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Interview: James Dean Bradfield - Oor, 2nd June 2001

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Title: Interview: James Dean Bradfield
Publication: Oor
Date: Saturday 2nd June 2001

James Dean Bradfield gives a damp/clammy handshake, is restlessly pacing up and down and chain-smoking during the interview. This nervousness is very characteristic of him, just like the everlasting worried look in his eyes. Despite all that he is a very amiable guy who often has a beer with his friends. He explains that he's calmed down a bit. That might have something to do with the death of his mother, who died of cancer in the autumn of '99. Seated at her deathbed James wished she would wake up again, even if it was only to do something insignificant such as having a glass of Ocean Spray. It inspired him to write his first Manic's lyric, the skin crawling-song, Ocean Spray. However, we'd better not start the interview on that subject.

Half way through the recording of the previous album, TIMTTMY, Nicky was completely empty/hollow and had to take a break to try and get his creative spirit back. How did it go this time?
The way we recorded this album was a bit different (peculiar). It took us a year but in actual practice it was a lot shorter. For example we wrote four songs and then recorded it in two weeks, then we would write again for a month. In total we recorded 26 songs in 16 weeks. The first songs we did were His Last Painting, Dead Martyrs, Intravenous Agnostic and something else. The next set was very different, it included songs like Let Robeson Sing. It was an interesting way of recording an album.

That immediately explains the enormous variety.
That's right. And it wasn't necessarily positive. I even think that that variation restrains certain people from liking us. But we can't help it because we just easily get tired of something.

With Know Your Enemy I get the feeling that you want to give something to all your fans.
I never get the feeling that I want to give something to anyone. After the Millennium show I took a month off. I spent it at my dad's, where I have a lot of records from my childhood, 7-inch singles etc. I got bored and started listening to the Saints, Wire, Magazine and lots of old punk music. They sounded fantastic. I hadn't heard them for years. When we started recording those influences got back in some of our songs. In a way I went back to my childhood which is a bit strange for a 32-year old. It made us work very instinctive. In the studio it sometimes seemed as if we were 18 again, making a lot of noise.

Hence that hidden track.
Yes, it's a cover of We Are All Bourgeois Now by McCarthy, an Indie-band from the 80s. It was never a hit but we loved that band when we were young. Especially their lyrics.

Nicky already mentioned some of your old influences in our magazine. Do you ever listen to new music?
Yes, absolutely. The album by the Australian band The Avalanches is fantastic. J. Mascis & The Fog are brilliant. There's a great new American band called White Stripes, but I only have it on tape. I'm an obsessive, compulsive music-fan. Certainly not someone who says it's getting worse. I'm afraid that day will come, but so far I've only gotten more fanatical over the years.

While writing the lyrics did Nicky this time take into account that you have to sing them fluently? In the past you clearly struggled to fit all the words into the chorus.
Sometimes. Songs like Found That Soul and Let Robeson Sing were easy, but Freedom Of Speech, Intravenous Agnostic and The Convalescent were considerably more difficult. Especially the latter which is more of a run-down of facts. I don't think Nicky ever wonders how I'm going to sing his lyrics. The songs differ greatly from each other because of the completely different recording sessions. After a couple of difficult songs the next session consisted mostly of more poetic and melodic material. Every session was a reaction to the previous one to stimulate ourselves.

You released two singles on the same day So Why So Sad and Found That Soul. Is that to emphasize the split personality of KYE?
We simply couldn't decide what our first single was going to be. Not one song was representative and it would therefore be misleading. Eventually we released two songs which are totally different to show that we are in two extremes at the moment.

Do you agree with Nicky that the previous album is too soft, too overly produced? He especially gives out on The Everlasting on every opportunity he gets.
Yes, I love that album, but I think we paid too much attention on the production and trusted our instinct too little. It is overly produced. We wanted everything to sound a little bit too beautiful. I too have mainly problems with The Everlasting. As a band we've never been about compassion (sorry, this isn't the right translation, but it's the best I can do) and that song is trying to put its arms around the world. That's just not the sort of band we are, that's why it doesn't sound like the Manic Street Preachers. Unfortunately a lot of people think it's beautiful, which is a bit annoying. Haha.

Some songs are so beautiful that they even go beyond camp/kitsch. Just like The Carpenters.
Ooh, but The Everlasting doesn't even come close to any of their songs. I love that band. They really sound as if they put their arms around you. I never feel like that when I'm singing a song. Well, maybe we should evaluate The Everlasting again. It's a real 'lighter in the air' song. I can just picture the crowd.

Ocean Spray is your first lyric and it's about the death of your mother. That's radically different from interpreting Nicky's political lyrics.
When I was younger I tried to write lyrics. At the age of 24 I realized it just wasn't in me. Even though we shared the same back round, ideals and ideas, I just didn't seem to be able to get it across. That's why I ceased my attempts/efforts a long time ago. The reason why I did succeed this time is because I wrote the song for myself. Ocean Spray is very personal and I absolutely didn't try to be intellectual about it. James with an exaggerated American accent: 'It's from the heart man'. I didn't try to use symbolism. No, I only tried to be fair/honest to myself about the whole situation. I look back upon it with black humor. When people ask me: 'When are you going to write another lyric?, I reply: 'For some time I don't want anybody to die'. So hopefully it's going to take a while before I write another lyric.

Your lyric is definitely more successful than Nicky's singing in Wattville Blues.
Oh no, I think he's a fine combination between Mark E. Smith [The Fall] and Katherine Hepburn. I think it's good. Nicky is a white trash rapper.

Your role as a lead guitarist is quite often underestimated. Especially by yourself. Don't you ever feel the need/urge to express yourself more on guitar?
No, I've done that enough in the past. Motorcycle Emptiness was based on a guitar riff and now there's a solo in Found That Soul. I only do it when it fits the song. Of course I can perform a solo on my own the whole day long, I even enjoy doing that a lot. I enjoy it so much that I'd better not start, because then you won't hear anything else apart from solos. I have little self-control when it comes to that.

Do you have various guitar tapes at home, which are going to be released on CD one day?
No, it's all in my head. I'm a supporter of Paul McCarthy's theory: 'If you come up with something that you can't remember the next day, then it wasn't worth saving.'

You are old friends from school and drummer Sean Moore is even your cousin. Has the relationship changed strongly through the years?
Absolutely not. However there is a sort of tension between Sean and myself because he's my cousin. Healthy tension that is, because obviously I'm crazy about him/ I adore him. But there have always been petty little fights between us, and gradually they have become less.

He has strongly improved since the first few times I saw you perform.
We rarely practised in those days. We didn't believe in that. We thought it was boring, it reminded us of school. Of course we've performed quite a bit through the years and that improved us. Playing the same song ten times just wasn't for us. It took the soul out of the songs. We preferred to keep ourselves busy with writing and recording material.

Why doesn't Sean ever give interviews?
He's the drummer! Sean is a bit different. By nature he's a quiet boy. However when he and Nick start a conversation, nobody can understand what it's about. Then they are on a completely different planet. Even I sometimes can't follow them.

Some time ago, in Q magazine, you wondered whether you were perhaps a bit stupid/dumb.
Well, as you get older you expect to be able to understand things a bit better. The first real writer I read on my own initiative -after secondary school- was Sartre. Because Matt Johnson from The The read him as well. At the age of 15 I understood perhaps a quarter of it. Of course it's a lot more understandable now. The other day I read The Sea of Fertility, by Mishima. I've got almost everything by him. I saved this pill, of about 1000 pages, till last. I finished the last chapter at five o'clock in the morning. It was at odds with the previous chapters and as a result, after having read it for six days, I had to admit that I had understood absolutely nothing of the book. That got me pretty upset. Something like that hadn't happened in a long time, it made me feel like 15 again. But apart from that I'm not too bad at keeping up with things.