"Individually we've always been pretty powerless, but together we make up for each other's inefficiencies. Nick's handsome and has always been the most popular with the girls; Richey never had any musical talent but he's so articulate and sensitive to everything around him, Sean is brutality personified, he pisses everybody off because he doesn't like anybody or anything and then there's me who's a bit musical and a bit of a lad".
With uncharacteristic understatement, James Dean Bradfield sits hunched over a Scotch and coke, armed with a sly grin, struggling to explain the dynamics of one of the most important bands of the '90s - along with Rage Against The Machine and, er, that's about it. The Manics are saying things people haven't said for a long time in a way people haven't said them.
They've riled wishy-washey liberals, they'd slash themselves soon as look at you and exude an attitude that's been missing for too long in music. Kicking against the pricks and repelled by bpm facism and the hedonism of acid house, the Manics have tapped into the psyche of fucked-up adolescence, communicating alienation and despair through vicious sound-bites and hair-raising riffs.
Their music snorts and steams with teen angst, pain and disillusionment and they embody the energy of a garage band, the attitude of die-hard punks and the egos of stadium sluts and the dedication of true believers. In the face of mediocrity the Manics are stars on the ascendant and, like all great rock 'n' roll bands, they're a self-contained, self-obsessed unit who formed their opinions on the outside world simply by opting out of it.
"I've always wanted to be famous," says James. "Nick had aspirations of being a famous sportsman like Ian Botham and I wanted to be someone like Napolean. Then I discovered music or The Clash to be more precise, and that was it my destiny was determined."
Growing up together in a depressed mining village in South Wales, James, cousin Sean and school chums Richey and Nick found solace in each others company, escaping from mundaneness by encouraging each others obsessions and idiosyncrasies.
"I don't think we could have done this if we hadn't grown up in a shit-hole, where the only way to escape was to create your own reality," reckons Nicky, who's hiding in Wales playing house-husband and taking a break from his chores to chat down the blower. "We grew up in one of the most deprived areas of Britain. When we go home nothings changed, it's such an insular society. We had nothing, we had a cinema but that was closed down when we were twelve, so the only thing for it was to retreat to our bedrooms where we could play our records and put on our make-up. We were never particularly victimised for being weird because no ever saw us."
Only ever venturing out for the odd game of football, the Manics became an impenetrable clique obsessed by the idea of fame. Being intelligent, articulate individuals, it was inevitable the Manics would chance nothing to fate and manipulate their own destiny and having devoured every column inch on every band they ever thought was cool and ostracising themselves from their peers, they concocted their manifesto on how to conquer the world. "We've always got a kick out of goading people into thinking we were complete tossers", recalls James with undisguised glee. "Everyone has their own little gang when they're at school, that's what we're like. We realised as individuals we were very limited as people so we had to fabricate ourselves and took a very academic approach at being a band, We were quite clinical. We were like magpies, collecting information, keeping dossiers on journalists and learning how to manipulate them."
Realising there were not only enemies but also allies out there the manics were also clever enough to court people who were driven and inspired by music - "All they had to do was believe in us and we gave them all the ammunition they'd ever need" - and likely to empathise with the Manics passion and vision. Their first single 'New Art Riot', released by hoary punk revivalists Damaged Goods, was memorable only for the fact a copy was sent to publicist Philip Hall who, at the time, was splashing the Stone Roses over the front cover of every music publication.
Hounded by curious and constant phone calls from the fragile valley boys, Philip eventually relented and went to watch them rehearse at the local comprehensive. "We really had no notion of what Philip did, or how helpful he could be to us," says Nicky. "We just thought he sounded like a person who could help us out. within three months he'd become our manager, we escaped from Wales and the four of us slept on his floor in London for six months. He had to put up with a lot, by the time we'd signed to Sony he'd remortgaged his house for us. Even when we smashed up our equipment, he never got pissed off - in fact he used to encourage it, he used to have a glint in his eye. He loved a good wind-up and at least before he died we'd repaid the faith he'd put into us by starting to become a successful band."
Fixed up with a manager totally committed to their cause, the next course of action was to look around for a label that believed in magic and would put their poetry in motion.
"Looking round at the time, Heavenly seemed the most exciting label at the time so basically we just pestered Jeff Barret (Heavenly's head honcho) until he relented. He could see our flaws, but he had faith in us, saw our potential and supported us." Jeff initially encountered Manic Street Preachers through 'Hungry Beat,' an adrenaline-rush fanzine to which the band would contribute vitriolic rants at the same time advertising their wares and employing much the same technique employed by Kevin Rowland once Dexy's Midnight Runners had split and he'd stopped talking to the press.
"I was handed this letter," recalls Jeff, "And told, Read this. It was passionate, it was on fire, it wanted to change the world and it really excited me. Unfortunately their demo tape didn't do as much for me." But three years later their paths crossed again and this time 'Motown Junk', three minutes of spit-and-fury pop perfection, was released. It sent a shock through a tired old system and was eagerly picked up by a music press who had only EMF to play with. Now the fun really started.
First impressions were of four delicate, knock-kneed boys given to homo-erotic poses, eloquently quoting Nietzche on one hand and capable of careless stupid quotes on the other. The weirdest looking bunch, together they embodied the dreams of many a fucked-up teenager and wannabe pop star, slowly convincing everybody that their stage personae and personalities were one and the same.
The identified with the underdog, the lost the lonely and abused; disaffection and despair had never sounded so sexy.
"Motown Junk' was the starting point for us, really. That was the first time we ever really felt like a band, the first time we created a record could live with. We had people around us who understood exactly what we were trying to say and how we wanted to say it, then we signed to Sony" says James going through the motions of the band at breakneck speed and rubbing the 'Anxiety Is Freedom' tattoo on his arm. "Naturally that incurred the wrath of Jeff for a while but you don't have a dream so you can cut out little faded pieces from fanzines all your life. You want glossy stuff that's not going to fade. We always wanted to reach as many people as possible."
Their first album was a double a typically grandoise statement that was accompanied by threats from the band of suicide pacts after selling their first million - "We also had this dream of performing self-immolation on Top of The Pops but we never got around to that either." It went gold but failed to make the impact the Manics had hoped for. so they lived, and continued to chew up journalists while spitting out more stunning singles., including an inspired copy of 'Suicide is Painless', and beginning to taste the chart success they'd always craved. Yet in the face of fame and ever-growing acclaim, the Manics resoluteley refused to cheer up or cut loose.
"The nearest we've ever come to that was with the second album. That was a time when we'd been working really hard for two years, we'd started reaping the rewards money-wise and we were working in this studio that was costing us two grand a day, with swimming pools and all the rest of it. We got sucked into MTV-land for a while, all we did was sit on our arses all day. But we came out of that experience with even more to rail against - there's always something to be angry about," giggles Nickey. "I think we've all tried to deny it at some point or another, but being unhappy and dissatisfied is part of our make-up. I look at my video collection or book collection and I realise they're all about fucked-up loners."
The Manics have resolutely refused to fade away or become bloated ligging pop stars. They've continued unabated and, for the most unchallenged, ripping rock cliches apart and subverting them, kicking out the jams and delivering lyrics we can sing with passion when drunk and maudlin. Permanently poised on self destruct - Richey is absent for the interview, in hospital suffering from "nervous exhaustion" - and bridging a fine gap between cynicism and insanity, the Manics are relentless in their antagonism.
In four years they've grown up fast and furious, provoking adverse reactions and littering their trail with controversy and their own peculiar morality.
"People should realise that the most important changes came about by talking in really discriminate terms" says James, when past faux pas - such as wishing Michael Stipe to go the same way as Freddie Mercury - are mentioned. "Language has always been our weapon, our lyrics are getting stronger and if you hurt a couple of 'nice' people along the way, or offend them, then that's necessary."
The Manics don't care about people's wrath because, quite simply, they are their own harshest critics. Despite increasingly hysterical reviews and the general opinion that they are something of a revaluation live, James nearly gags on his whisky when their much vaunted Glastonbury performance is mentioned - "It just seem like the worst gig we'd ever done, it was like cabaret for post-degree students" - and is hyper-critical of 'Gold Against The Soul'.
Driven by their manifesto and utter belief in each other, the manics have developed from knee-jerk situationists with wild ideals into a major musical force with a political agenda, quite capable of realising their dreams of world domination. In a climate choking with charlatans, lazy plagiarists and media whores, the Manics are worth getting steamed up about.
Having resoluteley set themselves apart as a band, the Manics were never part of any scene - they're just part of the vacuum. Long may they rage.
Generation Terrorists (Columbia 471060 2) 1992
Waging war on boredom and mediocrity, the Manics' debut is a situationists
soap opera, a flawed affair which, despite failing to ignite the world, still scorched people with flashes of brilliance such as the breathtaking beauty of 'Motorcycle emptiness'. Wired up punk delivered in amphetamine-fueled rushes, 'Generation Terrorists' was an arrogant outrageous assault which yielded six top 40 singles and quotes Chuck D back-to-back with Nietzche on the gatefold sleeve. Loaded with self-pity, self loathing and potent one liners, it perfectly captures the arrogance of youth and documents the Manics' first faltering steps.
Gold Against The Soul (Columbia 474064 2) 1993
Despite protests from the band that they despise their second album, it proved beyond a doubt the Manics are capable of sculpting powerful, elegant anthems. Combining the sweet futility of 'Life Becoming A Landslide' with the sweeping orchestrations of 'La Tristesse Durera', they display a penchant for the killer hooks and emotional choruses which propelled them into the league of global rockers. James Dean Bradfield vocalises the pain with barefaced honesty while the juggernaut riffs and tender melodies now provide solid foundations for their songs rather than just the dramatic flourishes. A powerful, emotional and almost perfectly executed album, the Manics prove themselves to be more than disaffected youth and dramatically become the only band capable of making stadium rock seem like an honourable notion.
The Holy Bible (Columbia TBC) 1994
As 'Volume' went to press at a ridiculously early date no full tape of the album was available but James had this to say: "I felt like we'd let ourselves down really badly with the last album, inhabited too many personae. the new album is lyrically far more potent, musically a lot more stripped down. It was recorded in a really shit studio in the re-light district in cardiff. It was really bleak, seedy and perfectly suited to us really. We didn't want to get into that decadent rock star rubbish, we wanted to communicate ourselves honestly."