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James Dean Bradfield On His Second Solo Record 'Even In Exile' - Written In Music, 5th August 2020

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ARTICLES:2020



Title: James Dean Bradfield On His Second Solo Record 'Even In Exile'
Publication: Written In Music
Date: Wednesday 5th August 2020
Writer: Edwin Hofman


James Dean Bradfield's second solo record - after The Great Western, released in 2006 - is based on the life and work of the Chilean singer, poet and activist Víctor Jara, who brutally attacked the Chilean coup in 1973. life was brought. Even In Exile is also an ode to life, to the memories and to the many musicians who inspired Bradfield. Written in Music spoke to the front man of the Manic Street Preachers about this special project.

I first heard about Víctor Jara when I was sixteen, in 1985. That was in The Clash's Washington Bullets . It was just like John Cale or the McCarthy band; you heard a name in a song and you went looking for the story. It was still pre-internet, of course, so much more difficult. You went to the bookstore or the library. I always liked doing that. Calexico also later wrote a song about Jara, as did Simple Minds, U2 and Working Week before, to name a few. You build an image and at some point I knew the story of Jara.

Patrick Jones (poet, playwright and brother of Manic Street Preacher's bassist Nicky Wire) had written a number of poems about Víctor Jara. He had actually just done that for himself. He was equally sick of the world, Trump, Brexit, you name it. In addition, he had lost his mother and his father was ill. He wanted to be busy again with something pure and good, something inspiring. It was an emotional exercise.

I read the poems and asked, "Do you mind if I try to do something about this?" Patrick finally agreed. I hadn't thought about Víctor Jara in so long, but I was now able to research him much faster. I listened to everything. He is seen as a protest singer but his presentation and tone are so beautiful, so tender, almost feminine. His porting songs are sometimes more healing than they are a 'fuck you'. His songs cross language borders, across all borders and continents. Springsteen played his song Manifiesto in Santiago. In recent years, there were teenagers who sang his lyrics on the street. I was impressed. And Jara never had a 'hit' that was also known outside of the Spanish-speaking world. However, his message has been remembered. That's why I wanted to start the album with the song Recuerda . That song had to set the tone.

I worked with an engineer for this album but otherwise I did a lot of things. Most bass is double bass, I had to learn that. One lesson was: you have to be careful with instruments that are longer than yourself, haha. I wanted to add a more acoustic underlay. I usually write a lot on a nylon acoustic guitar but now I also record with it. Those two things were the two adjustments I made to get some of that warmth from Jara, without giving up all the rock influences.

I deliberately did not want a 'Paul Simon album' with Chilean musicians. I didn't want cultural approbation . I just wanted to make a Northern European record. A record with an outsiders point of view , just like U2 and Calexico at the time. Making this record was just fun to do. I also worked with 'synth guitar', you plug your Gibson into a synth module. I had never used that before. I thought, that never works with an album by The Manic Street Preachers...

I was really guided by Victor's lecture. He never said, "upper class, fuck off," or anything. It was more like: can we make the country better? Can we manage copper mines together, rather than foreign powers like the US and Spain? He had such a marked lack of bitterness.

I also tried to cover a song of his for the record but in the studio it sounded quite empty. Bruce Springsteen could do it, he breathed new life into Manifiesto . When I sang it, it was not convincing. It depressed me for a moment but I definitely wanted to have a song by Jara on the record, if only to get some money to his foundation and family. So it became La Partida , an instrumental. He made many, but it is perhaps the most impressionistic. It gave me the freedom to do something with it, to reinterpret it. I have been accused of being emotionally incontinent as a musician, haha. So I have a wide screen on the songgiven treatment. I had a picture of Jara in the Atacama desert, with a poncho on. I saw that image with the song. That was my approach.

The inspiration for From the Hands of Violeta came from the old Welsh prog rock band Man, which I always liked very much. Some will not hear it but for me that band just came through this song.

Rush...Rush was a huge influence, haha, let's be honest about it. Especially on Seeking the Room with the Three Windows . The album Moving Pictures , songs like Red Barchetta , YYZ . I love their strength. Have you seen their documentary? They made it quite difficult for themselves, they don't show but that's just the way they had that music in their head. Patrick Jones gave me a picture of Víctor Jara at Machu Picchu, with his guitar in the thin air, looking for even more folk songs from the interior. "That image is just prog rock," I said. A kind of ecological science fiction. Almost cheerful and fictional, in a good way. Not so loaded yet.

The Bad Plus was also an influence, yes. Never Stop II is a great record. I love the song Salvages . Sean (Moore, drummer Manic Street Preachers) introduced me to jazz when I was about 15 years old. He played the trumpet in a brass band in Wales. Coal mines always had a brass band . Sean always got jazz records from those working class miners. "Play that!" and what do you think of it?' They were really open to African-American music. From the 40s/50s and Birdland to a village in Wales, I find that very inspiring.

When I made this record I knew it was going to be some kind of concept record. I had no intention of aiming for airplay and huge sales. "Let's see what happens." That gives you a little more freedom. I am still inspired by all the music I heard in my life, especially the music I listened to before I was twenty, it is still in my head. Then I want to make a record that doesn't sound like it right away but which makes me feel like it did back then. So I could walk this way, I had that freedom, I enjoyed it but would not want to go back for the time being. I want to take up the challenge of writing a catchy song that everyone recognises and can sing along to. Feel the pressure to write that. It is getting more and more difficult but it is fun to do anyway. I grew up in the tradition of rock and new wave bands with a great single: The Skids with Into the Valley of God Save the Queen , Complete Control , Once in a Lifetime...I love those mini anthems, not pompous but immediately recognisable. Oliver's Army...You recognise it after three seconds: this is great! That tradition, which also 'forces' you when writing.

I'm not going to tour Even In Exile. We had a break with the Manic Street Preachers but I had no intention of doing gigs for this record. It is not possible anyway now. Then I would have to wait until 2021 and I want to work on a Manics record by then. I am happy with the experience as it has been. Our last gig with the band was Japan in October. My own performances for this year have all been cancelled. Neither did the ones I bought tickets for. If I ever took live performances for granted - which I probably did, because it was 'my job' - I will never, ever again!

I have many friends and family who work in the NHS. You could see that their lives suddenly changed completely and they were under great pressure. Of course it is their job, but it is already a difficult task and it only got heavier. We are going to do shows for the NHS with the Manics later this year. We thought: we can bring music, we can make a lot of money for them with two big shows. If you are a doctor, doorman, nurse or you work in the canteen; if you work for NHS, you could request free admission. Those 8000 cards were gone in no time. After that, the rest could request cards. That also went quickly. There will be no big speeches, no tears on the stage. We are here to make people sing, dance and get drunk! They don't need speeches from us. It's just gonna be rock and roll. Nothing subtle.

I found in lockdown that I felt best when I was living in the moment. Looking into the future is bad for your mental health. I am 51, now have two children. That's enough. Of course, as a father you are more concerned about the future, but I have stopped thinking about it. Of course you have to sort things out, for example as soon as you have to vote, but beyond: try to be in the present as much as possible.