In an amazingly honest interview, Nicky Wire talks to James McLaren about re-establishing the Manics in people's affections after a period in the wilderness.
Did you have as much fun making Send Away The Tigers as it sounds you did?
Yeah, that's 100% true. The theory behind the album was: have we done what we're best at, what we love doing? Ie. rock music with - hopefully - intelligent lyrics. It felt like we rediscovered the reasons why we wanted to be in a band in the first place. We wanted to make sure it was coherent; the last two albums haven't sounded like Manic Street Preachers. So it feels glorious to be back.
It's interesting that you're happy to say that - do you think the last couple of albums weren't up to strength?
I think so; I think Lifeblood was really confusing and didn't sound like us at all. We didn't work together very much on it at all. It's not like we had rows or anything, it's just we had a theory that we must sound like New Order or the Pet Shop Boys.
We worked separately, we were quite detached. Know Your Enemy has its moments of brilliance but there's no focus; it's too all over the place. I'm not saying they were sh*t albums but when we work best is when we're all in the same room and we know what we're doing.
You've reversed the Rs again, for the first time since the Holy Bible; is this saying that you're comfortable with who you are and were?
In one sense it's purely aesthetic. I think it looks brilliant, and it's so identifiable with us. We wanted to reclaim all the things that kind of made us. Musically it's not like The Holy Bible at all, but [it recalls] all our best memories, how we looked, how we felt, how we sounded.We just wanted to give it one last shot really and see if we could pull it off because it's not easy on your eighth album. There's a new band every week so we wanted to give it one last crack.
When you say one last crack, does this mean that if the album doesn't meet your artistic or commercial expectations that you'll give it up?
I don't think it's either - if you're too artistic then you end up being self-indulgent and if you chase sales too much you usually don't get them! But there's an element of 'sh*t or bust' this time. If this one doesn't make us or our audience happy, then perhaps we should call it a day. Luckily, I think we might have pulled it off.
This album does sound like it could put you back in the affections of some might see as the core Manics fanbase...
Yeah, I was reading a lot about [The Who's] Pete Townsend around the time of Quadrophenia and he felt that he had become totally disconnected from his fans and his band. I think we felt like that - the people who kind of loved us had stopped loving us.We'd stopped loving ourselves. We didn't feel happy ourselves and that then gets projected onto an audience and it's difficult to reconnect with them. We set out to reconnect with them.
The cover of the album indicates a reconnection with 'old-school' Manics fans, with the two glammed-up girls. Can you talk us through the cover?
It's a photographer called Valerie Phillips; she worked with us a long time ago. She did the cover of Motorcycle Emptiness actually. I'd always really liked Valerie's stuff but it was really difficult to get permission to use her work. I ended up calling her directly. She's turned down so many people but she had the connection with us and she was happy to do it, so I've been working with her on the artwork. It fits perfectly with what we're trying to say on the new record; you don't have to look hugely deeply into it, you just think 'oh it's the Manics'.I don't think it's necessarily 'nostalgia' because those fans have actually stayed with us through thick and thin, they haven't diluted themselves - perhaps we diluted ourselves a little bit. But I think we just ended up confusing ourselves, pushing ourselves in the wrong direction. Our relationship with our fans is very healthy and very respectful. There's always discourse and sometimes they're our fiercest critics, but we have soul and they always stick with us.
What's the story of the title of the album?
Richey and I were huge fans of Tony Hancock way back when we were in Swansea University. The tragedy of Tony Hancock's life was kind of appealing as well. He had a phrase 'send away the tigers' when his alcoholic demons and depression used to creep up on him.It seemed applicable to where we are with the band, being wracked with self-doubt. It was reinvention and just send all those demons away and just be ourselves, do what we do to the best of our ability.
You've always been seen as caricatures - the glam punks, the anarchists in combats, the sports fan househusbands. Are those stereotypes frustrating or useful?
I kind of feed off them because a few of the lyrics deal with perception and how we can never escape it, no matter what you do in your life, you're always going to be tarnished with things. But coming from Wales as we did, looking like we did at the start, we kind of embraced the whole cartoon thing. We didn't want to come across like Joy Division, we had to come across as larger than life characters. You get what you deserve with that really and I'm quite happy to be considered as a Hoovering house-husband. I can live with that.
But some musicians are glad of perceptions as it keeps the 'real' them out of the public eye...
I totally believe in the separation of my private life and my 'rock'n'roll' life because otherwise it's a recipe for destruction and disaster. When I go home the public life is over; I don't want to go out drinking with James or Sean when I'm home off tour. I think if you don't allow the adrenalin to calm down... well, we wouldn't have been around if we'd done that.
You recently reviewed singles on BBC 6Music and didn't mince your words. Do you think you'll ever mellow out?
No, because as long as we're in a band together, it's the old John Lydon thing, 'anger is an energy'. I do see anger as a positive energy, and the good thing about being in a band is that it's just words. We're not going to kill anybody with words.We provoke people and stimulate people but words are so beautiful because you can use them without creating terrible damage; they can be such a constructive thing, words.
But you must be aware of the effects of some of the things you said. There's the Michael Stipe incident [Wire said in 1992, "In this season of goodwill, let's pray that Michael Stipe goes the same way as Freddie Mercury pretty soon"], or for instance you've covered Working Class Hero on the new record; do you now regret the line in Motown Junk 'I laughed when Lennon got shot'?
No, not at all, because the whole concept of Motown Junk was about how the realities of life are always drowned out by pop music. It's the idea that you can always say something like that and nobody really cares. It's just me and Richey sitting down at a desk and coming up with ideas.I've regretted plenty of things but I've been through a process of making mistakes because we've said so many things as young people... I've got no problem with mistakes as young people as long as you realise it! Like I said, I've never physically hurt anyone....
Is there anything in particular that you regret?
There's millions of things! Well obviously the Michael Stipe thing. It was just incoherent and stupid. I hate people who come on and say 'I don't have any regrets; I'd do everything the same if I could'. And they've like killed people or crashed cars! Well I would change things. I'd do millions of things differently. Or Richey saying 'I'll always hate Slowdive more than Hitler' - that was a pretty bizarre thing to say when you think about it, but we thought it was funny. It's just bedroom talk - when it was the four of us, that was how we used to talk in the bedroom - we'd have arguments then at the end of it, come to conclusions but obviously with the press you never see the conclusion, you only see the controversial element.