I think it would have been harder, definitely. But again, that can be slightly disingenuous because Ocean Spray, for me, was a physical reflex. It was more of a subconscious thing. Again, you know, I was shocked when I wrote Ocean Spray – I'm not saying it's the deepest lyric in the world, in terms of its rhyme or its meaning or anything – it didn't feel like a massive cathartic moment. There wasn't the cinematic teardrop dropping on the page when I finished the lyric and I'm always shocked by those moments where they don't bring revelation or catharsis. I do think that that gave me the tiny bit of faith in realizing that there might be something in my subconscious that I could dig out. So you're probably right, it probably would have been much harder to do without that song."
How good did it make you feel to finally see 'words and music by James Dean Bradfield'?
"It did feel good because I'd thought that I would have to count on someone else's involvement on the album. I thought I would have to try and find another writing partner and that was the one thing that was grimming me up beyond belief. I hated the idea of having to make a connection or try and establish a connection like I had with Nick and Richey in terms of song writing partners. I thought, "That's impossible." We all grew up with each other, we all chased the same girls, chased the same rugby balls, same footballs. You know, we all grew up with each other in the same fields and the same mountains and the same classrooms. I can't make that connection with someone else...I was dreading it because I did think that I was going to have to write with somebody and I think that realizing that I didn't have to make a fake relationship with another writer really pleased me. Again I'll go back to that it gave me a bit of hope that there was something scrabbling around in my subconscious that might actually be useful"
So do you feel confident now? You've always come across to me as somebody who's never been lacking in self belief. In fact any of the band for that matter, you've always been up front and brash, you've always seemed like a confident lot.
"I think that when you are in a band that really corny last gang in town element really helps you as a person. But as soon as you step out side of it, you realize that you're not as strong as you thought you were. All those corny notions of the last gang in town are completely true. You don't have to be spiking and whoring to be in the last gang in town. It can be something different, something much more indelible, something amongst you when you get together, when it's just you lot in the back of the bus or in the studio or wherever. As soon as you step outside of that you realize that you're not the same person that you are in the band and that's quite a shock as well. To realize that you're not as confident as you thought you were."
Do you think that comes from the fact that you guys all grew up together and, although you loved the place that you're from you never felt part of it and wanted to be elsewhere?
Because when you're in a group, it doesn't matter what anybody says because the group's still there. You've got something to fall back on. Whenever you're placed on your own are you able to put that barrier up on your own? To put that front on?
"You don't have the ability to shake things off. You don't have the ability to batten down the hatches or have the bunker mentality. You're just there and you've got to face doubt and a bad review down. You can't just say, "Oh fuck 'em. They're wrong. Whereas in a band you can. You can just adopt that bunker mentality and say, "Fuck 'em, they're not right." In a solo sense, you can't do that. Which I found quite shocking. Not shocking as in, "Oh my God!" but kind of a slow dawning realization."
Well I have to say that when I first heard you were doing a solo album I was thinking, "Can he do it himself?" but then, when I heard the album I was just won over instantly. I thought, "The bugger has done it." It's really impressive.
"Well if somebody had said to me, "Make a film soundtrack," I'd have gone, "I can do that with one fucking arm behind my back." You know, if you'd have provided me with a ready made narrative where I didn't have to sing over it I'd have thought, "I can really, really do this." But I think that the Manics have always had a massive fear of failure and that's what's driven us on. We've always, you know... Nick and Richey said some insane things at the start and there was no way that we were ever going to live up to it. But that fear of complete and utter failure in the face of our own ambitions, or our own projections kind of drove us on. I think that we kind of scared ourselves into actually not suffering as big a defeat as we probably were going to face, you know? I think that's the only thing that I carried on from the band. You know that people always perceive me to be a Roger Daltrey character. Perhaps not as good looking or not as fit but, you know, just a blue collar, honest guy. Just some guy who's there to help his mates. So that kind of image I was quite happy to face that down. Not in an erudite, flashy sense but in a more subtle way."
I find it strange that you say you have this fear of failure because, as a band, you guys have seemed to say, "Well if I we are going to fail, let's push it as far as we can and run headlong into it." I mean, if there was a ring of burning fire in front of you, you wouldn't walk around it. You guys would jump head first into it.
"Oh we did it a million times. I mean, I still can't figure out why we went to Cuba? After four years of absolute and utter success, why did we go to Cuba? It alienated at least, at least a million people who had bought our previous two albums. I don't know what we expected because we were falling into the pit of hypocrisy, of hubris and all those things. Now I look back on Cuba and I enjoy it. I actually enjoy the fact that there's this big folly in our career. I like looking at those follies because it is misguided some times but it's good to look back on it."
It cost you guys a fortune as well didn't it?
"It was unbelievable. I mean, I thought we'd break even on it but we were no where fucking near breaking even on it!"
I love the fact that you're saying this now because there's a bit on the Cuba DVD where you've just come off stage and you say, "What a fucking band." Then, as things go on you can just see this kind of realization creep in and it's like, "Hang on a minute, what have we just done? Should we have done this?"
"The comedown. Yeah, I know. I've never taken a drug in my life but I have experienced what a comedown from a high must feel like, I can tell you."