Alexis interviewed Richey on the Portsmouth date of the last Manic Street Preachers tour. Together they discuss life, literature and Darwin 4.
"We were playing football. There are lots of fields where we come from but there was a particularly big field right behind the house where I lived and everyone used to come and play football on this. He lived two or three minutes away and they all came up from his street and we had a really big match one day."
Did you like him from the start?
"Hell, he was a really good footballer and when you're a kid that impresses you. Hewas one of the best in the school so everyone liked him.”
That is Richey talking about his first meeting with Nicky Hire. It is hard to believe that such an ordinary meeting would go on to spawn the most vital band of the decade. Along with Sean Moore and James Dean Bradfield they formed the Manic Street Preachers. A band that would go on to wage war against the mediocrity of English rock. They claimed that "you need your stars" and for a lot of people these four individuals were the perfect candidates for the job. Together they combine intelligence, passion, glamour, musicianship and soul. But it almost wasn't so.
“They had another person in the band called Flicker on bass and he was just a bit too insane. Just off his head on glue and bangs and bottles all the time and he wouldn't put more than two strings on his bass. All he'd listen to was really fucking insane punk records and he thought it was selling out to have four strings on a bass so he had to go. They sacked him because he stuck a knife through his own cheek and was just a sad case really."
When Flicker left Nicky moved to bass and Richey took over on rhythm guitar. Before that he would drive the band around. Would he have been content to have remained in that position?
"Yeah. I like them as people. I like their company y'know? We haven't got any ego problems in this band. When you get other bands I'm always shocked by the way they react to each other. They really have nasty arguments going on within bands because they've probably only known each other for two months and they met through a musicians ad in Melody Maker or something. If the band split up tomorrow we'd all still bother to know each other and go down each other’s houses. Most other bands aren't like that sadly. They treat it too much like a career I suppose. But it's somebody you've got to work with and then you go home and then you go out with girlfriends or you go with your wife and kids or whatever. Fuck knows."
One of the most endearing features of the Manics is their pride in themselves and their belief that somehow everyone else has managed to get everything wrong. And as demonstrated by the above, it doesn't always manifest itself in arrogance. It is more like sadness or anger. They used to be driven by that...and boredom. Does it still hold true?
"By boredom especially I would say. Trying to find some meaning, some sort of sense in twenty-four hours everyday like everybody else. Still haven't found what I'm looking for."
Do you think you ever will?
"Don't know. Not unless I discover religion. I think that's the only way you can ever make sense of your life. I went to church for thirteen years and it was the worst place I ever went to, full of the worst sort of people. It was a very old-fashioned church. It was a Baptist church and it just had really old men driving their fat little carcasses up on the podium every week and making people feel like shit, personally insulting you. So anything to do with religion I find pretty offensive. I don't know what happens next."
Do you think there is a point to life?
"No. Man is the only animal that recognizes it's going to die and that's the price of intelligence. No other animal has got to go through life with that burden and I think that's something which is part of everybody subconsciously, whether you recognize it or not. I think it's something which never leaves you."
Although the Manics believe in what they do, they are never smug or conceited about themselves. About the band maybe, but not themselves. "I pretty my face with all this cream and stuff/ ugliness inside much harder to cover up“-Patrick Bateman. They can often be quite disparaging about themselves (see Richey and Nicky's belief that they will never reach any decent standards of guitar playing etc.). It seems as if they are always doing everything they can to make themselves better people, whether it's through education or other means.
Do you like yourself?
"No, not very much. As much as most other people I suppose. You can never be as good as you want to be, you can never be as intelligent as you want to be, you can never be as good looking as you want to be. I think everyone realises that magazine pictures are fraudulent and fake y'know? But when you see a 'Pretty Woman' poster that it's not Julia Roberts's legs, that everything is airbrushed. Everything is not real but you still can't deal with those pictures. You still want to be like that even though you know everything is artificial. There's enough vanity in everybody to want to be like that."
How does it make you feel to realise that when people see your pictures they might decide they want to look like you?
"As long as they like what we say. I think what we say is more important than the way we look. It's only in the last twenty years that men have really had to deal with self-doubt and self-confidence because there were never ever perfect images of men. Women have always had to deal with never matching up to the physical reality of a picture in a magazine but it's only now you get 'For Women' or you can see what a man’s body could be like."
Is there anyone you'd like to look like?
"I think he's got it."
Do you have any habits that the others don't like?
"My drinking. I always want music on in the van. I want music on all the time. I've always got something like that (indicates to a tape recorder next to him) with me wherever ‘go. Whatever we do I've always got fucking hundreds of tapes with me and that annoys them."
Is your drinking as bad as press reports have suggested?
"No, if you drank a litre of vodka a day you'd be dead so I don't know if it's that much. I drink until I fall over and wake up the next morning so I suppose it's quite bad. But then again someone like Shane MacGowan is an alcoholic. I mean, he gets up in the morning and drinks. I don't dislike myself enough to not even be awake for a fucking minute you know? I just stop and I start around this time of night (5/6 p.m.). It takes me a long time."
In recent press interviews Richey has been saying he drinks to help himself sleep. There are too many things going on in his head. He asked him what thoughts, in particular, kept him awake at night?
"I don't know. There's a lot things. A computer called Darwin 4. They've had machines with intelligence before but this is the first one that can think for itself. The circuits work on a completely different theory about the brain. Before they always thought that the brain was very machine like but now they're saying that's a very old-fashioned argument, history has always judged the brain by its most advanced inventions. In the seventeenth century they always compared the brain to a flour mill because the flour mill was the most advanced piece of machinery they had. At the start of this century they judged the brain against the telephone because that was the most advanced thing they had. Now they judge it against the computer because that's the pinnacle of science. Now they're saying that's all wrong, that the brain 15 like a macrobiotic environment. It's very natural and it grows to its environment, it’s not logical. The argument that when you get a disease your body invents a new thing which fights it so you don’t get it again, they say is wrong. All those things are already in your body and your brain makes a random choice and fights it that way. And it is proved because Darwin 4 reacts to things outside. It can smell, hear, listen. It exists on its own. So I've been thinking about that a lot in the last couple of weeks."
This year the Manics have managed to release the long awaited second album 'Gold against the Soul'. It's people trying to find something noble in what they've got. It's trying to capture the sound of everything the Manics see going on around them. it is, without doubt, pure genius. There is no waste on the album. Every lyric and every note is relevant. It is the best album to waste your youth to.
"When we started the band, we wanted to do something different lyrically. There are so many bands that just write love songs or…definitions of love songs, all indie groups write love songs. It's like "I'm a loser in love" but it's still based on the concept of love. That's something we never wanted to write about. He also wanted to distance ourselves from our old way of writing. The first album was…William Burroughsesque, cut up. He didn't want any rhymes. He wanted lines to make no sense to each other and it definitely did that. This time it was easier to do. He wrote all the songs in a three week period in early early December, and the lyrics just formed from there. There is a lot of work afterwards changing certain lines but they definitely were more individual rather than societal."
Who did the artwork (the cover shows a naked torso with a blank head covered in roses, ' there are two arms wrapped around this)?
"Mitch (Ikeda). One of the last photo sessions of Mishima was, basically, Mishima naked in lots of different poses with roses strangling him round the neck and Mitch was taught by the Photographer that took that photo session and we were talking one night and we thought the cover should be along that theme. There is another famous photo by somebody called William Cline with a man with a mask over his head and all these people in the street screaming. It's taken in Tokyo in the late sixties and we thought maybe we should mix those two images. So we organised a photo session and that was an o.k. picture."
Unlike the first album, 'Gold against the Soul' is not covered in quotes, instead it features just one poem 'Song of those of died in vain' by Primo Levi.
"I was really surprised with Primo Levi because with the first album (Generation Terrorists, in case you didn't know, feature: a few words by people like Rimbaud Ibsen, Sylvia Plath and Chuck D etc), we had so much trouble getting quotes it was a really fucking terrible three months with lawyers phoning up. It was really chaotic. Even people like William Burroughs, who I really respect, was taking the piss the amount of money they wanted for one line here and there. This time we wrote a letter to Faber and Faber, explained what we wanted to do and they went, "Fine you can have it. You can do anything you want with it as long as you don't edit it,“ which we didn't want to do anyway, “And you can use it any way you like and you can have it for fifty quid to cover our costs". It was brilliant. I think he must have left something in his will for his work to be used. I don t know how much you know about his life…"
"He basically could have avoided going to a death camp in Nazi Germany, but he chose to go. He chose to be judged as a Jew. Something like out of 650 people waiting on his train when he went in, under 10 survived. He decided to dedicate his life to writing about the Holocaust. In the early eighties there was a lot of revisionist historical novels made called, like 'The myth of the Holocaust' by these really shallow historians. Basically misinterpreting what went on. It even said really obscene things like "It never happened. It’s a Jewish/Christian conspiracy". Primo Levi thought that there was a whole generation that had been to Belsen. Auschwitz and Buchenwald that were still alive and if people didn't take them seriously or believe that they actually existed then in another hundred years the Holocaust would be seen as yet another trivial historical episode and he just couldn't be bothered anymore. He jumped off a bridge, I think. I'm not sure that he killed himself. And the poem was one of the last poems he wrote. He is a great man."
Why wasn't 'Patrick Bateman' on the album (it is on the B side of La Tristesse Durera ?
"This sounds very muso but we really like the idea of an album sounding like a whole. Kind of linked to itself musically. Patrick Bateman was done way before Christmas and it sounded different you know? It was recorded in a different Studio. James sounds quite young in it for some reason. I think the vocals weren't recorded that well. When we played it next to the new songs it did not make any sense, it sounded too different. I like the idea of putting on a CD and playing it all the way through and it grows on you and wherever you put Patrick Bateman on it, it wouldn't have fitted."
Patrick Bateman is the anti-hero of the novel 'American Psycho' by Bret Easton Ellis. Why do you like that book so much?
"I thought it was a fantastic summation of the eighties. I wasn't surprised by how widely condemned it was by a liberal media. They completely missed the point. There is not even any violence for the first hundred pages. They just read stupid bullshit into it. It just documented everybody's life in such a fantastic way. He (P.B.) gets up in the morning and he can't get through the day unless he puts on the right pair of socks, the right Calvin Klines, the same aftershave, and that is like the petty obsessions everyone's got. I thought it was much more effective than Salman Rushdie ever could be. I think the literature that gets judged very highly is just like…You can't even read the fucking books and what is the point of literature if a mass of people can't read it? There has always been an attitude in the upper class that somehow the working class have got no rights to education, that art should only be for people who really understand it and that's why they find cheap food offensive. I mean, we get taken to decent restaurants now and I can't eat the fucking Shit. It really does offend me, just the prices they charge for it and it's awful. And even people like George Orwell, I really respect the man but when the whole country was starting to get some kind of primary education he found their taste very limited and he said something like, "In the long run, we may find tinned food more deadly than the machine gun, “ i.e. working class culture is morally bankrupt and I find that appalling.
"I could sit down and I could read Salman Rushdie or Martin Amis, whatever you want. All these respected authors. I could understand it but I know that if I went back home a lot of my friends couldn't, and I do find that distasteful. You can read Oscar Wilde. Oscar Wilde's not fucking complicated. He is easy and all literature should be like that. Bret Easton Ellis is a really good example of that. One culture doesn't like the fact that you can understand his literature.”
What other writers do you like?
"I like Dennis Cooper (author of Frisk). I think he is really good. I quite like Harold Brodkey (The Runaway Soul), and he is quite high-brow. He is not that easy to understand. "
Do you prefer music or literature?
"I think music. I'll always love music because it is more accessible in the end. “
Can people still get excited by music?
"Not in the west. I think people are too cynical . You've got a band like Take That, a really fucking massive band in Britain, and it's not even the same as it was for Bros or the Bay City Rollers or Duran. It was respected slightly more then. But now, whatever you do somebody always turns around and says, “I've seen it all before.". Pop culture is 'Pop will eat itself'."
When the Manics first appeared, no one wanted to believe that these four working class men could be educated. People seem to have outgrown that opinion now. But there is still a really stupid notion that the Manic are a dodgy band who only listen to punk records. Richey vehemently denies this and claims that the only punk records he ever liked were 'London Calling' by the Clash and 'Never mind the Bollocks' by the Sex Pistols. He says he likes most other types of music though, including Aretha Franklin and Bruce Springsteen. This is verified by the previously mentioned tape recorder which, throughout the interview, plays a homemade compilation tape which includes songs by The Pogues. David Bowie, and Guns N Roses.”
Do you find the snobbery of the people who dismiss you annoying?
"Yeah because the worst thing is we can be more elitist and cliquey than anybody else because we read every single line in every single magazine and we buy every single record that comes out and we could tell you anything about the most obscure groups of all time and we just chose to make a point about bigger icons. If you want to talk about some really obscure French films from 1934, we’ve-seen it and we can tell you what's in it, but we will mention a big film because it is an easier reference point to those people who might like our band. I always used to find it quite patronising when people in bands would mention the most obscure thing and you would always think, "Oh I'm really stupid." and we like all those things ourselves but we will always mention easy things as well.”
What do you think you inspire in others?
"Some people just like the music. Some people like the ideas. Some people might just play our records and do nothing about us. Some might just come to a gig, have a good time, go off home and do whatever, go vote for the Tory party. Some people might buy our records, like what we say, see a quote and they might go out and buy a Primo Levi book. That's as much as anyone can hope for."
If you do go to a Manics gig you are certainly going to be left with a permanent fascination of the band. They are now playing longer sets, they are better musicians and they are still managing to be as breathtaking and exhilarating as ever. On stage Sean concentrates on playing, so will James although sometimes, like at the Phoenix, he will just take the piss and have fun. Richey will drink, play and jump around, but the most interesting live Manic is Nicky. He is all over the place and all the other members of the band. Onthe last tour he took to wearing an above the knee floral dress. At the Phoenix he told us that, "It was an outsize dress which I'd bought from an Indian shop in the Edgeware Road." He claimed that he got it because he "didn't want to be a man anymore.“Needless to add he looked very pretty. But he has also been quieter on stage recently and we asked him if the rumour that his management had told him not to say anything during concerts was true. He denied it with a laugh saying, "You don't think I'd listen to them, do you?"
What do you feel like when you are on stage and everyone is screaming at you Richey?
"I don't think anything about it. I'm in a strange state of mind when I go on stage. I'm not really aware. I just try and play best I can. which aint that great but…There is usually substances in my body. I am very nervous but I just want to play guitar well.'
Have you been practising?
"Yeah. Only because there's now more time 'cos I had to drive the van, because nobody else has a licence. Now I have got more time to sit in my bedroom."
You used to say that you hated Wales and now you don't seem to be so keen on London, is there anywhere where you are happy to be?
"By the sea's quite nice. I like that. It's not that I hate Wales. I mean, wherever you go it's a choice you probably made as an adolescent and you are always going to be unhappy wherever you chose. It's just small town life offers no choice. You either decide to stay, train and do something or you just go down the pub and get out of your head on the week-end and fight, that's it. What can do? Where can mankind go? There's nothing you can do of any value really. "
Did you find it a relief to go to University?
"No 'cos it was full of scum. It was the worst sort of people. At least eighty percent of the people weren’t interested in reading or learning. They just treated it as a middle class indulgence and as a way of avoiding work for three years. It was so tiring the amount of times you go in the bar at night and they'd be people sat there, round a table, going, "Oh I'm so outrageous, I haven't been to one lecture all day." Big fucking deal. What, is that a good thing? Why come here? I know people who'd break their own fucking legs to avoid going to school, but they were made to go. Nobody has got to go to college. Nobody's got to go to university. It was so annoying to think of the massive waste of money when there's thousands of kids who'd love the chance to get a better job, to get a better future and just couldn't do it through economic circumstance. To have people sat around going, "Oh, I'm not doing any work,”….what's so brave about that? There's no guts in there, there's no strength. It's just so awful."
So, you admire people who work hard.
"Yeah, if you don't want to work hard just do a smack habit and stay in the room sticking needles in your veins. If you‘ve really given up on life, do that. I respect those people. Winos in the street have made their 'no more chances' fun. I really dislike the people in between. "I'm going to university and not doing anything at all.“ If you don't want to do anything, if you don't want to be here, fuck off.“
Is that why you don't like the Levellers, because they don't want to work?
“Well. my grudge was only lyrically. "If I could live the life I lead/then I would be a boatman." That really annoys me. Every time I hear that song it really winds me up. You can't pretend the twentieth century doesn't exist. They're so naive. Everybody owns land now and you can't repatriate it. It can never happen politically. You can't pretend that cars don't exist, stereos don't exist but they do. You've got to cope with change in technology. I read loads of literature about the Levellers and their political theories, and they've interpreted it really badly. I find it really annoying that people are so precious about the crusty tag. It's just a fashion, like mod was a fashion, rock was a fashion, teddy boys was a fashion. It's just the same. "I'm going to be a crusty. I'm going to get dreads. I'm gonna be a bit dirty. I'm gonna wear those sort of clothes." Not everybody is as right on as they are. They've got to recognize that at least fifty percent of their audience are only doing it to be a crusty. Y'know, you put on your clothes and you're a crusty. I don't know why they think all their fans are so fucking special."
Were you surprised by the reaction your hatred of the Levellers caused in the press?
“I'm never surprised by people. People are very ignorant. They always are."
We need the Manics. Whether you love them or hate them, you've got to admit that they make life interesting. Surely the highlight of the year was seeing them on Top of the Pops playing La Tristesse Durera, while a group of amazed twelve year olds clapped along and stared in open mouth wonder at the band on stage. Nicky, in his dress, scissor kicking and rubbing James's head. James himself, looking like a psychopath. Richey bouncing around and Sean looking bored. It was a perfect pop moment.
We need them because they challenge us. They make us think by constantly provoking us and in doing so adjust our perspective on things. Because of this the Manics are more than just a band, they are part of our culture. They are the only group who matter and affect people’s lives. We need them to be brilliant and they never fail us. They are a rare breed indeed. They have talent, morals, dignity and greatness. With 'Gold against the Soul' they exceeded everyone’s expectations. They are one of the few things left that we have to be proud of.