This is the MANIC STREET PREACHERS' first interview of 1993. That's the good news over with. Now for the bad: RICHEY believes that "ninety per cent of the Western world are unable to get to sleep at night without artificial stimulants." SEAN just thinks "everything is crap." NICKY reckons it's good something like Riot Grrrl has come along and "made him feel redundant." JAMES worries that computers "erode the soul." Still, at least EVERETT TRUE is happy, 'cos he's just heard their new single, and reckons it sounds like the… Quireboys!
ARE THE Manic Street Preachers subversive? "No," replies Sean. "We resigned ourselves to that fact a long time ago."
1: YOU D-I-S-T-R-U-S-T US
The initial part of this interview covers the Manics' past, and their much-discussed manifestos. Talking to me are Nicky Wire and Richey James, the band's two (main) spokesmen, the band's two glamour-pusses.
Singer/main guitarist James Dean Bradfield and drummer Sean Moore will join us later.
We discuss how:
They're still firmly tied to their Welsh, working-class upbringing.
They've never written a love song.
They've always been populist.
Elitism is a good tool to wind people up with.
They have a hatred and contempt for "even really credible alternative bands" who have nothing political to say.
How anybody CAN do it.
How anybody CAN'T do it.
Here's a sample quote from Richey:
"The biggest argument we ever had," he says, "was when we spent a whole summer arguing the merits of Big Flame and McCarthy against Guns N'Roses or any other major reference point. It went on every single day; we'd go down James' by midday, get some fish and chips, practice on our guitars, watch videos, and then argue. "It just went on and on," he sighs. "We never really resolved it, but we did manage to get rid of any guilt we may have had about being on a major label. As long as you can retain some integrity in your music and what you do, it doesn't matter how you're sold."
We also talk about how:
They grew up believing in a great many ideals, but were quickly disabused of most of them when they realised how un-meritocratic London is.
They made that famous statement about how they'd make one album and split up, because, "if we hadn't believed that, or lied to ourselves that we did, we'd have disintegrated after the first few London dates like so many other provincial bands." (Richey)
They still get treated differently from almost every other contemporary British band.
People don't realise hypocrisy is necessary to life, how everything is fuelled by contradictions.
They "make their own hypocrisy". (James)
In short, we talk about the Manics' formative process: what makes a band a band. What comes through most clearly in this opening 15 minutes is that the Manics still view themselves as outsiders.
2: THE WILD ONES
Most rock'n'roll bands would say they were outsiders. It's central to the whole rock myth: the idea of the noble, romantic rebel as eternally perpetuated by James Dean and the Stones pissing up against the garage wall. "Your teenage years are the most important years of your life," Richey explains, correctly, "and, to do anything good, you mustn't be a part of anything. Even if we had wanted to be a part of something, we couldn't, because we didn't have access to that sort of lifestyle."
How would you react to the charge that you — more than most bands — help perpetuate the idea of rock as rebellion, thus diverting people's energies away from channels where they might actually be of some use?
"The only place where rock can count for nowadays," says James, "is that it can give you an excuse to have an attitude. That still matters."
Okay, try this one, then.
In a couple of weeks, the Manics' new single, 'From Despair To Where', will be released. It's a cracking good metal pop song, topped off by a tear-stained solo from James' increasingly cool guitar — indistinguishable from any other cracking good metal pop song with a cool solo.
Okay, so it seems to be about loneliness, isolation and confusion (the only lines I can catch are "Lying alone on my bed" and "Trying to open my eyes" before everything explodes again). The classic Manics' themes — or, as Simon Price memorably put it in his Generation Terrorists LP review, "ennui igniting into insurrection".
Yet, it remains a song no different from Quireboys, say. So what separates the two bands?
"A band like Quireboys sound like a recreation of something authentic," explains James. "We don't sound that reverential — we're too loose. Also, we're a band, first and foremost."
"A typical rock band drink Jack Daniels and get f***ed up," Richey continues, "because they have this romantic, glamorous Jack Kerouac vision of the world. When I sit in my bedroom with a book and a bottle of vodka, I do it because I'm sad, not because I think it's cool. I do it because I want to forget what I'm thinking about.
"That's the difference between the whole London music scene and where we come from," he adds, returning to the Manics' favourite topic: the London media and its attendant decadence.
"Here, all the record company people regard alcohol and drugs as a very fashionable thing, very subversive. Whereas people at home just want to get off their heads as cheaply and as quickly as they can. That's why you get people injecting cider straight into their veins, because for £1.80 you can be off your f***ing skull for two days. Not to be fashionable."
So ends part two. Which leads us neatly to...
3: FEMALE SEPARATISM
Why love the Manics? Look no further than here.
Riot Grrrl "came" along. I knew it was doomed to "failure" in the eyes of the media, because "success" wasn't on the agenda. I knew it would be scorned, despised, ridiculed by the very people who profess to be open-minded and "radical", because it was too alien for the media to take on board (they only had one set of rules, one rigid way of defining things).
I also knew the Manics would be some of the few people to understand and sympathise with its ideas. After all, what have Huggy Bear and the Manics in common, aside from a few well-chosen slogans, a pathological urge to change certain aspects of life, and a complete lack of understanding of how the media works? Both are outsiders, in the real sense of the word.
It's strange, looking through past Manic Street Preachers clippings, now many of the same criticisms have been levelled at the two bands.
Here's Jon Selzer, 1992: "While Blur, Verve and company get the critical green light for their technique in playing the music press, the Manics are hounded for not sticking to the rules, for having the courage to speak out".
Remember "can't play", "media creations" or "idiot savant punk-rock"? And that's before they started on the Manics' politics, which were always much more acceptable to the middle-class liberal media, because (i) they were male, (ii) they were Welsh, and (iii) they were working class. The first gives you instant membership, the last two can be patronised.
This is why I bother asking the Manics their opinions on Huggy Bear and Riot Grrrl. I'm not the sort of journalist who'll use "Riot Grrrl" just for the sake of it.
Why aren't there more women involved with rock music? Is it because they don't want to be?
"Where we come from, women learn to cope a lot earlier than men," thinks Nicky. "The men have more freedom to fulfil their ambitions. The nature of women is they're far more resilient, far better able to cope, far less petty, vain and childish than men. This means they take on more responsibility. Rock doesn't allow much access to women because it's so patriarchal."
"For any semi-confrontational band to go up on stage, it's always going to be violent," explains Richey. "For a woman, she's got that, plus she's going to be subjected to sexual innuendo and abuse. It takes a lot of guts to go up on stage when you're going to be smacked by cans all night long, and, if you're a weak woman, it'll be tripled. Especially if you've got some 18-stone bloke at the front going 'Get your tits out'."
And if you're not a weak woman...
"Then you get abuse for being like Andrea Dworkin," Nicky sighs. "It's good that something like Riot Grrrl/Huggy Bear has come along and made me feel almost redundant, because that's what it set out to do. I'm 24, I'm in a band, it shouldn't be aimed at a wanker like me. It's good that everyone who seems to be into it seems to be genuinely young, and full of ideas and anger."
"Pop is about the only place where feminism could take off," reckons Sean later, "but it won't, because there's too much in-fighting."
"You could say there was plenty of that during punk in the Seventies," James argues back at him. "But women always have to be seen as doing better than men, otherwise they won't get anywhere. I don't mean this to sound condescending, but women have always got to go the extra mile. I'd prefer it if Huggy Bear were all females, though," the singer adds. "Does that mean I'm into female separatism?"
So part three is about women. Good. I always thought what separated Manic Street Preachers from The Clash, back in the days of 'Motown Junk' and 'Suicide Alley' and other such obviously Clash-influenced songs, was that the latter were so unequivocally "boy". The Manics — and perhaps this is where I find myself sympathising with the tired old concept of "glamour" more than I would have given it credit — have always been far more complicated than that.
4: SONIC, THE ALMIGHTY HEDGEHOG
Part four is obvious. Rock is dead. Why? Because of computer games: one of the Manics' great arguing points. Well, that's the simplistic view.
"Are 15-year-old kids into music any more?" Richey wonders. "Or have Sega/Nintendo become the dominant force in their lives? Where we come from, to see any band you like, you normally have to travel quite a way. Faced with a choice between doing that, or staying home and blowing up planet after planet, then I know what most people would do. But the idea that videogames are killing rock'n'roll is misleading. They exist with each other. They're different mediums."
"Music will always exist," thinks his bassist, "because people will always be excited by brilliant music."
Later, Sean and James will have an impassioned argument about the same subject. Sean, the pessimistic one, looks on the downside: he sees life as controlled by computers. There again, he's the one addicted.
James, as probably the most optimistic member of the Manics (I could have read them wrong), argues vehemently that people will never lose faith in music, that they'll always want more from life. Then again, James absolutely despises computer games.
"Computers erode the soul," he says. "Then again, I'm a simple man. Give me a simple pint."
My heart's with James, but my head's with Sean.
5: THE LIE OF AN INDIGENOUS ENGLISH CULTURE vs JAPAN
We'll gloss over part five, due to a lack of space. Suffice to say, the Manics hated Red Wedge.
"Any sort of love for English culture now is just
James prefers to talk to me about how he prefers Japan to England. All the Manics are severely disillusioned with England. Why Japan? Because:
There appears to be no sexual harassment.
People respect each other far more there.
The Manics are appreciated over there.
In the middle of this conversation, Richey opens the door to ask me if I'd like another cup of tea or a Guinness. He does this at regular 20-minute intervals.
6: "FOR GOD'S SAKE… BURN IT DOWN!"
Now we're talking about music. Some people would say music is the least important aspect of Manic Street Preachers. Those people are wrong. Perhaps, once, charges of punk revivalism could have been thrown their way without too much fear of contradiction. Sure, Generation Terrorists, their debut double album — you know, the one that was gonna blow the world away — was seriously flawed, as even they'll admit. Personally, I found it rather unlistenable.
But the Manics are changing, as the new single attests. The balance is tipping. Even Richey's learning to play guitar! And they've always cared about music, with a passion which borders on the psychotic.
"The thing about dance music," says Richey, "is that, despite all its radicalness and its underground factor, it's reduced music to a series of bleeps and vaguely interesting noises. It has no concept of lyrics. I don't see how radical you can be in making music that is just about noise."
But wouldn't you agree that 99 per cent of the lyrical content of rock music has been devalued to such a degree that singers might as well go "la-la-la" the whole time?
"There'll always be an audience who appreciates lyrics," the guitarist argues back. "Most people buy records for the music, and it's a bonus if there's just one line which means something, so you might as well try to write that line."
Is that how you write songs? (In the Manics, Nicky and Richey write the words and James and Sean write the music.)
"The way we write is that usually we'll give them a poem of some kind and they'll dissect it," explains Nicky. "It's a strange way for a band to work. We're very unique in the way we have two musical geniuses and two complete incompetents."
"Generation Terrorists is a f***ed-up album because we tried so hard to make some songs Rock FM," he continues. "No band in our position has ever tried to do that: write a six-minute epic depressive song ('Motorcycle Emptiness'). It'd have been easier and more credible to make ten versions of 'Motown Junk'. The new one is much more focused."
"The first album was more statement than intent," agrees James later. "This one is far more musical, more current. We were a little too scared to make a hash of things last time. But we don't like slagging off past records — it's like we're despising our fans for buying them."
7: REGENERATING TERRORISTS
This is the penultimate part of the interview — the part where we finally get around to talking about their forthcoming album.
I ask Nicky to tell me what everyone was doing while they were recording the album.
"Each morning," he begins, "Richey would wake up with a really bad hangover after drinking a litre of vodka. Then he'd go to the gym, exercise, swim, do lots of weights, have a jacket potato with all his grapes, and then not eat anything for the rest of the day until he started drinking again.
"James would be in the studio, or maybe he'd go for a few runs," he continues. "Sean would be playing his Sega or Super NES, or in the studio, and I'd just be moping around, shopping, watching sports on the TV. In the meantime, I sorted out artwork for the album because, although we're on a major, we do keep control of every aspect."
Unlike the last album, Richey PLAYS on this one. "It was one of the few times we actually laughed in the studio," he recalls, "when they sent me in to record a guitar part. They'd all sit in the control room and piss themselves laughing for ten minutes."
What were your main topics of conversation? Oh God, they're away again…
The Manics finds the attitude of student unions who ban The Sun from their premises very patronising, because there's already such a rarefied atmosphere to those places.
Richey wonders why, when rock musicians attain a modicum of success, more often than not they become so f***ed-up in an attempt to escape reality. Yet people working in similar jobs (such as sport) don't. Which leads us rather neatly onto…
Are you f***ed-up people?
"Most people in bands are," replies Richey, evasively.
"It's hard to avoid it," explains Nicky. "About the first thing someone from another band will say to you is, 'Got any skins?' I really want to be violent to these people, but I don't want to demean myself. I just think, 'Get out of my way, I don't want to end up like you. I'm proud of my brain'. They actually think it's daring in 1992 to smoke dope!"
"The people who are genuinely f***ed-up are much more private than that, because they're ashamed or it," continues Richey. "Whatever you think of someone like Shaun Ryder, he's always kept everything very private. He has a very working-class attitude in that sense. It's the best way to be."
"I used to be really outgoing, but I'm more withdrawn now than I ever was," states Nicky. "I can almost honestly say that I've seen Richey and James become confirmed alcoholics over the last 18 months. During that period there hasn't been a single day where Richey hasn't had at least half a bottle of vodka. Neither him nor James can go to sleep at night without drinking that much. It's pretty depressing. If they went out boasting about it, it'd be worse."
"Everything's so crap," says Sean, sadly. "I just feel a lack for anything. If I could isolate myself away from everything, then I would. Or even if I could successfully find a way where I could not see anyone except a few chosen people, then I would. I'm disillusioned by everything."
"I really believe that 90 per cent of the Western world can't get to sleep without artificial stimulants," Richey continues.
"It's too hard. Almost everyone needs something to knock themselves out — whether it's sleeping pills, Valium, a housewife drinking gin, five pints of lager down the pub, whatever — because almost everyone genuinely dislikes their life."
"And, in a typically perverse Manic Street Preacher way," Nicky says, ruefully, "James is probably the fittest person I know. Even Richey does a lot of exercise. But then, they have to be proper. It's the working-class way."
SEARCH AND DESTROY!
THE MANICS ZERO IN ON THE MUSIC INDUSTRY
SUEDE (the new "new" thing)
"The industry loves them because the most daring thing they say is, 'Oh, I'm a bit sexy' — the old gender issue. It's hardly shaking the foundations of society, is it? Madonna's more subversive than Suede could ever be." — Nicky
"Suede write good pop songs, but they have a very patronising view of working-class urban life. They seem to think all that goes on is devious sex in the back of cars, everything's perverted. Your ordinary working-class lad, if he wants a f***, it's not odd. He goes to the pub and gets a f***. You don't have to put a mask on, or take loads of drugs or whatever, to get a shag" — Nikcy
RIDE (the old "new" thing)
"Middle-class student band… very safe… never say anything vaguely dangerous" — Nicky
QUIREBOYS (a Manics reference point)
"They have so many fixations with Rod Stewart and The Faces, even down to their phrasing. Those sort of bands have always had about ten different members, playing for year after year down the pub with their visions of LA Sad" — Richey
"Lyrically, we're totally divorced from them. So far, there's been no references to Jack Daniels, cowboy boots or silver spiky heels" — Nicky
HUGGY BEAR (a "post-Manics" band)
"Their appearance on The Word was very impressive, but I don't like their records. Then again, a lot of people say that about us. Maybe I can't appreciate them properly because they're too close to home" — James
GUNS N'ROSES (former Manics role models)
"They got swallowed by the machine so f***ing quickly. Appetite For Destruction is still a seminal hard rock album, but Axl ended up sitting on a piano stool designed as a Harley-Davidson. It's sad. I find it appalling, the way he doesn't let anyone know where he's going to play, that huge ego-driven rock star thing. But if you see what they were like when they first played the NYC Ritz on video, it was just a pure punk rock moment" — Richey
"Slash is still my complete idol, but they've lost it now. Cabaret's too good a description for them" — James
"I always thought everyone else liked them too much. But I think that about most bands" — Sean
NIRVANA (a popular "alternative" band)
"Nirvana have made me more depressed than anything, because they've managed to be commercial and still retain their strength, which is amazing. Even if the new album only sells five copies, it doesn't matter. To get into that position where you can do something really f***ed-up, you have to do something global first" — Nicky
PULP (a band touted for their "Englishness")
"What's been viable this year is a quintessential Englishness… Pulp I find the most obscene and irritating pile of crap of all time… to be a really good British band, you have to take a lot of American influences, despite what people think" — Nicky
BLUR (another "English" band)
"Singing in fake cockney is as ludicrous as singing in a fake LA accent" — Richey
THE LEVELLERS/BACK TO THE PLANET (two favourite Manics targets)
"The whole crusty thing of getting back to the land… it's the end of the 20tn century, how can you get back to the f***ing land? How can any Western capitalist country do that? It would be f***ing impossible if everybody ran away to the hills" — Richey
"Back To The Planet haven't any level or intelligence at all. Why people believe in them is beyond me" — Nicky
"'If I could live the life I live, then I would be a boatman.' What the f*** does that mean? The literature they base themselves on isn't even about anarchy, it's about socialism. I mean, anarchy — it's just dull. There has to be a place in society for the weak, the disabled, the old" — Richey
ALICE IN CHAINS (a not very coo! US rock band)
"The liberal media still judges American rock in Eighties terms — Harley-Davidsons and Spandex trousers and glitter. It's not like that at all. Alice In Chains are Black Sabbath made a thousand times more intense and depressing" — Richey
SONIC YOUTH (a cool US rock band)
"They're the ultimate 'phase band', the kind of band that everyone thinks are cool for six months. Really, they're the biggest pile of art-wank" — Nicky
THE FALL (a cool UK rock band)
"I think Mark E Smith has retained a remarkable level of dignity, even though I despise The Fall. Then again, if you keep making semi-avant-garde music all your life, you never have the problems of being big" — Nicky
DAVID BOWIE (crap mainstream)
"He got on his knees and said 'The Lord's Prayer' at a rock concert. He's probably the most decadent, crap person or the 20th century. And now people have given him good reviews for his new album, just cos he hangs around with Brett Anderson. It's obvious it would've been absolutely panned otherwise, because it's absolute crap! When he goes on about how, 'I woke up one morning, looked out at the LA riots and thought, "Man, I've got to write a song about this"' …what's more patronising, a sad old c*** like that?" — Nicky
BOB MOULD/PJ HARVEY (two "alternative" role models)
"You have to point the finger at people like Bob Mould and PJ Harvey, who, every single interview they do, say 'Oh, I had a nervous breakdown when I was doing this album'. Just cos they're credible, people take it. In his last interview, Bob Mould actually said, 'I make crazy music for crazy people'! If he really thinks mental people in hospitals want to listen to that music, then he's the most ultimate patronising wanker I can think of. What he's talking about is going through a bad patch of a couple of days. Everyone has days like that! I find this endless catharsis of modern life really depressing" — Nicky
HAPPY MONDAYS (respect!)
"At least they were honest, for all their massive faults. We're covering one of their songs, 'Wrote For Luck', on our next tour, because it's nice to remember a band with genuine soul, even if they did end up a complete disaster. But that's a good way to end up, too" — Nicky
PRIMAL SCREAM (respect!)
"Some football managers talk a good match, but Bobby Gillespie talks the best record in the world" — Nicky