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Interview: James Dean Bradfield - Destination Pop, July 2006

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Title: Interview: James Dean Bradfield
Publication: Destination Pop
Date: July 2006

A meeting in the middle of the football World Cup in the Sony Center. Up in the glazed interview room, one could then look directly at the ZDF studio, in which the day before Johannes B. Kerner and Jürgen Klopp presented. A good setting for one of the most relaxed interviews ever, the singer of the Manics goes by in any case as a really nice buddy. Incidentally, the occasion for the interview was Bradfield's solo album, but that should interest me only marginally.

The Manic Street Preachers was recently accused of a penchant for stadium rock. Was it important for you to sound a bit more reduced on your first solo album?
The Manic Street Preachers have just come a long way. At some point we had reached a point where we could play in large halls and probably the songs got bigger as a result. However, it was never my goal to record a solo album that is supposed to sound different. I just think that some of my very early influences are coming through again. By that I mean the more embarrassing things like Elton John or ELO, which I had always censored myself in advance at the Manics. There Nick, Sean and Richey did a pretty good job of keeping these preferences hidden under the surface. But now I thought, this is my solo album, so I can let out all my influences from the 70s. As far as I can judge for myself,

A big contradiction to your albums with the Manic Street Preachers is "The Great Western" however not. Did you ever think of doing music that would have been completely impossible with the manics?
Well, a couple of songs on my album would have worked well with the Manic Street Preachers, so there's nothing wrong with that. Neither with the band nor solo I've ever had an interest in pushing any boundaries or sounding extremely original. A band like Radiohead does that all the time, and now I think they overdo it a bit. Their music seems to have nothing to do with them anymore. In fact, I see myself more as a traditionalist who wants to serve the song first and foremost.

How did you come up with the cover version of the Jacques Brel song "To See A Friend In Tears"?
Over detours, because at first I did not know this song in the original, but only in the version of Momus. Nick, Richey and Sean always loved this song, and we originally wanted to record it with the manics. Somehow that never worked out, and now I know why: this song can only work if I play it alone with an acoustic guitar. Also interesting is the lyrics of this song. No one has yet written about what September 11 means to us Europeans, and although this song is already several decades old, one might think that it refers to this very event. The relationship between Europe and America, the values ​​we believe in - all of which is addressed in this song.

You always had a feeling for good melodies. Do you mean that they come out of themselves or do you see yourself as Brian Wilson as a medium receiving signals?
I've never really believed in the supernatural in terms of music. I think that all this is more due to my childhood. Actually, my father was a carpenter by profession, but when he was at home he always listened to music with my mother. Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra were just as much a part of my childhood as eating and drinking or doing sports.

For most bands, the singer is also the figurehead. In the Manic Street Preachers, on the other hand, Richey James and Nicky Wire were the band's face. Did that annoy you sometimes?
Never. After all, we were friends before the band even existed. It was clear to us from the start who we had in any field of his talents, so there were never any ego stories there. Sean and I were in charge of the music, while Richey and Nick were particularly good at writing the lyrics. Even during the interviews nobody could explain so convincingly why the band exists like them.

You once said in another interview that "The Holy Bible" and "Everything Must Go" are the albums you're most proud of. This astonishes in that "The Holy Bible" was already a bit like the vision of Richey James.
Richey may have written 80 percent of the lyrics, while the other 20 percent and the album title came from Nick. The music, on the other hand, comes almost completely from me, although of course Sean had his share of the album. If you take it seriously, then Richey has not played on any of our albums. He just never had much confidence in his skills as a guitarist.

After the album, Richey James disappeared without a trace. Do you think the band could have done with him the development of a big rock band to a big pop band?
That's a very difficult question. We had already started with "Everything Must Go" while he was still there, and already there was a change of direction. If it had gone to Richey, then the band would have developed in a very dark direction. He was probably thinking of something between Nine Inch Nails, Primal Scream's "Screamadelica" and Goth Metal, and I do not know how much we would have embarked on such a thing. One thing is certain: Together with him, it would have been much more difficult to agree on a common direction for the band.

At the beginning of their careers, Manic Street has often provoked Preachers in interviews and barely skipped a fool's foot. How do you feel about it today?
If I read this today, I have to smile about it. Despite everything, there is a lot of honesty in our early interviews. Youth has something indestructible, and we did not even think for a moment about whether one or the other of our statements might be wrong. Sometimes you have to have a lot of humor, if one thing is held up again, which one said so many years ago. On the other hand, why should it be different from politicians? At least I can classify well, why we hewed so on the timpani back then. We finally came from Wales - so you could not be further away from the music business, but that only made us more ambitious. We felt people were looking down on us and that drove us crazy. In such a situation one commits one or the other stupidity. Sometimes I miss the callousness that I had at the time. I used to hardly think about what I tell in interviews. If, on the other hand, I say such things today, then I could hardly sleep the night.

Quite another topic: Nicky Wire is known as a big fan of Woody Allen. Do you like Allen's films as well?
Only conditionally. Actually, I like him only "Sweet and Lowdown".

Allen's last movie "Match Point", which after all plays in London, is not your case?
I totally missed it. Just a classic case of cinema tourism, according to the motto: Now please still a red double-decker bus into the picture. How can you play a movie in a tennis environment? Just ridiculous.

Which films do you prefer instead?
"hate" is z. For example, at the top of my list. And of course Ingmar Bergman's "Persona", for me one of the most disturbing films ever. I also like to watch "Die Fahrraddiebe". This movie still makes me cry.

Do you handle your popularity differently today than you used to?
Not really. I've never been the type to go to any premieres or get dressed by Gucci. And I certainly do not have celebrity friends. But of course I now earn much more money than I did 15 years ago. At least it is enough to drink more expensive whiskey today in more expensive bars.

But do not the fans today - especially through the internet - know much more about you?
I have nothing against the internet, but sometimes I wish the good old fanzine days back. Especially these blogs seduce but many musicians to take much too important and leave unnecessary comments on all sorts of things. Musicians are often much less complex than you might imagine. The next appearance or the next joint are sometimes pretty much the only thing they can think about. I mean, if I had a blog, what should I write in there today? I gave some interviews, drank a few cups of coffee and flew back to London in the evening. Something like that can not seriously interest anyone.

You've had a very special relationship with Berlin for years, recorded songs here and made videos. Can you describe your view of Berlin?
The whole band has always felt very comfortable in Berlin. The city was forced to change a few years ago, and yet it has managed to preserve its own face. I especially like the Prenzlauer Berg and the area around the Reichstag.

Do you have a favorite club in Berlin?
No. I feel too old for clubs.

In addition to your own music, you also always had many side projects, such as working with Kylie Minogue in 1997. Although this album was a commercial flop for them, Minogues Image did a great job.
Our love for Kylie started years ago. Nick especially liked her, and was already running around in the mountains of Wales wearing a Kylie T-shirt. He thought he could provoke the right people with it, and almost enjoyed being scolded by those fools as a "fagot." For many years, Kylie had the image of pop dolls, and even then it was obvious that she was always in control of what she was doing. Eventually she came to a point where she made good pop-plates instead of bad pop-plates, and that made her naturally interesting. Especially since perfect pop has always had its raison d'être for us.

Finally, two questions about the present and future of Manic Street Preachers. The last album "Lifeblood" from 2004 was superficially might sound rather smooth, but after repeated listening the songs developed a depth, which one hardly knew of the Manics.
For many, Lifeblood actually seemed a bit overproduced. What people need to realize is that we are not like the Ramones. We will never repeat the same stereotypes over multiple albums. And as for "Lifeblood", I can say at the distance of two years that we could never have done it differently. Sometimes I think that this is our album that is most introspective. When I listen to it today, I sometimes feel like I'm hurting someone's privacy, which is a bit weird, because after all, it's me who sings.

Is there anything with the Manic Street Preachers that you really want to do?
I really want to make a pure rock album again, as we did before. I want to write anthems and play guitar solos without being ashamed of it. It would also be nice if we could record a soundtrack with the Manic Street Preachers. I think we have plenty of time to do that, because one thing is for sure: Once you become a member of the Manics, you will never get out of it.