James Dean Bradfield is a heavy smoker, the presswoman explains, and asks us to be patient for just a couple of minutes longer. And sure enough, when James Dean Bradfield arrives, he strongly smells of cigarettes. The nicotine has made him euphoric, he is in a good mood and gives us a firm handshake. Tomorrow, on the 1st of May, people will gather in Berlin, where this meeting is taking place, for Labour Day. Not a bad moment, then, to travel through music history with Bradfield, whose family and relatives still worked in the Welsh coal mines.
Pharrell - Happy
JDB: I know this one. Is it Cee-Lo Green? No. Hold on...I don’t know. (the word “happy” is sung for the first time) Of course, “Happy”. Who is it by?
ME: Pharrell, Pharrell Williams.
JDB: Of course, Pharrell! They’re playing this song everywhere, aren’t they? It’s on the radio all the time.
ME: But nevertheless it took you a while to recognize it. You don’t listen to the radio a lot, do you?
JDB: I do, actually. I listen to BBC Radio 6 Music and my local station in Wales. I’m not into the song, but he’s clever. The song is really catchy.
Damon Albarn - Heavy Seas Of Love
JDB: (frowning, mumbling some unintelligible names) Sorry, no idea who this could be.
ME: An old acquaintance: Damon Albarn. The other voice is Brian Eno’s.
JDB: Ah, yes, Damon. He’s been getting all the magazine covers, hasn’t he? (points at the May edition of the Musikexpress, which is lying on the table in front of him). Nicky, our bass player, bought the album and has played it a couple of times. Since The Good, The Bad & The Queen Damon has managed to give his songwriting a new perspective. He’s always had this really extraordinary talent of observing and capturing moments. There are few people who are as good at analyzing other people as him. But since The Good, The Bad & The Queen he’s also developed this more introverted gaze on himself.
ME: What are your thoughts on the 20th anniversary of the Britpop summer of 1994?
JDB: Oh, it’s a strange anniversary. It was a special time, of course, but unlike most other musical movements Britpop didn’t arise out of a counterculture. Instead it was more like a great celebration. We had an album out at that time, too, but we haven’t been part of any of these big anniversary events, which is fine by me. Maybe because we had already had some success with our first two albums at that point.
Timo Hietala, Nina Hoss & Das Fenster zum Sommer Orchestra - Juliane sing Tuutuu
JDB: Well, no, it’s not Nico. Oh, it’s Nina!
ME: Exactly, Nina Hoss. The song is taken from the film “Fenster zum Sommer”.
JDB: I don’t know that one. I’ve watched “Yella” and “Barbara” and a couple of others she was in.
ME: She sings in “Europa Geht Durch Mich” on your new album. Where the hell did you come across German super actress Nina Hoss?
JDB: We know each other privately, so I just asked her if she’d like to record with us. She’s Alex Silva’s girlfriend, who I know from Wales. He produced our new album and Rewind The Film and has worked with us before that, too. I’ve told him a couple of times that he should record a solo album with Nina, she has a great voice. She was really professional in the studio, just like an actress: well prepared for her part. Working with her is a bit frustrating for me, though. 80 percent of her vocals on the record are from the first take, whereas I usually need three or four.
Kraftwerk - Trans Europa Express
JDB: (very quickly) Kraftwerk! Takes me less than two seconds to recognize. An incredible song. When I was a teenager I had a synthesizer which my cousin Sean took apart in order to play around with it. He was obsessed with getting those sounds and effects Kraftwerk were known for. He didn’t, of course, and he didn’t manage to put the synthesizer back together either. I used to listen to them a lot. When we first started the band, Nicky often played me...what was their name again...Ensturmende Nubooten?
ME: Einstürzende Neubauten.
JDB: Exactly! He often played them. They were like music from the opposite end of the Kraftwerk-spectrum. I don’t know if you Germans are aware of how important some of your bands and their reception have been for us in Britain, even if we came up with that slightly disparaging term “Krautrock”.
PIL - I Must Be Dreaming
JDB: This isn’t John Lydon by any chance?
ME: PIL, to be precise. Did they influence the sound on your new album at all?
JDB: PIL and bands like Magazine have always been important influences for us. Rewind The Film has turned out to be more of an acoustic album, Futurology is rougher, punkier, which was pure coincidence. We just recorded a number of songs and in the end we noticed that some of them didn’t fit in with the rest. We’d basically recorded two albums.
Coldplay - Midnight
JDB: No, no idea. (keeps listening until the distorted vocals come in) Sorry, I don’t have the slightest clue.
ME: It’s Coldplay, but unlike in the Albarn track before, Brian Eno wasn’t involved in this one.
JDB: Coldplay - I never would have guessed! Sounds unusual; they’re experimenting a bit, aren’t they? I never got this whole Brian Eno thing though: a stack of cards to dissolve your mental blocks, stand on your right leg and use the left half of your brain, and so on. For me, that’s middle class hogwash out of touch with reality.
David Bowie - Where Are We Now
JDB: I was probably just as surprised as everyone else when they played the song on the radio one morning. A new Bowie song, out of the blue - we couldn’t have pulled it off, you need a certain status for that. I know many people dislike the vocals on this track. Personally, I like the fragility in his voice, and the video is really good, too. I’m more a fan of eighties Bowie though, “China Girl”, “Let’s Dance”, all of those songs, and I really like Lodger, too.
The Libertines - Time For Heroes
JDB: A song that raised many hopes in me back then. The Libertines were an exciting band; their sound was charmingly patched together, and their lyrics were full of this desperate romanticism.
ME: The song was inspired by the London riots of May 2000. What happened to the emotionally charged protest songs?
JDB: That’s the problem with many guitar bands these days. They’re children of good families and have had a sheltered upbringing, they don’t have anything to rebel against. This song was produced by Mick Jones, right? The production itself isn’t fantastic, it’s not very clean, and the timing is a bit off, but boy, did he capture the moment.