Love 'em or loathe 'em, the Manic Street Preachers are the band who are impossible to ignore. Swaggering onto the mainstream stage with last year's 'Generation Terrorists' album, the Manics are a compelling and at times irritating hybrid of competent rock, revolution, politics, nasally vocals and an arrogance that would make Muhammed Ali blush. Despite derision and controversy, the Manics probably knew exactly what they were doing all along, and with the help of a string of hit singles and a steady-selling album, laughed all the way to the bank. Sitting in a dingy Shepherd's Bush cafe, rhythm guitarist Richey James is quiet, unassuming and not at all like the New York Dolls wannabe his stage manner would have you believe. Drinking tea and eating cold toast, Richey, despite an infuriating tendency to wander off the subject, is articulate and honest enough to admit that he didn't play a single note on 'Generation Terrorists'. Travelling from Reading especially for this meeting, the guitarist, despite a wary reception from many sections of the press, also makes it all the way from A to Z without bursting into tears - definitely a first. Hey ho...
The whole point of 'You Love Us' (from 'Generation Terrorists') was the way we wrote it really — really early on, when we first started getting press in England. I think what we were doing was something very different. We came to London with a very simple attitude, which was that people would either find us worthwhile or of no interest whatsoever and go away. But we found an audience really quickly, and the press came really quickly as well; either it was really good or it was really, really vindictive. People just couldn't make up their minds what they perceived us to be, and 'You Love Us' was just written in response to that."
"I think — especially in Britain — the music press thrives on needing fresh, vicarious bands. I just feel sorry for bands who don't expect a backlash and who expect to be around forever. The minute we came to the city, we always knew we'd get a record deal; but we also knew we'd be critically destroyed. We had almost obscene ambitions, so we knew there'd be a backlash. I'm surprised it's taken as long as this to start really. I think it must be really hard for bands who have a lot of faith in the music press. But if you read it week after week after week, you realise that the 'next big thing' doesn't mean anything really — it's just music."
"I think when we started off we wore a lot more eyeliner and stuff. We did look quite androgynous, but it was only a bit of eyeliner, sort of like the Rolling Stones in the late '60s. We were never like Boy George or anything like that. I just think it was pointed out at the time because we came out in a very male orientated, hedonistic scene, and we were just doing something a little bit different. We never went on like Kiss or anything like that."
"We do this only when it seems natural. We did it a lot when we first started off, just because it was that exciting for us to be actually doing gigs. It took us two years to actually get to London and to really think what we really wanted to do. We were getting paid for the gigs so we started smashing things up. The first tour we did we started smashing everything up, but then we stopped because it just seemed too much of an act. What happened at Reading (last year's festival) was that Nick (Wire, bassist) was throwing what was left of a guitar• into the crowd and it didn't go quite far enough and bounced back and injured a bouncer... I think that's all legally sorted out now."
"People either love us or hate us, I think, because really we're just an honest band. We were always very open. You know, we haven't done a 1,000 gigs in a toilet; we were always very open about the fact that we wanted to be on a major label, even though most of our favourite music comes from independents. Any band who are any good end up on a major anyway. Let's be honest about this. Nirvana and Husker Du both made great records and ended up on major labels. We said straight away that we wanted to be on a major, to make that point, and a lot of people hated us for that. You know. you get Kurt Cobain on the cover of Rolling Stone wearing a T-shirt saying 'corporate magazines still suck'; but he's still on the cover, isn't he?"
"This happened really, really early on. We were doing a gig in Norwich to about a 100 people, and the whole thing was just an argument with a journalist — you know, what sort of noise we were making, why we were making it and how he didn't think we were authentic because we were just so different from anything around at the time. I suppose we did seem like a hype because we just came out of nowhere. So anyway, we were having this disagreement, and where we come from people end disagreements by beating each other up, so I thought I'd end it by cutting myself — however childish that may seem. I carved '4 Real' (with a razor blade) into my arm; it just if shame and humiliation were supposed to last into the eternity. It just seemed like the logical thing to do, however stupid that may seem."
Guns N' Roses (Manics cover 'It's So Easy' in their live set)
"It would be really fashionable for me to say 'Oh, Guns N' Roses...shit', because every band does. And on the MTV awards (where the band performed 'November Rain') they were pretty far removed from what we remembered. Basically, we were pretty starved of exciting contemporary bands, and one Christmas there was this special of Guns N' Roses live at The Ritz (in New York) and it was like, 'Fucking hell!' We were all shocked. They were just supposed to be straight ahead metal, when really they were the closest we'd seen to our favourite groups. They just really shocked us."
"Well, there's so many things. The main thing is that the Labour Party is so out of date that it no longer offers a viable alternative. The last election we had, it was really obvious that the Tories were going to get back into power. We have a self-centred electorate that only take care of themselves, and whatever people say about how they wouldn't mind paying higher taxes to support the Health Service, they never do it. They might say it in the opinion polls, but they never do on election day. Voting for the Labour Party is no longer seen as radical. Taking an E at a rave is now considered radical."
"Our image came really naturally. Thinking back, it seems really stupid that we were so confident in our band. We were coming down to London in, basically, white jeans and white spray-painted shirts, getting onstage and playing songs at the height of rave culture. I can't actually believe we thought it was going to work. We didn't all sit down around a table and go: 'Well, this is the summer of love, so what are we going to do that's really different?' This is a band that works as one, and it all came very naturally because we've known each other since we were about two! The only important things in my life are my family and Nick, James and Sean."
"Well, that's always been Nicky much more than me. He's really addicted to fruit machines, always has been. He's got a huge debt... Well he's alright now, but before we got a record deal he owed the band a lot of money, basically just through fruit machines. It's just his one nasty addiction. All his money just goes on fruit machines. He still goes in four or five times a week for four or five hours and just plays and plays. The few times that I go in, if I win a bit of money I think: 'Great, I'll stop'. But he's really happy when he wins, because it means he can stay longer on the machine."
Kafka, Franz (legendary Czeck author of `The Trial' and 'Metamorphosis')
"I like Kafka. I just thought he summed up the 20th century perfectly. Like in The Castle, when a man goes all that way to find a man who tells him what to do. It was just like there was no purpose in life whatsoever. Or at the end of The Trial, when he says: 'Like a dog', as think he uses brilliant symbols."
"Our lyrics came about through when we were growing up there so few bands we really liked. Even with contemporary authors there was so few of them that were actually saying anything. We just wanted to try and say something in our songs. I think on the last album some of the lyrics definitely were convoluted. A lot of the songs we didn't like at the time of recording them, but we just wanted to get rid of the backwater — get out everything we'd written even if we didn't like it. We'd do things like change lyrics just so they wouldn't rhyme. We were so tied down to what we thought we wanted to be as a band."
Manic Street Preachers' next album
"The next album is tentatively titled 'Gold Against The Soul' (scheduled for a June release). The title is basically about a loss of innocence. You know, when you grow up you can buy a car, you can drink, you can smoke, and it doesn't enhance your pleasure in any way; you just end up more miserable. It's got no value really. You just end up buying things that are of no importance. Musically, I think a lot of the songs are a lot more melancholic, a bit sad. There's two or three hard songs, but it doesn't really sound like us. I think it's the 10 best songs we've ever written."
Now that we have the attention, what do we do with it?
"I think that's the main reason a lot of bands fuck up. You know, they get what they want — they get a deal, they make a record, and the record sells. That's when most bands fuck up, because they get really lazy, like: 'Oh, we're going to sell records forever. The press really like us, we're not going away. I'll get a guitar-shaped swimming pool, I'll buy a Rolls Royce'. And then they just completely lose it. I'm glad that'll never happen to us, because we want to make better records, write better songs and say something different."
"The Michael Stipe thing was just so misinterpreted (Nicky Wire said onstage that he hoped that the REM singer died of AIDS). We knew when we said that of the contradictions of being in a band and that, ultimately, all music can be is a background to your life. On 'Motown Junk' (Manic's first ever single) there was a line that said: 'I laughed when Lennon got shot', which was designed to show the hypocrisy that you can say anything about anybody, but don't criticise a pop star. You know: 'Elvis is above everybody; he's above Jesus, he's above God'. We just wanted to redress that balance. We just wanted people to realise that its not that big a deal."
"I don't think that you can really manipulate the press. The only thing that I find really offensive about the press is that everybody knows that they pick their pet band and they make their pet band big and they backlash, but they ignore the truth. The press can't come to terms with their own hypocrisy. I mean, in every band you have a certain amount of hypocrisy, like 'We won't sign to a major', and then they do. It's not a crime. Everybody says hypocritical things, but the press never comes to terms with its own hypocrisy. One week they're saying: 'This band is the future of rock'n'roll', and the next they're saying they're shit."
"I'm anti-Royal. I think everybody in my generation is. The sad thing is that it's seen as such an institution that it goes unquestioned: 'It's always been there, it always should'. It's such a blasé attitude and it really, really offends me. It's a part of British history that should just be wiped straight away. An alternative comedian can stand up and make jokes about it, saying it's like Dynasty, but that's not the point; the point is it should go. I mean, it is funny, it's laughable, but it should also be destroyed."
"Everybody goes through a period of reading the same books — Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs, Kafka, Sartre...all those types of things. I think the last book I read was an autobiography of Tennesse Williams. I like Frank Miller (author of the Batman graphic novel The Dark Night Retums), Dennis:Cooper (Frisk) and Brett Easton Ellis (American Psycho)."
Sex in the '90s
"I'm not that careful, actually. I'm not that precious about life or whatever. Most people aren't. Like a lot of people I know, wherever, people smoke a lot, they drink a lot, they eat shit food and it's all shortening your life. People are always up in arms about how precious life is... Big deal — stop smoking that cigarette, stop drinking that pint of beer. You're quite happy now but it means that you're going to die when you're 60 instead of when you're 80. If you really care, you'd go to a gym and work out, but nobody's like that. I don't know one person who's genuinely concerned about their health. As for sex in the '90s, everyone's really paranoid: 'Is he a death fuck? Is she a death fuck?"
The Great Rock'n'Roll Swindle Part 2
"We've been accused of that so many times. I never saw it myself, but I acknowledge that our early singles were just like a three-chord racket; that's the most accessible thing when you've only been playing your instruments for six months. There's a tendency among the right wing press, not just the music press, they take culture and knowledge away from the working class. Like culture excludes them, like they're not worthy of it. But everybody has their own fashions. If you go out of London, you see everyone doing their own thing. That's what we tried to do."
"America is the most confusing country I've ever been to. Wherever you went, you almost thought you'd been there before, because every building and every bridge was identifiable. Wherever we went in New York was like: 'I know this from Cagney And Lacey. And everything about the country is just contemporary culture; it's just so universal. The Coke can is the best symbol of the 20th century; a stupid product that is in every single home the whole world over. It was really strange, because it was the most rootless place I've ever been to, because everything's just so new. I think that's why Americans have such a different world view from everyone else."
"I think every band has personal vanity. There's even vanity in having a shave every morning and leaving a goatee beard on. It's very nice wearing eyeliner and everything, but it's still something you've got to take the trouble to do. I think that vanity exists at all levels. A lot of bands say that they don't want to be successful and they don't want to sell records; but no one forces you to sign a recording contract. If you don't want to make records, don't make records. You don't have to do it, nobody's placing a gun at your head."
"I think it's a really difficult place to come from. It's the one place in the United Kingdom... When people don't like us they never talk about our lyrics or whatever, it's always: 'Oh, sheep shaggers, sheep fuckers' or whatever. Every interview we get, the lead word is always based upon a Welsh pun, and you'd never get away with that for an Irish band. You could never go: 'Fucking stupid potato-eating paddies'. You could just not get away with that type of thing. An editor would not allow that to go near print, but you can say that about us."
"I think it's more down to the need for somebody in a band, or collectively, that just knows what they want to do. I think that's why a lot of bands have problems. They've got a great song, but they don't want to talk to the press because 'they're all fucking wankers'. But we look at it like you take it for granted that you've got a song that you think's worthwhile, so what's the point of talking to the press. I just find that really difficult to come to terms with. You need somebody to kick the guitarist out of bed in the morning to practice, or to go to London to do a gig... I think that's what the 'X factor' is —just hard work, I suppose."
Youth of today
"I think they're in some ways lazy. Take for instance the crusties I find particularly difficult to come to terms with. You know, that whole anarchy thing. I've read a lot of the things that bands like the Levellers base their ideas from. It's a really naive idea to think that society can exist like that. It's a really naive, hippy philosophy that 'Things'Il get better, man, if everybody just takes care of themselves'. There's got to be room in society for the weak and the ill and the mentally retarded. I think anarchy's a very fascist argument, really."
"I suppose I could be seen in that respect; I suppose I'm just passionate about music. Music has been the one thing that I truly found so much worth in. I love reading and stuff, but you just get much more pleasure from listening to a brilliant record for the first time in your life. That's why we all wanted to be in a band. It was so difficult when we started out that if we had any less conviction we'd have just split up. But we really, really wanted to this, and that's why we didn't break up." =