Nearly thirty years since their debut album, Manic Street Preachers are still young at heart. Duncan Seaman reports.
Much might have changed in the music industry since a young Manic Street Preachers flamed into being with their incendiary mixture of fiercely intelligent, angst-ridden lyrics and robust glam-meets-punk-and-metal guitar riffs.
Yet 26 years and a dozen albums on from their debut, it seems they approached their new record Resistance Is Futile with the same “youthful optimism” that fuelled their debut longplayer, Generation Terrorists.
“To be honest with you, it wasn’t something that we particularly planned,” says Sean Moore, the band’s softly-spoken drummer, explaining how a combination of circumstances - including having to build a new recording studio in Newport, South Wales, after being “kicked out” of their long-time facility in Cardiff as well as his own epic charity trek in Peru - led him and fellow band members James Dean Bradfield and Nicky Wire to feel reinvigorated.
“It just evolved,” he says. “We went in without any preconceptions really of where we were going to go and let the album lead itself.”
When they were in the studio Moore admits to occasionally being reminded of what it was like more than two and a half decades ago when he, Bradfield, Wire and their original bandmate Richey Edwards were first battling to be heard.
“The last 12 months pretty much has felt a bit like that in terms of what was happening in the music world,” he says. “It doesn’t seem to be getting any better in terms of new bands coming through. There doesn’t seem to be the investment there that there once was. The fact that smaller venues are closing down.”
“It’s getting to that point where we almost feel like we’re last man standing. There’s very few bands from our time that haven’t already split up or got back together and split up again. Whether we’ll still be doing this 25 years from now I don’t think so, but who knows? We never thought we’d get to this point 25 years ago.”
Resistance is Futile comes four years on from a burst of creativity that yielded two albums, the mellow, largely acoustic Rewind The Film and the decidedly more spiky, electronic post-punk of Futurology. Those records were followed by a period of revisiting old albums to commemorate their anniversaries.
If, as Wire suggested to this newspaper in 2016, the Manics had been unsure of in which direction to go next, Moore takes a philosophical view of the creative process. “I think we’re pretty comfortable in our own skins now, so to speak,” he says. “We’ve pretty much covered everything that has influenced us over our lifetime so trying to find new inspiration is quite difficult, just because we’ve touched upon every aspect of our musical upbringing. Then you come full circle and you go into a studio without having to feel like you need to prove anything any more.
“So it was very open, very liberating. Hopefully there’s still enough of an audience out there that enjoy where we’re coming from. It has been a useful injection as we’re approaching our fifties. I’m 50 this year but I don’t feel like it. It’s almost as if the last 30 years has sort of zipped by. I don’t particularly feel any different now to how I did back then. A little bit wiser, I suppose, and I can use my time a little bit more concisely. I know how to achieve the things I need to achieve in the studio whereas back then it was the blind leading the blind in a lot of ways.
“But as long as we can keep ourselves in love with music and the process of creating an album in its entirety – we still see it as a body of work rather than individual tracks – then who knows, maybe we’ll have another 25 years.”
Moore talks fondly about their new studio. “It’s compact but it’s got everything that we need,” he says, mentioning it includes the mixing desk they’d used at Rockfield in days gone by. “It sounds as big as a lot of the studios in London that we’ve used whether it’s Abbey Road or Hook End Manor. The results that we’ve had have been brilliant and effortless, in a lot of ways.”
The album’s opening single, International Blue, has been compared to the band’s early classic Motorcycle Emptiness. Wire had been working on its lyrics, inspired by the artwork of Yves Klein, for several years before delivering it to his bandmates.
“There’s no real formula other than the lyrics come first,” says Moore, explaining how they work. “Whether they come quickly or whether Nick sits on it a bit and likes it to gestate a little. Sometimes during the writing process there’s tiny alterations that are made. It’s an organic process, it’s constantly evolving.”
“[International Blue] could have been on Futurology but there always comes a cut-off point where we go, ‘We’ve got what we need, let’s just improve on what we’ve got’.”
“This lyric is another travelogue-style inspiration. He went to Nice on a break and then he delved a little deeper and discovered new things, artists, and their lives. It’s just that whole thing of discovering, moving forward - that’s what our process is all about. It’s passing the baton, running with it then passing it on again. It’s that whole cumulative effect. The fact that it’s -about a place, it’s about a painter, it’s about a colour - it’s all the things that inspire Nick in his lyric writing that then inspires us to put music to it.”
Other songs reference the poet Dylan Thomas and his wife Caitlin and the photographer Vivian Maier. Moore sees the whole album as honouring some of the people that have inspired them along the way. “Not only is it the art that people produce but it’s also the way they go about things, the legacies that they leave, the people that they touch, the relationships that they make.
“What we’ve always looked at is the way that people have expressed themselves, the journey that they take. Again, it’s that whole thread, joining the dots in life that you do as you get older, that accumulation of knowledge - that’s the way that we approach things.”
The female vocal on Dylan & Caitlin is provided by Welsh singer Catherine Anne Davies, aka The Anchoress, who has also worked with Simple Minds and Paul Draper of Mansun. “We sort of bumped into her through Twitter and various social media,” says Moore. “There’s a lot of connections that we make. She’s a big fan of ours and we asked her to sing Little Baby Nothing live with us at the Eden Project gig. We wanted a female vocalist and she was absolutely brilliant so we’ve taken that a bit further and we’ve got her to sing backing vocals and a duet on the album and James has reciprocated with some vocals on one of her new tracks for her next album, so we’ve got a nice working relationship.”
Alongside the new studio, album and a corresponding arena tour, the band have just signed a new publishing deal. Moore sees it as “a new chapter” for the Manics. “We were completely contract-free with publishing. We are still with Sony as a sort of collective body but we felt that by giving Warner-Chappell a chance [with publishing rights] on this new album we might discover new avenues for the music and find a whole new set of people that we hadn’t been in contact with. With Sony, we’ve been with them since the early 90s. It was just a chance to give somebody a vested interest in our music. I’m not saying that Sony Publishing sat back but we felt we needed to get some different approaches to getting our music into TV, film and all those other genres.”