People immediately went into a state of apoplexy as soon as the Manic Street Preachers burst onto the scene. 'Welsh punks? Do me a favour!' 1992 proved that there was more to the band than met the eye. Mick Mercer talks to erudite bassist Nicky Wire about an ongoing unlikely success story!
Hatred or ridicule, equally torrid in their consistency, have accompanied the Manic Street Preachers since they first began receiving press attention. Unlike most bands, however, Manic Street Preachers took the bull by the horns with insatiable demands for artificial dissemination. If people mistrusted them, then so be it. Rhythm guitarist Richey Edwards carved up his arm in a misguided attempt to prove the opposite, after which the situation worsened. If they were merely a touch crappy before, now they were an open sewer. They dared to sign to megabastard Sony Records. they confused people by displaying a rare intelligence in their interviews... and they patently refused to go away.
'Generation Terrorists' duly arrived as the debut album and opinions began to waver. The band came away from the '92 Reading Festival as the surprise hit and. as God is our witness. '93 could easily be their year. In a misguided attempt to put this all in some kind of perspective we join punk bassist Nicky Wire, in a quiet bout of contemplation and instant nostalgia. The band have never made any secret of the fact that they want to be seen as commercially successful, with hit singles and all the rest of it. It's an attitude which has got up a lot of people's noses! "I think it's a good attitude for a band to have. Otherwise, you just become content, getting your 'fan base', going straight into the charts... that's the end of it. We always wanted more, much wider-based pop songs." Were you confident you wouldn't let things run out of control? "Yeah. We've always got something in our heads which makes us believe we've got brilliant songs, even right from the start when everyone was calling us dodgy old punks and everything, we clung to this belief that we were good songwriters. I know the imagery and the hype got in the way, but we always wanted to write classic songs." You seemed to talk in interviews about your intentions as a pre-planned 'exercise'. This was how it would be. "I think the old Malcolm McLaren masterplan definitely went to our heads. In reality, the only plan we ever had was that we wanted to be as big as possible. It was never an exercise." Were you aware of how many people were willing you to fail?
"Oh yeah, especially in the last couple of months, I think I've realised it more. As we've got bigger, it seems so many people are bemused by it all, and resentful, which I find hard to believe, because all we did was tell the truth. We hated other bands and said it." Even the arm-gouging backfired. "I still look back on it - people say it must be great going Top Ten or going Gold with your album, but that night, when Richey did it, is still one of the best moments for me, 'coz I think there are easier ways of getting publicity than putting a razor blade to your arm... something completely honest." Those who've got it in for you have latched onto any available clement, even accusing you of being nothing more than a metal band in disguise. The single. 'Love's Sweet Exile'. compounded the mystery with such a predominantly rocky element. almost the best song Bon Jovi never wrote.
"It was definitely the first time we allowed it to surface, because we had a rock producer, we had a huge studio. It was something we'd always had in our heads. but we had never been able to do it. People didn't understand what it was."
Two months later, 'Slash 'N' Burn', with the hugely rockist video, charted. This all seems to have happened millions of years ago.
"It was... to us it was the first song we recorded for the album, so it seems ages ago. We were getting a lot of metal press, so that was a sort of consolidation single. I suppose. I wouldn't say we're cynical, but we are intelligent enough to realise that we do have to release singles like that. We've always read the metal press anyway."
A lot of bands get blasé about singles. When yours come out, are you itching to study the chart placings in a competitive way?
"Totally. We are complete and utter train-spotters when it conies to that. It's a really pathetic thing, but it's important to us. The 'Guinness Book Of Hit Singles' is one of the best books ever! I can't wait to see ours in there. That would make us really happy. It's not a very nice trait. I know." Still, the debut album must have been a monumental moment of achievement for you. Was it a thrilling birth?
"The tour we did with it in Britain was great, but after that, just like any band, we got sick of playing the same old songs. It's really hard for us to play for a long time. Richey and I still have the attitude that it's just as important to look good and move well on stage as to play. After going to Japan and America as well, we just got sick to death of it."
The Japanese reaction was better than in America?
"It's the ultimate rock loser place. Even Johnny Thunders is big in Japan. We enjoyed it because, for us, it was the first time we'd seen a totally different culture. We did five of the best concerts of our lives and have never known such energy from an audience. After that, a really happy time. America really depressed us as a band... really fucked us up. They messed with the album, wouldn't let it be a double, re-mixed three of the tracks, so we didn't even like the album and the gigs we were doing didn't have any incentive really. The record company people were complete... TWATS! It was a really apathetic time in our lives. You realise that, no matter what you do, especially with a record company in America, you haven't really got any control." Coming back to familiar territory and the renowned Reading Festival must have felt like heaven, especially when there were so many people looking to see you fall flat on your faces!
"I've never been so amazed in my whole life. In a way we were hoping that it would he really antagonistic, bottles and everything. We came off stage and one factor was that the whole day had been so terrible musically. I think people were relieved to see a glamorous band, prepared to give back what they were given. It was a total surprise. By the end, thousands of - people singing 'Motorcycle Emptiness' was very scary. Brilliant gig... shame about the security men."
Did you vault the credibility barrier?
"I think most people now think that if we're spazzy sometimes, our records are really good." How will the next few months see you being treated? "We'll face a severe backlash at Christmas." I thought you had that at the start. "I think we’ll have an even bigger one. I think that's quite exciting as well. I think it's really boring when a hand is applauded for its whole career. You end up like R.E.M., putting out so many albums to so much acclaim that, as a band. you don't realise you're producing complete shit. Our last three single releases have all been ballads! We deserve to get slagged off a hit!" How do you stand now on the statement that there would never be a second album?
"I felt exactly the same, but I never realised the extent to which James and Sean love music.
If we had sold 16 million albums, there wouldn't have been another, but now, I think there's a distinct possibility."
Do you find normality creeping in. behaving like every other band?
"You find yourself sucked into every cliche. In a way that's why we designed ourselves to be a huge rock 'n' roll clich6 at the start. We knew we couldn't get any more dickheaded. You do get into this touring routine. Creativity becomes stilled. You stop reading books, watching film, and end up becoming a pathetic musician. I don't think there's anything worse than that in the world. We know each other so well that, ego-wise, if anyone becomes a real prick... he knows about it. We've considered ourselves a hand since we were ten. Just because we're called something now makes no difference."
The Manics aren't planning to make life any easier for themselves, their detractors or their supporters.
"We're going to release a new single in January called 'Patrick Bateman'. He's the hero of the Bret Easton-Ellis book. 'American Psycho'. That'll put things into perspective as it's an eight-minute epic Metallica-style thrash song with some of the most vile lyrics ever written. So after gaining all this radio airplay and credibility we'll probably throw it all away and become a teenage laughing-stock again. It's hard to be objective about our own lives, but I think we're trying harder than any other band."