The Manic Street Preachers have been hitting headline for a while, so you might have begun to digest the hype and legend that already surrounds them. Jon Ewing met Richey Edwards, the band's guitarist and spokesman, and found a sad and unassuming lover of music who seems lost in the big business world which he temporarily in habits...
Since meeting Richey Edwards I have mentioned my interview to several friends and aquaintances. Invariably their reaction has been to tell me what a wanker he is. This seems strange to me. Surely I should be telling them.
After allm I met him, and the man I spoke to was painfully introverted, pensive and naive. Not a wanker. Suddenly I find myself in the position of defence attorney to a pop star. No I have to say. He's not like that at all. You've been taken in by harsh opinions in the papers and mis-quotes in magazines. This man isn't just gossip-column cannon fodder - he has something to say. That is it...
How long has this notoriety been going on?
We came up to London about this time last year. We put out a record in January and it all started then.
What was your first appearance in the press?
Just a little review in Melody Maker. We played a little pub in Great Portland Street. We'd been writing lots of letters to the press and phoning them up. We came from a really tiny town in Wales, and we sent off tapes and wrote four, five page letters really ranting on. So when we phoned them up they remembered our name and they came down.
How was the first review?
Really brilliant. We got an agent from there and then we got a deal from Heavenly Records for two singles.
It's been well publicised that byou plan to release no more than one album before you retire the band. Isn't it too early to make that decision? What if you look back on the record and think "I could do better than that"?
This LP will be perfect for us. That situation wont happen.
But the dole queue won't look that tempting...
We've saved lots of money from our CBS deal.
Surely rock 'n' roll is a craft? Like any other craft, it gets better the more you do it.
I don't think you always get better. Just look at The Rolling Stones and The Clash. They didn't get better as they went on. The Rolling Stones were redundant after Exile On Main Street. The Clash after London Calling. The more you keep doing it, the more you get stale.
So you have about 25 songs in you.
It's gonna be about twenty songs on the LP.
Including the singles so far?
Only You Love Us.
Has it been re-recorded?
Yeah. Completelty re-recorded.
So it's better now?
Well that's my point exactly! You've done that song again - you must have thought you could improve it.
Only because we've got more money and the studio's better. The song is still the same, it's just the facilities it was recorded in. We did that single in two days, just with an engineer. This time we spent twelve days on that track with Steve Brown, who's worked with The Cult and Wham!
Will your album sound like The Cult...or Wham!, even?
No, it'll be more like Aerosmith.
A kind of Rockin' Transatlantic sound.
Yeah, but still very English.
What about the USA? Will you be a success there?
I don't know. We've only ever experienced this country. We'd never even travelled much in England before January. We'd never been anywhere. Stay Beautiful has been released in America. It's a compilation of all early singles on a CD EP.
If you don't already know, it might not come as a surprise to find that this single minded young man was rushed to hospital in Norwich recently after trying to prove a point to an NME journalist at Norwich Arts Centre. The said journalist, Steve Lamacq, didn't lay a hand on him. Richey's injuries were self inflicted. In an attempt to prove the spirit of rock 'n' roll is alive in him and that The Manics are 'for real', Richey took a razor blade and carved '4 REAL' on his arm. As his blood drained away from him he stammered "we do mean what we do."
You're a very serious band. People like Talking Heads and The Pixies have been very successful at using irony, while still remaining very serious artists. Why don't you...
It's something we never, ever understood. If we could do something like that maybe we would, but there's no natural instinct at all. If we tried it'd be too contrived.
But you're grimly serious sometimes.
Yeah, well that's just the way we grew up. There's no other way to be really.
Have you always looked on the black side like that?
There only ever was one.
But you must see a brighter future.
We've been in London since January, and we still never go out anywhere. We just stay in on our own. Every time we record we have to go to a residential studio where there's nobody else. No other bands around, so we don't have to see anybody.
You've always been like that all of you?
How did you get to into playing in a band?
We'd just known each other all our lives ever since infant school. Juniour school, Comprehensive, College...We always just loved music. It just seemed natural to be in a band. It just started.
What will you do with that creativty after the band?
One of the best things I've ever read is J.D. Salinger. After his big success, like Catcher in The Rhye, he just locked himself in a basement for twenty years. But he was still writing. He'd got stacks of manuscripts on his shelves, but no ones ever seen 'em.
Can you see yourself doing that?
I'd like to think so.
Locked away? Just playing for yourselves?
Maybe. Something like that. (Laughs) No, we don't know what's going to happen.
Salinger's life sounds intriguing, but if you're going to create something good, why keep it to yourselves?
We're getting 150 letters a week now, all saying that kind of stuff.
Who's writing to you?
What kind of people are they?
Lonely people, I suppose.
People like you?
Yeah I mean it's not uncommon to get a 25 page letter.
Did you do that once upon a time?
We wrote to Big Flame, a Manchester band: we wrote to them a lot. I think the whole of 1986 we spent writing to Big Flame! We wrote, when the band first started, to any band we could think of just trying to get gig. Nobody ever wrote back. Big Flame replied. They replied all the time.
You avoid shoe gazing.
Yeah, it's mundane and boring. When we were back home we spent the whole Summer holidays stuck indoors doing nothing. When we got a new video through - like Guns 'N' Roses at The Ritz - for that half hour we just felt brilliant. It really liberated us.
Your music is all about that extreme of emotion - burning with adrenaline.
Is there anything worth doing?
We always put quotes on the back of our records. Hopefully people can go away and read some books. All we'd like to do is promote some kind of awareness, really.
Who else would you like to see your fans inspired by?
I can't think of any other contemporary band in this country that I would like to see inspiring people.
What about literature, or art?
Literature: Camus, Kierkegard, Neitzsche, Burroughs, Ginsberg. Art: Andrew Cyrano, Grunwald, Van Gough. Those kind of people.
Are you unhappy with the way you are? Or the way you were?
Yeah. All of us were. We spent whole weeks just reading about bands that we didn't like. A bit stupid. (Laughs) Sad, that we'd read NME cover-to-cover every week. Melody Maker, anything. Watch every TV programme, hoping for something.
So how have you changed?
It's exactly the same now! NME's just come in, so I've spent all afternoon reading that now!
Then why stop when it hasn't achieved anything. What will you do in 1993 when all this is over and nothing has changed?
Do you think about it?
No. All we've ever thought about is making this LP and we still haven't finished it yet. It's such a nightmare trying to get the artwork done. Everything we wanted to use as a cover we can't get permission for.
There's a work of art - it's not on display yet in London - we went to a private showing of it because we'd heard about it. A man had made a plastic mould of his face and he'd withdrawn blood from his arm every day for the last six months and filled up this mask. Then he put it into a freezer and peeled off the plastic and it's like a death mask of pure blood. It looks really brilliant. But then just as we were getting the rights to use it Charles Saatchi bought it! Bad news!
What are you looking for from the album artwork?
Just something that appeals to us on a basic level.
Something visceral, obviously.
Yeah, every painting we've found, we can't seem to get permission. Like The Crucifixtion - CBS don't want to put out a product with something like that on.
Will your fans understand your work in the same way?
Nearly everyone who writes to us, they don't like any other bands around; we're the only band they like, the only band that matter. Not just cheap entertainment.
But does your importance transcend family, education...even religion?
A lot of letters are like that, yeah. The only people that ever mattered in our lives were each other. The four of us. That's it. Nothing else.
Your audiences haven't always been adoring - tell me about what happened when you last came to Cambridge?
When we tour it's usually quite expensive 'cos a lot of guitars get smashed up. Cambridge Ball offered a lot of money for us to play. Enough to pay off our debts for that tour. So we said we'd play. We did our normal act on stage. Jumped up and down, smashed some mic stands, and they just sent all these bouncers on stage, started beating us up, dragged us off, got the Police, Alsations, guard dogs. They escorted us from the premisis. It was just mad. I couldn't believe it. It's just stupid the way people over-react.
Do you normally play to students?
I don't think so, no. We never get letters from students - maybe one in every hundred. Students are just too brain-dead really. They deserve Carter and Kingmaker.
Are they too wrapped up in themselves?
They want to enjoy themselves too much. They need humour. They need Monty Python.
What will be the message of your album?
Destroy the past and create the future. None of our songs are about traditional dogmatic left-wing things. No songs about the poll tax. We've got songs about religion, money, culture, alienation, boredom, despair: not just about passive consumption.
But you're left in suspended animation! You've destroyed the past, but you're not creating the future.
Maybe. I've never really thought about it like that before. We thought if we could do one good thing, do something we actually liked then...we never really needed much more than papers, TV, videos. We never wanted to do anything, or buy anything. We've always thought we could resign ourselves to having that for the rest of our lives, as long as we'd done something inbetween.
Only time will tell what lies in store for Richey and her friends, but they are likely to burn quickly and bright. Richey is a simple, dedicated person, intent on only one thing. When the Manics album arrives in February we will see if it was worth the fuss. The band have a song that they would like Kylie Minogue to sing on their LP - now that she's cast off her Aussie mate Michael, p'raps she'll be interested in four introverted Welsh toy boys. Stranger things have happened.