The Manic Street Preachers are unfortunately not a well known band on our shores, but they should be. Hey, they even wrote a song about us, Australia, off the 1996 full length release 'Everything Must Go'. They are an alternative rock band from Wales and the current line up features James Dean Bradfield (vocals, guitars), Nicky Wire (bass) and Sean Moore (drums). The band was originally a quartet - lyricist and occasional guitarist Richey Edwards mysteriously vanished on 1 February 1995. In November 2008, 13 years after his disappearance, he was officially declared presumed deceased. Right from their first 7-inch, 'Suicide Alley' in 1989, they were outspoken - especially Wire and Edwards - and wrote songs about politics, boredom and despair, which soon garnered them a loyal following and cult status.
Their most well known album is 'Everything Must Go' which has gone on to sell about a million copies in the UK alone and is now considered a classic. The album was a commercial and critical success at the height of Britpop in the mid 1990s thanks to the single A Design For Life; but thankfully the band never conformed with that scene leaving that to Blur, Pulp, Suede, et al.
Their previous album from 1994, 'The Holy Bible', is considered to be the UK equivalent to Nirvana's 'Nevermind' and is one of the best albums in the last 20 years if you have never heard. It is a dark and disturbing album. Edwards' lyrics were somewhat autobiographical and centred around his problems with alcohol abuse, self-harm and anorexia nervosa. An example is the track 4st 7 lbs, his dangerously low body weight at one stage. It was to be his last album.
Drummer Sean Moore has always been considered the "quiet one" one of the band, while Wire is the outspoken, extrovert who loves to wear faux fur jackets and dark eyeliner. I asked him about his quiet nature.
"In my later years I have been quiet, I now have three children, but I like to go down to the gun range and make a noise there. When you have somebody like Nick in the band, who is a very tall man, why would I need to be heard?" he laughs. "In the early days you left it to Richey and Nick, and they dragged the lead singer into it and that left me, the one behind the scaffolding. It's my little barrier to the world."
In 2006 both Bradfield and Wire released solo albums while the band was on hiatus. Bradfield's was a purposely commercial outing with half the tracks sounding very Manics-esque, while Wire's was quite leftfield and noting like the Manic Street Preachers. It was a lo-fi affair and suited Wire's conformist style, but was surprisingly a good album. I asked Moore which he enjoyed the most.
"They both had their own merits. I was surprised with Nick's and really enjoyed the artwork and his live performances. They were quite entertaining, reminded me a lot of Sir Les Paterson; sort of drunken, almost comedic experience to a lot of people," Moore humours. "James' was good, very string-heavy musically, as you'd expect. I thought it was a great concept as well and some key moments like An English Gentlemen and Still A Long Way To Go."
Their debut album 'Generation Terrorists' was released back in 1992. The band said it would sell 16 million copies and then they would break up...it sold a modest 250,000 copies and they are still together. It never was going to sell that many, but that was the Manic Street Preachers back in 1992 - young, arrogant and confident about their own product. A fresh faced producer named Dave Eringa (Idlewild, Ocean Colour Scene, Kylie, Gyroscope) mixed the album. He later went on to mix and perform on many of their subsequent albums and tracks, including Bradfield's solo album. I asked Moore what he remembers about the recording experience.
"Being so inexperienced we were on a steep learning curve. We used Dave Eringa for the first time and who was straight out of engineering school. We were using one of the best studios in the UK, so we made a point of trying to get complete takes because we were using tape. It was just a far superior studio and we used every microphone that was ever conceived. We went all out; we did threaten to be 16 million album sellers...that's why we're here 20 years later."
Fast forward 18 years and their tenth studio album, 'Postcards From A Young Man', has just hit the stores. Bradfield and Wire have both referred to the album as "one last shot at mass communication" and is seen as a follow up to 2007's 'Send Away The Tigers' rather than 2009's 'Journal For Plague Lovers' which contained a full albums worth of posthumous lyrics by Edwards. Three guests on it including Ian McCulloch from Echo And The Bunnymen who lends his vocal talents on Some Kind Of Nothingness, John Cale of Velvet Underground fame plays keyboards and noise on Auto-Intoxication and finally Duff McKagan from Guns N Roses who noodled some bass guitar on A Billion Balconies Facing the Sun.
"John Cale has always been a huge influence for us. He was one of the first Welsh musicians that we discovered by chance. He was super cool, hung out with Andy Warhol, was part of the Velvet Underground and had worked with James on his solo album. We just put the call in and he said yes. We were very surprised he said yes," Moore explains. "Duff presented us with the Mojo Magazine Maverick Award in London in 2009. We put the call in and he said 'Yes, I'll just get my Appetite For Destruction rig out and give you that sound'. Ian from Echo And The Bunnymen, we bumped into him at a festival in Ireland. They were one of the first bands we listened to when we were young and the first gig that me, James and Richey went to was Echo in Bristol. At this festival we said we should get together, a year and half later we called him up and he said yes. So it was quite easy, because in the past we would never drop someone a line, but we thought sod it, we're on album number ten."
The band has been around for about 20 years, I asked Moore whether he sees the band as still relevant after this time.
"When you look at the Beatles they are still relevant. There's always going to be elements of bands relevant, so many bands want to be part of the cool-scene we've always seen ourselves as one step outside that. So we're relevant to ourselves. In terms of relevance on a wider scale I don't know what it means to be honest. If we bring another album out it will be some insane, 50 track epic!" he jokes.