Manic Street Preachers need little introduction. Once, they seemed like the perennial outsiders of British rock, charged on rock and roll polemics and an idiosyncratic iconography that homaged everyone from Marilyn Monroe to Kylie Minogue, The Clash to Guns 'n' Roses. But the career of James Dean Bradfield, Sean Moore and Nicky Wire took several unscripted twists; the disappearance of main protagonist Richie [sic] Edwards, and the band's subsequent restart with the hugely successful 'Everything Must Go' album in 1996 being just two. Last year's 'This Is My Truth, Tell Me Yours' maintained their status as a band who balanced rock orthodoxy with genuine emotional depth. James Dean Bradfield talks to Leagues about rock legends Marilyn Manson, Bon Jovi and , er, Mogwai.
I guess you've been touring for the past year. What's been the highlight?
"Australia was brilliant. We toured Sydney, Adelaide, Perth and Melbourne, and I just had a brilliant laugh watching Marilyn Manson every night. He's the coolest fucker around. I think "Beautiful People" is one of the best records ever. Seeing that live was one of the best things I've ever seen ever. Pure metal. He's really clever... and really insipid in terms of like you think he's not listening and then suddenly he says something taking the piss out of you. He's really intelligent and funny. And he looks cool as fuck. And he's never out of character."
Speaking of rock-gods, didn't the Manics support Bon Jovi some years back?
"We did two gigs with them at Milton Keynes. It was a bit of a low point, and we had to support them because a lot of stuff wasn't happening for us at the time. It was us, Little Angels, Billy Idol, and Bon Jovi. We came off stage and we decided to drive back to London straight away. It was being broadcast live on Radio One and as we were driving I could hear the last song. I think they were doing (adopts American rawk accent) "Lay Your Hands On Me" or something. And before he said "This is the last song", he said "I'd just like to thank Little Angels, Billy Idol, and the Maniac Street Preachers." I just remember this total silence in the car. It was good seeing all these bands haggle over who had the best toilets and stuff. Years later it was quite funny when we played Knebworth with Oasis and it was still the same deal with all the enclosures, people haggling over the best spots and I realised it wasn't just big American rock pigs who did it. When everyone gets to that level everyone fights over who gets the best sandwiches and the best chemically-propelled toilets."
You brought Mogwai out on your UK tour. How did the Manics kids react to something so radically different?
"I thought our audience reacted really well to them. To be honest, I think it's amazing that Mogwai played in front of our audience, for whom it was probably the first time ever they've had to watch a band with not one vocal in any of the songs. And they hardly got slagged at all. OK, so it was quite a charitable applause, but they didn't get heckled or nothing. I think initially they were quite disinterested, but became slowly beguiled by them. I think they got a better response than they ever imagined they would."
Were you happy with Mogwai's remix of "You Stole The Sun From My Heart"? And have you anyone else in mind for more remixes?
"Yeah, as sparse as it is it's really beautiful. I've been trying to get Cornelius to do one for about a year now. And he just came back to us all of a sudden and he's done "Tsunami". So he was the last one on the list. And now I'm a bit mixed out to be honest."
I read that you were unsure about releasing "If You Tolerate This..." as a single. Were you surprised it went in at number one?
"Absolutely. It was good to get it with that song, because we didn't expect anything. We didn't know what to expect. For once our lives it was completely natural. With "A Design For Life" it was like 'this is our big shot, it's turned out so brilliantly it could be a number one'. This time it was good because it didn't feel compromised. If we would've got it with "The Everlasting" it wouldn't have been nice, because we hate that song. It's important because all the bands we liked when we were young always had number one records, and we've just begun to realise that really. All my favourite bands were just massive, and in the back of your mind you just wanna have the same level of success as your heroes."
What about new material. Have you received any lyrics in the post from Nicky recently?
"He gave me two songs the other day. One's called "Snuff Movies For The Nation" and I can't remember the title of the other. He gave me lyrics to another one called "Masking Tape". We've got six or seven new ones. We want to record a one-off single for the Summer. It's this song called "Masses Against Classes". We want to release a one-off single that's not gonna be on an album, in the same way The Clash did "Complete Control" and that. The next album will be towards the end of next year, if even that, because we need to take a rest for a while. For the last five years we've just been around all the time. We want to become a bit less coherent. We want to try and deconstruct, not do anything. As you get older you just constantly have to re-evaluate yourself because you're paranoid about being shit. You've got more natural reflexes when you're younger. The thing you do next is always obvious to you. When you get older it's not obvious, you gotta wait for it to happen."
When you first started releasing records you wanted to be the most important band of all time. Is it hard to sustain that sense of ambition the older you get?
"No, not really. It's a case of when you're young you feel like there's everything to do, and now you feel like there's only certain things left to do. Me and Nick still have raging arguments. I'll say 'We still haven't done our "London Calling".' And he'll say, 'I don't want to do a "London Calling", I want to do a "White Album"!' So I think that shows our ambition, albeit in a childish way. We're still quite naive about what success is. 'I want to do a "London Calling"!', 'No, I want to do a "White Album",' isn't exactly the conversation of two intelligent people."
A lot of the more colourful Manics fans of yore inevitably feel alienated by your success.
"I can understand that. It was the same with me when I was young. The first gig I went to see was Echo & The Bunnymen, and when "Bring On The Dancing Horses" was a massive hit five years later I was so pissed off. I just went off them straight away. There is an element of that with us, but at least it proves we have a history."
You seem to be stuck with a lot of the interviews whereas before Nicky would be a prominent spokesperson for the band. He seems to closet himself more from the public eye.
"Nicky pretty much closets himself away from lots of stuff. And when it gets past 12 o'clock he pretty much insulates himself against me because I go out and get pissed and he stays in. And he doesn't want me knocking on his door going, 'Nick, I love youuuuu' after a gig in Portugal."
You like to party and go out a lot, I take it. Is this a symptom of how success has altered your lifestyle?
"Not really. Success hasn't altered our lifestyles very much. We don't spend money. We pretty much live in the same places. We're quite funny about money. Most band split it four ways or whatever and there's none left. It think we feel better about just leaving it there. As for going out and stuff, I do try and get in free to places now and again. I can't be bothered being that humble about it. Some bands spend so much time talking about how ashamed they are to be successful and going out. I have to admit that when I was young I wanted to come to London and get drunk and go to places and see what everyone was acting like and what drugs they were taking and have a laugh. Basically, we go to these places, don't take any drugs, just get really pissed and have an old-fashioned laugh."
The Welsh music climate has gone from strength to strength in the last five years.
"It's the first time ever. There's never been four Welsh bands who could release records and automatically go Top Ten. It was never like this back in our day. When we first formed the band Wales was such a pessimistic place. It was post-miner's strike, post industrial rape, just a really bitter and twisted place. When we went to London to get a record deal there was no 'YEAHH, GO ON BOYS'. It didn't seem like anyone was helping each other whatsoever. I'm glad it's really about-face at the moment. If you're young and living in Cardiff or anywhere else in Wales it's just such a better place. Not perfect, just a better climate."
And what about the Welsh Assembly?
"I don't really know what an 'assembly' means. It hasn't got any tax-raising powers. It's quite confusing. But at least it gives us a chance to develop more of a civic culture. Compared to Scotland, we have no civic culture. They've got their own banks, own laws, they've got oil for fuck sake. Devolution in essence is the way forward. But I don't know about independence, with the current state in Europe. You just want to decentralise things from London, and have power to make decisions for yourself. I'm still a bit confused by it."