When Manic Street Preachers vocalist Richey Edwards disappeared without trace four years ago, a lot of people - journalists in particular - predicted a speedy death for the band he fronted.
Over the six years prior to his vanishing, the Manics had established themselves at the vanguard of Britain's post-punk nihilism movement. Angst-racked albums like The Holy Bible descended upon an unsuspecting listener with the subtlety of a dying rhino.
Then Edwards drove off into the night, to a destination which is still unknown (current theories range from a watery grave - his car was discovered parked near a popular suicide bridge - to a monastery), and the trio he left behind regrouped, recovered, and finally re-emerged. But they had lost more than an instantly recognizable frontman, they had also lost the pain and suffering. With bassist Nicky Wire stepping forward as lyricist, and guitarist James Dean Bradfield proving himself a terrific vocalist as well, the Manic Street Preachers were suddenly not so deliberately Manic, not so self-consciously street smart, and certainly not so Preachy.
Everything Must Go, their first post-Edwards album, topped the charts around Europe; This is My Truth, Tell Me Yours, their latest, has been hovering around the peak of the UK pile for close to a year now. "If You Tolerate This, Your Children Will be Next," the album's first single, went straight into the British lists at number one; "The Everlasting," "You Stole the Sun From Me," and "Tsunami" have all followed it up in style. And now they've come to America, almost exactly a year since the album hit the rest of the world. Which, says Nicky Wire, is exactly how they wanted it.
"America's the 'last frontier' for us," he explains. "It's the only country where we've not really done anything, so we wanted to be able to concentrate on it completely. We had the record held back until we were ready to really go for it."
The last time you played America was with Oasis.
"That was a funny tour; it was going to be a long one, take us all over the country, and it was going really well. We'd come on, play our little 45-minute set, get off, go out for the rest of the evening. There was no pressure. Then everything fell apart, Liam [Gallagher] went home, the tour was cancelled...so this tour [the Manics are on the road in the U.S. throughout September] is going to be the longest American tour we've ever done."
"In a way, if anything, it's been easier since Richey left, not so much of a struggle."
The album is a year old for you, even longer if you count writing and recording. How are you going to keep it fresh for American audiences?
"We started working on this album in November 1997; we'd do it in three-week blocks, writing and recording. It came out in Europe in October 1998. It's been nearly two years, so it is going to be a challenge, playing the new album every night, the same songs. In Europe, where we're known, we have a history, we can play 90-minute sets, draw from five albums, play people's favorites, and when we have new songs, drop them in at intervals."
"In America, where we're not that well known, and people might not know any of the material, we'll probably only play for an hour, do a lot of the new album, and just find ways of keeping it fresh for ourselves. They're good songs; there's a lot we can do with them."
Is there any new material?
We do have a few songs written...nothing we'll be playing on tour, though. I get bits and bobs done on the road, just ideas and scraps mainly; I prefer to write when I get home, up in my little bedroom. Sometimes I write on planes; I hate flying. I'm so miserable. I've written a few songs in the air.
Going back to when Richey disappeared, was there ever a time when you thought about packing it all in, starting a new band or whatever?
"No, never. We've been together, James, [drummer] Sean Moore and I, for 10 years - I've known James since I was 4; that was 26 years ago. We were at primary school together, and he and Sean are cousins, so there's a bond there that went far deeper than the band. In a way, if anything, it's been easier since Richey left, not so much of a struggle."
You once said he wanted the next album to be a cross between Pantera and Primal Scream's Screamadelica.
"There was a note on one of his lyrics, "idea for a concept album..."I think he'd stopped thinking of himself as a lyricist with a band. He was into a whole different artistic thing."
"I remember saying that if Everything Must Go could sell 100,000 copies, I'd be happy. Instead it went through the roof; it was on the [British] charts for 62 weeks."
Back then, did you ever imagine a day when all this current success could be happening?
"Not really. I remember saying that if Everything Must Go could sell 100,000 copies, I'd be happy. Instead it went through the roof; it was on the [British] charts for 62 weeks - that was incredible. I thought, "Oh, maybe we'll get to play a few festivals." We headlined in front of 60,000 people."
"I think with Everything Must Go, it was a matter of being in the right place at the right time. We were never short of publicity when Richey was in the band; he was always getting into something, the tabloid press mostly, so people knew about us. Then we came out with the "Design for Life" single, and people were...it wasn't what they expected from the Manic Street Preachers."
Has there been a down side to it?
"To the success? Only...I'll be so glad to get off the road. We'll have been touring this record for almost a year, and I like being at home. We'll actually be getting back just in time for the Rugby World Cup, which I'm really looking forward to."
And the winner will be?
I'm Welsh. Who do you think?