Manic Street Preachers survive an X Files disappearance.
We mean nothing at all to anyone in Australia really," laughs James Bradfield, guitarist and vocalist with the Manic Street Preachers. "The only person who would buy one of our records in Australia is a very intelligent fucking sheep or something."
While they may indeed be largely unknown outside their native Britain, at home the quartet were looking like real heroes for a while. After 14 consecutive Top 40 singles they released their third LP, The Holy Bible, and the Preachers' reputation for fierce, emotional songs was truly cemented.. Then, suddenly, everything went wrong.
On February 1st, 1995, guitarist, lyricist and main man Richey James disappeared. There has been no trace of him since. "I've always felt that there was a massive self-fulfilling prophecy, that we would implode," explains Nicky Wire, who has since taken over writing the band's lyrics. "And I always thought that Richey would be the first"
Formed in the late '80s, Bradfield, Wire, James and Sean Moore grew up together in Blackwood, a working class coalmining town in south Wales. Naming themselves after Bradfield's bizarre run-ins with some ranting street folk, the four best friends landed a deal with Heavenly Records in early 1990, enjoying spectacular success until James's sudden disappearance.
With James presumed dead, the band reformed at the end of '95 as a three piece and recorded the recently released, aptly titled, Everything Must Go in France. Now, after touring with the Stone Roses and Oasis ("People perceive them as being these really petulant, horrible fuck-heads, but they're not") and with the possibility of them embarking on an Australian tour this summer, the Preachers are reaching a courageous peak. "Strangely enough, the position we're in now is the most favourable we've ever had in terms of commercial success," says Bradfield. "So for once, in an ironic kind of way, its going better than ever."
I hear you guys do a rocking version of "Bright Eyes" on stage.
Yep, the song about the bunny rabbits. I remember going to see the film when I was really young with the hardest kid in our school, the best fighter, and he cried when he saw it. It's pretty sad.
I assume the dynamic of the band must be pretty different now.
Well, no. Before this album we'd released three records, and the traditional set-up of the group was that Nick and Richey wrote all the lyrics together. On The Holy Bible we let Richey run with the ball because at the time he obviously had a very focused agenda. So it's not as if Nick had to suddenly arrive in terms of writing lyrics, because he's always done it.
I was trying to figure out your influences listening to the CD and the Clash popped into my head when "Interiors" came on.
It's probably the only wee glimpse of Clashism on there. Our biggest influence at the start really was the Clash, they were the Holy Grail for us. For me, I would hope that we could manage the perfect mixture between the Clash and Aztec Camera.
We're doing the grunge/punk special in this issue. We're you a big grunge fan?
For me, there's only two bands that came out it with any kind of respect, and that was Nirvana and the Smashing Pumpkins. The two groups that came from the ashes of punk were the Clash and the Pistols.
So what do you think of the Pistols touring again?
It's a shame, because the Pistols were the one band with a perfect beginning and a perfect ending and a perfect history. But with bands like Green Day and the Offspring, kids believe that they embody the punk spirit and you can imagine John Lydon thinking, "No, that was not what it was about at all. Fuck that." You might think something like "God Save the Queen" by the Pistols is crap, but in the last 20 years they were one of the only groups in the entire world to hit out at the monarchy.
Why choose France to record?
To get away, I guess. We recorded it in Normandy, right in the middle of the countryside. It was very cool because nobody knows who the fuck we are in France, so it was really easy to be anonymous. I'm not sure we're the most amiable of people. Sean and Nick are not really the kind of guys you tan come up to and tap on the shoulder and say, "Hey! Let's go for a beer!" They don't really like that, so it was good for them .We'd just been through certain things and we had to allow ourselves a bit of freedom.
Everything Must Go would be a challenge to successfully reproduce onstage.
When we play live we never really care about trying to recreate the records. The most important thing has always been to get across the essence of what the group is about. I do prefer for the live performance to be a bit more visual, and we could use a keyboard player. But we couldn't take a string section on tour. I would just be laughing my tits off if I just saw a harp player on the side of the stage.
Happy-go-lucky Britpop is dominating the UK charts, but your lyrics tend to contradict the pop music they accompany.
We always thought that everybody knows what it's like to fall in love, to have a broken heart, but not everybody knows what it's like to hate with a vengeance. We like to think that we wouldn't just be called pompous or indulgent just 'cause we choose not to write about relationships.
Like all great pop groups, the Manic Street Preachers are putting their lives into their music. Despite the desolation of the past year, their enthusiasm for music has not diminished. "To be honest, there's no shift with us," explains Bradfield. "Unfortunately, there's just a minus."