"We were completely shit!" confesses bassist Nicky Wire. Guitarist Richey James doesn't disagree but insists that things have changed. Mark Blake discovers that the Manic Street Preachers have indeed come up trumps with their debut album, Generation Terrorists.
"When we used to read the music papers everything seemed so bland and average. Every band that was written about was just alright... Not good or bad, but just alright!" declares Manic Street Preachers' guitarist Richey James. "That's why we promised ourselves that if we ever formed a band you'd either love or hate us, there'd be no inbetween!"
The weekly music papers pounced on the Welsh wonders just after their third gig, rising to the Preachers' bait with consumate ease, subsequently declaring their undying love/hate of the group (delete as applicable) depending on which week it was. In reality, the group could hardly play. Yet they were willing to tell anyone that they'd headline Wembley Arena by the end of the year. They wanted to be Rock stars, still do and they really don't see any reason to deny it! And in the words of bassist Nicky Wire: "We [were] completely shit!"
But in the time that has elapsed since then the Manic Street Preachers appear to have achieved something just a little short of a miracle. Their re-released single "You Love Us" has just infiltrated the Top 30, the band have appeared on Top Of The Pops, and their debut album, "Generation Terrorists" (just released through Columbia Records) has cut a swathe through all the hype and gratuitous publicity stunts. It's a real-live Rock'n'Roll record and a glorious cocktail of three decades' worth of worthy influences and styles.
Nicky Wire and guitarist Richey James have now been given the chance to turn their teenage daydreams into something approaching reality, and I suspect they're loving every minute of it. While drummer Sean Moore and lead vocalist/guitarist James Dean Bradfield are on a promotional trip...er...Stateside, and doubtless bullshitting the gullible press over there in the process, Nicky and Richey are ensconsed in their management company's West London offices, taking care of business.
Nicky's just ventured out into the wilds of Fulham Broadway, wearing a delightfully tacky fake fur jacket, "a christmas present", he assures me. Although I suspect that Rod Stewart or at the very least Bet Lynch's wardrobe could be well have been plundered. Meanwhile Richey is trying to keep a straight face while conducting a telephone interview. The question on my lips is why is everybody taking every thing this band does so seriously. After all it's only Rock'n'Roll...Isn't it?
"I don't understand why some people took exception to us turning round and telling everyone that we wanted to be a really successful Rock band and that we wanted to sell a lot of records," protests Richey. "Surely that's the whole idea of being in a band. When we signed to Columbia they told us we'd have to watch our mouths more, but why? I don't mind people knowing that I hate Ned's Atomic Dustbin, and I wouldn't want one of their fans buying our record." His lilting Welsh tones are spiked with a trace of viciousness, tempered with a sly, easy humour. This is the publicity game and the Manic Street Preachers are already experts.
"We always promised ourselves that if we ever had the chance to make a record then we'd do it properly," continues Nicky, "That's why we insisted on complete artistic control."
The band's artistic leanings having resulted in an album sleeve that's littered with quotes from such luminaries as Freidrich Nietzche and Chuck D! Each one chosen to accompany the appropriate song title. If it was anyone else it could be construed as shockingly pretentious, and in the hands of the Manic Street Preachers I also see no reason why it still shouldn't be viewed that way! But...
"I spent most of the Summer getting those quotes together," laughs Richey, "when we were growing up in this shitty little Welsh town our imaginations were fired by the books we read. I went through all our favourites picking out quotes that I thought were relevant and then I handed the list to our lawyers."
"William Burroughs wanted $5000 for his quote!" reveals Nicky.
Richey: "But the people from the Ibsen estate were really cool and just asked us to bung them and then they'd call it quits!".
What about the Public Enemy statement, False media, we don't need it do we?, that graces the back of the "You Love Us" single sleeve?
"Public Enemy are one of the best bands I've heard in years!", gushes Richey (indeed PE contribute to the song "Repeat" on the Preachers' album), "and we thought that quote was very apt considering some of the things that have been written about us. We were tired of being called a Punk band. Punk was something that we just read about, just like we read about the Stones at Altamont or Pete Townshend smashing up his guitar with The Who at Monterey! Yes, we were into the Sex Pistols and The Clash, but writers were asking us about The Buzzcocks! I never listened to The Buzzcocks! I've always seen us as a Rock band."
"We've just released our cover of Guns N'Roses' "It's So Easy" as a B-side," states the bass player, "and Slash's friend Tracy Lords sings backing vocals on "Little Baby Nothing". We had a list of female singers that we wanted to use on the record and she was the one that we finally chose."
Nicky: "Tracy used to be a Porn star and she's always going to be hindered by that. She told us that no matter what she does she'll always be remembered for that... Even if she became a nun!"
An interesting thought! Yet the Preachers' lyrics shy away from Trad Rock subject matter opting instead for the poetic, ("Motorcycle Emptiness") and the controversial ("Nat West-Barclays-Midlands-Lloyds").
"Most of the songs' lyrics start off as poems," explains Richey, ""Nat West..." was inspired by the disgraceful attitude of banks. When we first moved to London I was getting sent letters for being overdrawn. Of course when the cheques starting coming in from Columbia we were getting letters grovelling to us and asking us to see their financial advisors".
Having already played a publicity trump card by carving the words 4-Real into his arm in response to jibes from a certain music paper, Richey is adamant that despite no further self-mutilation plans the Manic Street Preachers are still a tremendous live act. I ask to see the scars and he obliges, (concerned readers will be pleased to know that they're healing very nicely!) But how can you follow that?
"It was a spontaneous thing, a one-off," counters Richey, "but we have so much energy on stage that I'm sure we can live up to any reputation. When the press first came to see us we'd only played three gigs, when we were signed we'd only played 30. We never paid our dues in the clubs like other bands.
"When we supported The Throbs last year at The Marquee we were terrible. Still, we had people coming up to us and saying that we were the worst band they'd seen since Hanoi Rocks, and how could we go on stage that pissed! But we've changed since then. James is a good guitarist and he plays all the parts I can't. I admit I'm the weak link!
"People knock Metal fans for being narrow-minded, but they should take a look at the average Indie crowd. We've played with plenty of indie bands and their audiences are far worse. They will not listen to anything and their clothes are terrible", he adds, giggling.
Nicky: "Before, we couldn't think past the first album. We said we were going to do one record and split, but the scarey thing is we now have songs written that are better than anything on "Generation Terrorists". We have got high hopes, we do want to play Wembley Arena. Why bother if you just want to put out an album, do a few gigs, sell a few T-shirts, why set your sights that low?"
Richey: "Actually, we'd love to make the cover of Rolling Stone".
Nicky leans across the table, grinning: "Yeah, with the headline 'Rock'n'Roll Is Alive And Sick!"
Who cares if the Manic Street Preachers want to be the Rolling Stones, The Clash or any other classic band? "Generation Terrorists" is as entertaining and vibrant a Rock album as you're likely to hear all year. Their 15 minutes of fame isn't over just yet.