"I never thought music was just a joke, or a really sick form of entertainment..." Guitarist Richie pauses, thinks long and hard, runs a finger over the scar on his arm - the result of carving the legend '4 REAL' into his flesh in the hope of convincing a sceptical journalist of the band's sincerity back in May.
"Rock 'n' Roll is dead", continues Richie. "bit it's massive. Line Guns 'N' Roses are a massive band, they're just five blokes onstage completely absorbed in this huge myth, which is past its sell-by date, and yet it's still selling millions of LPs, and I just find that sad. It's almost a kind of Stalinist view of music."
While he says this, Guns 'N' Roses' 'Appetite For Destruction' LP is on the stereo. It's "dead," but it's massive; it's "sad", and yet it's on the record player. Who are these Manic Street Preachers, why are they so baffling, and is society to blame? Welcome to the jungle...
Richie sits cross-legged on the sofa, sipping tea, a softly spoken, and extremely likeable human contradiction of a media image which has you mentally preparing yourself for a fully-fledged '90s Sid Vicious clone, stumbling around in a drunken haze and pausing only to slice further chunks out of his body with a crimson-soaked blade.
This couldn't be further from the truth. Richie isn't drunk, and furthermore he doesn't look a bit like Sid Vicious. There is, however, a telltale blood-encrusted 'L' peeping out from beneath the cuff of his spray-stencilled shirt sleeve.
Manic Street Preachers grew up in Blackwood, a small Welsh mining town 12 miles from Newport. They went to the same infant, junior and comprehensive schools as each other, and spent all their spare time reading books and playing records in singer James' bedroom. "We've never really had any friends," explains Richie, "just ourselves."
Cheesed off with mid to late '80s escapist pop tendencies, but inspired by the thunderous venom of Public Enemy's protest-orientated music, the Preachers locked themselves indoors and hatched their masterplan: to destroy rock 'n' roll by 1. becoming massively popular, 2 releasing a 20 to 30 track double LP, and 3. deliberately splitting up while they're still on top.
"Basically we were bored out of our skulls with our lives," says Richie, "and we just saw no prospect of it getting any better, and we thought if youth is gonna keep on getting fed shit bands that mean nothing, we may as well try to be one of those bands that try and do something."
"Without Public Enemy we'd have been stuck in our bedroom forever, and we'd never have gone out. We just thought what is the point?"
Manic Street Preachers might lack the songwriting prowess of highly accomplished pop-punk tunesmiths like Mega City Four, but what they lack in artistry they make up for with sheer naked enthusiasm and sincerity. It's raw, it's chunky, it's a string of violently careering three minute blasts of 1977-tape pogo outrage. It's good stuff, not brilliant, but exhilarating nevertheless. What it most definitely isn't is anti-nostalgia, as the band claim it is.
Look Richie, I swear I can't heat anything new here.
"This is the most confusing part about us. We think what we're doing is so good, because we recognise the fact that youth culture is always gonna be about second hand ideas and second hand images, and we've taken all that on board."
"What we think is different about us is what we say in our songs. To people who've seen certain bands before, we really are gonna remind 'em of 'em. But what we say is that we wanna appeal to people in comprehensive schools, and all they've seen is just tedious little bands who stand still and do nothing."
"I really like the way Andy Warhol treated art. He just held it up in contempt really, and that's all we're saying - that there's no room left for originality anymore."
What about The Cocteau Twins, Lush?
Fair enough, their songs are alright, but it's not gonna ever have a broad-based mass appeal. Maybe it's musically doing something different and innovative, but it's not gonna sell millions of records. We want to return pop music back to its primary source. The Sex Pistols were only speeded up Buck Berry, you know? It was no different."
But their approach to music was new at the time. Yours' isn't. "No completely. Yeah, that's exactly it. And we're just saying that we can't see any different ways of doin' it. I don;t think any bands are doin' it differently, barring Jane's Addiction, who we quite like."
But they're unmistakably '90s. Manic Street Preachers aren't.
Musically? I know but that's the difference. Jane's Addiction have sold 500,000 records and Guns 'N' Roses have sold 16 million. We wanna sell as many records as possible. When we started, our music was really different, we tried a lot of different things, we even sounded like That Petrol Emotion at one point, but we just thought, it's not going to do it."
"Jane's Addiction are so close, but even in a country like America they're not gonna get up there with Guns 'N' Roses, because all Guns 'N' Roses are is a rock band. You can't drag one thing from them which you could say is new."
Guns 'N' Roses have never claimed to be doing anything new anyway.
"No, but we're saying that we wanna reflect stuff in the lyrics like Public Enemy do, and like Guns 'N' Roses don't! Like every rock band these days they just sing about cars and girls and life on a LA beach, and that's what rock music has become - like a really tired old cliche going nowhere at all. It's just obsessed with its own past, with its own myth, but we wanna make lyrics like Public Enemy."
We wanna seem second hand, and we wanna seem like we wanna dress like Keef Richards or somebody, we don't care, that's the whole point."
Manic Street Preachers are not so much a band as a concept: they aim to laugh rock's retro-traits out of existence by being the ultimate retro rock act, and by pressing the self-destruct button at a stage in their career when most 'rebel' combo's decide that, Hmm, perhaps it's best if we hang around and rake in the filthy lucre.
"We just want a huge debut LP and that'll be it."
And you're serious?
"Completely, because we were forced to look back at those old bands, and they were so horrendous by the end. They were charicatures of themselves, and they diminished everything that they were. Old Clash fans now must think, What was the fucking point? They're selling Levis jeans! I mean there was no point at all!"
As the oldest Preacher (he's 22), Richie's first encounter with a genuine musical phenomenon came with Two-Tone at the tail-end of 1979.
"We completely missed out on Punk, and the big thing in our school which I noticed for the first time was The Specials, that was the first like scene-wise thing I can remember. I didn't really buy many Specials records, but the whole school went fucking wild, I mean everybody at school, it felt like, for six months it was huge. And then after that...I could never like bands like The Jam, they had good lyrics, but they always seemed really dogmatic to me."
The only band that excited Richie and James, along with bassist Nicky and drummer Sean, during the mid '80s, was radical Mancunian politico pop manglers Big Flame. Such was the embryonic Preachers' enthusiasm for the critically acclaimed Manc trio's contorted output, that James' bedroom was often the scene of marathon letter-writing sessions, at which reclusive and possibly ever so slightly eccentric Welsh youths would pour out their hopes and fears to their marginally less angst-ridden heroes in the north-west of England.
"We didn't really see any point in going to see any bands, we went to the cinema, but we just read books and stayed in. We really were just completely wrapped up in ourselves, we just stayed in, all four of us in the bedroom, just watching TV and reading books, and that's all we'd do, it's all we've ever done since we were 12."
"The one band we just really love so much was Big Flame. We loved that band, we got so many letters off them, we wrote to 'em all the time, just like 20 page letters. Their lyrics were so brilliant: they didn't have any love songs, which I think is really important, they just wrote really pissed off lyrics all the time."
"When they split up we just thought they're gonna mean an awful lot to us, but nobody else knows, and they didn't sell any records. That's when we started looking back to bands like the Stones and The Who."
"That was a pretty depressing time for us, to realise that the only band when we were teenagers that really inspired us sold not even a thousand records. I just thought, we've got to make a decision, what are we gonna do? We either wanna end up like Big Flame, or we wanna end up being massive."
Already self confessed bookworms, Manic Street Preachers put aside their Rimbaud, Burroughs and Ginsberg, and instead got stuck into a pile of rock history books. With these they would learn enough about classic rock 'n' roll scams, poses, gimmicks and cliches to be able to foist themselves upon a public accustomed, by now, to shuffling dance grooves and baggy jeans. The Preachers' traditional skinny-legged aggression was certain to rub a few people up the wrong way. This was pretty much the whole point, truth be told.
"Punk to us was just like the Stones or The Who or Elvis Presley, it was no different."
"I mean, we were just buying U2 records, or Echo And The Bunnymen or Simple Minds records, and there was The Wedding Present, and all those bands started coming through, were just so shit, they were really shit."
"We've always read stacks of literature, so we just moved on to reading about Elvis, and then The Who and Stones and the Pistols and The Clash, and they all seemed to be saying a lot more than all the current bands, and that really depressed me, because I didn't want other people's heroes."
"I just thought we'd never be reduced to reading about it, and we were, and that's what really pissed us off, and I just felt that Public Enemy came along, cos they just made a lot of sense to use, a huge amount of sense."
Eager to escape their hometown, where the last working mine was closed down in 1988, leading to universal depression and subsequent increase in boozy Friday night punch-up scenarios, the band got down to business.
Sean had been classically trained, with a formidable pedigree as the youngest trumpeter in South Wales. He even played in a brass band once. With this expertise as their musical anchor, Manic Street Preachers began practising in their bedroom on acoustic instruments, knocking ideas into shape until eventually it was time to hit the road.
"We pressed up 300 copies of the first two songs we ever had, and we just pushed 'em off to any journalists we could think of, bands and venues..."
'Suicide Alley' was followed by the 'New Art Riot' EP on Damaged Goods, and finally that all-important debut London gig, their third ever.
"That was our first experience of being out of James' bedroom, being in a transit van in London. That's the first time I'd ever driven for more than, like, ten minutes in my dad's car. It was just like, that's probably one of the worst days, it was just so horrible, driving three or four hours, and then through the centre of London in a transit van - I mean, I'd never driven a transit van! And then unloading our stuff, taking it into a pub, plugging in, no PA, then driving it all back home.
"The first ten shows we did in London we had to get back as well, cos we didn't know anybody to stay with. So we'd leave in the morning, first thing, and then we'd play, pack up and drive home and we'd get in at five or six in the morning, then I'd get up in an hour's time to take the van back."
When 'Motown Junk' came out on Heavenly in January this year, things finally started taking off. Manic Street Preachers were making a name for themselves, and crowd reactions were starting to get extreme.
"It was either completely universal adoration or, at a place like Brighton, the minute we stepped onstage we just got bottled and canned for like 35 minutes, four or five hundred bottles, and it was perfect, we loved it, that's one of our favourite even concerts."
"And at a place like Garrick in Scotland, I mean Nick got punched in the face, so did James, and Sean was nearly decapitated by a cymbal. There were four people about two inches away from me with syringes, just filling 'em up with lager and they've just gone, boof! Right in me face!"
"But that's what we always wanted to inspire, cos when we started getting into music, everything seemed so safe, and really boring. Everybody loved each other, and I just thought it was really unhealthy you know? People have a tendency to react violently when they don't understand something, but most people tend not to inflict violence upon themselves when other people don't understand them."
A couple of months ago, when NME's Steve Lamacq remained unconvinced by the Preachers after a lengthy interview in Norwich, Richie decided the only way he could prove his sincerity was by mutilating his own arm, hacking the essence of the band's manifesto into his arm with a razor blade, narrowly missing a major vein in the process.
"I just didn't know what to do. Normally I would keep on talking, Steve was really quite nice but he just didn't believe us, I'm really happy to argue, I'm really happy for people to despise us, because we always wanted that to happen - but when people don't believe us it really annoys me."
"I didn't like doing it, but it just had to be done. I was doing it for myself as much as anything. We were talking to Steve for about an hour, and he had some really good points, but he just thought everything was really rehearsed, that we'd sat around watching videos of bands and nicked bits from them, and we have done a lot of that, but the point we try to get across to people is that that is what most young people do, and that we're being completely honest."
Have you ever been the squeamish type?
"In school I used to faint in assemblies, I'd be carried out. I just used to pass out."
What happened at the hospital after you cut your arm?
"That was the only thing I didn't like about it. I was supposed to go in first. because one of the cuts was quite close to the main vein. They wanted me to go in straight away. but I waited lit everybody else had gone in...l mean it was only people with sprained wrists or whatever, but I thought, well at least they did it accidentally. I mean I'm not gonna jump the queue. I got seen at about two or three in the morning.
Were the staff sympathetic?
"Yeah, they were. There was a young nurse on the ward, and she'd actually read about us in the music press, so she was really good about it. "The day before they took the stitches out I phoned up the hospital and said, Look, I cut myself in Norwich. I did it deliberately. I've got 17 stitches, when's the least inconvenient time for me to come around? So they said. Well. could you come just after eight o'clock in the morning? So I got up really early and there was nobody else there. so there was no hassle for them."
I can't imagine Sid Vicious being that responsible about his wounds.
-No. see. We're sweet boys."
The band are indeed highly responsible about certain things. Since January, they've been slaying in the West London home of their publicist, Philip Hall.
When I arrived at the flat, Richie courteously took my jacket and hung it up in the hall, so as not to untidy his host's living room. The place showed signs of a recent vacuum cleaning session, and in the kitchen, the breakfast things had all been scrupulously washed up. Believe it or not, Manic Street Preachers really are sweet boys. Philip Hall certainly thinks so. Some nights they even cook him a meal.
"I don't know if it's true. but we heard that when The Senseless Things signed. they came in and smashed up a TV or something, or did a little bit of damage. I mean, they only did it probably because they thought it was expected or 'cm, but like for me, and all of us, we don't really see the point in that. It just seems a bit too much.
"That's the record company that's signed you, and they believe in what you're doing, so why...it's like when Philip and his wife come home from work tonight, they've been working. all day. and if there was no clean plates. and all the kitchen was dirty, if we hadn't fed the cat. I wouldn't think. like. What a really good person I ant, what a great person, I really Inked them over. Why P" It them over? Why f**k over the people who walnut help you do something?
I'd like to f**k over my bank manager, he p"ses me off, you know? Just big things, the House of Lords and the monarchy. ,those are the things you should be more prepared to f**k over, and they don't. It's been diminished so much that you p**s off people that feel the same way as you do or wanna • change things."Despite having been in London since January. Richie doesn't miss his homeland. Nationalism is one of his biggest dislikes, and as he happily points out, none of the band speak a word of Welsh.
"The English destroyed the Welsh language, in schools if you spoke it you were caned. But once something's been destroyed you shouldn't try to drag it back up. I don't want the Welsh language to survive, I don't see any glory in it. Like, why? Just so you can tell your next door neighbour in a different language how p**sed off you are? It doesn't matter to me.
"I think it'd be much better if we all 'started talking to each other and said,' Lets do something about it,' not just going, 'I don't care about what's next to me on the map. That's not gonna do any good at all."
Contrary to popular opinion, Manic Street Preachers are not big Clash fans. They only like the 77 rebel rockers! eponymously titled debut LP ("it's pretty classic"), but.don't rate the later stuff at all.
On the other hand, at least they've heard of The Clash. Suggest that they sound a bit like Glen Matlock's post-Sex Pistols power pop outfit, The Rich Kids, and you'll draw a total blank.
"See. we don't know any of those bands at all," Richie explains. "We only ever went for big bands, we didn't see the point in reading about bands that didn't do anything, that didn't sell any records, I just thought there was no point in that."
When 'You Love Us' came out with pictures of Betty Blue, Bob Marley and Marilyn Monroe on the sleeve, it was widely perceived as the band paying tribute to their heroes. It turns out this was another misunderstanding.
"They weren't our heroes out of love, they were our heroes out of pity. And I hate the fact that we had nothing and we had to look back. That, to me, was just a really terrible time."
'Generation Terrorist' is a different slant on the same theme.
"What it's about is just...the way we're perceived is as being like a classic rock band who just want to imitate - some people say we want to be The Who, some people say The Clash, and we're just saying you get fed all these icons - lay Marilyn Monroe, she's always gonna be in poster shops, James Dean as well, and we just find it really obscene that you're reduced to looking back all the time. It's just us attacking a culture which offers you nothing but the chance to live out a dream through other people."
Has anything ever made you laugh? At all?
"Not really, I used to laugh at all the bands on Top Of The Pops. I just like reading books, and I tried to read funny books now and again, but I just never really caught on.
"I could go out and be really happy, I could get pissed and have a good laugh, but something stops me. I just think, Oh no, I'm just fooling myself!"
Although 'far from being a miserable person, Richie does seem to take the world very seriously, even to the point of smashing up his guitar onstage to make a political statement. This particular course of action was inspired by older people who'd together, complained about his rough handling of the instrument at a time when bodies were coming back from the Gulf. Certain critics seemed to value a bit of wood with strings on it more highly than human life itself.
Nowadays, Richie tends to have to buy a new guitar after every gig. It's not meant to be a gimmick. "I was thinking, the other day, what if I went onstage and I took off my top and I cut my chest. People would go, that's really planned, that's really a gimmick.
But the thing is I'm doing it to myself, I'm not doing it to anyone else. It's not much of a gimmick if you've got 20 stitches across your chest. Maybe we'll have to do that, just to see what happens."
Only if people still don't believe you?
"Even maybe if they do, at least they'll believe us more." Aren't there easier ways to prove your point?
"I dunno, like we spend so much time just going out and talking about things like this, and we've been trying to think of something to do, and it's really hard, what else can you do?"
Do you really mean it when you say you hate the royal family? Don't you think Prince Charles is an ok guy?
"No.-It's just we've always been interested in big statements and big issues, and the fact that individually he might be a nice person or whatever, I don't know, I'm never gonna meet him, but what he stands for - that's why I just think he should be gunned down."
Would you pull the trigger yourself?
"I think I would, I think we all would, we'd have no trouble with that. I mean, people could say to us, Why don't you go out and do it now? But we'd like to try to do something with the band first."
What will you do after you've split up, apart from killing the royal family?
"I don't know if you know about JD Sallinger who wrote 'Catcher In The Rye'. He built himself a bunker and basically locked himself away, and that's it. That's all he did. And we'd be completely content to do that, we'd have no problem with that at all. It's all we ever did when we were young anyway."
Did you ever go on holiday?
"I went to Blackpool once when I was young, I thought that was really good. I do like the countryside quite a lot. We really like being by the sea, just somewhere really quiet, you know? I just think the reason we don't have very much of a good time is just...we're worrying and thinking about stuff so much.
"Like we've just been talking about what I did to my arm, and whether we should do it all the time, at every concert. I think it would be a good thing to do, but then we know we could only do, like, a five date tour.
"I cut my arm in Norwich, and then we couldn't do Birmingham the next day. There was no way, physically, I just couldn't. It was all swollen, I was being sick and wouldn't move my fingers, so obviously if you're gonna do this you can't have a concert the next day, we've always gotta give ourselves a day off. So, for the next tour we'll have to really decide what we're gonna do, and organise it properly."
Weren't you worried about cutting an artery?
"I wasn't at the time, I have been since, but only because one of the cuts was really f**king...they spent a long time trying to stop it bleeding, but I mean if you want to kill yourself it's easy to do, isn't it?"
Richie makes a cutting motion across his wrist with his finger.
"That's where you've gotta cut, and we're never gonna do that onstage...well, at least not until the LP comes out."