"All we ever wanted was a band that meant something, and we never got it so we thought we’d like to go out and be that band for the people."
Manic Street Preachers: a glamorous mess of contradictions, naiveté and calculation, idealism and cynicism, exhibitionism and shyness; laying them open to criticism from press and public alike. Their total honesty interpreted as immature arrogance.
They've been hated so much though, it‘d be easier and crueller to ignore them. They appal many with their shameless use of being abused by the media, against a backdrop of immense snobbery about such tactics; so many people falling over themselves to prove they were into a band before they ever made it big, then going off them when they do. There’s a real hostility towards indie bands signing to major labels, accusations of ‘sell out' ﬁll the air at every instance. So, Manic Street Preachers, who never make any pretence about being anything other than themselves, come like a breath of fresh air to such a stagnant, hypocritical scene.
Much has been said, and written, about Richie's now infamous arm slashing at Norwich Arts Centre, mostly dismissing it as a planned gimmick, but l think the incident was best summed up in the following letter to NME.
"I'm not particularly a fan of the Preachers, but even l can understand that someone who inflicts such a horrible injury on themselves to prove a point must he bloody serious about the point in question. Stupid maybe, but deﬁnitely serious. What Richie Edwards was obviously doing was using the most extreme method he could at the time to try and get his point over to Steve Lamacq; the possibility that one band may just be ‘4 Real', and dedicated to their own gameplan and opinions. Perhaps it's about time you music journalists stopped concentrating solely on the look of the band and paid more attention to the music. There are lots of people out there who like what the
Preachers do and perhaps the trick with the razorblade wasn't such a dumb way to end an evening. At least now it's possible to realise we can all be deadly serious about our beliefs and it doesn’t help when you feel like you're pissing the wind."
Richie spoke to Spiral Scratch about music, the press, education, home, sex and the future………
Manic Street Preachers openly admit they're a mass of contradictions. Does this increase their vulnerability as far as the press and public go?
Richie: “We’re the only band that admits our contradictions, but most other bands are worse. We’re really organised, we know what we want to do."
Since the interview for NME by James Brown, which he described as a knot of contradictions, insults and contempt, many journalists seem surprised to find the Manics so approachable. Was there some sort of personality clash between them and James Brown?
Richie: "Most journalists we’ve spoken to, we’ve got on really well with, but when they go and write their piece it always seems really obnoxious and bad. If you met James Brown you'd know he's just such a sweet man, he’s just got a violent pen. I loved that interview; he's one of the nicest people we've met.” Many people don’t realise the sheer intellect involved with the Manic Street Preachers, they’re incredibly well read: Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, and Situationism. Maybe if people were shown this side they’d ﬁnd it harder to simply write them off as unimportant. Is it frustrating to be constantly asked trivial or ‘old‘questions purely for their sensational impact?
Richie: "It's really boring the way they only ever quote us when we slag off another band. Most of the interviews with major papers last about 4-5 hours and they only ever pick up the quotes we’ve used to illustrate a point."
How important has it been to you to read and educate yourselves?
Richie: "I think it's really important, we all worked really hard at school, we never messed around or anything, studying was really important we read everything we could. We were lucky to have quite a good English teacher who gave us a lot of good books, and then we started reading a lot of pretentious bollocks like Camus and Vernon."
This isn’t really a part of you that comes across in interviews...
Richie "Well quite a lot or journalists talk to us about things like that, they never bother printing it, they probably think people wouldn't be interested, when most people would probably rather know about literature than just boring slagging off other bands. It’d be good if more people were encouraged to read." Although it was Richie's decision to cut himself, Steve Lamacq was obviously being deliberately provocative to get some reaction. Although afterwards described himself as shaken by the incident, the end result was a good story and lot of gory pictures to the press and a chance for him to criticise the Manics supposed lack of integrity and control. What integrity does the music press have, if any, and are there journalists you have faith in?
Richie: “I don't' think the music press should have integrity, I never expected them to, but, writers, we really respect…James Brown, Steven Wells, Simon Reynolds, Simon Price.”
The Manics’ 12 month masterplan is so far hurtling along as planned; they‘ve got front covers a deal with one of the biggest records labels in the world, Columbia/Sony, and the new single Stay Beautiful has been buffed to a commercial sheen by Wham’s ex producer. Their masterplan is a suicide pact, if the album doesn’t top charts worldwide and out sell Appetite For Destruction they‘re worthless failures, and if it does succeed, they’re going to give it all up anyway.
So what will they do afterwards?
Richie: "Well, now we’ve got a bit of money, we could open a dog’s home or work in a Dolphin Sanctuary; we’ve been reading a lot about a place in the Midlands that looks after Otters and they’re in a lot of ﬁnancial trouble and we could help them out which would be good."
You’ve said all you've got is each other, are you still gonna stick together no matter what you do?
Richie: "Yeah, I mean we all live together, we all sleep in the same beds cos we haven’t got enough. We live with our manager and there's only two spare bedrooms with two double beds in so we end up sleeping with each other every night.”
After Manic Street Preachers and all the glamour and excitement that‘s accompanied it, do you think you’ll ﬁnd it easy to go back to normal, and could you be content at home after being so bored there?
Richie: "The reason why we were so bored at home was that we'd be reading all these magazines and watching all this TV and there'd be nothing exciting or worthwhile; if we‘d had one decent band or one decent book from our generation we'd have been really happy. I mean, we never went out when we were back home we just stayed in each other‘s bedrooms or with our mothers and fathers, and if we thought we’d achieved anything with this band we could easily go back to that. It wasn‘t really boring when we were at home, it was just that we never had anything exciting to read or watch. If we thought we‘d done something with this band we wouldn’t need to play any records, we wouldn't need to look for any new books we'd just be content with what we‘d got."
Wouldn't you miss making music?
Richie: "No, not at all, James is the only one who will."
Won‘t you still feel the urge to write, haven't you always written, before the band?
Richie: “No, I don‘t think so; we'd rather do something more practical. I’ve always written, but it was too abstract. Once the band finishes we'd like to do something that actually helps people. Nick's brother has been to Chicago for the last two years, he lives with people who are terminally ill with cancer for the last few months of their lives; and that's really a hard job, but at least it's physically helping someone, which music never does.“
Has fame changed you?
Richie: "No, not really. When we‘re in London we don't go out we just stay in with each other. We’ve only been out two or three times since January and each time it's got in all the papers, so we don’t bother.”
So seeing yourselves on the covers of magazines hasn't gone to your heads?
Richie: "No, coz we don't have that much respect for music papers, because all that time we were reading them they were feeding us bands that we would go out and see and buy records of and they were so tedious…”
Has your success been difficult to deal with as it happened so fast?
Richie: "it's been really fast, we haven't had time to think about anything, every day we're doing something."
Is family life very important where you come from?
Richie: "Well, family was always really important just because they were the only people that really cared about us or helped us out or did anything for us. Where I live I’ve got an auntie three doors down and another one four or five doors up, so it's really close knit…they don‘t really know much about what's going on, my parents see the press, but they're not really interested. Music's never been important where we come from, they’d only judge us if they saw us on TV. That’s the only time they’d think we were doing anything worthwhile. I mean, the local newspaper‘s more important then NME, that means nothing.”
The impression l got from all your interviews was that you regarded the band as your only chance to escape from your home town; didn't you ever consider getting out earlier by just moving to a City where there'd have been more culture, more going on?
Richie: "We've never needed more culture because all the culture we needed was from books and TV, tangible things, we never really needed to be in a City which was buzzing and exciting, I mean, we live in London now and we never go out. We still get all out living through the papers. We didn't want to escape the smalltown, all we ever wanted was a band that meant something and we never got it, so we thought we‘d like to go out and be that band for other people."
Do you think that if you'd been brought up in a City you'd have been as determined to do what you have?
Richie: "Well, now we're in London, we can judge that from Londoners we’ve met. Most of them are really happy and content, they think they’ve got a really glamorous life, so no, probably not.”
Since you‘re so intent in doing something important while you’re young, does it irritate you that so many young people don't do the same?
Richie: "Not really because when you look at the state of education in this country, it's just drilled into you to expect nothing and do nothing. With the recent Education Acts, History’s not allowed to be taught properly anymore, you’ve got to teach Kings and Queens, you're not allowed to teach working class history, political emancipation of the working classes, that's sort of banned. So what can you except?"
You say you're prepared to be used by record companies, for example having photos of your arm used for Columbia's marketing campaign in the States, in order to achieve your aim of star status. Ultimately, who do you think it's all for, to put some meaning into your own lives or to touch audiences otherwise starved of political rock music?
Richie: "Well, we just want to be a band that means something, they can do whatever they want. I know we've been used to it, and some people think that’s bad but I personally don't mind as long as people can hear our songs, play our records, that’s what l care about, because afterwards, we're gonna go back to where we came from, so it’s no gain for us we're not doing it for entertainment. “
Do you think you make good role models?
Richie: "Well, l think we make better than most because we encourage people to read books, even something as simple as that. I mean, we don't believe in the idea of the working class revolution anymore, l know it's gone too far for that to happen but if we can just create awareness, I think that's the best you can do.”
“We were young and we felt like nothing. All we want to know is that no 16 year olds feel as hopeless as we felt“.
Can you identity with your audience?
Richie: "I don’t really know what kind of audience we've got. In every town it's so different, but, when l was 16 l felt like a piece of shit, and I know most other people in school seemed really frustrated because they would kick the shit out of each other and smash the place where they live. They had no sense of any kind of values or anything - I suppose it's even worse now."
Do you want to inspire people to actually get up and do something themselves?
Richie: “Yeah. There was a programme on BBC2 last night about the mining industry and all the old people we saying that when they were young they were taught to be between unionism and just improving the situation of the working classes, and now all the young miners just care about themselves. That's what I'd like to change. At least when there were those ideas before you did get political emancipation against quite a strict regime, they managed to get a vote, whereas now, no one wants to do anything so it’s just gonna get worse.”
Politics in music isn’t really fashionable nowadays, most political bands are just too inaccessible for most people, is that a gap you want to fill?
Richie: 'Yeah, we just realised that bands like the Redskins and New Model Army were always gonna fail because they would always seem too grey and too dogmatic to most people, so we think it’s important to try to be a bit glossy and not to ram our economic messages down people’s throats"
To make it more fun?
Richie: "Yeah I mean, none of our songs are about Clause 28 or the local education acts, they're about feeling alienated and l think that‘s all that you can do with a band. Otherwise you‘ll just end up with SWP meetings and nobody really cares. It just gets too diffused.“
Do you ever regret the fact that you weren’t around during the height of Punk, which compared to now was a much more exciting time, both culturally and musically?
Richie: No. we never wish we were alive during a different period. I never wanted to be involved with Punk because it just led to so many bad things, like Oi, etc.”
But aren't you disillusioned with the current scene?
Richie: "Well, I think it’s important that we should change, but I’m glad I’ve been able to listen to bands like Public Enemy…"
It’s so much harder for you to do anything different because people will say they’ve seen it all before.
Richie: ’Right through musical history that's been the case. People accused Elvis of playing black man's music, they accused the Stones of ripping off Muddy Water, every band gets it."
The most obvious thing about Stay Beautiful is the polished production, but it seems different from your previous songs in that it's much more accessible, is that conscious change of style?
Richie: " No, it‘s just the first time we've had access to a good studio with a good producer. Stay Beautiful is just a pop song, a lot of the new stuff we’ve done is more like Faith No More, more extreme, that’s just one song.”
What happened with the censorship problems with the video?
Richie: "Well it hasn't really been shown anywhere at all. They don't really ban things anymore they just don't put it on their playlist, which amounts to the same things really. We changed a lot of things, but they're still not gonna show it. It's really boring now; all the good bits have been taken out. I didn't see anything wrong with it anyway, it’s a bit frightening, that’s all. It was just in a huge house, and basically all the walls were plastic rubber and red latex and they just moved; paint was pouring down non-stop and everything got destroyed. It gradually got smaller and smaller until it all crumpled up and the last bit was just a bit of animation, the house turning into a monster and crawling off.”
So what’s all the talk of nude models about then? (Their publicity manager told the press she was one of them.)
Richie: "There weren't any that was just someone in the office the piss."
Do you sometimes feel you like to take a break and have time in the country or something?
Richie "No, I want to stay busy otherwise we'd just go back to staying in our rooms all day. We don't want holidays, but whenever we do something now, we ask to do it in a kind of place we like, so we just had a month down in Surrey just rehearsing in a 15th century mansion surrounded by woods. When the tour finishes we're going into another studio in Surrey, a better one, but the same kind of thing. And, for this tour, every hotel we said we need a swimming poi and a sauna.”
When you go into the country or to the sea, don't you think it helps put things in perspective? Because don’t you all tend to look on the black side of things a bit too much?
Richie: "I think we sort of like deep down. But yeah when you go to the country or the sea you just realise how unimportant the music is, there's more, that’s why we only ever want to make one double LP and then do something else."
Do the record company believe you're gonna split?
Richie: "Yeah when we were meeting all the record companies in January they were flying in all these people from America and they were saying what are we gonna do with these, and they said they'll do so well they won’t need another LP"
Do you think you'll get pressure to stay together?
Richie: 'When we were talking to People at Geffen, they said no one ever demanded another Guns ‘N’ Roses LP It was just that the band wanted to make one. The first one sold so well nobody really cared. They could've just died on drugs, it probably would've been better."
Against the backdrop of eyes on the floor bands, Manic Street Preachers are constantly striving to be more exciting onstage, continually mulling over new ideas, even taking it to the point of considering Richie cutting himself up on stage just to see what would happen. There must be less detrimental ways of not being boring, what about theatrical stuff like Gwar?
Richie: “The only trouble with bands like Gwar is that the novelty gets treated more importantly than the music and what they say, it detracts from it.”
What do you think of the way Madonna uses her shows as a piece of theatre doing outrageous things like masturbation on stage, I mean that’s really making a point?
Richie: "Madonna's brilliant. Next tour when we've got a big bed we’re gonna do something different! It's just really hard, playing places this size, you can't really do much."
You talk about cutting yourself up on stage, but if you did that you'd he in a worse position than Gwar because all the reviews would be solely concerned with that
Richie: "I know, that's why, we just can’t think of what to do. That’d get really boring quickly anyway, we just wanna add a bit of excitement."
Aside from that isn't it really detrimental to you personally to hurt yourself so badly?
Richie: "Yeah, we would really do that, it was just a point I was trying to make, that most bands are really boring and most bands never care that they're probably boring the people in the audience to death."
Manic Street Preachers’ attitude to sex adds more to their long list of contradictions. One moment they're flippant and immature such as Nikki announcing to the world that he's had herpes since he was 15… and another they're coming out with mom serious statements “Sexual alienation is massive in this country. That’s why girls are so amazed when you do down on them, even if you run your fingers through their hair or something .They expect you to get there, fuck 'em and kick 'em out.” It’s a lot more complex than the Guns ‘N’ Roses lock up your daughters here we type attitude isn’t it?
Richie: “I suppose so. Well, sex was never important where we came from because we were just so obsessed with music and literature that I never bothered. I didn't lose my virginity until 7 months ago. It never seemed a big deal, you know, it was never important"
But it’s quite an issue?
Richie: “The thing about sexual alienation in this county is the fact that when you're young the way that you're brought up, all women are still basically taught to stay at home and men are taught to fight, to kick the shit out of each other, be the aggressive one in the relationship.”
Within the whole music business there's a lot of sexism, bands treating their groupies like shit and all female bands names as such rather than just being called a band.
Richie: "Yeah, in every review I've read of a band with a girl singer they just talk about the singer, l mean, they don't even necessarily talk about her voice, they talk about what she’s wearing.”
Exactly and it’s really unusual the way you come out with things like that, comments on sexual alienation, because no one else ever does, do they?
Richie: “No and I don’t really know why. Well I do it's because they're all really dull and most people think they're alright. It’s just completely down to education you've just gotta read a few books. On the back of the sleeve for Stay Beautiful we've got a quote from Valerie Solanas which justifies how shit men are scientifically."
“The male chromosome is an incomplete female chromosome. In other words the male is a walking abortion. Aborted at the gene stage. To be a male is deficit, emotionally limited maleness is a deficiency disease and males are emotional cripples.”
It’s very unusual for an all male band to quote something like that isn't it?
Richie: “Yeah, but we read Valerie Solanas a long time ago and I’m just surprised that more people don’t find out more things like that, it’s strange.”
Do you think that men are taught to always deny the female part of themselves?
Richie: "Completely. Especially where we come from it’s a highly industrialised area, pit culture. Working down a mine it’s such hard work. They come home and they expect their food to be ready. The saddest thing is that every Friday night they just do down the pub and kick shit out of each other. I mean. It’s obvious they’re frustrated but they're taking it out on themselves, they'd never go out and smash up a bank or something like that They'll go home and smash up their own place. It’s the same everywhere I suppose; I don’t know what it’s like here.”
It’s the same, more or less, there's a lot more emphasis on what you look like rather than actual personality. There's a lot of different segments which are really cliquey and don't mix much and basically if you strip it all down there's only a few who are really different underneath. They just have normal jobs and tart themselves up at weekends, or whatever there's something on, yet they can’t accept that people who aren’t dressing up might be a lot more different underneath.
Richie: “It’s just like that where we come from.”
It’s probably the same everywhere
Richie: "Some things never change."
So there you have it; Manic Street Preachers as you've never seen them before: consistent, realistic, unpretentious, and otter loving! If you still think they're wankers now, then you probably always will.