We caught up with Nicky Wire after a recent Manics gig in Cambridge to discuss starting a men’s fashion line, scissor kicks and how he's learned to watch his mouth on stage
How are you doing?
"I’m doing very well apart from my body which is in constant shock all the time. I’m just feeling my age. All the movement! It fucking kills! I’ve been trying to incorporate dancing into my moves on stage and it’s taking its toll."
During your first scissor kick you landed on your knees...
"That was meant to happen!" [laughs]
How do you judge if 'Postcards From A Young Man' has fulfilled its aim of mass communication?
"I think it got very close. We were never under the illusion that it was 1996/7 again and that we were going to sell millions of records. It’s utterly implausible and unfeasible for us to think like that. But in terms of radio play, it’s the biggest hit we’ve had in donkey’s years. Every date on this tour has been absolutely rammed, 54,000 tickets sold. We could have done with selling some more albums but it’s not bad."
And was it part of the same aim to embark upon your biggest UK tour to date.
"It was all part of the same deal yeah. It’s taken it’s toll the last four weeks not to mention the last four years given that we’ve done three albums and non-stop touring around the world, all the festivals and this is probably the first time this has caught up with us. We kind of feel that we’ll take a break after this because it’s been pretty hectic."
But when you say take a break, isn’t this really the latest in a long line of suggesting this is your last album? Do you actually mean that you’re just going to change direction?
"Oh yeah, the next album will be pure indulgence, that’s what I’m saying. There’s only so much melody stored in your body that you can physically get onto one record. This album as it was being written it was just so utterly commercial and melodic. And I’m not sure if we’ll be able to go through that again. Just on an energy level. It’s much easier to fuck around and be self-indulgent than it is to do what we’re doing with 'Postcards'."
And there is something to be said for bands not indulging themselves in eclecticism within the bounds of one album isn’t there?
I like the idea of bands producing albums that sound similar all the way through.
"Yeah, and you know, I think 'Know Your Enemy' was an unrealised folly. If that had been 32-tracks we would have been much more fond of it. And the next one... you know me... endless quotations, but the working title is '70 Songs Of Hatred And Failure'. So we just want to get one more song on there than the Magnetic Fields [laughs]."
I read Austerlitz by WG Sebald recently and there’s an amazing quote in it saying that all grand buildings are constructed with what their ruins will look like in the future in mind. Manic Street Preachers are now part of rock history. But has achieving this status acted to free you or has it become an albatross?
[pause] "It’s a good question..."
I mean, for example, are you really now free to say, ‘Right we’ve done 'Postcards', so here it is, our Throbbing Gristle industrial noise album’?
[laughs] "I think, there is a huge element of that [reputation being an albatross], yeah. Unfortunately the burning ambition that you can hear in us on this album means that probably everything after this might be slightly anti-climactic... for ourselves. If you look at bands on their tenth album, very few of them have any relevance whatsoever. In terms of mass communication we achieved our relevance and did it on our own terms. This is our equivalent of 'Abbey Road'. From now on in, it’s just 'The White Album' all the way."
There’s a nice JG Ballard reference in 'A Billion Balconies Facing The Sun'. He died 18 months ago... what is it about Ballard and where do you see his influence in modern culture?
"It is staggering, his influence. On bands alone, from Joy Division to Richey. Richey especially was deeply entranced by Ballard. I think it was the mixture of the future, the past and architecture. The brilliant thing is, he didn’t really care about things like this. He didn’t know about bands using his titles and stuff like that. He didn’t really care about that or being relevant to popular culture. Does it still exist? I’m desperately trying to find other bands that share that sense of... oh dear! I better watch what I say or Summer Camp will have a go at me! I’m only joking, I really like Summer Camp. I was a big fan of C86, so I guess I would like them. They deal in much more nostalgic themes than I do. But I like ‘em."
The song really reminds me of The Machine Stops by EM Forster, a short story that predicted the internet and email in 1909, and predicts a future where there is little or no physical contact with other people. Quite obviously the internet has had some really bad effects but don’t you worry that by attacking it you’re going to come across like an angry curmudgeon?
"I think it’s much more subtle and erudite that that. The idea that in 1956 Ballard predicted this by saying everybody will become their own movie star. I can’t think of anything more prophetic than that. 'A Billion Balconies...' and 'Don’t Be Evil' are dealing with the same issues. I’m almost bored talking about it because all that happens is you get a torrent of abuse if you dare to say that there could ever be any negativity about... virtuality as I see it. What I’m also saying is that virtuality is the next stage of evolution, so I don’t even know if I’m fighting against it now... virtual pleasure... virtual life... It’s evolution. It’s Darwinian. But I just don’t feel like I’ve missed out on anything. My wife’s got a computer. She messes about on it. It’s just that I’ve never sent an email. I’m not proud of it. I don’t use it as a badge of honour either."
If “the converted have deserted” then what are your new constituency like? Do you have a good idea what Manics fans are like in 2010?
"Some of it is generational. It’s really bizarre. Some people who bought 'Generation Terrorists' are bringing their kids who are just as much into it as their parents. I was stood next to a guy who had brought his son who looked about 10-years-old and during Motorcycle Emptiness he said something which I found really moving but also slightly horrifying: ‘Remember, I want this played at my funeral.’ That’s the stuff of dreams. I think it is important. A lot of our fans have grown up with us and want to stand at the back and admire the songs and that’s great but we still have that energy that spreads out to the first ten rows. And without that you literally wither and die. Without that fresh intake, that vampiric fresh intake of new blood, you are dead as a band. It’s Guilfest, here we come. You fuck about pretending... interpreting your old albums in an acoustic style. It’s pissing your life away really, happy but unchallenged."
Can you give me the potted version of what happened with James’ throat and what steps he had to take to get over the laryngitis?
"It started to go in Bristol. It started to go in Newport. I guess we overdid it like we always do with a hysterical Welsh [pretends to roar]: “Yeah! Masses Against The Classes!” Then Bristol was wavering and he woke up the next morning it was just gone. And it was just a reminder that we’re 41 now. And we don’t play like a normal 40-year old band. 'Motown Junk' literally has not changed since we first played it in 1992. It’s just as fucking fast. It’s just as messy. It’s just as insane and there’s just as much movement - which we shouldn’t really do. But we don’t feel like a complete band if we can’t do that. James went to see his doctor and he was diagnosed with severe laryngitis and his vocal cords had been strained as well. They were really swollen. So there was a course of steroids and antibiotics. We thought we might get to Brixton and everything would be hunky dory but unfortunately it wasn’t to be. He’s been in a pit of utter despair. I know what it’s like because I’ve had to cancel gigs... it’s an awful feeling. It’s not just you and the band, it’s 10,000 people coming to see you in Brixton."
And I believe that Ian McCulloch was fully primed to come down to Brixton...
"He came down anyway, just for a laugh! He said, ‘Fuck it! I’ll come anyway!’"
I noticed when I got off the train to get to the venue I had to walk down Regent Street, St Andrew’s Street, Downing Street and then past part of Cambridge University. Now I thought, I’m walking past some pretty potent symbols of monarchy, religion, politics and the elite of privileged higher education. Are we amongst the enemy here in Cambridge tonight?
"Those exact thoughts were going through my head on stage! I was thinking shall I go mental here and go on some kind of insane rant... but I try not to any more because you can just end up feeling like you’re in a constant war if you just allow yourself to say anything all the time. And ‘Golden Platitudes’, which I feel is close to the best lyric I’ve ever written and I just feel like screaming on stage sometimes, ‘The next time someone lectures you on social mobility, blame this song.’ Having said that, Richey came for an interview at Cambridge. He got three As in his A-levels. It would have been interesting if he had have came here. I don’t... the enemy is everywhere [not just in Cambridge]. When I get that feeling on stage, like I did when we were recording 'Know Your Enemy' in Spain, and I said, ‘We should launch this in Cuba.’ And many times I’ve thought about that. It’s like the Charge Of The Light Brigade, leading your troops into an absolute fucking folly that’s going to haunt you forever. And I just feel that Nick Clegg is going to have that moment. He is going to be remembered as the leader who destroyed his party. These are the kind of things I think about saying on stage but then I think, ‘Fuck it, I can’t be bothered anymore.’"
Like my hero Russell Harty, I’d like to end on an ‘up’ note. I think it’s been an awesome idea going round all these towns that either haven’t seen the Manics before or haven’t seen them for donkey’s years. Which are the cities that have really stood out on this tour... places that you’ve got really good memories from the past.
"Just really fluky things. Derby on a Wednesday night... just fucking amazing! Derby Assembly Rooms. It was full of council workers and you think, ‘You’re not even going to be here in fucking six months time.’ But it was spectacular. I went to Lincoln for the first ever time in my life. I think the idea for it was coming from an unfashionable place ourselves you just feel duty bound to do more than just Manchester, Edinburgh and London. We started in Aberdeen and end in Carlisle. It’s been rewarding. You come across some really good people."
[The Manics’ publicist for the last two decades, Terri Hall, walks into the dressing room and complements Nicky on his nautical-style blazer]
"Oh thanks, it’s from Karen Millen. I went in the other day and pretended it was for my wife. I said, I need to try it on first because my wife has really long arms. It’s a problem getting clothes that fit so I’m thinking of starting my own fashion label."
You should call it Wire Threads.
Later Wire calls NME on mobile and says: "There was something that I meant to say earlier that I felt would make how I feel about this tour ending a bit clearer. I thought it might help explain why I thought things might get anti-climactic from now on. Have you ever seen the film Fitzcarraldo? Well, there is a documentary about the making of the film called Burden Of Dreams. There is a bit when Herzog has been making the film for four years and he doesn't think he can stand to go through the process again. He says, 'I'm running out of fantasy. I don't know what else can happen now.' I know it sounds pretentious but this is the best metaphor I can think of for Manic Street Preachers; that we are running out of fantasy. I hope this makes sense to you."