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Rock & Roll Politics -, 30th March 2001

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Title: Rock & Roll Politics
Date: Friday 30th March 2001
Writer: Louis Pattison

The Manic Street Preachers get back to their roots on Know Your Enemy, which combines the innovation and experimentation of their earlier albums with the arena-ready rock and lush production of their more recent work. contributor Louis Pattison spoke with Nicky Wire and Sean Moore about music, politics and the difficulty in keeping fans happy. Know Your Enemy is, like your earlier album The Holy Bible, an attack on wet liberalism and conventional morality in general. What inspired it?

Sean Moore: We're just trying to claim something back for ourselves. The way things have gone--even in the last year--people are getting lazier and more complacent about politics and society in general. Politics can be boring to a lot of people, but unless you get involved, get involved on a community level, then things are just going to disintegrate. It's often said that people are apathetic because there's no politicians worth voting for anymore, or that there's no bands worth supporting anymore. Do you subscribe to that view?

Nicky Wire: It's a double-edged sword, I think. Politicians reflect society. It's the easiest thing in the world to blame everything on politicians. There's a level of mediocrity that exists. I mean, you can talk about the hedonism of a drug like ecstasy, and I didn't agree with it, but at least it was a positive reaction. Or the nihilism of punk--that's a positive thing, too. But everything that exists at the moment is too average. And of course, you can blame bands--but there are good bands out there! At the Drive-In, for instance, should be selling more records. There's no excuse... if I was young, that band would mean everything to me. You debuted Know Your Enemy in the Karl Marx Theatre in Cuba and met the Cuban premier, Fidel Castro. What did you talk to him about?

Wire: Our music, and our principles. Mainly small talk, really. But he was very easy to talk to which was a surprise--he just breezed through it. He's like the biggest rock star you could ever meet. He still does these speeches where he'll talk to someone for over an hour and then he'll listen to it back, edit it, and go through it again. He still does speeches for five hours, sometimes. His power over words is just awesome.

Moore: We were incredibly surprised that he came along and watched the entire concert. We'd said to him beforehand that if it was too loud, then by all means, leave. We won't be offended at all. Were you surprised that the Cuban authorities accepted a Western rock band with open arms?

Moore: I think with any other band, they would have been suspicious. But we went out there not trying to sell any records, and I think they understood we were going out there to elevate Cuba as a country and as a culture as well as promoting our record. Cuba is opening its doors more and more to Western culture, but I think it's kind of appropriate that we went out there first, and not anybody else. On the track "Freedom of Speech Won't Feed My Children" [from Know Your Enemy], the lyric criticises the Beastie Boys for supporting the Free Tibet cause: "We love to kiss the Dalai Lama's ass/ Because he is such a holy man". Aren't you being hypocritical yourselves by meeting a dictator like Castro?

Moore: Yeah, but meeting Castro... it's like a reaction to all that sort of thing. We've always been a very reactive band, and that's something that we wouldn't have done if trouble hadn't been stirred. We did it more to highlight the hypocrisy of America. Pinpointing the Beastie Boys was just a kind of example, really. We've got nothing against the Dalai Lama. Are you easily stung by criticism?

Moore: You know, it's like "Manic Street Preachers--they bark a lot, but don't worry, they won't do any harm". It's fashionable to say that we've lost it. With the song "Masses Against the Classes", we just wanted to say, "no, look, we're still here". But we don't want to just keep doing things the same way. There's other places for us to explore. There's still that undercurrent of bile bubbling away. But the older you get, the more you want to unleash it in a controlled, focused way. It's easy to see why people want to criticise you; people like to think they're giving you a taste of your own medicine.

Moore: Well, we've always set ourselves up. We've always been happy about setting ourselves up. But instead of doing it in a very crass way, we'd rather try and be intellectual. It's so easy to tip a bucket of water over John Prescott's head. We've always been non-confrontational. We've always been non-violent. But when we used to be interviewed, early on, people used to be so afraid of us. As people, we're normal, we're calm. It's through writing that we want to let it all out. You're planning a "Best of..." collection. How are you going to be able to keep all your fans happy?

Wire: Oh, it's a tricky one, that. You don't want to leave any out because the fans will just moan straight away, asking "Why did you leave that out?", even if it's shit. I'd like to do what The Beatles did, do a Red and a Blue album--but I don't know if we're quite up there!