In an amazing career spanning over two decades and counting, James Dean Bradfield (lead vocals, guitar), Nicky Wire (bass guitar, vocals) and Sean Moore (drums, vocals), collectively known as the Manic Street Preachers have been around the alternative rock block, and then some.
Formed when they were school friends way back in 1986, Manic Street Preachers quickly gained a tight following of fans with their intelligent and often political lyrics. The band's early few albums received critical acclaim, record sales notwithstanding. Despite the mixed reviews, Manic had by then, almost become a cult band with a dedicated fanbase that will carry them through to today.
The band released their 8th studio album, Send Away The Tigers in 2007, which was hailed by fans and critics alike, as their best album yet. It peaked on the official UK album charts at #2. On 28 February 2008, the band was presented with the God Like Geniuses Award at the NME Awards ceremony.
In town recently for their Singapore leg of their concert, Nicky Wire sat down with MTV Asia, and talked about celebrating his 40th birthday, missing Richey Edwards, and his similarities with Noel Gallagher.
Your next album is Journal For Plague Lovers, and I understand that it will feature a lot of Richey's lyrics. So, are they like, about stories? Themes and such?
Nicky: It's just brilliant! I mean, that's the reason we're doing it. Especially in this day and age, where we've begun to have a lack of focus on words. And words are what we grow up with, whether it's The Clash, or Echo & The Bunnymen. We actually think that it's intelligent and exciting words. I don't want to give too much away. [Laughs] But the words are just astounding. We used to write together, which was really wonderful, intimate and intense. Something that I really miss...And it's just nice to sit back and work with these words again.
Could you give us a clearer indication of the themes involved? At least at little?
Nicky: I think they're all really relevant, and they really fit, especially in the current climate back home, so it resonates. But it's not all gloom and doom, you know? They're got a lot of surreal humor too, and a lot of references that you might not get unless you research them and all. I think there's something more humane about it, a more human role.
I know you can't speak for the rest of the guys, but how did you feel, having to unearth his lyrics again, especially when you were so close to Richey at the time?
Nicky: To be honest, they were ingrained in me anyway, and he left them to us, and I always knew they were good. Especially in Send Away The Tigers, I think we made sense of ourselves as a band again, justified our existence. And it was also the most successful release in a long time. The music just flowed. It was inspirational to read those words again.
Was it bittersweet for you?
Nicky: Not really, no. Maybe bittersweet...in the sense that we all miss him. He was a great artist, and a close friend.
You guys have been around for quite a while now. So how do you keep the music-making process fresh?
Nicky: There's a lot of thought behind it, to be honest. I think we can all pretend to throw it all together, get into a studio and bash it all up. But I think there's actually lots of conversations, lots of ideas and themes. A lot of bands fail because they just carry on and think that it's all going to be alright. I think we're lucky because some albums have sold millions and some have sold nothing at all. So we've seen the ups and the downs, and I think that keeps you grounded. I think it helps a lot because you appreciate the good times more. And that's why we enjoyed making Send Away The Tigers so much, more than the other records. It made us feel alive again.
Do you think your older albums have aged well?
Nicky: I really don't know. [Laughs] I think Generation Terrorists just sounds unbelievably young, when we were 19/18. When we wrote the songs, the lyrics were naive and James' voice sounds like a choirboy, it was so pure! But I'm glad it was like that, you know? Because when you're young, you need to make mistakes.
You're turning 40 next year in January. So have you accomplished everything? Or is there something else that you want?
Nicky: Ahhh...don't remind me. [Laughs] I hate birthdays. It's just one more day closer to your death. I've never been a big birthday person. I always thought the band would have been finished by now, I must admit. We've been really productive, I think, compared to some other bands. This is our 9th studio album. We've put out DVDs, played in Cuba and the Millenium Stadium. I think we've managed to cram a lot in alright.
Having won the God Like Geniuses award at the NME this year, is it the highest point of your career? Or are you looking to conquer anything else?
Nicky: It was definitely a high point. Because we grew up with the NME, got our sources of music, music literature. And then, twenty years later, to win that award? I mean, The Cure's got it, New Order too, and I think The Cure has won it again this year. It's just being in the company, I mean. The Brit Awards are great and all, but that's just for record sales. Whereas the NME stands for something bigger. Just something cultural. It was quite an emotional day for us.
Are there any albums that you actually regret making? Other than Generation Terrorists...
Nicky: Oh no no! I actually bonded with that album, it's just that it's...young. [Laughs] It makes me feel bad because I'm so old! Well, I think we've made mistakes along the way. Know Your Enemy could've been better, and Lifeblood's got some of our best songs but it's kind of colorless and passionless. We nearly pushed ourselves over the cliff with Lifeblood, because we became a band that no one really recognized.
As a father, would you say you're a disciplinarian, or a liberal?
Nicky: I don't know. Really. It's the hardest thing in the world, and I would never preach to anyone about parenthood. Everyone's got to do it their own way, and it's much harder than any other job as well, but it's extremely rewarding. If they could have the same childhood that I had, which was brilliant, then I'd be really happy.
Do you agree that all the best music comes from Wales? From Duffy to Tom Jones, to yourselves...And so many others. Even for opera!
Nicky: Yeah, I think there is something undeniable about singing that is in our tradition. It's kind of a quiet tradition where everyone just grows up singing. I think we were also the first kind of rock band to come out of Wales in a long time. That redefined everything as well, and became critically acclaimed. I think Duffy's got an amazing voice. Wales is a really great musical place to come from, and I really enjoy that.
Why did you guys decide to cover Rihanna's "Umbrella?" I mean, is it like a personal favorite of the band, or something?
Nicky: Sometimes you just got to bow down and realise the genius of some pop records. It's not necessarily that I'd go out and buy a Rihanna record. But yeah, sometimes you just got to say that someone's made a great pop record. And it's just enjoyable to do a cover of it. There are lots of such songs that I enjoy, by the way. ABBA, or the odd Take That song, you know? Or anything my daughter likes. Sometimes you just got to go out and enjoy it.
Any new ideas for future cover songs then?
Nicky: There's a track called "Be My Baby" which Lenny Kravitz wrote for Vanessa Parody. With the real kind of Motown vibe. James really loves that track. Big drums, strings and all.
What's the weirdest thing you've ever read about yourself in the papers?
Nicky: So much. [Laughs] But I don't have a computer, although my wife does. I'm totally illiterate. I've still got a typewriter. I think the internet in general has followed much more untruths, than truths about me. It's quite depressing really. Journalists and magazines get about 80 or 90 percent right, which is all you can hope for. But sometimes the wild streak of the internet does scare me. There's nothing you can do about it - no recourse. And especially today. Every interview I've done since today. Make one mistake and it'd be all over the next day. It's much harder to be in a band now than it used to be. You've got to be more reserved. Stuff I used to talk about 15 years ago, you just can't do it anymore.
But would you also say that the internet has helped the Manic Street Preachers gain new fans by spreading the word as well?
Nicky: I'm not anti about it. It's just a different generation. I just find it hard to get excited about it. I like tactile things. But yeah, I'm sure it does. What it's done is form a community of people around the world who have similarities, so that's kind of good.
You're like Noel Gallagher. He doesn't touch the computer, doesn't even have email.
Nicky: I've never sent an email in my life either. But I don't think it's poison. I'm just too old. There're other things I want to do in my life than to learn to work the computer. Maybe 20 years ago, who knows? Sean is our electrical pioneer. He's so looking forward to going into town today to see if he can find anything new. He's desperate.
Finally, what's the most important lesson you've taken away with you, in your years in the industry?
Nicky: I think it's the friendship between James, Sean and myself that's more or just as important as the band. Like many other bands, we've known each other a long time - since we were 4 year olds. I've been in the same class in school with James, university with Richey. And Sean and James are cousins. I think if you can be friends before you're in a band, that makes things so much better. There's no ego, and you know each other too well. We always find a way to work through our creative tensions by talking, and now that we've all grown up, we all kind of share the same sensibilities.