5-10-15-20: James Dean Bradfield - Pitchfork, 8th October 2009
Welcome to 5-10-15-20, a new feature in Pitchfork News. Here, we talk to artists about the music they loved at five-year interval points in their lives. Maybe we'll get a detailed roadmap of how their tastes and passions helped make them who they are. Maybe we'll just learn that they really liked hearing the "Street Sharks" theme song over and over when they were kids. Either way, it'll be fun.
For this edition, we spoke with Manic Street Preachers frontman James Dean Bradfield, age 40.
Queen: "Killer Queen"
I was just slightly becoming aware of music, and I was just absolutely obsessed with "Killer Queen". It was one of the first records I ever got obsessed with. I just absolutely loved it. I've been kind of a lifelong Queen fan, and that was the first thing that really got me. For a long time, I was hearing "Killer Queen" on the radio a lot, and I was just about understanding what music was, in a really vague, kind of infant sense. I had no idea what they looked like. I had no idea what Queen stood for. But already, there was something otherworldly about them, something shiny and glamorous. When I actually got older and saw what Queen were, it wasn't such a shock, really.
There's just something about Queen which is quintessentially British. There's something quite vaudevillian about them; they're just eminently theatrical. But also there's a pomposity, which they always carry off. Usually, when people use the word "pompous" or "pomposity" or "grandeur" in connection with music, they usually use it as a kind of a criticism. For me, Queen is always essentially pomp, and it's what made them work.
It's easy to be cynical about the reunion tours with Paul Rodgers, and I didn't go. You see a lot of bands perform, whether it be the Velvet Underground or whether it be the Police, and people are always very cynical about it. They always say, "Hey, so why are you doing this? Is it for the cash?" And of course, for a lot of bands, it is the cash. But I don't know that the Police needed the cash in the first place, I must say. The one thing that always strikes me when I see a band get back together is-- when I went to see one of the Police gigs, the first emotion I could sense on the stage between them, especially Stewart Copeland-- the thing that was going through his head was, Wow, man, I've got my band back. You know, my band was taken away from me and now I've got it back, and this is the best thing in the world. So I think that a lot of people miss out on the fact that sometimes, a former band member just wants their music back, they just want their band back, they want the camaraderie back, they want that actual physical feeling of playing the music again. So I understand why Queen did what they did. It's just not something I'm going to criticize them for.
Electric Light Orchestra: "Sweet Talkin' Woman"
ELO were my first true real love, musically. I'm one of those fucked up, stupid blokes that actually think that ELO sometimes are better than the Beatles, which always shocks and offends people. And I can understand why it does offend people, but I think when ELO hit their peak, they were just absolutely gigantic. They were a colossus of melody and power. I met Jeff Lynne, and I actually kind of worshipped him up until I was about 15 years old.
The radio was always on in our house. My mum was a massive Rolling Stones and Elvis fan and Shirley Bassey fan, so the radio was just always on. The radio was on much more than the TV. I discovered everything through the radio, especially Radio Luxembourg, which was like a pirate radio station. The chart rundown on Radio Luxembourg was always different from other charts, so you'd get some surprises in their charts sometimes. I think there was just something romantic about it. The radio show was actually done on a boat, and so you had this romantic notion of the DJ fighting against the waves, fighting against the elements just to give people music.
Echo and the Bunnymen: "Silver"
Echo and the Bunnymen was the first concert I ever saw. It was right about the time of the Ocean Rain album-- the most beautifully orchestrated rock album of all time, I think. Myself, Sean [Moore], and Richey [James Edwards] from the Manics went to see play them in Bristol, just over the Channel in England. That was the first concert I ever saw. We hung around at soundcheck. We figured out where the backstage door was, and we just hung around there. We waited and got autographs and did what everybody else does. It was really strange to see that every member of the band reacted in a different way. They give you this impression that all bands are organic living things that just have different rhythms from other walks of human life.
It was just a great moment for us, really. It's probably my best memory of music itself, going to that concert, getting Ian McCulloch's autograph, meeting the drummer Pete de Freitas, meeting the guitarist Will Sergeant-- who was really aloof. He didn't really want to sign an autograph because he thought we were deifying him and he didn't want to be deified. Les Pattinson, the bass player, was just really sweet and cool. And then when we actually saw them and we saw the Cretins open on the stage for the first time and we heard the deafening sound of live music, which we'd just been listening to on record for ages, it was probably my best memory of music.
Public Enemy: "Burn Hollywood Burn"
NME went big on Public Enemy; they really went overboard on them. They just said, "This is the best rock and roll band in the world." And you thought, yes, something interesting is happening here. After It Takes a Nation of Millions, they just seemed different from every other rap band. Their music seemed more informed; it seemed just slightly more experimental in terms of the samples they used. After It Takes a Nation of Millions, I wondered how they could go further, how they could be a better band. And when I bought Fear of a Black Planet, it was just like, aw, fuck, yeah! They've done it! They've actually become a better band-- how did this happen?
I always love the credits in Public Enemy records. You just didn't know anything about these people at all. They seemed like comic book characters, superheroes. And that's what was amazing about Public Enemy. They just didn't seem like real people; they just seemed like they'd been formed on some different planet. I felt "Burn Hollywood Burn" was the stand-out track on that record. I thought it was fucking amazing. Obviously, I could've gone with "Fight the Power", but I didn't really want to because you hear that song so much.
It was amazing how they actually managed to make a better album than It Takes a Nation of Millions. I didn't think they could do it. I remember the time they played in Brixton Academy in London, and every music paper reviewed it: Sounds, Melody Maker, NME. They all talked about this palpable tension and fear in the audience. They said the gig was probably one of the most explosive things journalists had seen since the Sex Pistols or Led Zeppelin. And no matter how hard I tried to connect with it, I couldn't connect with it. But I was still excited by it. No matter how much I tried to understand some of the commentary, I knew that I could never completely buy into it because that would just be me pretending. So I decided that it was just exciting, and the fact that it excited me so much was what made it right.
It created a massive legacy, Public Enemy. It seems to be a legacy which, for me, in a certain sense, stands alone. I think rap went down a very nihilistic route after that-- which always sounds exciting in theory, when things become more nihilistic. But for me, the last great rap album was AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted by Ice Cube. Sometimes, I'd love to sit in on a conversation with someone like Ice Cube and Chuck D if I ever got the chance. I'd like to know if they actually feel as if rap music is letting them down. I'd like to know if they'd admit that.
Therapy?: "Die Laughing"
Obviously, the other guys in the band I've grown up with, they're my best friends, blah blah. The only other musician I've made friends with is Andy Cairns from Therapy?. He's a really good guy. I really connected with him from day one. I think Troublegum is a lost album in British music. I can't think of a really true British band that came around like that, where they fused metal and punk sensibilities and also pop, and they made a convincing fusion. I just thought they were a genius band. I've been to see them lately, and they're still a brilliant band.
I kind of knew Andy around this time, and "Die Laughing" came out, and I remember just feeling really jealous. I was thinking, oh, you fucker. He managed to fuse all those dark elements of being a Joy Division fan when he was young, and liking Judas Priest, but also being a massive pop fan as well. I remember feeling really guilty that I felt jealous of his achievements, because he was a friend. But when I think of this record, I just think of jealousy.
It really fucks me off sometimes; people get written out of history. You get guitarist polls-- you know "Best Rock Guitarists of Britain". And Andy was always in there for me. Andy was always one of the top ten guitarists in Britain. And he never gets included in that; that was always an injustice for me. So I'm fighting the cause for them, basically. A lot of revisionism goes on in music journalism, or even within the consumers' mind. People passionately connect with something, and then they just chuck it away-- which is part of being a music fan, I suppose. But there are a lot of bands from that period that never get mentioned anymore, which is kind of weird, really. He was one of the pioneers, Andy. He's a good lad.
I don't know if this says more about me turning 30 than the actual song itself, but the one that really sticks in my mind is "Comedy" by Shack. They're another band from Liverpool, and there's something traditional about bands that come from Liverpool. They have an innate respect for pop music-- or for great music. Two guys in this band were in this band called the Pale Fountains, which is a seminal indie band. They went on to form Shack, and this album H.M.S. Fable is just another of those albums that fuses orchestration to amazing songs. This is such a lush, melancholic, kind of drone of a song. It's just absolutely stunning.
Interpol: "Slow Hands"
Again, it was kind of like jealousy when I heard this. Even though I'd been a massive Joy Division fan when I was young, I'd never managed to fuse my liking of Joy Division into my own music. It just wasn't in me; I didn't have that ability. We'd always try to tap into what Joy Division did, especially on Closer, but it never came off for us as a band. But then I heard Interpol when they released this album Antics, and there's one song on that called "Slow Hands", which is, like, cut glass. It's just like being cut by shards of glass falling down on your body. There's just something beautiful about it, but something extreme underneath it all. That song kind of made me feel strangely alive right about that period.
There's something about Interpol which I can't get to the heart of, something about the band where I truly don't understand where they're coming from, and I always find that exciting. Like Public Enemy-- I knew what they were trying to convey, but I couldn't quite have empathy with all of their emotions. Sometimes it's the bands that you don't quite have complete empathy with that really intrigue you and excite you. In a strange way, it was the same with Interpol: I didn't know where the fuck they were coming from, I didn't know where their psyche had been created, I didn't know what they were about, but I just always wanted to understand what it was. And this song, "Slow Hands", I think it could've easily been a Joy Division song.
The Thermals: "I Let It Go"
There's this really cool record shop in London called Data. I was just in there, and there's this one record. It just sounded like a perfect indie pop rock record. It's just one of those things, when you're in a shop and you hear a song and you just love it, but you don't know what it is. You always feel a bit embarrassed by going up to the people behind the counter and asking what it is, but I summoned up the courage. It was the Thermals, and that's one of my most favorite records of this year. There's just kind of this real rush about it, which I love.
This album they just did [Now We Can See] is much better than the album before. It's like they're taking a leap. And there's no great context for the music other than the fact that it just reminds you of being a young indie fan. For anybody who's 40 years old like me, to actually feel young is a good thing, you know?