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James Dean Bradfield On New Manic Street Preachers Music, Mark Lanegan And Connection - Forbes, 25th November 2022

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James Dean Bradfield On New Manic Street Preachers Music, Mark Lanegan And Connection
Publication: Forbes
Date: Friday 25th November 2022
Writer: Jim Ryan

Over the course of the last 35 years, Welsh alt rockers Manic Street Preachers have moved more than 10 million albums worldwide, consistently pushing the music forward over the course of 14 studio albums.

The group’s latest effort, last year’s The Ultra Vivid Lament, features contributions from artists like Mark Lanegan, who passed away just five months after the album was released. This past September the band offered up an expanded take on their 2001 album Know Your Enemy, a newly remastered and remixed reissue. Having just wrapped a rare U.S. tour, the group is in the early stages of recording more new music.

“I think we’ve got about five or six songs at the moment. But we have no idea what they mean,” explained Manics singer and guitarist James Dean Bradfield. “I literally don’t know what some of them mean. So perhaps there’s a bit more codification in the lyrics at the moment? I don’t know what style we’re following. I think we’re running off some kind of muscle memory at the moment or some kind of instinct that stems from our record collection - which is no bad thing,” he said. “I think considering we’re still in a band with each other and it’s been our job for a long time, let’s face it, to actually still have that instinct of a fan - to be influenced by your record collection - is still a very nice, innocent place to come from. And I think that’s a good place for me to come from.”

I spoke with James Dean Bradfield about the role of music as connection, his memories of Mark Lanegan and what the future holds for Manic Street Preachers. A transcript of our phone conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity follows below.

Something I realized pretty quickly that I missed about live music during the pandemic is the way that it can connect people and bring people together. How important a role is that for music to play?
During it, it was very important to me. I listened to so much music. Every bit of music I think I ever owned I think I listened to in lockdown. Suddenly, some music started resonating more with me than it ever did. I don’t know why. There’s an old Welsh band called Badfinger that started really resonating with me. And then this band that I’ve always kind of been into a tiny bit, called The Bad Plus. A few of their songs really just sunk into my bones and, I suppose, helped me through lockdown to a certain degree.

I’ve read that your writing actually grew a bit more introspective as a result of the pandemic. How did that express itself on The Ultra Vivid Lament?
I think a lot of the lyrics came about from not knowing what the victory of defeat looked like anymore. It felt as if all known parameters of reality had been taken away from you. It felt like a real time version of The Truman Show, to me. That’s how everything felt. Everything felt like a bit of a sad, sorry, twisted joke. Because the one thing that I love about living back home in Wales is that I’m never that far from the beach. I’m never that far from a mountain. And, suddenly, all of those things were in reach, but they had never been farther away. I couldn’t go out. I couldn’t go to the beach. I couldn’t feel the magnetic fields pulling to my toes when I was walking on the beach. I couldn’t feel the sense of respect that only standing on top of a mountain can give you. All of those things were as there for me as they’d ever been - all of those natural touchstones - but I couldn’t touch them. I couldn’t share in them. And that was the weirdest thing in the world. And I think that reflected a lot in the songs. It reflected definitely in songs like “Afterending.” It reflected also in a song like “Still Snowing in Sapporo.” I remember Nicky giving me the lyrics “still snowing in Sapporo” which was about that year of 1993 or 1994 for the band. And it was about being able to see the past much more clearly than the future. So it even shaped songs about the past. How songs about the past were so much more clearly informed and so much more finished and certain and magnified by certainty than the future ever was. Because you can be confident about the future when you feel happy. You can stride into it. You can walk into the future and if you can feel as if you can achieve half of what you’ve got in your heart and your head, then you can feel confident. But we had none of that. So lockdown even informed songs about the past. It informed every song on the album.

I’m guessing “Blank Diary Entry” was one of the last things Mark Lanegan worked on before he passed. What was it like working with him on that?
Just bringing up Mark… There’s nothing about bringing up Mark which doesn’t make me feel crestfallen. It just immediately brings me back to a place where I just feel a bit defeated really. Because I hate the fact that there was no Hollywood ending for Mark - in the sense that he’d been through so much and been so brutally honest about himself, and other people, and his experience and about how much his life and his dysfunction had perhaps affected other people in his life. He didn’t shy away from any of that. I don’t think he was looking for applause or a pat on the back if I’m being so honest. But he did manage to turn that back out into something that made for great songs and records. I think he deserves credit for actually staying on that path, being honest and then turning it into something. The first time that I’d kind of met him was on the Oasis tour in 1996, ‘97 in America. I kind of connected with him then - on the good days when he wasn’t affected by his drug intake. On the days that I talked to him, we connected over so many good, little reference points like the Jeffrey Lee Pierce Wildweed solo album. Because obviously he knew Jeffrey from The Gun Club. He’s the only other person I’ve ever, ever had a conversation with about his solo album Wildweed. Which is how we kicked off. And then we talked a lot about Joy Division, Killing Joke and so many records. And I really got along with him on the days when he was communicative, you know? The next time that I saw him was when I was part of a John Cale-curated show in the Royal Festival Hall in London for Nico’s The Marble Index. I was sharing a dressing room with him. And, of course, at that point, I hadn’t seen him for about 10 years or so. And immediately he remembered me. Immediately he apologized for the person that he was back then. I was like, “You don’t have to apologize to me. I liked talking with you back then.” But he had to. He was obviously on that path of apologizing to people, etc. And so I always felt as if I’d connected with him. When he sang on “Blank Diary Entry,” he was amazing. I asked him over email. And we had a good exchange. He came back with it and we didn’t have to make one change. Sometimes, you go back and say, “Can you change this line? Can you change that? Or can you change the whole approach?” But there wasn’t one thing we changed. Everything he sent back was perfect. He got it straight away. Since he’s passed away, I’ve read through many of the emails that we subsequently had with each other after he recorded that vocal part and it just makes me intensely sad.

Manic Street Preachers have never really stopped. How important is it to continually keep finding new ways to push the music forward?
I don’t know if it’s about pushing it forward anymore. Seriously, you’ve got to be realistic. We’re 53. The average lifespan of a band with a recording contract is something like one and a half albums. Our next will be our 15th. We’re incredibly lucky. We’re incredibly lucky to have each other still. And we’re incredibly lucky to understand each other and to have the patience with each other to know that sometimes things just don’t work immediately. But we know that if there’s not a new record inside us, we kind of know it’s the end. That’s the only way I can put it I think. If there’s not a new record inside us - if there’s not a possibility of doing a new record - we know that the end is very close in sight. So the day that one of us says, “I don’t feel like doing a new record,” I think that will be the beginning of the end.

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