Despite his position as bass player and lyricist in one of the world's most outspoken, uncompromising and self-confident bands, it's hard to find someone in the music biz with anything bad to say about Nicky Wire. Well, maybe that's not entirely true - after all, he has slammed bands who get dropped from their labels, and in the early days, he was never afraid to ruffle a few feathers. Still, from all reports he's a good guy who loves his wife, his modest home in Wales, and, for some reason, vacuuming. In a phone conversation shortly before the North American release of the Preachers' latest album, This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours, Wire came across as genuine and self-deprecating: The kind of guy you'd want to go join for a beer at the pub - that is, if he drank.
The new album's North American release has been delayed quite a bit. I think for the first time it was actually planned that way, which makes it a bit easier, because we wanted to get everything else out of the way before we came to North America, really.
Does promoting it in North America feel like giving birth again?
It'll probably be hard when we come over and we start touring again, because we've been doing it all year. But then again, it's a new record label; there's a bit more enthusiasm, so it's like a fresh start for us.
There were stories in the media about how the album was turned down by major labels over here.
I don't think that was the case - they said Epic turned it down, but we'd been trying to get off Sony in the U.S.A. for our last three albums. And Virgin were always really keen to do it anyway, so we didn't really talk to anybody else... It seemed like we were without a label for six months, when basically that six months was just negotiating with Virgin, trying to sort a deal out with Epic, so perhaps it seemed like we were a rudderless ship...
What do you think of bands like Public Enemy, who are trying to make a go of it without a record company?
I don't know - I think it's all messed up... When we got started, if we had never signed a deal with Sony, we would never have had the money to do anything. I'm not an information freak, and I'm really not into The Internet and webs and all the rest. As long as they pay me, and as long as you have control over the label, you're O.K. As long as you write the songs you want, and present them like you want. But we always had a problem with the U.S. company on Sony, in terms of the artwork; they always wanted to remix the songs - it is a real pain in the arse. With this album, everything is as it is in the U.K.
The new album sounds a bit more mellow and melodic than the previous ones. Do you write with melodies in mind?
No, never, actually... It's quite a strange relationship - me and James [Dean Bradfield, Manic guitarist/singer] have been writing songs since we were 15 [years old] together, 15 years ago, and we've never changed the basic way we deal with each other. I give him a lyric, and he writes the basis of it on acoustic guitar before we add anything else
It must be a close collaborative process.
It's kind of like a second sense, now. We don't even need to speak about it or anything. We've been doing it such a long time. I send him my lyrics to London to his flat, and then he'll call me up and say he's done it, and then we get together as a band and fill everything out. It's quite a strange relationship, because obviously James has this thing where he doesn't write any words. It's basically because when we started I wasn't a very good musician, and James was a brilliant musician, so we just kind of went like that.
Are you ever surprised with what he comes up with?
Well, I am - a track like "Black Dog On My Shoulder," on the album, which is probably one of the more depressing lyrics on there, deals with modern-day depression and stuff, and it's wrapped up in such a beautiful tune; sort of like Glen Campbell, or something! So I do get surprised sometimes!
Does James have any input on lyrics?
Yeah, sometimes I'll just give him a page of words - a lot of lines, and he can pick the best ones. And usually if he's struggling to sing something, I'll change it myself anyway 'cause I can tell it's not quite working. So I'm not too precious about things, to be honest. I am when they're finished, but during the actual process...
Do you end up writing things and thinking they won't work musically?
I think there's only ever been one lyric that James has actually turned down. In the U.K. there's a lot of pressure for B-sides and extra tracks in all these formats anyway, so we tend to use up virtually everything we do that I actually give to James. If I do something myself and I just think it's crap, I won't even bother giving it to him in the first place - which happens now and again!
Can you talk a bit about the "silent twins," the inspiration for the song "Tsunami"?
It's just a strange story of two twins brought up in West Wales, who from the age of eight or nine decided to stop speaking to everybody, and the song's a kind of metaphor for release, because it was only when one of the twins died that the other one felt free, really. They became so wrapped up in silence, it made them really miserable. It's just a form of release - a tsunami's a giant tidal wave, whether you shout or scream or cry, it's that kind of gigantic release that one girl only found after the twin died.
There's quite a contrast between musical release and lines like "disco dancing with the rapists"!
Basically, because they didn't speak everyone thought that they were incredibly strange. And psychologists got involved, and all the rest, so they were sent to one of the most notorious prisons in the U.K. The Yorkshire Ripper was there. And that's the line that - at the Christmas party, you had mass murderers and rapists at the prison Christmas party, and these girls disco dancing with the rapists, so to speak.
They were incarcerated because they weren't communicating.
There was one case of arson, which to be honest would have been lucky to get a sentence in normal circumstances, but because they'd been in and out of schools, people thought they needed psychiatric help, so they went to the psychiatric wing of Broadmoor, which was home to some of the most notorious criminals in the U.K.
Do you find that you empathize with the subjects that inspire you?
It's just stuff that interests me. Ever since we started a band, whether you're traveling or watching television or reading a book, it inspired us, really: Films, books, just general culture, I think. Sometimes you feel empathy; sometimes you just feel inspired. No matter where you are or what you're doing. We've never felt the desire to write too much about love and our internal emotions; we always try to get inspired by other things. It's a very natural thing for me: I watch a lot of telly; I read a lot of books. So it all comes out in my lyrics.
What have you been reading lately?
I've been actually on a mad binge on sports books at the moment! The Birthday Letters by Ted Hughes, which is about his relationship with Sylvia Plath - he didn't actually talk about his relationship with Sylvia Plath for 25-30 years, until he died, really, and so it's very interesting. That's the last book I really got inspired by.
There was a rumour that he burned one of her manuscripts.
Really?? I can believe that; I'm sure it's a hell of a situation he found himself in. His second wife ended up killing herself as well. He had a rough old time, but I think if people are going to commit suicide, they're going to do it. So people were wrong to blame him, basically.
What do you think of the recent "witch hunt" over the Colorado murders?
Marilyn Manson's getting a lot of criticism, isn't he?
Is that going on in the U.K.?
It's big here, but only from a kind of American perspective; no one's really under threat in that sense over here. Definitely, everyone's interested. I just think it's unfair, really. I think the problem is within society itself. It just goes back to Judas Priest and Ozzy Osbourne and everything: People are always looking for an excuse. The excuse is within the people themselves and within society, really.
Are you ever worried about people misunderstanding your lyrics?
Yeah, I think it happens all the time on a surface level. I think you're traveling through countries in Europe which don't really understand the words, to be frank, but they obviously understand what we're about. Misinterpretation does occur, but we're well-known enough in our own country that the band actually stands for certain ideals, so I think we get away with it over here, so it does happen. There's always been a big problem with America in general with us, because we don't fit into any genres. When we started off, people thought we were punk, but we had songs which were obviously not punk. Our third album never got released, and God knows what they're going to make of this one! I think, like I said, people get it over here because we've been around for 10 years now.
Have you ever felt that you misunderstood things that you wrote about?
I think there are certain things you say when you're in a band... We've been interviewed and said so much over here, especially, that there's definitely certain things that you think you've made a mistake saying. But sometimes at least you get them out of your system being honest about it, rather than not saying anything at all. I don't think so much in our lyrics. Most of our political songs are pretty much anti-monarchy, which I still believe in. I'm still a republican, so most of our politics are pretty much the same as they've always been.
Your brother Patrick has been active in his own right, in Kosovo relief...
They just did a big concert last week and raised about 6,000 pounds. That's the easiest thing for us to do: Just sign some stuff and hand it over. But he's also a playwright and a poet; can't get him off my back at the moment.
It seems that social conscience runs in the family.
Well, definitely. It sort of comes from our environment. It's hard to explain, but there was such upheaval in our community during the '80s through heavy industry being closed and everything, that you couldn't help but be somewhat political. And my father would always encourage us to read, and he kept a lot of books around the house. A lot of people turn out the same where we come from, but obviously we've had the chance to speak out on a bigger scale, really, because obviously we're musicians and all that.
What are your feelings on the Kosovo situation?
I watched a three-hour program on television on the weekend which tried to go through the whole history of it, and just realized how completely messed up it all is... There are certain things I feel I can comment on in my own country, which I think I understand, but as a musician, I think that issue is so complex and so messed up that I don't really have a strong opinion either way on it. Obviously I don't agree with ethnic cleansing whatsoever, but I don't know if I agree with mass bombing either. It's very confusing.
Do you have any opinion on the Jubilee 2000 campaign [to cancel third world debt]? Damon Albarn was critical of Bono and Muhammad Ali's announcement at the Brit awards.
Yeah, I think that's a fair criticism. I'm surprised myself. When Bono came on - everybody knows Bono's a well-intentioned man, but he just couldn't fail but to come across as a hypocrite. The amount of wealth in that hall, with 5,000 of the wealthiest people in Britain and the world there... I remember thinking at the time that it seemed all a bit bizarre, to be honest. I felt like a hypocrite: I didn't want to jump up and support it at that moment because it just didn't seem the right thing to do. And you know, charity and rock music is just such a fine line between hypocrisy and doing the right thing.
It's especially interesting given Bono's carefully constructed irony.
Yeah, and everybody knows Live Aid was a fantastic thing, but it also sealed the careers of a lot of shit bands who went on and sold a million records on the back of it, so it is a difficult thing. The best thing we ever did, I think, was the concert for Hillsborough [to address the soccer disaster mentioned in "Southside Yorkshire Mass Murderer"] at Anfield, which is Liverpool's football ground, and 40,000 people were there; it raised a lot of money. I know Paul Heaton of The Beautiful South does a lot for local football players, local pensioners - he never actually says anything. He wouldn't come do a Bono and arrive, come and say something in the middle of all the world; he just does it all on his own. That's the kind of thing I'm more prone to doing, really.
Albarn said that his music activates people's imagination, which activates their consciences.
That's fine, I think. When we started - it sounds naive, but like The Clash, we actually thought we could change the world, and we realized you can't do that. But you can change people's consciences, and whether that's through reading a book or listening to a record, or just making them feel happy, or sad, or whatever, I think that's the test of a true band, really, if you can actually do that.
You certainly get quite a reaction from your fans!
It's such a network of fanzines and websites, and God knows what, you know? We've got some of the most fanatical followers on Earth. And you generally... They'll say to you that you changed how they thought about things, so... hopefully for the better!
What did you think of the recent exhibit of art by your fans?
I loved that. I went to see that. That's the sort of thing that makes being in a band a bit special being us, because it's not very often stuff like that happens to groups. Anything that encourages fans to do something themselves is really worthwhile. We don't have a fan club. We're really proud of the fact that - fan clubs are generally mechanisms just to make money - ours is completely down to the fans themselves to create this network that they have. So we've been really proud of that.
I've heard that your fans send you Hoover filters because of your love of vacuuming...
Yeah, it's become a bit of a caricature, but it still happens a lot. My domesticity is kind of... I think that's just something that the fans want to do. It's either makeup, necklaces or hoovers.
Your love of Hoover-ing has been blown up a little bit
Well, I've Hoover-ed the house already - well, I always do it as soon as I get up - this morning, and I'll Hoover it again today. It's just something I feel I need to do. It's like a drug thing: I don't take drugs, and I don't drink, so I kind of replace [that in] my life with meaningless chores!
You must be very popular with your friends!
I'm very popular with my wife, 'cause she never has to do the Hoover-ing.
Have you started to generate ideas for the next album?
Luckily, we've never had a problem writing songs. We've written six or seven songs already throughout the year. And I think This Is My Truth is the end of a certain era for us. I think it's quite similar to Everything Must Go in some ways, and we always looked at the band's career in stages. I think Generation Terrorists and Gold Against The Soul were stage one, and Holy Bible was stage two, and the last two albums were stage three. So I think it's stage four for the next one. I think it will be different. I think a bit more experimental, and more organic.
It seems that This Is My Truth complements the other albums musically.
Yeah, I think that's true; I think that's right. I think you can tell that for the first time, we've actually reached a bit of peace and a little bit of happiness on the record, and perhaps that gives it a bit of perspective. I think it's a very calm album with a bit more of a clearer vision.
Is your dog black?
She is, she's called Molly and she's a Black Labrador, and I'm going to take her out when we've finished. It's tipping out with rain, but we're going to go for a second walk. I've taken her out once, but it's the second one now.
She's not linked to the song "Black Dog On My Shoulder," is she?
No, she's not. She gives me happiness, not depression!