On September 27, 1996 the Manic Street Preachers arrived in the Casbah of San Diego. It was his first first album, Everything Must Go , and his first tour after the mysterious disappearance, until today , of his guitarist Richey Edwards . I had the opportunity to chat with bassist Nicky Wire on the band's tourbus after a memorable almost two-hour concert at the little club on Little Italy's Kettner Boulevard. More than his music, always rocker and simple but strong, what most admired of the manics was that look type terror glam and his philosophy of cutting Marxist pop that informed the lyrics of his songs. I believe that more than ever, the Manics are of unsurpassed importance in times of hyper capitalism, not to mention that the sincerity and sensitivity of Nicky Wire conveyed a great deal of emotion when talking about his childhood friend Richey Edwards.
How do you feel about the Manics today? In comparison when the group started.
We are the same people. But obviously many things have changed. We are not as strong as we used to be. I think we still write as good songs as before, but the rest is not so ... you know, as incendiary or confrontational as at first. We are just as intelligent but perhaps not as good-looking as before.
What do you attribute all this to?
Pressures, deaths, anxiety ... and all that sort of thing.
What makes the engine keep moving?
Writing songs ... even a play like the one we just had, at least there are people who are completely into what you do. Even if there are only five or ten people, you know it's worth doing since those people love what we do.
Do you plan to continue in the future?
We do not plan anymore. All our plans are in the air, so we take things as they come. Before we had a long-term vision, but now we do things in short terms. We have not decided anything yet.
A song like "A Design For Life", from his latest album, talks about libraries that empower people. Is knowledge still a desirable commodity for change?
Knowledge is power. If you keep the masses in ignorance, they will end up destroying themselves. Which is what the ruling elite or ruling class would like to see happen. The best way to exploit the classes is by stopping learning. The best way to do what you are is to learn. In England libraries have always been free, but the current government wants to start charging for using them. That is the first step for the poor not to learn.
Referring to the title of his new album, why everything has to go?
Two things for us. First in terms of our past and history. And the other is about how we feel about England. The last twenty years have been terrible at the hands of the conservative government of Margaret Thatcher and John Major. We wanted to start fresh with regard to the lyrics of the album, deal with that and our place in music.
Not having Richey Edwards around, does this make the group musically weaker?
Not so much, musically. But you know, on stage, although Richey did not play much. He was not a good guitarist and he was the first to say this. But obviously 25% of your group is gone, there is a big void, and that void will always be there. Nothing can fill it. All we have to do is create better songs, it's the best we can do. It is the only way to answer to us what happens. We try to forget the past ... well, do not forget it, but as I say, we will never fill that void. We're never gonna hire another guitar player.
Personally, do you think this person will come back to fill this void?
I think he's alive, but I do not know if he'll be back. I think anywhere I am, whatever I've done ... I'm happy. Be a hermit somewhere, writing a book or living in a monastery. He did what he had to do, so I do not have any resentment towards him. I feel very bad about your family. Sometimes I feel very bad and I hate that.
The Manics were one of the first to return to the English scene the sound of the guitar that now dominates the Brit pop. How did they feel during that time?
Yes, at the beginning we were very isolated. We had no friends and there were no other groups like us. It was bad weather. The Manchester movement was over, everyone was on drugs or thundering and then there was us. England was more interested in the sound of the Americans and then we were all dressed up and singing about politics. It was lonely, now everything is better. I think we're a bit like the Radiohead group, they exist within their own universe, they're not brit-pop, they're not rock, they're just what they are. I think we are. We float within our own space.
What groups do you feel that have that essence that one day sheltered the Manics?
Obviously Oasis has that immense and natural power. I always admire anything I can communicate in a fast way and so many people. Be it Oasis or Nirvana, I always admire that, that total naturalness. There are many such groups, The Boo Radleys, and Radiohead. It is a very healthy time for English music. I like Underworld, I like The Orb. We have rediscovered our own identity, we have stopped pretending to be American. We do well what we have always done.
England has always gone ahead on music issues. Why is this? Where does the culture of reinventing music come from?
First, there is the tradition of having the biggest groups in rock history: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Clash, The Sex Pistols and The Who. You always go to a point of reference, you always return to that which displaced the limits in the beginning. Second, by having weekly music magazines like the New Muscical Express. You go out on the cover, you sell thousands of records and maybe never hear from you again after that. Many Americans think this is pure exaggeration and marketing, for us this is exciting. You go from your bedroom to the cover of these magazines from one day to the next, while in the United States it takes like five years to appear in Rolling Stone, no matter who you are. That's why I think England is so exciting. And then you have the culture of electronic music, which as you know, is at the forefront of everything.
Finally, do you feel that the sound of the guitar has the strength to keep moving the world?
I think so. There is a lot of power there. Be a Smashing Pumpkins or Oasis song. there is a lot of power there to get you up. That this can politically change things, there if not. But there is an immense power there. When groups sell millions of records and play against millions of people, there has to be something there, it has to be something spiritual. It is much more than a religion, it is more than anything else.