The Manics' cerebral contrarian talks class, longing to work with Morrissey and the allure of hotel stationery.
Nicky Wire is at home in Newport in south Wales. He's contemplating the forthcoming twelfth Manic Street Preachers album and his collection of hotel flannels (more below). The Manics' bassist says his domestic life is one of routines: "I can't do anything until the house is cleaned. I'll do that in the morning - and before I go to bed." New Manics album Futurology has similarly intricately ordered content - a modernist, Eurocentric survey that takes inspiration from the Die Brücke expressionist art movement, and from Hughesovka, the Ukranian steel-production centre founded by Welsh businessman John Hughes, now known as Donetsk. Wire considers it all with eloquence and wry humour.
Germany, Russia, Scandinavia-the new album is frequently set on continental Europe. How did Europe take to the Manics in the early days?
"It was quite hard touring Germany. Richey (Edwards, late Manics lyricist/ guitarist] would have a bottle of whisky in the afternoon, then have a sleep and wake up and have a kiwi fruit to cure his hangover.Then we'd goon stage and play some of the worst shows. We were so ragged. On days off we visited Dachau and Buchenwald. That was our idea of a day off. The first time we went to Norway literally the first thing we all did was go to the (Edvard] Munch museum. [On Futurology the title Between The Clock And The Bed is taken from a Munch painting.] Gradually, visual art has become more inspirational than music for me. I have quite a decent collection of art - Tracey Emin, Ceri Richards, Damien Hirst, Paul Simonon."
Probably the recurring musical influence on the new album is Simple Minds. Is that very Manics - to embrace a band who aren't often admitted to the musical canon of cool?
"They made five stupendous albums, up to Sparkle In The Rain. So futuristic, and coming from these working-class kids. It takes you back to a time when the working class could express themselves and they weren't refused entry into hipster realms full of people from public schools. And Derek Forbes is one of the greatest bass players ever."
The album features a duet with Green Gartside of Scritti Politti, on Between The Clock And The Bed. Was he an inspiration when the Manics formed - someone from south Wales, making post-punk music and referencing Marx, Bakunin,Gramsci?
"Definitely. That era of literate pop was amazing, with Green and Lloyd Cole and Morrissey all in the mainstream. You'd have Green working with Miles Davis - and that being mentioned in Smash Hits. For us, coming from a similar background in Wales, that really did seem to say anything could happen."
There's now a tradition of guest vocalists on Manics albums - including Nina Persson, Cate Le Bon, Ian McCulloch, Richard Hawley. Are there vocalists you'd like for the future?
"Morrissey is obviously one. No, we haven't approached him - he'd tell us to fuck off, and we'd kind of want him to really. John Lydon - we've always wanted to do a version of World Destruction, the one he did with Afrika Bambaataa. Courtney Love, if her voice could be like it was 10 years ago. We've written a few songs that we think would really fit Madonna. We have a long list (laughs)."
You've talked disparagingly about rock music becoming a respectable middle-class profession. Can you imagine your own children becoming musicians?
"My daughter's 11 and very much like me at the moment, unfortunately - quite angry (laughs). She plays violin, clarinet and piano and can read music. At her school everyone assumes I'll be able to read music. I can't read a note."
The new song Walk Me To The Bridge contains the lyrics: "So long my fatal friend... Still blinded by your intellect." But this isn't directed to Richey?
"I'm sure there's the ghost of Richey flying around, but the germs of the song came when we were on tour, crossing the Øresund Bridge that joins Sweden and Denmark. The 'fatal friend' is the band and the lyric is me thinking how can I ever fucking escape. We all feel like that at times - how can I escape the thing that defines me?"
Did you come close to chucking it in?
"I definitely did around that time . We'd just played the (Cardiff) Millennium Stadium, This Is My Truth... had topped the charts. It felt like the time to go out on top."
Tell us something you've never told an interviewer before...
"I have a gigantic collection of hotel stationery. Also hotel flannels, which, to me, are like a comfort blanket - I probably have 900 flannels. It's all filed year-by-year, and with the stationery you can definitely see the quality, it's got loads better. It starts off with notepads from Ibis hotels in 1991. Then, around 1996, the quality gets a lot nicer. The Langham Hotel in London has become a second home. Their stationery is the most beautiful pink and gold. It actually inspires me - I write loads of my lyrics on hotel notepaper."