The last album of the Manic Street Preachers is barely eight months old when the next one is already shuffling his hooves. "Futurology" will see the light of day on 4th July. The band from Wales is currently back in Germany on tour, the best opportunity for a conversation with bassist Nicky Wire.
Afternoon in the Live Music Hall in Cologne. The stage is already finished, the room only dimly lit. My way leads me into the backstage area, passing right next to the stage and up the stairs to a kitchen. Wait there for a moment and enjoy the beautiful tile table ambience. After all, different colored mosaic stones, it could be even worse. A cook and a cook are already busy preparing the dinner.
A good-humored and friendly Nicky Wire welcomes me in his wardrobe. So it looks like the rock stars of the world: three times four meters as a through-room, plus two red cloth couches and a small table. The bassist does not seem to mind. Relaxed, he looks at me through his reddish tinted sunglasses and willingly provides information.
Hello Nicky. How is the tour going so far, are you satisfied?
Yes, but it is physically very demanding. I certainly do not want to complain. You often forget your age, but your body does not. Well. Berlin was fantastic. Munich too, and that was not always the case. Maybe it has to do with the fact that Bayern has just won the cup final. It was this Saturday night.
Did you start after the game or did you play in parallel?
Pretty much at the same time, but that did not make itself felt by the audience.
Are there differences between the audience in Germany and in the UK?
In the meantime, not so much, but in the nineties people have reacted very strangely to the fact that we never play encores - especially in Germany. They simply did not understand why we did not return to the stage after a great gig. We never gave an encore anyway. In Japan, they completely go through for it. Here in Germany we now have a good fan base. There are always thousands of people who like us. But there is hardly any fluctuation. This time Helsinki was great, the first evening of the tour, the wildest bunch so far. Only submissive Manics fans apparently. Whereas in the UK everything takes place on a larger scale.
How many viewers are you pulling?
On the last tour, 45,000 people came to the eight concerts.
Are there still areas for you where you would like to perform? Where have you never been?
South America, especially Argentina. I have always been fascinated by Argentina. I loved their football team from the 1978 World Cup. There is even a Welsh colony in Patagonia. Otherwise there are not many places left where we were not yet. North Korea? (laughs)
Is there a reason why you appear in slightly smaller stores here in Germany this time than on the last tour?
(Relaxed) No, that's just the way it is. You trust the promoter. I think every band that can play in front of 1,200 to 1,600 people per evening today is lucky. We are realists, we do not pretend we can perform in big arenas.
Let's talk about the music. When you released "Postcards From A Young Man", it said in the run-up to: 'This is our one last shot at mass communication'. That sounded a bit desperate for me. (Wire laughs.) Have there been any moments in the last few years when you thought you might quit?
Pretty much every week. You get older and there are a lot of problems. I have been married for twenty years and have two young children. Sean has three, James also a little. And then there are the problems that you have when you're in a band. The digital age and the amount of stuff you have to do. It is exhausting. Not making music was always easy for us, but all the trappings have become much harder in recent years.
I always liked the fact that every album differs from its predecessor. Where do you still get new inspirations and ideas after all these years?
We are still obsessed with music. Old music, new music, it makes no difference. We grew up with the romantic idea that rock'n'roll music can change your life. This works until today. Each album is therefore a new chance to express our love for certain types of music. Or for literature, art and film. That still drives us.
As for the musical influences: On the last album you had the song "(I Miss The) Toyko Skyline". Are you trying to incorporate the influences from the entire concert tours into the songs?
In any case, we like to be carried away by places and moods. This will be even more apparent on "Futurology", the new album. It's about traveling through the heart of Europe. We have a lot of Germanic allusions on it, be it music or art. As for Tokyo, we have been going there for 22 years. And that leaves of course a lasting impression, a scar on you. The bond between our fans from certain locations and the band is really strong. It will not leave you cold if you have to leave these places again.
You are known for expressing your political views openly. I barely see any bands out there that are equally clear. Do you sometimes think that you are the last dinosaur in this regard?
It does. But in the UK everything has become so complicated. Politics has developed into a gray mass, which is only focused on the middle. When I grew up, left and right, black and white, had clear views in every direction. Today I only see crappy mainstream. Germany was also far more radical when we first came here. But you are very successful for that, should you be happy, right? (laughs) Well ... I have a degree in politics and have always been very interested. But now is the first time in my life that I am so disillusioned that I do not know who to vote for.
Are you involved in the elections to the European Parliament?
I have always gone to vote. At the time I am either in Paris or Belgium, ironically. I just can not remember if I did postal vote. James sent his note, I know that, but I'm not so sure about it. I hope I have. At the moment, I'm a little upset with myself because I do not know who to vote for. I have always believed in democracy, but I just miss the direction.
I feel the same way. Let's swiftly move on to the current album and the upcoming one. I think that "Rewind The Film" showed you new strength.
It was a brave record for us because she is so sensitive and intimate. It does not sound like we usually sound. No big guitar riffs or big strings. We wanted to switch something down consciously. We always liked albums like "Nebraska" by Bruce Springsteen or "On The Beach" by Neil Young. And so it has developed that we have also written smaller songs. Texts that sound as if you look at yourself in the mirror and make friends with aging. Which is especially hard when playing in a rock band.
Do you think you overdid it on "Postcards From A Young Man", the album before?
Yes, but aware. It was in the sense of: Come on, let's play it all, what is there on guitar tracks and violins and make every tune very fat. And it worked. In the UK, the album has sold very well. 150,000 discs in this day and age are really great.
The aspired 'mass communication' worked so well?
As far as she is possible with a rock band at our age: yes, I think that was successful. I'm not sure if we can do it again. The digital age has changed so much, bands are looking for new ways to get along. Of course, more tours are possible, but that's for the younger people. When we played 1992/93 in Germany, each of the four-week tours were in one piece, sometimes in the most remote places. I do not think we would be able to do that today. If you're young, that's no problem.
On "Rewind The Film" you had a lot of guest performances by other musicians. Which criteria did you choose?
Actually always the same pattern. First of all, they have to be people we really like. And then we think about which song they would fit into. Then we ask the artists, some then wave off, because they have no desire. I was thrilled with Cate LeBon's last record, so she had to be there. And James is a good friend of Richard Hawley, whom we love too. It all evolves naturally. It used to be like that in the old days. With Ian McCulloch from Echo & The Bunnymen, who is heard on the debut and on "Postcards", we were just big fans and asked nicely. It's always nice when it works out. If you have written as many songs as we do, you will get a new note, a new color.
How can you imagine that, just pick up the phone and call them?
Yes, pretty much. That's just people like you and me. We like them and offer them the songs. Actually, there are fewer collaborations than 'Hey, do you want to sing along in our song?'.
"Rewind The Film" and the upcoming "Futurology" are in large part from the same recording session. Why did you decide to split instead of releasing a double album, for example?
Of course, we considered whether to choose the "White Album" approach. Honestly, we did not get any red thread there. The songs are so completely different and do not harmonize well with each other. We had trial versions pressed, but it just did not work. Lyrically and musically, both albums are complete opposites. "Futurology" is quite optimistic, lyrically speaking.
The lyrics on "Rewind The Film", however, were quite melancholy.
That's nice though (laughs) . I would say they are pretty bleak. Futurology is more about the things we love. Music, art, travel, movement, punk and krautrock - all this will take place on the new album.
Sounds like the new album is even more diversified than the last one.
I always describe the new record as a post-punk disco rock. I can not summarize the songs any better. There are elements of dance music, but at the same time the album is rough and somehow uplifting. We are not the edifying band normally. In the Manics there is always melancholy in the songs.
You mix this most skillfully. The music tends to be happier, but the lyrics are darker and more introverted.
Yes, I feel that way too. Welsh seems to be dripping naturally in us. A built-in lyrical melancholy, so to speak. Welsh are realistic people. The Irish are more romantic and optimistic, Scots are often proud and defiant. In Wales we are more obsessed with our own shortcomings (laughs) . But that's a good thing. The best poems from Wales have something self-analytical, I like that very much.
Where does this new interest in Germany and the German language come from? In the video for "Take Me To The Bridge" you clearly play "Lola Runs". And in "Europe goes through me" are parts of the text in German.
That was always there, to be honest. The first tours in Germany were pretty hard, but as of 1996, we have come back as a vacationer and have brought the families. Of course, the fascination for German music also played a role. This whole phase from Stockhausen to Kraftwerk to Neu !, simply great.
So the fascination comes from the artistic perspective?
For me yes. But James, for example, finds German food awesome (laughs) . I am the antithesis, for me food is overrated. He is totally on it. But the art was important. The architecture, the whole movement of the 'bridge', the expressionism, even Bauhaus, all these were important influences for the album. But especially the said music phase. Everything was so new, so far ahead of its time, as far as all the musical developments in the world hurry.
How do you transfer Bauhaus and the 'bridge' to songs?
Well, at the 'bridge' I think that's not that hard. The idea behind it: Expressionism is feeling. It means that what you feel is more important than what you see. That sounds pretty pretentious now (laughs) . But that's how we try to work. On the album there is the play "Between The Clock And The Bed", which alludes to a monk painting from Oslo and clearly illustrates our idea of the expressionism of that time. It's just exciting. Or you go to an exhibition by Gerhard Richter or Anselm Kiefer. I am a big pine fan. As you get older, you also try to absorb more of these things than just playing a concert.
Do you have time on tour to go to an exhibition?
Sometimes yes. When I was in Berlin for the last time, I went to a judge's exhibition. The Kunsthaus was also an interesting series. In addition to the music, I always had other interests. On my solo album there is a piece called "longing". I love that word, it does not translate properly.
As you said before, you collaborated with Nina Hoss, who contributes the female vocals for "Europe goes through me". I did not know that she is also a singer.
We do not either (laughs) . It was a strange chain of events. We really like her movies, especially "Barbara", a masterpiece. Alex Silva, whom we know from the recording of "The Holy Bible", moved to Berlin and worked with Grönemeyer. Since then he has his own area in the Hansa Studios in Berlin. We wanted to be back with him, so we flew to Berlin. Nina Hoss is the companion of Alex Silva. The plan was to make "Europe through me" bilingual. Unfortunately my German is pretty shitty now (laughs) . Nina happened to pass by, so we asked her for the translation of the part. And where she was already there, if she does not want to sing something for us. Their singing was exactly what we were looking for: strict and domineering.
For me, her singing sounds a bit like 'Berlin at the beginning of the 80s'. She has something rough and direct.
Yes exactly! She recently sang in Berlin with us, it was brilliant. She had that rough again, great. Maybe we'll manage to take her to Glastonbury this year.