Since bursting onto a profoundly boring music scene the manic street preachers have been provocative, controversial & pathologically driven, as well as making blistering, superb records. But now, with the success they've always dreamed of within their grasp, Mark Sutherland finds Richie Edwards a disheartened, disillusioned young man struggling to deal with the pressures of stardom.
When I first met Richie Edwards, raven haired guitarist with the Manic Street Preachers, interviewing him for FLAG 3, he stood out a mile from every other musician I'd ever met. Supremely articulate, driven by a unique purity of vision &, most importantly, absolutely fascinating. And this before they'd even released their first 'proper' single 'Motown Junk'! I've met up with him on a few occasions since & always enjoyed talking to him so when I was deciding who to interview for FLAG 6, a return match had to be on the agenda, especially in the light of 'Generation Terrorists', the Manics' awesome double album. It's a supremely ambitious debut that achieves just about everything it sets out to do. Make no mistake; it's a classic that will still be being listened to in 20 years time.
But Richie nowadays is a different man. I've never found him to be the brat rock star of legend so it was no surprise to find him sitting cross-legged on his bed in a no smoking Salisbury hotel room, quietly watching a pre-election news bulletin. He's still wonderfully articulate & immensely likeable, but he seems weighed down somehow, as if having his dreams fulfilled has proved to be a disillusioning experience.
But first we talk about the music. If you think of the Manic Street Preachers as one shot punk chancers you'll be astonished at the scope of 'Generation Terrorists'. From the amphetamine rush of 'You Love Us' to the sublime melancholy of 'Motorcycle Emptiness' to the pop appeal of 'Little Baby Nothing' to the screaming outrage of 'Repeat' it's an incredibly diverse record, almost exempt from filler & never lacking a heightened sense of dramatic tension. I Love It! And the band are proud of it.
"It says everything we wanted it to, it sounds like we wanted it to. I was really worried at one point when they were doing the artwork 'cos they wanted to hire a Shakespearian stage, bui1d a 25 foot cruise missile, paint 'Generation Terrorists' on it and photograph it surrounded by velvet curtains! That would have been a disaster so I spent most of my time sorting it out.
"We still didn't get exactly the sleeve we wanted but at least we're happy with it. I wanted to use a piece of art like 'Piss Christ' or 'Allegory' by Monk or even 'The Scream' but we couldn't get them. The last one we tried was a picture of Marilyn Monroe taken at her last photo session before she died. She was really out of it on pills and drugs & thought she looked hideous. I splashed mascara over it & scrambled it & gave CBS the details.
"But before the copyright owner would even give us a price we had to send them all the records & all the press cuttings & then they asked for $30,000 every 6 months for the next 10 years in every country in the world!"
Apart from that, Richie seems happy with life on a major record label. But do the band intend to stick to their promise to split up 8: make just the one album? A frown crosses Richie's' brow:
"I don't know. I just don't know. We've written some new songs which I didn't think would happen. Basically for at least the next year we're going places with the album. I just get sent a list every day of stuff I've got to do. I can't plan anything. Last time we spoke it was different. We were pure in those days. Innocent."
There's a sadness in his eyes as he contemplates his last statement, but they're soon fiery again: "The changes made to the album in America really piss me off. Everywhere in the world loved everything about it - Japan even wanted to put more songs on it - but the Americans just have to have their input," he sneers."They think it's too much for people. I can live with different mixes, I just think it's a bit pathetic that they think they have to do it.
"I'm not a musician, I've never been interested in production. When I listen to the Supremes I don't think 'that snare drum sound is awful'. If CBS say they want to make the cymbals a bit louder on one track to me that doesn't make a fucking bit of difference to the song, but James & Sean get really upset about it."
The record company seem to be pushing you to a 'heavy rock' audience. "We always thought of ourselves as more of a rock band than an indie band so it's nice to get asked to do a Friday Rock Show session. If I listen to John Peel I usually hear 1 or 2 songs I like, with Tommy Vance it's usually 4 or 5."
If you ask me, heavy metal is an abhorrent musical form, generally morally bereft and sonically embarrassing - the direct opposite of what the Manic Street Preachers are. But Richie's right, the Manics are a Rock band, not a small-time indie concern. They're also stylish, political & subversive, the only band around to combine those elements .Don't even fucking think about mentioning Guns 'N' Roses in the same breath. Seeing the Manics become successful - let's face it, in spite of their seditionary nature rather than because of it - is a genuine cause for celebration.
"I don't know if we are successful. Number One is the only position that matters. We said we wanted to sell 16 million albums when we were playing the Rock Garden," says Richie then looks wistful as he starts reminiscing:
"When we first played the Rock Garden I'll always remember that night - there were 8 people there & no one gave a fuck about us but we drove home saying 'We were fucking brilliant tonight, we've got something to say & we've got to keep coming back'. We're quite shy people but we can be obscenely arrogant & we believe we're the only band that matters.
I get the impression there's no as much hope as there used to be in Richie & there's not as much hate either. He doesn't despise other bands as much as he did. He's plenty of vitriol left for the music business, the media, racists, the herd-like mentality of today's youth & others, but his usual scathing attacks on other bands are notable by their absence.
"I've just got more things to think about now .Before, all we did was watch TV, read the music press & think about those things but now we've got so much else to do. It's sad though. You talk about all the things you'll do in a band & it just becomes a routine like everything else, like working 9-5,being a student or on the dole. Even people's idea of going crazy like trashing a hotel room or beating up groupies, if you do that every night it's another routine. People who end up doing smack, maybe if you do it once it's different but if you do it every day like BIG DEAL"
Richie admits he hardly played on the LP & doesn't see that it matters (he's right - it's a great record, who cares who made it?) and mourns the absence of a unifying youth culture & the declawing of the music press. Talking to him it's hard to remember sometimes that he's a worshipped rock star with money, fans & people catering to his whims. Can he really be as alienated as he & his lyrics make out?
"I just feel I've never really belonged to anything or anyone. There's never been a youth culture or anything that I can feel part of. It's the end of the 20th century, a century that's produced so much destruction but hasn't come up with anything worthwhile. The level of oppression & boredom is still exactly the same. I just don't find anything worthwhile. I don't find anything of value."
He looks slightly embarrassed & stares bleakly at the TV where politicians are shouting. I want to say something, to tell him everything will be OK, but I can't find the words. After all, I know exactly how he feels, but I've still got dreams to aim for.
Instead I click off the tape & we spend a more relaxed 10 minutes discussing music & the election. The mood lightens a little but there's still something indefinable in the air. Richie has to get ready for the show so I bid him farewell.
I go into the pub next door for a reflective pint. The place is full of shrieking office workers, happy that their week's work is done .I sit & worry about Richie. He's the finest pop star we've got & I'll hope he'll be OK, that the system won't suck out his spirit then spit him out. The barman says: “Smile, mate, it might never happen."
Later, I am smiling again. The Manics play a storming gig, as charged & electrifying as ever. Richie & James & Sean & Nicky - looks very happy, up on stage where he belongs, with nothing to worry him other than posing, pouting, playing (?) & looking every inch a star. But later the mood returns. I hope I'm wrong. I hope you're happy Richie. Stay beautiful, my brilliant friend, band stay alive.