Richey James, guitarist with the Manic Street Preachers, is not your average, everyday, run-of-the-mill rock star.
My preconceptions (moulded by the NME and Melody Maker) as some some alcoholic depressive who's probably going to bemoan the futility of life for the entire interview, is completely dashed as soon as I enter the room. He's simply sat there, relaxed, cigarette in hand, listening to Beatles and Stones tracks on his stereo. He's down to earth and friendly, and the impression I get as we talk about touring, music, love, literature and even catering(!), is that he's probably one of the most misinterpreted characters in rock. He feels strongly about this.
"It's very annoying. If we're on stage, most nights James and Nick (vocalist and bassist) usually say whatever they happen to be thinking about at the time. Most of the crowd couldn't give a fuck. Some might be pissed off, some people quite like it - but if you happen to say something like that in London, it's fucking debated for months and we're crucified."
Likewise, their lyrics; "It's very difficult, because people want to misinterpret them. "If you write a song about hard-core pornography or snuff movies - which is an important thing to write about - you've got to be very direct, and it's a worry how people will interpret that. American Psycho [which the Manics explore with the song 'Patrick Bateman'] was pretty much condemned at the time...years later it's a 'cool' book to quote. People found the moral upsetting. I don't know why they haven't got the honesty to come to terms with those sorts of feelings."
Richey find hypocrisy of any kind incredibly difficult to understand, which is probably why his comments often shock so many people - they're not arrogant, just honest.
I question him on his statement that 'all rock 'n' roll is homosexual'; "Many journalists know that certain bands with very macho attitudes - mainly Heavy Metal - have gay members. It's never mentioned. People have an obligation to tell the truth. To ignore it is to accept that you feel insecure about your sexuality, that you're castrated by how people will judge you. Even Sugar: you see it hinted at in magazines now and then, but there's never a big Bob Mould 'I am homosexual' quote. I don't think Bob Mould would lose one fan if he told the truth."
It's hypocrisy that the Manics' lyrics scream against. They don't preach the destruction of institutions, only that people should question things instead of accepting them - Apathy in the UK.
But have a lot of fans missed the point entirely? They seem to simply clone the band in clothes and speech. "Yeah, it's strange meeting these people because it's like looking in the mirror. It's the same with a lot of bands. but as long as one or two people get the message, then that's enough. That's why we out quotes in our records. I know some fans never read any of them, but we get a massive amount of mail each week, and at least 20-30% say they've gone and read a book by that author, and I think that's as good as you can do."
But what about the fans like the girl who carved 'REJECTED' into her arm with a razor blade after Richey had sliced '4 REAL' into his during an interview with the NME?
"I know two girls who have done similar things with cigarettes, so they they could show off and say 'Oh, we do that as well'. I felt a bit sorry for them but I don't accept responsibility. If I drink a lot, I don't expect all our fans to start pouring Vodka down their throats...it would just be a disaster."
Manics lyrics seems to be either political or obsessed with culture, alienation, boredom and despair. Would they ever write a love song? "No never. You go into HMV or Virgin and 80% of any form of music - whether its World Music, rock, pop, soul, blues - is a derivation of 'love lost/girlfriend left you/girlfriend come back.' We thought it would be a good idea if we never wrote a song like that. If I was ever dramatically in love with somebody, I couldn't possibly expect James to go on stage and sing 'Baby Love'. I find love a very alien concept. People I know who are in long-term relationships have always been unfaithful, and I find that whole lie just really tiresome. That's why I've never been involved in any relationship. I find other people attractive, so it's kind of unfair to walk around with one partner. It's just being honest, really."
Would he say, then, that Blackwood (the small industrial town in Wales that the band call home) has emotionally stunted him?
"We had a very limited experience of travel when we were young. Places like Hull are similar to where we live - the same sort of economic situation and atmosphere between people. It's only really London which is very different. People there try to kid themselves that they've found some kind of meaning in their lives - which usually involves just going to the cinema, the theatre, eating in a good restaurant, a very shallow way of looking at life. I think we'd feel like this if we'd come from any industrial city in Britain, because people do feel, generally, very beaten. That's why American culture is so reliant on anti-depressants. Britain isn't - people aren't ashamed or embarrassed to be a bit gloomy. In America, it's as if you've got the plague - you're a leper if you have a bad day, and don't wake up and say 'Great day, great coffee, I love my life'. People in Britain never do that. That's why the good days are always so special because they're so real."
You don't seem to conform to the typical rock 'n' roll image, How would you describe yourselves?
"We're quite disciplined people. We've been around bands who feel the need to be a rock band twenty-four hours a day. They come into your dressing room, kick tables over, chuck food around, treat people like shit...then do a really crap show, come off stage, go 'Party' and smash things up. I find that kind of exhibitionism really appalling. There are very rarely parties after our concerts. We're usually in the dressing room for fifteen to thirty minutes, then it's back to the hotel, and everyone goes to their bedroom."
And with that he grins. My half hour is up, and I feel like I've spoke to one of the most honest individuals I'm ever likely to meet. This is probably why, to so many people, the Manic Street Preachers are a very special band. In a rock world of corporate bullshit, macho stereotyping, and image manipulation, the Manics have always been, and hopefully always will be - '4 REAL'.