It'll Be One Hell Of A Do! - Hot Press, 19th March 2015

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Title: It'll Be One Hell Of A Do!
Publication: Hot Press
Date: Thursday 19th March 2015
Writer: Olaf Tyaransen
Photos: ALex Lake

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So says Manic Street Preacher James Dean Bradfield, who tells Olaf Tyaransen about retaining his creative zeal, his party animal past and what the band's next chapter will be.

James Dean Bradfield is chilling in the upstairs lounge of the Manic Street Preachers' Cardiff studio. "This place is kind of a glorified flat for us," the 46-year-old laughs, speaking with a discernibly Welsh lilt. "We've got the studio downstairs, and then upstairs here we've got a record collection, punch-bag, Sky Sports package. We've played lots of music here, watched lots of sports, watched a lot of 24-hour news, generally have all our petty arguments - like we've always had since we were like five-years-old." So it's the Manics' man-cave then? "Yeah! It's a glorified youth club. And occasionally a lot of work gets done here, too."

Indeed it does. In recent years, the Manics have been working at a more furious rate than ever. Little wonder their studio is named Faster. Their last two albums, 2013's Rewind The Film and 2014's Futurology, were recorded between Faster, Rockfield Studios in Monmouthshire and Berlin's legendary Hansa Studios, and released within nine months of each other.

Bradfield is especially pleased with their most recent album."I don't think a band that's been around for that long should be as re-engaged and as imaginative as we were on this record. I kind of surprised myself. I don't usually say anything to support an album once it's been released, but I felt particularly proud of Futurology."

Although the records are totally different - Rewind is gentle and acoustically driven: Futurology is as icily multi-layered as they've ever sounded - they were actually recorded in tandem.

"There was a schizophrenic aspect to it," he recalls. "I'd be working on 'Running Out Of Fantasy' off of Rewind the Film or on 'Rewind the Film' itself, and then we'd flip over and do 'Futurology' or 'Europa Geht Durch Mich' or 'Misguided Missile'. We were kind of like an atom being pulled between two poles when we were recording those two records. It was a nice experience, having to flip between the different styles."

When the Manic Street Preachers first formed almost thirty years ago, the controversial young Welshmen's stated intention was to burn brightly and briefly. "We'll sell 16 million records from Bangkok to Senegal," he promised,"and then disappear." It hasn't quite worked out that way.

Starting with their explosive 1992 debut, Generation Terrorists they are now on album Non. Is it still exciting to go into studio or to perform live, or is it just a job at this stage?

"Absolutely not!" he insists. "Just when you think you're burned out, and when you think you can't fight this battle anymore, you take a two week break and you suddenly get that itch and think,'I can't wait to write some new songs'. Any kind of moment feeling that you've got no inspiration left is very fleeting.You'd think, twelve albums in, that there'd be a certain jaded cynicism there, but there isn't."

Nicky Wire and Sean Moore are still present and correct, but one original member isn't. The troubled, self-harming guitarist Richey James Edwards was due to fly to the US with Bradfield on a promotional tour when he went missing near the Severn Bridge on February 1st,1995. On the Futurology track 'Walk Me To The Bridge', Bradfield sings, "So long my fatal friend/ I don't need this to end/I reimagine the steps you took/Still blinded by your intellect/Walk me to the bridge..."

Bradfield denies that the lyrics - written by Wire - are directly about Edwards' presumed suicide (he has been declared legally dead, but nobody knows what happened to him).

"I think there's a high degree of metaphor in that song," he explains. "I know that's the first position people are going to take when they hear that, but it started out differently.

"Nick began writing the lyric as we journeyed across the bridge between Denmark and Sweden, which is an amazing experience in itself. We were feeling particularly low, in 2008 I think it was. So the lyric actually started there: we were kind of in that fear, where we were thinking,'I don't know if I want to do this anymore. So the lyric began far away from Richey, but I think sometimes your subconscious plays tricks on you. Some references might have found their way in there."

Both Rewind The Film and Futurology feature a number of appearances by guest vocalists. It's something of a departure for the band.

"When you're a singer in a band, there's no way you can escape the feeling that somebody else might bring more to the aural structure of a song," he admits. "Especially if you've been a singer in a band for 12 albums, sometimes you kind of know: somebody else could do this better. So I think we, and I, started acting on that.

"It'd be silly for me to try and act out the accent in a song like 'Europa Geht Durch Mich'. Nina Hoss is an amazing actress from Germany. I know her through a friend, and we just knew she'd be brilliant for it.

"The same with '4 Lonely Roads' on Rewind the Film: we knew Cate Le Bon would do an amazing job," he continues. "We knew that she'd tap into Nick's phraseology, and we knew that her lilt would suit the song. I tried it, and I was a million miles away from what she achieves. I wouldn't have been comfortable, from albums one to six, having somebody else sing our songs, but now I am. I want to hear other people do them."

The band have been touring a lot in recent times, playing their 1994 album The Holy Bible in its entirety, as well as doing more traditional shows promoting Rewind The Film and Futurology. Festivals are a different thing again...

"We played Electric picnic in 2010 or 2011. The Good, the Bad and the Queen were on the bill. It was a great show. It seemed like a more personal kind of festival. It was a nice feeling. I remember really enjoying it."

Do you enjoy playing festivals generally? "I think from about '91 to about 2003, we didn't enjoy it much, but something changed from about 2005 onwards," he says."Now, we just love playing them.You feel less pressure for a start, because you know the audience is there for more than just a concert. Sometimes there can be an easy conversion, if there's a really good feeling at the festival; other times it can feel like a challenge, and you've got to win an audience over, especially if there's bad weather and all that.

"I think around about 2005 we got into it. We used to think that festivals stripped you of your mystery and tricks-you didn't have a light show and it wouldn't always be dark and you wouldn't be in control. But as we got a bit older, we relished it."

Has there ever been a festival disaster? "There's been too many to mention, to be honest," he guffaws. "If you've been in the band for as long as we have, you have bad gigs. But we've been to so many new places in Europe since zoos: Serbia, Croatia, Russia, Poland, festivals in Turkey and Greece. we went back to the Czech Republic.

"That's part of the angle for us, playing to audiences that had been waiting to hear 'Motorcycle Emptiness' played live, all their lives. We've been going to places, which felt like virgin territory, and playing to crowds that had been waiting to see us for a long time.The feeling that we've been starting anew in some countries has given us a shot in the arm."

The band stay stadium fit by keeping well away from the traditional rock 'n' roll suspects of drink and drugs.

"We've been very open about how un-rock and roll we are," he laughs. "I stopped drinking on tour since 2003, because our songs are really high, and we play really loud on the stage, and I couldn't carry on drinking that much whiskey on tour and not lose my voice. So since 2003, except for the odd bottle of beer with dinner, I don't drink on tour. I've never taken a drug in my life, and Nick certainly has never touched a drug. He doesn't drink on tour either.

"We really enjoy giving our all on stage. We love moving around, we love fucking up on stage, we love the loudness of it - and that's as rock 'n' roll as it gets, apart from the odd trip into MOMA when you're in New York! Until 2003, I was a bit of a party animal, but it was always just getting drunk: drugs have never been a big thing for us."

Have they started work on the next album yet? "No. We have a fantasy as to what we want the album to be, but we're too scared to write at the moment. We want to try to assimilate our own bullshit, and see if it manifests itself in some songs after the summer. Right now, we're excited about going to America, because we've barely ever fucking been there really. We're excited about doing the festivals, like Electric Picnic, which is going to be fantastic. We're playing The Holy Bible in Japan - and we're doing a small leg of the Holy Bible tour, which finishes in Cardiff Castle, which is amazing.

"I know it sounds like a musician on the promotional treadmill, but we are a tiny bit scared to start writing songs, because we want to make sure that we've got the direction right. Which is a strange way to work, but it's never failed us, really."