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Interview: Manic Street Preachers - Time Out Hong Kong, 17th November 2008

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Bass-playing vocalist Nicky Wire is packing his light dress for Hong Kong, he tells Hamish McKenzie

How about you start off by telling me what bands you hate these days?

I’m going through a period of liking a lot of music at the moment – it’s quite scary. I’m trying to think of somebody who’s really annoying me at the moment. I guess the new Snow Patrol record is unbelievably lame. Just a lot of generic British indie bands at the moment, kind of post-Libertines, awful kind of stuff.

Any you particularly like?

There’s just so much of it – I can’t get in too much trouble so early in the day. It’s only 10 o’clock.

Are you still bored shitless talking about politics?

I’m not bored shitless. I bore people shitless talking about it [laughs]. It’s just something I find interesting. It’s quite a mistake, sometimes, when I don’t see politics in political terms – I just see it as entertainment and culture.

It’s been an entertaining time recently, then.

Yeah, it’s hard to get away from the TV; watching capitalists turn into socialists has been pretty entertaining. You know, just watching them begging for state intervention when all their lives they’ve just said companies should wither and die and the markets will decide, and all these kind of clichés, and they’ve all of a sudden gone with their begging bowl to the taxpayer. It’s been really compelling.

Does it worry you in any way?

It just worries me for people who are obviously going to feel it a lot more than me. After 20 years of being in a band, it’s quite a humbling and privileged position; it’s obviously not going to hit me so hard. But living in Wales, where I do, just walking round town, you see progressions in closed shops and all that kind of stuff and unemployment’s really shooting up, so it will be a big worry. I don’t worry in a sense that the world’s collapsing – I think it’s more the social problems people are going to have to deal with.

You’ve got a history of saying some slightly contentious things on stages. In Bangkok, for instance, before you played Repeat (“Repeat after me / Fuck queen and country”) you dedicated it to the Thai Monarchy.

Anything I’ve ever said on stage has been very much of the moment. It’s kind of the way my insane brain races and propels itself, a mixture of adrenalin and a thought process on stage comes up with something that sometimes can be important and brilliant, and sometimes awful and miss the point completely. That’s the scary thing about it – scary for me as a person, and scary for the rest of the band. Because, sometimes it’s idiotic, sometimes it’s kind of cool – but it’s definitely not pre-planned.

Are you worried about what might pop out in Hong Kong?

Not really. You’ve obviously lit a few fires in my brain now, but I can’t say I’ve felt those urges starting to grow and fester. When it comes to politics, I just think we’re all hypocrites. I don’t think any country rises above any other, because we’re all in the same quagmire, we all have terrible histories, we all exploit in the same way, and it’s just some people have picked different targets. I guess some targets are more obvious than others.

Let’s move it away from politics. Why did you guys cover Umbrella?

It was just really a one-off moment for the NME. The NME were doing an album, some sort of giveaway charity thing, and they just phoned us up. We were in the studio, and I just think it’s nice sometimes to do something that feels like it comes from a pop universe. It’s a record that hits you and you have to bow down and realise: it’s perfection. We’ve done it before with Suicide is Painless, the theme from M*A*S*H, our first major hit – that was for an NME covers album as well. It’s just good to step outside your own boundaries and do something vacuous, empty, and pop.

Do you think your version’s better than the original?

It’s not as sexy, but it’s probably more rocking. I think it’s a good version – it was done really quickly, in a day, it had no pretensions, and it just created a life of its own. It’s certainly nothing we’re ashamed of. We enjoyed doing it, we enjoy playing it live.

Yeah, it sounds good. There’s no more Top of the Pops, but today we’ve got MySpace. What do you think of that?

I feel like a real luddite. I’ve got to be honest with you, I don’t have a computer, my wife’s got a computer – if I’m really desperate I’ll ask her something. I don’t want to decry it, because it has its own life force and people really enjoy it, but I have to say, 90 per cent of the stuff that comes from it is just total shit.

90 is being quite generous, I think.

Probably. If anyone ever comes up to me on the street and says, ‘Check my band out on MySpace’, then I’m guaranteed not to. If they give me a CD, I always listen to it and I always give an opinion on it. But if they say that, then I kind of know they’re shit already.

Do you get that in your hometown, walking on the streets? People come up to you with CDs and MySpace pages?

Oh, definitely – especially in London. Everyone thinks they can be in a band in London; it’s just desperate and awful. It’s just a kind of sewer of music. There’s just so much desperation. They’re not desperate to be in a band, they’re not desperate to communicate, it’s just something to do. It’s either do a bit of modelling, be a graphic designer, or form a band for a year. It’s pretty sad.

Have you played here before?

No. [I’m] just genuinely excited, really. There’s not many places left in the world where you can’t really get a handle on how it’s going to be. You obviously think you can, but you can’t know until you go there. There’s a few places this year – we’ve been to Istanbul and Moscow – and they were genuinely thrilling experiences, and I’m hoping Hong Kong will be the same. It really feels like going somewhere different.

Did you learn anything about yourself on the just-completed UK and European tour?

Yeah, I did. I learned that I’m more in love with being in a band than I have been for a long time. We went through a period where we made some dodgy records, we became slightly distant from each other, in terms of desperation to make music and communicate, and I think the last 18 or 12 months has made us feel more like teenagers than we have been for a long time. I don’t know why that is. Perhaps it is just going to so many new places – Croatia and Latvia, Athens – and just realising there are so many people out there who have really followed us from the start. And I guess you become a bit blasé, a bit insular in Britain when you reach a certain peak in youth. You kind of rest on your laurels a bit, and doing the last 16 months has given us some perspective on how much the band means to us, and how much we mean to a lot of people as well. Slightly humbling – sounds weird, me saying that, but it is.

Are you still wearing dresses?

Oh yeah, there’s been plenty of them on the last tour. I should be packing one for Hong Kong.

Make sure it’s nice and light, because it tends to get humid here.

I have been told that. Don’t worry – all my dresses are cotton.

Fidel Castro or Gordon Brown?

I haven’t met Gordon and obviously I’ve met Fidel, and he was unbelievably intelligent and bright. I don’t know if you would call it well-briefed, but he seemed to have an intrinsic knowledge of the band, and I think he was about 82 at the time [laughs]. So you’ve got to give him credit for that. I’ve always really admired Gordon – he’s had a hideous 12 months since being Prime Minister – but as a man, his dourness and obsession with work I’ve always admired. But I think I’d go for Fidel – just on charisma.

The Manic Street Preachers play HITEC on Wednesday 26.