Generation terrorists turned pop stars, Manic Street Preachers are high in the charts with Them From M*A*S*H Richey '4 Real' James had a nice chat about Rimmel with Claire Robson...
The Manic Street Preachers have been keeping themselves out of trouble since their last UK dates, touring Europe, Japan, the USA, and even Australia! Now they're back with their feet up on the table at home in Wales and recharging their batteries for the next few months' mayhem - a UK tour in October, followed by tours of Germany and America, as well as promoting various releases and dealing with arranged interviews that they haven't been told about (e.g. this one!)
I finally managed to catch up with Richey James (guitarist/lyricist and general gob-shite) at his mum's house for a few cursory words and standard questions, like 'What's it really like to live Wales?'
"Wales is just an empty place, that's why you leave it. We're only back home for a couple of weeks because we haven't been here since January."
Typical Manics response, all angst and no trousers. I think to myself and decide to probe further as to why Richey hates his homeland so much. The Manic Street Preachers take every available opportunity to destroy the myth that Wales is a nice place (what myth? - Ed) and they left as soon as they could for the bright lights of the shitty.
"The media exists in London and no bands would ever get signed if they stayed in their own areas. That's why we think a lot of bands are really ignorant. They're pretending that reality doesn't exist, and it does. They do 200 gigs a year and they think that A&R men will come and see them. And it doesn't happen, so why pretend it does? We just did 20 gigs, realised that it's pointless, saved up and went to London."
And what's so great about London - the pollution, the people, the place? "Nothing. People outside London are pretty much the same. Londoners have got a strange perspective on everything. I can't believe how strangely they think. I mean, Time Out, what a magazine! Almost everybody I've met there has no feeling on any form of art unless a critic tells them that it's good. At least most people I know in the north, or in Wales and Scotland, know what they like. I like Munch, Van Gough, Andy Warhol...Birdland were a good Warhol tribute idea that didn't work. I don't know why. When we met them they seemed nice, too nice. A brilliant live band, but they seemed in awe of too much, fans of everything. I had a Patti Smith t-shirt on and they made a big deal out of it. They seem so in love with rock's mythology they can't do anything themselves, which is sad."
Talking of sad, what in Swansea possessed them to choose Suicide Is Painless (Theme From M*A*S*H for the Sleeping With The NME compilation album?
"The song had to be a number one, and most number ones over the last 23 years have just been pretty hopeless for words. We just thought the lyrics for M*A*S*H were quite good. We didn't want M*A*S*H to come out as a single though. It was meant as a contribution to the NME album and we did it with that in mind. Which just goes to show how much saying power bands have."
Now a short interlude for the benefit of all you new students, Richey modestly speaks his mind on the nature of educational opportunities. "I didn't go to art college because I got a B in my O-level and I couldn't live with myself. Nothing exists in exams unless it's an A . Unless you get A's, there's no point in carrying on. So art was ruled out."
"At A-level, I took history, economics and Geography and got straight A's. Nothing groundbreaking. I went to Swansea University because I had the best course in political history in the country at the time, and I was specialising in Nazi Germany and Russian Social Policy. I think this part of history had the biggest impact on the lives of most people in this country. There were only about two or three places in the country which offered that course and I wasn't going to demean myself by going to a polytechnic."
Back to the cutting edge now; the third track on the taster single for the NME album is an excerpt from the Radio Five programme that chronicled Richey's arm-engraving exploits, and the backlash in the NME offices the next day. (Could it be that they're perpetrating their own mythology? - Ed) Back to reality, what's the next single?
"CBS might release Little Baby Nothing. M*A*S*H was out on 7th September, so it could be any time. We're meeting Traci soon to make the video." Traci if you didn't already know is Traci Lords, a porn queen much admired by the pritt-stick pranoes who guested on the track itself.
Is there a new album in the pipeline? "At the moment we're writing some new songs. Lyrical inspiration is taken from books because I don't see why my personal life is going to be interesting to anybody. Not much happens when you live in a provincial town. I suppose it might be different if you live in Soho. Really we're a rock band with something to say. We're not Mötley Crüe. We're not Poison. Although our music is more along those lines, rather than Ned's Atomic Dustbin."
The Manics claimed that their debut album was going to make rock history and that they would then disappear into oblivion. Obviously not what actually happened. So I put it to Richey that the band are not the generation terrorists they'd like to think they were, but instead, suicide fakes.
"Probably. We just want to reach a point where we'll be remembered. There haven't been any good British bands for about a decade. With every band you only really matter if you reach a lot of people, which we haven't done yet. That's the only aspiration I've got. Britain is where we judge our success. Forget our success in Japan. In Japan we are on top of the world, but in Britain we're pretty much near the bottom. The LP has just gone silver (60,000 record sales fact fans!) whereas bands like Simply Red sell 400,000 so they must be better than us, mustn't they? The thing I like best, is that we stay in the charts for quite a while floating around. Most other bands chart high one week, the disappear the next. Whereas Motorcycle Emptiness was in the Top 75 for 10 weeks."
While we're on the subject of records, is it true that Richey doesn't actually play the guitar on Manics' records?
"Yes, because James can do it a lot more effectively. When we were recording the album, I was trying to do the album's artwork. We were were recording in a field in the middle of Surrey, so I went to London, and stayed a few days doing all the artwork for the single as well (Slash 'N' Burn). If I'm away and we're recording a track, James just does it, and we've got into this routines."
Oh my God! I'm shocked! I had read it, but I still couldn't believe it! My next question's a bit feeble in the light of that revelation. Don't they feel that the re-release was pandering to consumerism?
The re-release of You Love Us is how we feel it should have always sounded, but when we recorded it for Heavenly Records we only had one or two days to do it, so it has really bad production. And we couldn't do the ending properly. I think the records we release now are more polished but I also think the new You Love Us is a lot harder in metal terms, which is the music we listen to."
For example? "Guns 'N' Roses, I think Appetite For Destruction is the most commercial album of all time. On the two new albums, they haven't got a track anywhere near the quality of Sweet Child or Paradise City. I don't know whether this is a good or bad thing, but it's certainly a brave thing."
"I like The Wildhearts. I respect them. They're a brilliant band. And personally I like Public Enemy for what they say, not what they sing, although I can't pretend to understand Chuck D's ideology. If I ever met Chuck D, I wouldn't act like a fan, even though I am."
Being so cool, how did they feel about playing Reading, their first festival, on the same day that Public Enemy headlined?
"The one thing we never wanted to do as a band was play festivals. We just don't like the idea of across-the-board toleration of all forms of music. There's no critical appeal or any form of judgement. People just watch everything, and we don't reach the wider audience we want because everyone is stoned. If people wanna do it, personally I don't mind. It's when I'm out for a drink and someone comes up saying, 'Yeah! I've been taking drugs! Brilliant!' I find that as boring as someone bragging that they've drunk 10 pints of larger. It doesn't really matter does it? I think if you're going to make a big deal out of it, you might as well go the whole way and stick some smack filled needles in your veins and really lose track of reality."
Heavy, man, but now to the burning question on a million quivering teenage lips - how does Richey manage to keep his eye make-up perfect when he's playing gigs?
"Believe me, it's not. It runs all the time when I'm on stage..."
Richey 'Rimmel' James - the man whose eye liner will not stay in place.