The James Dean Bradfield Interview - JAM!, August 1999
TORONTO -- In town to promote the band's latest album, 'This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours', Manic Street Preacher James Dean Bradfield sat down for an interview with JAM!.
In between copious amounts of Starbucks coffee and cigarettes Bradfield opened up about differences between Europe and America audiences, playing industry gigs and festivals, Welsh imagery and why the Manics wouldn't play the opening of the Welsh Assembly.
Here is the full interview as conducted in the former offices of the band's new North American label, Virgin Records.
JAM!: The new album 'This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours' is coming out in North America June 8. This is almost a year after the album was released in the UK (September 1998). Are you finding the new North American fans are giving a renewed life to album for you?
James Bradfield: It's kind of strange because we were playing places like Europe and Britain and Japan, whatever. You're playing new material, right, but also you're playing a lot of those old ones that people want to hear, too.
So it's kind of couched in that kind of security where you can say, 'Hey we're going to play a new for you tonight' and all that kind of stuff. At least you know you'll be playing some old stuff as well which people want to hear.
You can't play the real old ones here because the audience hasn't got a clue what they are. This is going to be a whole new experience for us. It's going to be quite nerve wracking to be quite honest. You can never know quite what will happen until you get in front of an audience.
JAM!: Are you going to play some 'crowd testing' shows, some smaller club shows to see how the audience reacts to the material?
JB: All the shows are going to be smaller club shows (laugh). That's going to be the deal, just small clubs and we'll see what goes with the wash.
JAM!: Club shows are more intimate - the fans and band are really close together. With the smaller shows, too, it's more the die hard fans that show up...
JAM!: ... and there's a real strong vibe which you can't get in a large venue.
JB: Yeah. It's just all completely different. When we play Europe, it's like 4,000 people and that kind of thing. When we play Britain it's like 10,000 and you get used to that kind of ... you get accustomed to having that feeling of megalomania. All those people are there to see you, all those fans. You get kind of accustomed to actually feeling 'all powerful'. It's quite despotic. Whereas, let's say, if you supported someone over here, in a 10,000 seater, it would be a scary experience.
It's almost like we're 20 years old again and starting out all over again. It's nice, it's really cool, but it also reminds me of how confrontational we used to feel towards an audience. I used to feel confrontational when I was young because it like a defence mechanism.
It was like, 'f*ck it, let's go do it anyway. F*ck you' kind of thing, you know. All those feelings might comeback - I haven't had them since then.
JAM!: Juxtaposing the small venues in North America, you're headlining some festivals this summer including THE festival, Glastonbury. Talk about a crowd - 100,000 people. I know they're not all there to see you, but all those eyes and ears can still hear and see the band and your material. It has to be mindblowing.
JB: Oh yeah, it is. Definitely. We're doing about 15 festivals this year. It could send you into a megalomaniac tailspin if you actually started thinking about it too much because so many of those people there will actually see you. I think you've gotta try to keep a lid on those sort of 'dark side' feelings. It is really an imperative thing to us.
JAM!: Do you feel that the North American tour will be a sort of 'Coming Back Down To Earth Tour' then?
JB: Oh yeah. Yeah.
JAM!: Getting you bearing once again?
JB: It'll be the flipside of a schizophrenic experience. Obviously, we'll be going from playing to 50,000 people at a big festival to playing in front of perhaps 30 people in a 500 venue (laugh). I don't know. It could be the onset of a new mental illness.
JAM!: I saw your recent industry acoustic performance at a bar in town. The crowd seemed to be into the music - for an album that hasn't been released yet. How were your feelings about the show?
JB: I find it's a strange thing, you know. I haven't done many of those kinds of shows like I did last night. I've only ever done that for Virgin here and in America. Last night was the third one I've done. Third and last one (laugh).
It was really cool and all that, but you are aware that you're playing in front of an industry more than anything else. It is strange. It's really hard to judge.
You've got to try and keep your cynicism out of the way you judge the situation. Like, last night was it really cool, I loved it, but you are aware it's not people there that buy the records, it's people who sell the records. It's a very different thing and I haven't done much of that in my life. That was as cool as it gets, last night and it was good, yeah. It's just very hard to know what to feel about it.
JAM!: Was it weird a) playing acoustically and b) playing solo without the rest of the band - bass player Nicky Wire and drummer Sean Moore?
JB: I've done quite a lot of that kind of stuff for charity. In Britain, we'll get some kind of charity request and Nick and Sean just go, 'You go and do it'. It's because they're married and I'm not. They have a more domestic life to cater to, so it's kind of like 'F*ck off, you do it, James'.
JAM!: As a side note, an article in the Sept. 98 issue of 'The Face' talked about Nicky's fascination with Dyson hoovers. He has three, Sean has one and you have none. Could that be put down to your being 'domestic situation' (ie. being single)?
JB: Yeah. I don't share Nick's love for Dysons. I think they're rubbish. It's quite a bone of contention amongst us (laugh).
JAM!: When can we expect to see you play in North America?
JB: We're are doing festivals in June and July and then the second half of July we're doing the American tour. The last bit, going into August - about three weeks, I think. We're doing Toronto and Vancouver ... it'll be around 12 or 13 dates, I think.
JAM!: The setlist for American tour will comprise the new album, I'm assuming ...
JB: A lot of it, yeah.
JAM!: ... some of the last album?
JB: Yeah, there'll be some from the last album.
JAM!: Anything before that?
JB: Yeah. There's old songs like 'Motorcycle Emptiness' (from 'Generation Terrorists' ) which we'll play. The Clash used to have this thing where they said they'd always play 'White Riot' no matter where they played.
We've got a song called 'Motown Junk' which was our first independent single and we always play that. It's been sort of like a lucky charm for us. A few of our songs were released on an indie label at the start. We play it for a laugh because it's still rooted in punk.
'Motorcycle', stuff off the last album and the new one. It will be rooted heavily in the last two albums.
JAM!: You have a penchant for cover material - the b-sides for 'Australia' were all cover songs ('Velocity Girl', 'Take The Skinheads Bowling' and 'Can't Take My Eyes Off You'), you recorded 'Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head' for 'Help!' (the Warchild album) and you recently released your live version of The Clash's 'Train In Vain' as a b-side on 'You Stole The Sun From My Heart'. Will you be adding anyone else's stuff into the tour's setlist?
JB: Um. I don't know. We might chuck in the odd Clash song, something like that. We love playing their songs basically. It's quite easy covering Clash songs, actually. If you ever saw them live, they're rather ramshackle, so it's easy to try and better their live version.
JAM!: Their songs seem to be rather easy to play, yet powerful at the same time.
JB: Yeah. They were kings for us so we'll probably chuck a Clash song in there.
JAM!: Would you play one of their more popular tunes, or something a little more obscure like 'Lost In The Supermarket'?
JB: 'Lost In The Supermarket' is probably my favourite Clash song, but no, probably stuff like 'What's My Name?' Stuff that'll make a horrible nashing noise.
JAM!: Any plans to release your live cover version of 'Last Christmas' by Wham!?
JB: I just do that acoustically. We do it when we tour over Christmas in Britain. Everybody is absolutely just out of their minds (laugh). It's quite a simple thing, but the girls in the audience just love it, so that's why we do it. They segue from the office party to the gig and they've got their arm around their boyfriend - 'oh, I love you'.
JAM!: The cover of the new album is rather bleak - the three of you standing on what looks like a desert road...
JB: It's a beach actually.
JAM!: Really? It looks bleak.
JB: It is bleak.
JAM!: Anyway, the image juxtaposes the lush, full arrangements of the music on the album. Was that deliberate - the juxtaposition of imagery?
JB: Kind of. I mean, we went with something that was quite stark but there was no judgement. I wanted that to contrast a lot with the music - there's quite a lot of judgement in the lyrics.
It's the first Nick has sat down and gone 'well, I'm not really pleading for any kind of understanding or corollation of what I'm saying. It's the first time I don't really care. This is completely and utterly what I think. I'm not looking for any kind of acceptance.'
So there's a lot of judgement in the music and we wanted the cover to contrast that. We wanted it to be quite non-judgemental. We wanted it to just be the three of us. It's quite bleak in that sense, yeah. It's not trying to assimilate into anything else, it's just complete and utterly just that. Also, we wanted it to be just the three of us, for once. Because, obviously it is.
JAM!: This is your first album which has absolutely no Richey on it.
JB: Yeah. With the last album, that's when the process started, it being just the three of us. There were three, three and a half songs on the last album which had some lyrics of Richey's. The process just really started on the last album. This time it's the first time, obviously, that's it's completely and utterly just us. We wanted that to be just glaringly obvious and the cover does that.
JAM!: What's the meaning behind the album title - 'This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours'?
JB: There's a couple of themes in some of the lyrics. They talked about where we came from - Wales - and what it is to be Welsh, et cetera, et cetera. We just had this vague notion that we wanted the cover to shot in Wales somewhere; we wanted it to just be us and a place in Wales.
Some of the songs do seem to be returning to the origins of al our values and our politics and our personal experiences. Obviously that stems from where you come from. We wanted it to be just us and the place we come from.
JAM!: So you're saying 'this album is our truth and our background, tell us yours' sort of thing?
JB: Yeah. If the album was just called 'This Is My Truth', it would be slightly less valued I think. The fact that the album is called 'This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours' makes it more of an open invitation than just an arrogant statement.
JAM!: The single 'If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next' is about the Spanish Civil War and - to a certain degree - genocide. Do you think this track works on a different level with what is happening in Kosovo?
JB: Kind of yeah. Kind of. It is a song that leads to people saying things like that.
I did an interview with a Belgian journalist and he said 'I'm so glad you've written a song about the situation in my country.' I was like, what? Then it just clicked - I realized that this massive pedophile ring had been smashed in Belgium a week before. I was like, 'Oh, right. Gotcha.'
It's that cliche of that song being transferrable to a lot of different situations. I wouldn't want to say if it's applicable to Kosovo or whatever. The song obviously had it's origins in something very definite.
It's a song that started off as a self critique in terms of where we're about with politics, you know. Nick was just saying that at the end of the day we're just part of a generation that has no idea what it means to make a physical sacrifice towards or against an ideal.
The song was asking whether we as a band could ever transcend that value to actually defend that value or against that value. The answer is probably no, because we're part of a generation that has no idea how to do that really. We've never had to do it. The song started out as that really - questioning our value to ourselves.
The fact that the songs does achieve some sort of universal cross kind of alternate meaning is cool. I would never say though.. when people ask whether it relates to a certain situation, I always just leave or move on.
JAM!: With 'No Boundaries', the Kosovo album, instead of offering a version of 'If You Tolerate This', you've given the US Remix of 'She Is Suffering'.
JB: Not anymore. It's been taken off. Our record company - Sony - in America, they offered it [to the album co-ordinator] and they phoned us up and said 'Do you mind if we give this?'. We said, 'yeah, it's fine.'
Then a week later they called and said, 'oh sorry, we've got to make way for somebody else.' That's the reason why we left them.. Nahh.. that's the KIND of reason why we left them. They're not our best friends in the world... unfortunately.
JAM!: Each single from the last two albums has had a quote from a famous figure in history - Sir Anthony Hopkins, Picasso, Francis Bacon, [Nicky's brother] Patrick Jones - who chooses these quotes?
JB: Usually Nick. Every now and then I come up with one, but it's usually Nick. With the lyrics, our Nick usually has a kind of sister quote to go with the lyric. To be honest, he does it from very humble point of view. He never assumes that his lyrics give the complete answer to his question and sometimes he finds that a quote from somebody else usually completes the song. I think it's quite admirable of him to admit that.
JAM!: At your official website, the track by track commentary by Nicky has a 'sister quote' for each song on the album accompanying his comments. It does expand on your perception of the song and it's meaning.
JB: Yeah, it does. A lot of lyricists would say just 'the song is this, this and that' full stop - 'that's my vision'. Nick is a bit more humble about it - which is cool - and realizes a lot of his inspiration comes from a lot of different authors in a round about way. I think a lot more lyricists would admit that if they were honest about it.
JAM!: With the U.S. market not being as single driven as the UK - 2 CDs and a cassette every three months - a whole continent won't be able to hear remixes or b-sides. Does that faze you at all, with all the work you've put into the material?
JB: Not really. We're not bothered in terms of 'oh, we've put too much work into all those b-sides and remixes and now they're not being heard'. It doesn't bother me so much. There is a good flipside to all those remixes and b-sides. It actually lets you see something else in the band that you wouldn't normally see. Sometimes you can distill what the band is purely about from the b-sides sometimes... only sometimes.
JAM!: There was a quote in 'Select Magazine' from Nicky saying you'd wished that 'Prologue To History' - one of the b-sides to 'If You Tolerate This' - could have been included on the album but 13 tracks seemed to be a lucky number for you, so it was omitted. Is that sentiment still relevant?
JB: Yeah, I wish 'Prologue' had been on it. I think it's one of Nick's best lyrics. I'm just really pissed off it wasn't on the album, we all are. I'm very f*cked off about. F*ckin' hell! Thanks for reminding me (laugh).
JAM!: Is there a chance it will surface on the North American issue of 'This Is My Truth'?
JB: I don't think so, no. Unfortunately.
JAM!: Did the recent CIN ruling in the UK that a single could only contain 3 tracks and no more than 20 minutes of music per item affect you adversely?
JB: No, it didn't. We're aware of all of those rules. We've been releasing records since 1991 and this is like the fifth change.
I've got to admit, when we first started releasing records, we were aware of all the formats being a marketing thing.
Since that, it's become really good. It's another part. It's one of the best parts of being in the band - recording tracks for which there's not so much pressure of it being part of an album or part of the big picture.
Sometimes, doing those b-sides and getting the remixes done is a lot more fun than doing an album. There's a lot less pressure. I really enjoy doing that aspect now - the b-sides and stuff.
Like you said, it's strange that the Canadian and American market will miss out. But the ruling didn't really affect us, no.
JAM!: You traded remixes last August with Massive Attack. They remixed 'If You Tolerate This' and you remixed 'Inertia Creeps'. How did you find being on the other end of the remix desk?
JB: It was the first time I'd ever done it. We asked them to do a mix for us. To be honest, I didn't think they would. They came back and said, 'we'll do one for if you do one for us'. I was really surprised.
It was the first time I had to get someone else's motor track. It was me and our producer Dave and we just did it in one day. We just sat down and hearing the way they work - just putting faders up and stuff - was like such a shock. It's so far away from the way we work.
I didn't feel nervous at all. It was really cool and there was no pressure. I knew if they didn't like it then they wouldn't release it. I just loved it.
It was kind of fear and control. It makes you aware of perhaps how egotistical remixers can get. You're completely and utterly in control of someone else's work. They put all the hard work into it and suddenly you're going to completely turn their world upside down.
I can imagine how remixers could do a bit of egotripping because I only did it for a day and I really enjoyed it. I was like, 'No no, don't like this bit, I'm going to do something to that. Don't like that, get rid of that.' It was cool, I really enjoyed it.
JAM!: You recently worked with Kylie Minogue on her last album 'Impossible Princess', co-writing two songs 'Some Kind Of Bliss' and 'I Don't Need Anyone'. How did that come about and was it a good experience working with someone so obviously 'pop' in sound?
JB: It was a great experience for me. I don't think it was that good for her, because it wasn't that successful (laugh). I loved it. I actually love her voice, I really do. There's this old Motown singer called... I can't remember. She had a song called 'I Can't Give Back The Love I Feel For You'. I've forgotten her name now [Rita Wright]. Anyway, her voice is the exact same type as Kylie's.
It was through a friend that worked at her record company. He just suggested it and we thought she'd say f*ck off, but she didn't. I loved it. It's so funny working with somebody else's voice. She's actually much more of a natural singer than most people would give her credit for.
JAM!: Is Patrick Jones' (Nicky's brother) play 'Everything Must Go' closely tied to the band and the songs, or is the title only coincidental?
JB: He kinda gave birth to the title. I mean, we kind of stole it off him before his play was actually performed, which fucked him off a bit. Patrick was very much a patriarchal figure for us. He lived in America and he lived in Canada for a while when he was young. Not just America, sorry. He spent some time...
JAM!: North America.
JB: ... abroad as well. F*ck off (laugh).
He came back when were 15 or 16 and he was really this dynamite figure to us. He had all these books and authors and poems and stuff that he'd brought back with him from America. We'd all pretty much grown up with each other and it was just really good.
He got his justice in the end - we stole the title off him, and he was the inspiration for us for so many things when we were young. We stole the title off him, and now his play is REALLY successful.
He just finished one run and now he's going national as well. It was very much a two way road that was very much one direction for a long time. It's good to actually see him get his own success.
JAM!: So the play doesn't have anything deeper to do with the band. He's not using any of the songs or anything?
JB: Oh yeah, he uses a lot of songs. It opens with 'Faster' off 'Holy Bible'. There's a lot of music in there. There's a lot of music from other people as well. It's very tasteful the way it's done. When 'Faster' comes in - I hadn't heard it for a long time off the record and I was like, 'f*cking hell, that sounds better than I remember it.' So, it was really cool. It really was.
JAM!: Last question. You were in the British papers recently regarding your decision not to play the opening of the Welsh Assembly.
JB: It's not a big decision, though, is it? It's a decision anyone with half a brain would make, I think.
That story was just breaking as I got on the plane to come over. I was like, 'f*ck me, it must be a slow week for news.' Anyone would realize that, you know, we've been anti-monarchists since the start, YOU know that. [Ed. Note: 'We Her Majesty's Prisoners' appears on the 'Motown Junk' single] Most musicians are, I think.
It's like, 'would you mind playing while Prince Charles sits over there tapping his foot?' Anyone with half a brain would just go 'No'. The monarchy just mean nothing to me. They're a black hole, they're a zero.