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Between The Preachers And The Damned - Making Music, December 1991

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Title: Between The Preachers And The Damned
Publication: Making Music
Date: December 1991
Writer: Mark Jansen


"We hate the punk label. All we ever said is that we've taken basic rock and roll - Rolling Stones, Clash, Sex Pistols - and we're just trying to maintain that long tradition of English rock music."

So much for the punk angle. Manic Street Preachers' drummer Sean is wary of appearing in any kind of 'revival' article: but Manic Street Preachers know how to use publicity. A year ago they were nobodies, playing to 30 people in London's Camden Falcon. Since then they've hardly been out of the music papers, and recently moved towards the mainstream with appearances on Snub TV and The Word, and a Top Thirty single.

The reason they got so much press is probably because they're more colourful than any other band in the UK right now. Everyone knows how during an interview with sceptical NME journalist earlier this year, guitarist Richey took out a knife and carved '4 REAL' into his arm; but there's more.

They hate almost everyone. They want to be the biggest band in the world, bigger than their heroes. They sing about "alienation and despair" and spray slogans like 'Useless Generation' and 'Culture Slut' on their clothes. They wear make-up and speak in funny Welsh accents. When people accuse them of lacking any originality whatsoever, they cheerfully tell you that originality is worthless. They love it when people hate them.

Nice Boys

Yet when you actually meet them, Manic Street Preachers are nothing like the obnoxious prats you might expect. Currently recording their debut double album for Song and looking forward to tour of Japan and America in the New Year, the Manics are polite, honest and practical. They just happen to mix total self-belief with insane ambition.

Nicki, the bassist, and drummer Sean volunteer themselves for the interview. Singer/guitarist James is busy recording vocals, while second guitarist Richey is overseeing artwork.

Nicki says they look to the past for their influences because when they were growing up, "there was nothing that said anything. Echo and the Bunnymen, Simple Minds, U2, the new romantics, and all the indie stuff like the Wedding Present. Just nothing really." They identify with The Who and the Rolling Stones "because they talked about frustration and boredom"; they claim the only influence they've taken from The Clash is their habit of writing about "everyday issues".

The only current bands they admire are Public Enemy, for bringing back the importance of lyrics, and Guns 'N' Roses, for their music - "the only true rock band that's around at this time that's not corporate rock, that's not heavy metal, but really rootsy", reckons Sean.

Sean is the keenest to talk technicalities: "We're after the traditional rock sort of sound, so we use Gibson Les Pauls going through Marshalls with no effects pedals at all." Nicki uses Gibson Thunderbird basses through an Ampeg SVT 2 head and an 8 x 10 cab for "a really full, Duff/Guns 'N' Roses bass sound", while Sean uses a Yamaha 9000 three piece drum kit, plus a Noble & Cooley snare for live work, and a Ludwig Black Beauty or a Sonor snare in the studio. "Of all the modern drums today they seem to have the biggest sound."

James and Sean take care of most of the music, while Richey and Nicki write the lyrics. These two see themselves as lyricists rather than musicians, so much so that Richey doesn't even play on the records. "He just doesn't want to," claims Sean.


Nicki's favourite Manic Street Preachers lyric is "We, Her Majesty's Prisoners": "It should have been called "Ceremony Rape Machine" - it's how every year you're fed the same old bullshit history, kings and queens and how glorious Britain is it's just all crap - but they wouldn't print it at the pressing plant."

Nicki also like "Another Invented Disease", which is about "how cancer and AIDS are sold as commodities just like washing powder. Laugh if you will - they don't care. You can sneer at their 'message', but you can't fault their commitment. Their advice to young bands is "Use your brain, try to have a plan and set yourselves apart."

In their early days, rather than do loads of gigs to get noticed, the band concentrated on sending hundreds of letters and demos to journalists. They never even bothered to play in their native Wales, but hired a van to do pay-to-plays in London instead, taking care to tell the press where they were playing. It worked - Melody Maker did an early gig review, NME voted their demo Single Of The Week.

Record companies and the press are there to be used argues Nicki: "No-one should be afraid of them because they're just as insecure and dull as everyone else. We were cynical, we did target journalists. It's easy to do because they're nothing, journalists - they're not very intelligent, it's easy to bullshit them. We knew we didn't sound like the Rolling Stones when we started but you can convince people."

Sean adds, "Just do like The Who did, say 'We're the greatest rock and roll band in the world'. Just come out with statements like that." Of course they insist their music lives up to the hype. "We can't ever sell out because we always said we wanted to be be the biggest band, we always said we want to be on a major," says Nicki. "The only integrity we've got is in our songs. I don't care how we're marketed."

"We always had complete confidence in the music. Even when we were in our bedrooms practising with tiny amps, we'd still think, 'This song could be heard in America.' It sounds a bit mental, but you've really got to have so much self-belief."