Who'd have thought it. Back at the turn of the decade a storm of a band called Manic St. Preachers flew out of Wales putting attitude back into music. Their early singles showed a snotty arrogance not seen since Punks' hey day. They wore make up and made hand made shirts and you loved them. Four or so years on and three albums later they are total antithesis of a band ready to take on the world. Richey's in the hospital and up unto a couple of weeks ago their very future was very much in doubt. Your caring, sensitive Atomic investigates...
Nicky answers the phone and gives the longest yawn this side of insomniacs anonymous. He sounds happy but fucked. Or maybe even relieved. Their new album, 'The Holy Bible' is as hard as a box of nails, but maybe they meant it to be that way. Whatever, he is fairly happy with the results.
"It was a conscious decision to just write the sort of songs we wanted to write, not particularly produce them as much as everything else. It was just a natural state of where we were just made for a tense sounding album. It was recorded in a £50a day studio, a shit hole really."
On 'The Holy Bible' there's a song which sums up the whole situation at the moment. With lyrics like 'Funeral march for agony's last edge/6 million screaming souls/maybe misery - maybe nothing at all", it's all about the holocaust. It also sounds remarkably like Joy Division. Do they influence the Manic St. Preachers?
"As a band we collectively love Joy Division anyway. Our influences which have come out on our previous albums have been a bit more manufactured really. It was a bit more about what could sell records. We basically thought that we couldn't sell records if you weren't on the radio a lot and made classy videos, which is basically true. What with the MTV factor and all the rest of it."
Nicky begins to sound a little more despondent. "With this album, our natural influences pulled through really. All the stuff we really love when we were young."
The Manics have recently come out in support of bands such as Alice In Chains, dubbing them "The American Joy Division". Surely not.
"I think a lot of British journalists would just class them as cock-rock, but if you listen to their lyrics I think they're much more than that. The lyrics are just so depressing" (laughs).
Of course the overriding topic of discussion in recent Manics interviews has been Richey James' mental and physical condition. The rumours have, naturally, been flying. Will the band split? Has he killed himself? Will the tour go ahead? No one has been closer to Richey than Nicky and the rest of the band, therefore he is the most qualified to talk about the situation, which thankfully he does.
"He always had phases like that. His physical condition hadn't deteriorated that much, y'know he'd always been the same. It's just mentally, that something which you can't put your finger on, that's what's deteriorated although I'm sure there were lots of other things. He just seemed to lose control, where as before he always seemed Mr. Straight, well that just evaporated over the last...(pauses)...well more than anything over the last six months.
Anyone who was at, or who saw on television the Manics' performance at this year's Glastonbury festival must have surely known something was wrong. Was this the last straw for Richey?
"Yeah, I mean everyone made a big deal out of Glastonbury. I know the journalists thought it was a fantastic gig, but we were y'know and well, it all becomes very stadium rock. There's no connection between you and the crowd. That's basically why I spat on the stage, that's probably why people latched on to it, but as a band we were really just very bored. It just seemed a pretty worthless concert because you can't get anything across unless you've got this huge screen behind you."
The worrying question about the Manic St. Preachers is, what has caused Richey's illness? Surely they've got it all, fame, money and the rest of it.
"It could really have been any one of us, it's just that Richey caved in from the pressure. Since we started the band we've never been part of any movement, we've never had any friends, so we just decided to do it honestly and in our way, and in the end it was like had nothing left to give. We're all fairly depressed because Richey's one of my best friends."
Where do the Manics go from here. Have the events of the last 16 months left them physically and mentally drained or are they stronger for it?
"I don't feel strong at all at the moment. I always used to but not now. I think we'll feel better in 6 months time, but at the moment everything seems such a chore. It's just like we're getting back on the treadmill again, nobody feels like doing it. We don't really feel like going and playing loads of dates in Europe and Japan when before we were really up for it.
The band have always said that they feel in total control of the band, but it seems that those days are over and uncertainty is rife.
"We've lost complete control of the band and ourselves" laughs Nicky almost embarrassed by it all. "This album is the best record we've made and the reason behind making it was to try and claim back a bit if ourselves. It can always be looked upon as a true representation of ourselves. But to get straight back on the promotional trail you just feel like you're losing control straight away again."
The Manic St. Preachers are in a position of envy. They can afford to have any record they want and in whatever style. Many bands would give their left bollocks (or breasts) for the privilege.
"The reason this album sounds like it does is because we didn't have the record company executives coming down every 5 minutes like you do if you're in a really posh studio in Surrey, but when you're in a grotty studio in the middle of Wales they don't seem so keen."
A blessing in disguise no doubt. When the band emerged in the beginning of the '90s they were touted as the most important band of their generation. But does Nicky think they're still in that position in 1994.
"I think the main aim of the band when we started was to be one of the most important bands on the '90s, and I do think we have been, we've left a legacy that will be seen as important, both in our albums and attitude. A lot of the bands that started out the same time as us have faded away or become very pop and have just sold their souls for commercial success. We've never written a love song, we've always written our own songs and managed to record a debut double album."
So is he proud of his career thus far?
"I think I'll only be proud of it when I can look back on it all. I'm too caught up in it at the moment to look objectively at it."
So what of the future. Life goes on, just ask Courtney Love. I can't imagine the Manic St. Preachers making another album quite like 'The Holy Bible', but is there anywhere left for them to go?
"Well James rang me up last night and he said he'd been messing about with some stuff which is like the disco rhythms of Simple Minds with the pop melody of ABBA, don't ask me what that is going to sound like. James always has a guitar in his hand anyway, so we don't have any problems with writing songs."
When there is a problem with anything someone or something has to take the blame. Was it Lennon's fault of McCartney's, Morrissey's or Marr's, Anderson or Butler's. Who or what does Nicky blame for the situation that they're in?
"I think we've got to take most of the blame ourselves really, but there's so much pressure about it. It's like on MTV they've got so much power, I think Nirvana were maybe the last band to say anything, but when you watch bands on there you can't tell them from an advert for Coke. It's just really unfair, a lot of the bands know they're trapped and they can't do anything about it. We used to get on MTV quite a lot with 'Motorcycle Emptiness' and that, bit it was just a chore making a video to suit, just wasn't worth it."
That the band have been through a lot lately is without doubt. It would break most bands but have the Manics still got the hunger to write new songs?
"Yeah, I think that the only thing left really. I think if we could spend the rest of our lives just in the studio and writing songs then I think we'd be quite content. It just the rest of the appetite has been slightly diminished. I think that happens to a lot of bands, it's like touring, it just becomes routine, you get up in the morning, do the soundcheck and play the gig and the rest of it."
For a band like the Manics, playing live should be a pleasure. Their UK tour had been in doubt for a long time before Richey's recovery, but are they looking forward to this tour?
"We're just going to have to get on with it really. Richey gets out of hospital on Wednesday and then we start rehearsing the week after. I don't really think you can judge anything any more until you've seen it in the flesh, as it were."
As with Kurt Cobain, the Manic St. Preachers will have the "whinging, spoilt bastards" thrown at them many times recently, after all they have one of the world's biggest companies behind them. Whatever have they got to moan or be depressed about?
"That's the eternal question. Sony are massively incompetent, the profit margins involving us are absolutely nothing compared with the electronics side of the company. We're virtually a tax loss. They stick stickers on our fucking albums, they put one on 'Gold Against The Soul' album that said 'featuring the hit single 'Life Becoming A Landscape' and we thought 'what the fuck is this?' It doesn't solve everything. We've got complete artistic control and everything, but it's quite unsettling sometimes to look at something you've created that they've messed up. But it's not that bad, it's always been been like this, we've just decided to be honest about it. People come up to me and say 'Oh, it must be great being in the Manic St. Preachers' and I say 'Yeah, it's O.K, but I was just as happy when I was on the dole living with Mum and Dad. That's just life."
That's life indeed. Nicky Wire is a nice bloke and the Manic St. Preachers deserve to pull through their recent problems. If you haven't already bought 'The Holy Bible', do so, it's one of the most interesting albums you'll ever have the pleasure to listen to.