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11/03/01 - BBC Radio 1 - Backstage

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Just describe a bit about the venue we're in because it's quite a unique building isn't it?

Yeah, it's the old Coal Exchange. When you come inside you can imagine smoke-filled meetings going on. It's almost got a kind of miners institute vibe about it. You can imagine there's probably a library and a cinema somewhere upstairs. I love these old buildings actually. I've only ever seen one gig here myself - Catatonia about four and a half years ago and it was brilliant so I'm glad we're playing here now. 

For people who have never seen it, it's basically a giant oak-panelled room, double storey with a balcony around the top. It's not where you'd expect a rock gig really is it?

No it isn't. Like I said you can imagine some kind of smoke filled meeting going on with votes being cast and a lot of people speaking and protesting and just shouting so it's definitely got that old ragged-trouser vibe about it. Kind of like an industrial revolution vibe. It's nice - I love this building. 

Did that have anything to do with why you chose to play here or was it just convenient?

To be honest it was convenient. We've played just about every venue in Cardiff so it's just ticking another one off the list. I can tell my kids when I get old that I played every venue in Cardiff when I was young. 

Do you consider Cardiff crowds to be home crowds?

Yeah, used to. Last time we played here was the Millennium gig and that was definitely a homecoming and it felt as if we were returning to victorious pastures once battled upon. It's been such a long time since we've played a gig here that I'm nervous enough not to feel like I did at the Millennium gig. It's come around again that I feel we have to win people over. I think that's all bound up with starting again and just being away for a long time. 

James when he came to visit Radio 1That's a good feeling then isn't it?

It is a good feeling if you're 32 years of age like I am. It keeps you spiky. It controls your attitude and behaviour. Once I get on stage I'll definitely feel as if I'm up for it. 

Because it's a small venue, 600 people I think, they're really going to see the white's of your eyes aren't they?

Yeah. A lot of bands from an indie background, when they get quite big they seem to shy away from the indoor arena experience. They say 'I don't like playing to 10,000 people. I find it really alienating. I feel as if we've gone a bit too far'. We've never been like that. Regardless whether we were playing here tonight, we'll enjoy it. I still do miss those arena gigs, the megalomania that you get, the fact that you've got 10,000 people in front of you and you feel as if you've got some power over them. Nick especially likes that feeling. It'll be nice to do this. Especially since this is only our third gig in 13 months so this will be almost like a qualifying fight! 

Where's the final going to be?

I'm not sure. Hopefully some kind of rumble in the jungle vibe. 

When you get ready for a show, how do you go about preparing. What's the routine for the day?

I hardly ever do anything, I don't even warm up vocally. I never do. Perhaps I'll just have one or two screams backstage and that's it. Usually the only thing that really happens before I do a gig is that I get in a really bad mood and it's no point people trying to hold a conversation with me because I get very spiky and quite nasty. It's me just trying to concentrate. We don't do a huddle, I don't carry a rabbit's foot in my back pocket or anything like that. I just get really silent and sullen and it's the same every gig really. 

Do the songs you sing require the passion that you had when you wrote them or do you just go out there and perform songs?

No. Our songwriting is so bound up with mutual experience within the 3 of us that it's so easy for me to connect with the lyrics at any time of the day. I never feel as if I have to get myself in the right place before singing the lyrics. It's actually more of a physical thing for me. The only feeling I can pin it to is when you have fights when you're younger, that horrible feeling just before you have a fight where you know you've got to rise above the situation otherwise you're going to get your head kicked in, that's what I feel before I go on stage. 

James in CubaThis is the first gig you've played since Cuba. What were you feeling this time on that day and how does it compare to what you're feeling today?

Everything I just said, times 100. We didn't have any of the things you can usually take for granted. All the people out there didn't know any of our songs, anything about our attitude or any background or history about us so you're going out in front of a virgin crowd basically. They don't know what to expect and you don't know what to expect from them. I felt very hyped up and very aggressive and obviously there was certain things like it was our first gig in 13 months and I've got to admit I felt like my head was going to explode I wouldn't really want to go through that many more times because I might just collapse. I felt like I was going to go mad. It's actually nice to be doing gigs where there's no other agenda it's just a gig. We can kind of relax in comparison but usually I'm very tense anyway. 


When you're on stage, what are you thinking about - the performance or are you just going out there and losing yourself in it? Usually, besides all the things I've said about feeling aggressive, that's all dispelled by the third song. I'm very focused after that. After three songs I'm on autopilot. I don't mean that to sound like it's cold, that I'm not trying to put any expression or emotion into anything but I never think about my next move I don't have to think about doing anything. It's very much like you're being guided by voices or something which it should be at my age! I've been playing gigs for 12 years so after 3 songs I'm usually in some kind of groove!

Do you still enjoy touring?

I absolutely love touring. Since 1996 I've enjoyed touring because we've gone to a different level of success. I'm not sure about Nick and Sean but I do thrive on that acceptance of seeing that many people in front of you. It actually spurs me on to play to the crowd a bit. Success makes you strong and gives you so much optimism within yourself. You never know, if it takes a big downward turn perhaps I wouldn't enjoy it so much. 

The Manics have gained a lot of hard-core fans. How do you think your relationship with your audiences has changed?

Well, that's the strange thing. Anything that we try to second-guess at the moment we just can't, we fail. I really don't know what our audience is made up of. I'm not very good at reading demographics and trying to work out whether one audience is equidistant to another band etc - all that market research. When I think about the people left who want to maybe see or hear us, I just hopelessly fail. I don't know who likes us any more. It's really strange, it's quite scary. 

All the bandI've seen all the glam rock kids outside. It's Nicky Wire's influence isn't it?

We've always had a hard-core of fans that look like that way before the band Placebo came to birth. I've always called them the 'bibleites' because those fans came really visible during the 'Holy Bible' era. It's not a derogatory term. It's quite a scary term and it gives them a bit of an intimidating presence. 

Surely if you're called a 'bibleite' you'd be proud to be that?

Well, I don't know, you can never tell. I think it's cool. 

This is the first gig and then you're going to launch into the tour on a few dates around the country.

Yeah. To be honest we're off around Europe for 2 weeks to do lots of promo like radio, gigs and stuff. Then we come back and our first gig is the end of March with two nights in Manchester, then two nights in London and two nights in Glasgow. After that we start doing a lot of promotion and festivals. We don't actually start touring properly again until September. It's a lot of stopping and starting. 

What festivals are you doing?

Not actually allowed to say at the moment. Our agent would have an absolute fit if I announce it so I can't do it. 

I was chatting to the cab driver on the way here and he said to ask you why you're not playing any gigs in Wales on your tour?

The first gig in 13 months was in Cuba and the last gig we did before that was the Millennium Stadium so we're doing this British tour at the moment and it's really hard to schedule a gig in Cardiff because regardless of what we do - if we do a scaled-down gig like this people say you're excluding a lot of other people and if we do big gigs or something which is like 12,000 - people say we haven't got the chance to see you in a small venue. So at the moment we're in a bit of a quandary as to what to do in Cardiff. We don't know whether to save up for something big after the summer or for Christmas. We just want to make sure we make the right decision because obviously it's much more of a drama. We're in the position whether we do a big or small gig we'll get criticised for it so probably try and save up for something big. 

In stage in CubaBig Manics extravaganza at the end of this year then?

Yeah, hopefully. We've got to see how things go. Cardiff shouldn't worry too much. They've got Robbie Williams playing in the Summer and stuff. 

Are you worried about the new material, playing it live? Not really no. To be honest I don't get worried about making mistakes. That's for other bands to think about. I see a lot of other bands standing there just static and contemplating their navals thinking they must recreate the sound of the record. I never care about playing every note off the album. For me, playing live is an altogether different expression. I don't really care about finesse or forgetting a lyric. I just enjoy it anyway.

For fans who are thinking about coming to see the Manics on tour, what can they expect from you in 2001?

There was a lot of impressions given from the press and we took a bit of a hammering. There were a lot of journalists saying that because of our age and the length of our career that we were perhaps out of context now and that things we did and said were irrelevant compared to a lot of younger bands. I think you can just expect to see that we're still a completely aggressive experience. You don't have to jump around or gesticulate like Limp Bizkit to actually seem like you've got some sort of combative element to your music. I still think we're one of the most vital live bands around and I think we'll just prove that all over again. I don't think a lot of people are expecting it because we have taken a bit of a hammering in the press in the last two years. We're not going to be gentle live!