The Manics have always had a reputation for speaking their minds. But 10 years since they made it big with their mix of controversy, guitars and eyeliner, do the Manics still have something to say? Susie Wild finds out, in this exclusive interview.
Nicky Wire needs no introduction. Over 10 years as the bassist and lyricist for the anthemic Manic Street Preachers has made him a household name in Wales and beyond. With a new album about to be unleashed and a 23-date sell out tour in progression it seemed like the ideal time to pull the politics graduate in fora chat about the Welsh Assembly and the state of British politics.
What can we expect from the new album, Send Away The Tigers...?
If you liked Generation Terrorist or Everything Must Go then I think you will fall in love with this record. We tried to take elements of both into the new recording. The joyful naive idealism of Generation Terrorist and the songwriting euphoria of Everything Must Go.
Do you think you still have something to say?
I've always said this - we're not trying to be clever or force politics down people's throats. It's just a subject that I am interested in. I did a degree in Politics; it would be pretty embarrassing if I didn't write songs that reflect the modern world. There's not much point in me writing about girlfriends and nightclubs and bouncers and all the rest of it. There's that old Johnny Rotten saying: 'Anger is an energy'. I think it really is a positive energy, and one to utilise.
What are the main themes for the new album?
That overriding sense - I think Damon Albarn touched upon it with The Good, The Bad And The Queen really - that sense of doom that it is so hard to escape from here in Britain. The album also looks at misconceptions. It deals with those bad decisions you make that others judge you for throughout the rest of your life, no matter how much more good you may do. You will always be remembered for the bad stuff.
What do you think about the Welsh Assembly?
I'm all for political institutions and I always have been. I'm not saying that it is perfect and I'm not saying that it has done wonderful things for the country - but I still think that it is positive. It,helps with identity and, as time goes on, and we get a better calibre of people in there, and the institution will grow and develop. I have no problem with it.
What issues would you like to see the Assembly putting on to its agenda?
I'm quite disconcerted about their policy for free prescriptions - I shouldn't have them. I'm all for helping out people who need them, but it's ridiculous. I'd rather that they spent that money on the needy. I find it a cynical vote winner. I should be means-tested. Tax me! I think that there should be more taxes for rich people. I doubt it's a popular change to policy though, which is probably why I'll never run for government. You get a lot of people who say that they've been to France or they've been to Sweden and the health services were so much better or whatever, but the tax is so much higher there, in Sweden it is 56 per cent. Tax the rich. Tax myself.
Also, and I know this will sound petty or small minded but I think Wales should have its own cricket team and I think that the Welsh Assembly should fund it. I mean Glamorgan are better than Ireland and yet Ireland are in the fucking quarter finals of the Cricket World Cup. It's shameful! They might f"king lose loads of matches but I'd rather lose as a Welsh team than have a few of our players on the England team.
Generally I think we should invest in the areas Wales is renowned for - sports, music and the arts. Sometimes I feel that we don't push ourselves enough. I think that fora small country the wealth of talent is outstanding, and I hate to see it wasted.
What do you think of the Assembly's plans to centralise control of the arts?
I'm totally against that, but then I don't think rock 'n' roll should ever be based upon handouts. If you're a good enough band you don't need the Prince's Trust to give you a leg up...
Just a cocky letter to the music press?
[Wire laughs] Yeah. There's no need for all the rest of it.
By the end of the summer Tony Blair will have left his post as Prime Minister. Does this please you?
I'll be pleased if it means that Gordon Brown takes over the role. I've always been a big fan of Gordon. I'm much less cynical about politicians than the rest of the population. It's a pretty shit job, yes they get perks and privileges, but they aren't all the horrible and corrupt bunch that they are often made out to be. Take someone like Peter Hain; fair play to him, he went to prison to try and get rid of apartheid. Then you get people like Jarvis Cocker saying politicians are ruining the world. Jarvis never went to prison for trying to right a wrong. Then again, I don't think I would ever have the guts to do something like that. Having met quite a few politicians, I just think that they tend to be as clueless as we are; bumbling through life trying to make sense of it all.
Most of the population, especially young people, are pretty apathetic in regards to politics. How does this make you feel?
I think it's disgraceful and I think they should all read up on their history. They should realise that women died to get the vote, that trade union workers died trying to get their voice heard. I think voting should be compulsory. Nothing tires me more than some drippy fucker saying 'Oh, I'd rather watch YouTube than vote.' Society is a reflection of politics - if you are lazy and decadent you will get lazy and decadent politicians.
The first single from the album is Your Love Alarm Is Not Enough in which James duets with Nina Persson of The Cardigans. Why Nina?
We're huge fans of the Cardigans. I really like Nina's lyrics, she's underrated in that respect, especially as Swedish is her first language. We were scared to ask her to do the song though, it was like a school disco, we made James call her up but it felt like we were asking to dance with someone else's girlfriend. Thankfully she seemed to genuinely like the song and agreed. It's just real serendipity. We love Nina - her voice and her music.
What's the track about?
It's a conversation in my head with Richey really. Trying to figure out what it takes for a person or a country to have a semblance of happiness. Is it religion? Is it democracy? Is it love? Is it hate? Is love ever enough? I wanted to look at what it is that makes people or countries reach a level of contentment.
Did you find the answer?
No, just a big fucking question mark! I don't know what the solution is for happiness but I'm all for balance. I'm guessing it has a lot to do with everything, with a need for compromise.
You had a pretty lukewarm response to your seventh album, Lifeblood, in 2005 and then the Manics took a couple of years off. Did you ever consider calling it a day?
I think the only time we ever seriously considered splitting up was after Richey disappeared. That was the only really odd point in our career. After Lifeblood we knew we had that we had lost the essence of the Manics, that we had become far removed from all that we stood for. Although I still really loved the record I knew it didn't really connect with us or the fans. There was never any question of us splitting though. I mean there comes a time that, if you sell less and less records you will eventually fizzle out. These days I think that whole idea holds less drama for us. We're not the kind of band that will play The Point for the rest of their career.
You're booked fora few festivals this summer including Fflam and Glastonbury. How do you like camping?
We really struggled at the start, me and Richey in particular. There were no mirrors to do our make up in fora start. We weren't great at getting into the festival spirit I have to be honest with you, we're not really camping people but, as time has moved on, the best thing about it is just facing that many people and trying to win them over. Often they aren't there to see you play and I think that's a nice feeling actually, really trying to raise your game and make people love you and connect with them. I've come to like festivals a lot, lot more than I used to and I know to make sure that there is a mirror in my dressing room now. I'm looking forward to Fflam in Swansea though, I went to university there so I'm happy to go back, it holds a lot of good memories for me.
If you hate camping how do you find life on the road in the tour bus?
The tour bus is like a man's garden shed. It is one of the real sanctuaries of life in the band. Especially as we're not the most excessive of people. We just sit around and watch films, eat sandwiches, read books. Touring is a real bonus for us - the fact that all 23 dates of this tour sold out in just a few days really surprised us. You're always insecure in a band. You never know if people really still want you. That, as much as anything, has really kick started us to get down to work and raise our game. I think people never quite get us as a band. They tend to go with the idea that we are po-faced political miserabilists, eternal cynics. They don't see our fun side.