Nicky is a manically depressed street preacher. "1992 was about failure," he says. "We've nothing we set out to do. This time last year, we were recording the album, which sold a lot of copies, and we've done a lot for a contemporary band. But we still feel like failures."
How disarming. Surely , I say, you haven't failed? You're not satisfied are you? Isn't failure being released? They cheer up. And I didn't even know James had 'Anxiety Is Freedom' tattooed on his arm.
They're recording in this big rockstarry country pile. They like its theatricality, it goes with with their clothes. They mooch around the antique drawing room; James Dean Bradfield in his boxer shorts, Sean sitting at the Sega console, Nicky pacing around in his leather trousers, and Richey standing in the middle of the drawing room, looking tremulous. "Richey wants to do the interview in his bedroom," says Nicky. "Because it's nicer in there."
So we leave Sean and James to concentrate on the music, and go to Richey's room. Like gruff adolescents, we stay in there for hours with the curtains drawn. A child's single bed has an incongruously butch "designed for men" duvet slung over it.
On the table are a blue vase, matching ashtray and a typewriter. A stack of books is piled up on the floor and, next them, is an empty wine bottle. Everything screams "Artist at work!" It's a quaint set-up, but you get the feeling it's meant to please its occupant rather than a hack.
They're so cultivated. Never mind the books they've read , just look at their teased fronds of hair, their fondness for gold lamé, their haughty bearing. They're unnatural. They must have seemed like mutants where they came from. Blackwood, South Wales is not exactly a lively cultural centre. Its bands make it for one trip down to the Rock Garden, then end up in the local factory. The Miner's Strike caused its inhabitants to go for a year without any money. Richey lived with grandmother until he was 13 because his parents, both hairdressers, couldn't afford to keep him.
"I worked hard," he remembers, ruefully. "Got to university, spent all my time in the library, never missed a lecture. All the time in the bar there were people who were, like, 'I aint made one lecture this term. I'm so outrageous.' And there's people where we come from who are fucking desperate for chance to get away. I think if you miss two or three lectures on the trot you should be fucking thrown out. Or drowned."
But those people were sinfully rich (in Manic terms 'rich' means always being able to go back to daddy), and Richey was from Blackwood. Not a funky town. The mere fact that Manic Street Preachers managed to wear make-up there wihtout losing any limbs should have made them national heroes. But they're not. Like anything of any concequence, they are reviled and love in equal measures.
"Our fans don't care what the press say," remarks Richey, coolly. And the Manics have a lot of fans. See the brimming sackfuls of letters, some of them written in blood.
From boys, girls, people having sex changes. From youth everywhere.
Youth (Where We All Get To Rant Like Real Street Preachers)
SMJ: The concept of 'Youth' is defunct! How dare any young person talk about 'my generation' when they're not part of anything significant? Big deal that under-thirties, under-twenties and under-tens buy the same records, the same clothes, the same tickets to the same festivals. So 'Youth' is merely a group that 'buys' things, a cocky little economic strata, 'Youth' is not a driving force because it's apolitical. Answer me this, Manic Street Preachers, do young people turn you on?
NICKY: "Our generation has ruined everything. There's no fight, dignity or pride in them. It's the worst generation that's ever been in the history of Britain. Long live regimentation, I say. That's what impressed us about Japan. Keep your emotions under control for the good of the people."
RICHEY: "There's no explosion or bog bang because there are so many subcultures. In every little town there's a goth, there's a rocker, there's still even a fucking mod hanging around. It hasn't been washed away. Young people want to be seen as radical, but they see voting Labour as the most wishy-washy liberal thing in the world. That perception has got to be totally eradicated. There's no value in anybody's life anymore. You need discipline. I've no hope for Britain. I think we've gone too far. 'The skies perpetually revolve in vain.' I spend all my days reading stuff like Primo Levi. I look for redemption in books."
NICKY: "I'm a much more hopeful person than Richey. Having seen in Japan that the human mind can be harnessed in an intelligent way, that you can have dignity in work, and that education can be a positive force. I feel quite hopeful."
Read on and learn how to be cool, 'Youth'.
Thing is, their road to coolness is littered with problematic potholes. For instance, how do the Manics resolve being 'revolutionaries' with having a commerically viable carreer and working withing the corpo-rock system?
"Everybody's part of some system," spits Richey, tossing his head.
"As we said on our first single. 'All rebellion is corporation owned,'" says Nicky. "Every indie label's got pluggers and reps, the majors just work on a bigger level, it makes me laugh when the Neds and Kingmaker sign to a major and call they operation some new name like 'Scorch' or 'Furtive'. Why? They've got the whole machine behind them."
"The Levellers are part of the systemm," adds Richey, going for one of their favourite targets. "They espouse anarchy, right? Oh yes, we get their mail outs. Every 'A' has got the ring around it. But try going to any school and saying, 'Okay, it's voluntary order from now on.' There'd be death! Murder!"
Maybe people are simply inspired by the illusion, the whiff of insurrection that these bands exude? Maybe that isn't so bad. Richey looks scornful. "But the illusion of independence is so old-fashioned. It's not an illusion, anyway -it's a lie."
Another one of the Manics' problems is that - because they promised more than a pile of himbo shite, because they talk of situationism, manifestos and being '4 Real' - they're expected to bring down the Tory Government and legislate for free tenners for poor people.
"You can only do what you can," sighs Nicky. "I mean, we fucking said we wanted to play in the rubble of the burnt-out palace of Britain. So really, we ought to be up at Windsor Castle right now. But we're not."
The Late Show
What they can do - and do very well - is resist the London snobbery that calls its passing enthusiams 'culture'.
"London is pathetic!" proclaims Richey. "It's the worst spectacle I've ever come across. Everybody needs the approval of everybody else before they can do anything. As for 'The Late Show', what is it? It's a pointless exercise in intellectual drama. And we've never been asked!" (I think he's joking) "They think we're working class morons who've never read a book in our lives," "Made fucking darts go off the air as well," chuckles Nicky.
Let's Talk About Love
That prepatory year rehearsing every last soundbite and star-jump in James' bedroom made them extraordinary close. They lean toward alturism, witsfully remembering the people in their lives who held fast to the 'ideal of putting others before themselves." So how do they reconcile their compassionate natures with the one-night stands, the heartless entanglements with groupies?
And don't lie, I tell them, because a fiend of mine saw you chatting to some girls down the front of one of your shows. He said he heard you slavering 'Oh you've fucked Dogs D'Amour have you? Brilliant!' Then you disappeared with three of them in tow. It sounds depraved.
Nicky claps his hands with glee. He likes to see his friend having to jump through the hoop. Richey looks mortified. I give him my best librarian's glare.
"No," he mutters, "I rememer that. It was two girls who'd been to see Dogs D'Amour the night before one of our shows. They had the band autograph their bodies, they they fucked them, then the next day they went and had the autographs tattooed onto their bodies. And that I find hard to..."
Does his smile say 'believe' or 'resist'?
To be honest, this is all beyond the realms of my imagination. Please tell me, because I'm dying to know. How can you fuck a freak show?
"It's not a freak show. It's great,"murmurs Richey.
Nicky glances over at him and says, gently, "Richey is, like, emotionally stunted, anyway. There's really nothing for you to look back to, is there, Rich?"
"I've never had a girlfriend, or any relationship," pouts Richey. "All constantly disappoints." (Note: When Richey says things like this, he does it with an ironic mischevious curl of the lips.) "Anyways," he continues, "You hear the crew or whatever coming up with these bullshit line, trying to get a girl into bed and, with us, it's like, 'I don't care about you, you don't care about me, so bye-bye." I start to sound a little hysterical.
BUT WHAT IF THEY LOVE YOU?
Richey: "They don't!"
Nicky: "You can't love an illusion."
Richey: "Love is an impossible concept."
Aw, but they don't know that. Richey looks at me mockingly. "There can never be true love because love can't exist without jealousy, so you can never truly love something."
"He's just so bleak, isn't he? He's just a one-off," chuckles Nicky.
"And in terms of groupies," continues Richey, "we're not a band that has group sex filmed on a camcorder to watch on the bus the next day. It's always personal, one to one in a bedroom."
Ooh nice. So what do you say when you hear that little voice at four in the morning? What do you tell them when they say "Oh Richey, I'll never see you again!"
Richey contemplates the points on his rockin' boots. "Yeah, I have heard that."
Yeah? Well go on then, what do you say when their hearts are breaking?
"But they don't mean it!" he snarks. "They just say that because they think they should. The worst thing about sex is that people go through the same fucking rituals time and time again, You can see the lies dripping from your mouth to their mouth. People think sex is important, and it's not. People think hearing Prince's 'Sexy Motherfucker' on the radio is an important statement, and it's not. I don't think there is a sacred essence in sex. To say the body's greatest reward is come and sperm..." He sneers in disgust.
"There are special moments in life," he continues, sagely. "But it's not to be fucked in the back of a bus in the freezing cold out in Warrington. That's not a special moment by anybody's standards."
"Oh that sounds like a fucking personal moment to me!" hows his friend.
Little Baby Nothings
They admire porn actress Traci Lords for doing something for herself. "She's got her own company" says Nicky, approvingly. "She took time out from running it to sing on 'Little Baby Nothing', ponce around in a headband and fake for the promo shots, and impress the boys with her consumate 'niceness'.
"We knew about Traci from having read about the furore when thethe authorities discovered that 39 of her films were made when she was underage," says Richey. "The moral scandal that followed really shocked us becuase all these really old powerful men knew who she was. I mean, we're talking hard-core porn here. Then half our record company went 'Ya, wow, Traci' I mean, how the fuck did they know who she was?
"I'm glad to say we'd never seen any of her filns before we'd met he," murmurs Nicky, shaking his head. They defend Kylie, use a porn star in their video, and use groupies.
Isn't there anything more to life than sex, as they themselves argued earlier?
"What's bad about that?" asks Richey, "Porn sells sex to dirty old men - no difference."
They're convoluted, hypocritical 'useless sluts', which is very good for their survival. But they're very cute, never boring, and I have this captivating way of thinking themselves into tight corners. And they've got this glorious, blind faith in themselves.
I've never met two people in a band who are so close. Nicky is especially protective of Richey. He looks out from him, keeps an eye on his drinking. They read the same books, listen to the same records, but what really keeps them together are their 'screaming arguments' in particular, this: "We have this same argument every few months about The Rolling Stones."
I am staggered. What on earth about?
"Well," Richey winces, "It just goes on for whole evenings, doesn't it? And we always say the same things. And we know Sean's gonna leave the room and..."
"Yes," nods Nicky. "It's a comfort...a pain, a comfort pain, We've been together so long, like (camp, schmaltzy-voice, cue violins), there ain't nothin' gonna break us."