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"People Can Tell If You Don't Mean It" - Drowned In Sound, 20th March 2018

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ARTICLES:2018



Title: "People Can Tell If You Don't Mean It"
Publication: Drowned In Sound
Date: Tuesday 20th March 2018
Writer: Dom Gourlay


Manic Street Preachers release their 13th album next month in the shape of Resistance Is Futile. Out on Friday 13th April, its the band's first since 2014's Futurology and one which sounds like a musical amalgam of their entire catalogue. From the anthemic strains of first single 'International Blue' to the intricate sublety of 'Vivian' and 'Caitlin & Dylan' through to 'Broken Algorithms' and 'In Eternitys brutal bombast, it marks yet another impressive addition to one of rock's most revered canons.

With rehearsals well underway for April's UK tour, DiS caught up with bass player Nicky Wire to talk about longevity, Doctor Who, Chris Coleman, and The Clash as well as the new record

You've been together as a band over 30 years as a band and are about to release your 13th album while still remaining as relevant as ever. What's the key to your longevity?

I think we burned some real indelible scars when we first started. Some people have been with us right from the beginning, just as I was with Echo And The Bunnymen or the first Smiths album. Those are things you just can't get rid of; you might go off them every once in a while but you always come back. Since then, I think it's just a level of commitment and dedication. Obviously, talent's really important, but I think we learned as we got older you have to be so committed to a record. People can tell if you don't mean it. Through all the trials and tribulations people just know, whether its the public or the record company; they just know if you're not on it. Luckily, I think since Send Away The Tigers, whether you like the albums or not, they've all got a sense of commitment.

Last year you said there might not be another Manic Street Preachers album but obviously Resistance Is Futile has materialised since. Has the new record revitalised your creative spark? Is album number 14 already on the horizon?

At that point, it was more me rather than James or Sean. I'd been a bit disconnected. My mum had become really ill with leukemia that whole year, we'd lost the studio, and to be honest it just felt like walking through treacle. Everything was really loaded emotionally. The studio got knocked down so we bought a new place, had to renovate it then turn it into a studio. There was a lot of responsibility stuff that I wasn't really used to, having been institutionalised in a rock and roll band for so long; parenthood, kids getting older, all those things. I knew we had a lot of good songs but I didn't have the energy to coordinate everything until 'International Blue' came along. Because with me, it's not just about the lyrics - I like to make sure everything's organised.

Which is the oldest song on the album? When did the whole process start to take shape?

There are three songs that were done just as we were leaving our old studio, Faster. We had 'Dylan & Caitlin', 'Distant Colours', and 'The Left Behind' which we all loved at the time, but as tracks sometimes do, they didn't have a real focus. They were just put to one side. Then as we sort of coalesced around 'International Blue' and 'Hold Me Like A Heaven' in particular, all the other songs made sense, in a similar way to Everything Must Go. I remember we had 'No Surface All Feeling', then 'Kevin Carter' came, then 'Small Black Flowers That Grow In The Sky'. They were all there, but it was only really after 'A Design For Life' came along that we thought they all sounded brilliant. But as stand-alone tracks they just sounded like tracks. So that was the point where we all coalesced and got those little tingly moments.

You did an interview in 2010 where you revealed you were writing a script for Doctor Who about Dylan Thomas' last days in New York. Does the song 'Caitlin & Dylan' originate from there? What happened to the script? Will it ever see the light of day?

I wish! I didn't finish it off as fully formed as I should have. There was a fair bit of work involved. I do that a lot to be honest, and I talk about it then I tend to keep it to myself! It's there like a lot of things and its pretty fully realised. It's centered around the idea that Doctor Who has to serve Dylan Thomas his last drink and Doctor Who doesn't really kill people. But to stop the seismic disturbance that's happening in Laugharne, Dylan has to pass away. To be honest, it's just a lifelong fascination. I really wanted to write outside of myself on this album and present words to James and Sean that were just a bit more open. A bit more gloried in the sense of being inspired by other subjects rather than just me looking in the mirror. It was a really heavy emotional time and I didn't want to repeat something like Rewind The Film for example. That record is so confessional and I didn't want to go down that route again.

Musically there are elements of Resistance Is Futile which could be linked to other eras of the band. 'International Blue' reminds me of 'Australia' from Everything Must Go, whereas 'Caitlin & Dylan' is quite similar to the title track from Rewind The Film then you have 'Broken Algorithms' which wouldn't have sounded out of place on Gold Against The Soul. Was it something you were conscious of while making the record?

It was a bit more pick and mix. We wanted to write twelve songs that... not necessarily twelve singles but twelve songs that gave us a bit of vitality. Because it's really hard to pull that off when you're on your 13th album in the quagmire approaching fifty and all those things. Both Rewind The Film and Futurology were very high concept. Especially Futurology, which was so European based sonically and lyrically. So this just felt like a much more pick and mix thing where we just tried to maximise every song. So as every song came along we tried our best to make it as good as we possibly could. I think 'International Blue' crosses everything. It's got a similar drum sound to Generation Terrorists as well as that effervescent 'Australia' glide where you might expect to hear it on 'Match Of The Day'. As soon as that song came it made sense of all the others. 'Broken Algorithms' definitely has a bit of 'Sleepflower' in it as well.

Staying with Gold Against The Soul, it turns 25 in June. Are there any plans to commemorate that anniversary even though it's an album you've openly criticised over the years?

Maligned more like! It's a funny old record. I think it has four great singles and 'Sleepflower' and not much else.

I think 'Yourself' is an incredible song.

It has a fucking great guitar solo, I'll give you that! It's an album full of James' best guitar solos. And remarkably, some of my best bass playing too, especially after Generation Terrorists. To be honest, me and Sean really knuckled down as a rhythm section, especially on something like 'Drug Drug Druggy' which is not my favourite song, yet the rhythm section and guitar solo are out of this world. We are planning to do something, we're just not going to have time this year. At some point, there will be a nice reissue. It's just a case of picking the right time.

Going back to the songs on Resistance Is Futile, 'Distant Colours' is about Aneurin Bevan and the beginning of the Labour Movement. You've been understandably critical of New Labour for quite some time and there was a quote a couple of years ago that read "I'll always hate the Tory Party but now I hate Labour too." Do you still hold that opinion?

Well, that was James and he wrote the lyrics for 'Distant Colours'. I'm in a space of complete uncertainty and bafflement about politics. I find it really hard to contemplate the levels of hypocrisy on every side, the constant impossibility of being able to get anything done. I'm paraphrasing James here but I think he was trying to reflect that with 'Distant Colours'. We grew up with a post-Attlee version of the Labour Movement and how that all seems to have disappeared. You've got New Labour and old Labour, but there's also this classic Labour which we saw that doesn't seem to exist any more.

Do you believe there will ever be a traditional, or classic socialist, left-wing political party in power ever again?

Every time I think something like this might not happen... the world of politics is the most insane I've ever known in my lifetime so I'm not going to say that! Because come tomorrow there might be a snap election and the Communist Party of Britain takes over. I've given up predicting it on any level of political accuracy. I think the waters are muddied so much and everything overlaps that I'm not sure anything politically with a sense of purity can win in this modern miasma of a world where everything is cross-pollinated. Whether it be music, politics, culture or life. It's a hard place to navigate if I'm being honest with you.

I agree with you, not to mention the debacle that is Brexit. Do you see Article 50 ever being fully invoked? And if it were, the impact on musicians both leaving the UK to play in Europe and vice versa would surely be catastrophic?

I don't believe in referendums full stop. I don't like them at all. I think they're banned in Germany, for a good reason. They're too oppositional. It causes too many schisms within the country, then it sucks up so much political energy whichever way the result goes. It sucks up so much shit that nothing else gets done. It's hard to see it being realised. It's hard to see anything being fully implemented under this government at the moment, and I'm not even sure it's just this government. I think the levels of hypocrisy run through so much in political terms and in people's lives as well. I'm talking about myself quite frankly, because there's such a lack of clarity in terms of sides with something like Brexit. A lot of remainers don't understand the hardcore socialists' position of Tony Benn for instance, who hated the EU because he thought it was a gentleman's millionaires club. I can understand that point of view as well even though I voted to remain.

It makes being in a band easier. As a young person, it's easier. But I do understand that Communist ideal that if we want to re-nationalise anything they won't let us do it. This is what I mean by everything being overlapped. When we first toured Europe in 1991 there were much more border controls then and checking of passports. It was a fucking pain in the arse so it's going to make it even more difficult going forwards on both levels. This is really boring technical shit now, but instead of doing a carnet for the whole tour which involves all of your equipment we'll have to do one for each individual country we pass through post-Brexit. Saying that, it's not the biggest issue with Brexit, but from a personal point of view it's something we'll have to address if we want to tour Europe. Ultimately, it should never have got to this point. I believe in parliamentary representative democracy, and it should have been done through that route which would have avoided all this. Undoubtedly there is a need for reform in the EU - its wildly undemocratic at times and at times is neo-liberal - but my only problem with the EU is it's not socialist enough.

Ultimately, the EU is a body is no different to many international corporations in that it's still very dominated by finance.

Exactly, and I'm much more afraid of multinational hi-tech companies and corporations than I am politicians. Petrified actually. I wake up every morning thinking who knows what about me? What if someone's tracked me on this or holds confidential information about me? That's the real outrage of modern life.

It's like the whole six degrees of separation concept where everyone is linked by certain chains of acquaintance, and in a world where data capture is so prevalent it's easy to see how that manifests itself.

It is, because the link is actually completely spurious. We never even meet these people but you are linked. As someone that uses cash all the time, it's now getting to the point where I can't even use it! Because they want to track you. It's not because it makes it easier for you, it's so they can control and capture as much data about everyone and for me, that is scarier than politics. At least in democracies you can get rid of people. You can move on. Whereas you can't get rid of them.

Catherine Anne Davies (The Anchoress) has been an integral part of the live show for the past couple of years having regularly dueted with James on 'Little Baby Nothing' and on 'Caitlin & Dylan' she makes her recording debut with the band. Has she now become part of the Manics extended family as it were?

I'd like to think so. You'd have to ask her but she's an artist I really admire anyway. Just for her fucking ability! It's quite frightening how good she is at so many things. I love the way she puts her records together. They're really deep and really draw you into her world which is what I always wanted to be able to do as a kid. Her lyrics. She puts so much into everything she does. You can feel it, and when she sang 'Caitlin & Dylan' she was so willing and spot on. We have such a history of good duets that as soon as we wrote it we just felt it was for her.

It does remind me of Elton John and Kiki Dee's 'Don't Go Breaking My Heart' in places, which is no bad thing.

James said that when he was doing it. He referenced that. There's more interplay in it than some of our duets, so this is like a real Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton song. Which I think 'Your Love Alone Is Not Enough' did too. Those two fit nicely together.

The 3 singles taken from Resistance Is Futile so far ('International Blue', 'Distant Colours', 'Caitlin & Dylan') all represent very different sides of the band. Was that intentional and will there be any other singles from the album?

I think we might release one more during the week the album's released. Maybe 'Liverpool Revisited' but again, not as a fully fledged single in terms of the way it works these days. 'International Blue' was the first proper single off the album, 'Distant Colours' the second. 'Caitlin & Dylan' and one other will be dropped in between. It's a complicated world!

On the subject of singles, I've noticed you haven't got anything planned for next month's Record Store Day unlike in previous years. Looking back through your catalogue with the benefit of hindsight, are there any singles which maybe didn't do as well first time around you'd consider putting out again, and also any album tracks you now regret not releasing as singles?

I definitely think some of our B-sides could have been album tracks. For instance, 'Prologue To History' should have been on This Is My Truth.... It would have been one of the best tracks on there. I definitely think 'Donkeys' should have been on an album.

'Patrick Bateman' on Gold Against The Soul maybe?

You are fucking pushing it! Funnily enough, we've been rehearsing some mad stuff for this tour. 'Horses Under Starlight' and 'Forever Delayed' which is one of my favourite things we've ever done. That definitely should have been a single on the Greatest Hits album. I think 'From Despair To Where' had it come out later in the nineties would have been a bigger hit than it was when it first came out. 'La Tristesse Durera' as well. It was a hit in some respects around Europe, but we just weren't quite equipped at that point to cash in on it. It's such a magical song when you listen to it and a beast to play live.

How are the rehearsals coming along? Aside from the ones you've just mentioned I also saw you'd been rehearsing 'Sleepflower' and 'Garageland' by The Clash too. You've covered 'Train In Vain' in the past and James also played 'Clampdown' on his solo tour a few years ago. What is your favourite Clash record? Are they still as big an influence on the band as they were when the Manics first started?

Do you know, this is so weird because we've been rehearsing solid for the past two weeks and I tend to be in charge of entertainment. All I've been playing to James and Sean is The Clash. We've probably had 6-8 years where we just haven't played them. We probably played them too much. We've often said I don't know whether we'll fall in love with The Clash again, and we fucking have! We just cannot stop playing The Clash at the moment. Obviously, it's completely in our DNA; they are one of the main reasons we formed a band, to look like them as much as anything else. James wanted to be Joe, I wanted to be Paul, and Sean wanted to be Topper. I'm not sure if Richey wanted to be Mick, just technical ability, but they're so ingrained in our DNA. Literally, every word comes back to The Clash. We practiced 'Garageland' and everything just came back. My favourite Clash song of all time? It's a really weird one and Sean hates me for saying this, but probably my most played is 'Lover's Rock'.

Really?

Yeah. Which Sean doesn't like at all. But I love the sticky guitar. My favourite lyric is probably 'Lost In The Supermarket'.

'Lover's Rock' was a massive change in direction for The Clash at the time, even then where they'd continually moved away from the angry three-chord thrash of the first LP.

It was, but the way they mastered those changes in style was stunning which you still forget when you put on London Calling. The title track is probably my least favourite Clash song ever. Topper is just unbelievable on that album. I think he's the best drummer within a band there's ever been. I'm sure there are better technical drummers but as a key player within a band Topper is phenomenal. Whether it's his jazz background I don't know but his mastery of styles is another thing altogether.

So with 'Garageland' being rehearsed and classic songs often seguing into 'Motown Junk' during the live set, will that be making a comeback as it hasn't featured on the last few tours?

No, but the other cover we've been playing is 'No Feelings' by the Sex Pistols with me singing. Which is quite entertaining. So our little fast punk section might be those two. We just let ourselves go a bit to be honest. It's a genuine sense of fun playing those songs. With 'Motown Junk', it's not that we don't like it - it's one of our most favourite things ever, but it's also too exhausting to play every night!

This summer you've been invited by Robert Smith to play the Southbank Centre as part of his curation at this year's Meltdown festival, as well as supporting Guns'n'Roses on the German and Danish legs of their European tour. How did both of those come about, which one are you looking forward to the most, and will you be doing anything special for either?

You mean something like our cover of 'It's So Easy' except with slightly dodgy lyrics? We did rehearse it and it sounded OK but I don't know if I can sing those words where we are now 25 years later! We do have a couple of special things planned for The Cure's Meltdown show which James is working on. We had an email from Robert Smith asking us to play, which is lovely as he's one of our heroes. Then we got a message from Duff (McKagan) from Guns'n'Roses asking if we wanted to play some gigs which was amazing. Those things really mean a lot to us. We're doing the Olympic Stadium in Berlin which is fucking huge - if only Steven Adler and Izzy Stradlin were there as well! We've bumped into Duff a lot over the years and he's one of the sweetest, most intelligent people in rock and roll. He's an absolute diamond, so it will be great to see him again and watch them. You never know, we might be playing for 3 hours if Axl's not that fussed about going on! When I saw the YouTube videos from last year they sounded really good. There was one show where Adler joined them for a few tracks and that was incredible; straight away they got their groove back. It's just funny how some chemistries never disappear.

You're also doing quite a few UK festivals throughout the summer which are all with current bands as opposed to the Shiiine On nostalgia route many of your peers have chosen to follow. Is that something you'd ever consider doing in the future?

Well, it's not something we'd do at the moment but like I said to you about politics at the moment... what's that line in 'Hold Me Like A Heave'? "Tattered manifestos litter the mind, diplomatic plans ravaged by time." It does feel unfortunate that I'm not as stable as I once was, but then there's so much to think about when you're approaching fifty that life does become uncertain. Politically, culturally, and musically so hopefully not.

There's been a lot of debate over the past few weeks around UK festival lineups being dominated by male artists with a serious lack of female representation on a lot of bills. As a result, a number of festivals have pledged to ensure a 50/50 gender equality balance by 2022. Why do you think UK bookers have failed to address this before now, while their European counterparts have succeeded for years?

I have absolutely no idea. It just seems odd, doesn't it? One, it doesn't seem fair and two, it just seems a bit fucking stupid. It does seem to be something of a treadmill which maybe we're guilty of walking on ourselves. It will be good to see something different as someone that's always been inspired by women. My favourite poets tend to be females anyway, from Elizabeth Jennings to Sylvia Plath, Carol Ann Duffy and then moving onto Wolf Alice today; I think Ellie (Rowsell) is just amazing. They are such a brilliant band. I'd like to think they'd be headlining one or two this year.

That's what I don't understand, especially off the back of two massive selling albums. Wolf Alice are playing numerous festivals this year but they're no higher up the bill than they were last summer.

It makes no sense to me. St Vincent as well. I think she's the person I most admire in music at the moment. Just for the high concept where she's in complete control of every aspect; what she releases, how she looks, what she says, what she writes. The album's amazing anyway. She's always been good but I think she's maybe reached her peak on this record. It just feels like its completely 100% her. I really want to get one of her guitars! I can't wait to go to America this year and buy one; it's an amazing design and the colours too. One of my big gripes about life are men's clothes and men's guitars too - they're fucking boring. She really has livened up that aspect. My dream festival would definitely have St Vincent and Wolf Alice as co-headliners with McCarthy reformed! Maybe we'll get to do Meltdown one time and ask them.

You recorded 'Together Stronger' as the official song for Wales during the 2016 European Championships. Does it make you even prouder that song soundtracked the country's best ever performance in an international football tournament?

There are various ways of reading us as a band. The insane, nihilistic Holy Bible phase which could be sometimes seen as slightly pompous, yet one of the most exciting things about being in this band was when we recorded that. For me, we reached something of a peak with that song, and as for the football team, we could never have dreamed they'd do so well in the tournament. Doing the video with Chris Coleman and the players at the training ground was just amazing. Those are the ones you think will never happen.

What did you make of Chris Coleman walking out on Wales to take the Sunderland job, particularly as they look likely to be relegated again this season?

I have no idea! I'm sure there are issues which we'll never know about between associations and lawyers and agents. Who knows? He's our greatest ever manager, and it's hard to see anyone doing what he did. He was a brilliant international manager. It wasn't luck; we had a decent group of players, and it wasn't just about Gareth Bale at all. I've seen Joe Allen run games against Belgium. It was a sad day when he left but there you go.

Do you think Ryan Giggs is a good appointment as his successor?

Time will tell I guess. He's named his first squad today and there are several uncapped youngsters in there which is encouraging. They're both pretty yin and yang in a way. Chris Coleman had a poor start as manager and people said he was rubbish. He had a lot to live up to after the tragedy with Gary Speed. Sometimes it's down to results before you really get motoring, and I really hope it works out for Giggsy.

What advice would you give to new bands just starting out? I guess you've seen so many changes within the music industry over the past 30 years it's pretty unrecognisable now from when you first began.

It is really difficult because I think what formed us doesn't really seem relevant now. I wouldn't say to a band hate every other band, nick your mum's clothes, or don't worry about learning an instrument, which is a lot of what we were about. It would come back to that idea of commitment. Be as convincing as you can because people will know when you are faking it; it doesn't matter what kind of music it is. You only have to look at Stormzy to realise how convincing he is. Whether you like his music or not, you just know he means every word of it. He's like a proper old school romantic in a bedroom figure who's gone "I'll show the world what I've got." Which he's managed to do so convincingly. His acceptance speech at the Brits felt like a proper moment on TV when everyone was watching, which is so hard in this cross-pollinated world. Those moments still exist, and going back to Richey's "FOR REAL" really, if you know that deep inside you're telling the truth so will everyone else.