The new album of the Manics "Lifeblood" appeared on November 1, 2004. An extensive interview with Nicky Wire and James Dean Bradfield on September 27, 2004 in Berlin by Stephan Oettel on this subject, politics, women and many other topics.
How did the album title "Lifeblood" come about?
Nicky: The idea came when I was in New York last November. The name symbolizes our joy over the reunited unity as a band. He stands for what the band means to us. It is our vital nerve. A suitable term, which ultimately became an album title.
What is meant by "reunited unity of the band"?
Nicky: I do not know either. Suddenly we felt good again. We felt that this collection of songs reflected our present condition: how we think, where we stand, our age and what we have experienced. Everything went very smoothly. After the "Greatest Hits" album, we had the opportunity to start something new. This is meant.
Have you felt burnt out?
Nicky: A little bit already. Above all, we felt that there are now a lot of young bands playing loud guitar music and looking good. We did not want to compete against them any more. This album is of the quieter kind. Normally one expects from the Manics profound statements. This is one of the albums that you gradually fall in love with. That was our goal. Of course, we still love the big statements. But this time we were more concerned about melodies and the beauty of the songs.
What role did the expectation pressure on your last two successful albums?
Nicky: Yes, there was pressure. I would lie, I would say there was no pressure. We have put ourselves under pressure and other factors have been added. We had to get rid of this and set ourselves free for a new beginning, the record company and the fans forgot to make an album that could please everyone, regardless of the age. It's our most poppy record we've ever made. I do not mean pop in the cheap sense, but as an experimental approach.
How long have you worked on "Lifeblood"?
Nicky: The first song was created 18 months ago. This was "Fragments". Then came "Solitude Sometimes Is". All in all, we worked on the album for about eighteen months. After the "Greatest Hits" album, we took a time out to clarify everything.
Nevertheless, there are songs that you can interpret as political, such as the first single "The Love Of Richard Nixon". What was the idea behind this song?
Nicky: The song is a metaphor on how fame and glamour are stained. You are usually remembered for certain things. Nixon will always be in remembrance of Watergate, not because of his good deeds, like the fact that he was the first American president to take relations with China, curbed the temptation, his fight as the first president against cancer. He will always be remembered for Watergate. This is true for every human being. Perhaps we will be remembered as a band just because of Richie's disappearance, and not so much because of our songs. This song is a kind of love song or a complaint about how the manics were misunderstood. I would not call it political. It is not directed against Nixon or against America. It's about how it is when you remember the wrong things.
"Death without assassination" - does this text from "The Love of Richard Nixon" refer to the fact that he was the first American president to resign?
Nicky: Yes, and on the thought that if he had been murdered, he would probably have remembered quite differently. Kennedy, for example, was a rather bad president. He was the first to send troops to Vietnam, bless the action in the pig bay, and have a lot of affairs. But he's remembered, is not he? This is the contradiction to which the song points.
Why did not you make a song about the current American President George W. Bush?
Nicky: No, we did not need that. This may sound weird because we were always very political. But I believe that we have said everything important on "Know Your Enemy". The song "Freedom Of Speech Will Not Feed My Child" actually says everything about American foreign policy. When we wrote it, it was not up-to-date. We had to listen to a lot. Now, after the Iraq war, everyone wants to write an anti-Bush song. We have already done so, I think. Our entire criticism of American foreign policy is contained in this record ["Know Your Enemy", 2001].
Is the song "Emily", your homage to the British women's rightswoman Emily Pankhurst, but not a political song?
Nicky: Yeah, if there's a really political song on the album, then this one. The idea behind this is not to forget how the right to vote for women was won by the Suffragettes, which are now fun. This is only 80 to 90 years ago. We are fascinated by such people. We wanted to write a really nice song. A kind of tribute to someone who is not forgotten. Today, someone like Princess Diana is more a feminist than Emily Pankhurst. What is very, very sad. Just because she shook a few hands.
"Replaced By Charity" - what exactly is meant by this text from "Emily"?
Nicky: Right now everything has been reduced. Charity has taken the place of genuine, political ideas, such as the patroness of UNICEF. This is certainly an important task, not that I am misunderstood. But it is something other than real ideas. The idea behind this song was to show how today people are placed on a pedestal that does not really deserve it.
At "Glasnost" one suspects a political song. Is he?
Nicky: For us this is a pure metaphor. Glasnost was the economic opening-up of Russia. With us, it means that we have opened as a band. There is a line that says, "If we can still fall in love, come with us - make your own glasnost". On this album there is more love than hate. Usually our albums are full of hatred. At the moment, however, that is different, we have changed. What does not mean we are unhappy. We are now all on the same level and think the same. That's what is going on in "Glasnost": if we can change, others can hopefully as well. Because some of our fans like this album. Those who like "The Holy Bible" may not quite understand this record. It is completely different. I'm trying to explain.
Are the Manic Street Preachers still the angry young men we knew?
Nicky: Something is still there. But at the same time, we will no longer be the angry young men. That just does not fit anymore. My head is still angry, but we are trying to steer that into other tracks. This album is characterized by more clarity and straightness, musical and textual. This opens up new possibilities for singing. He has so much to say. I just wanted to give him the opportunity to sing.
James, what exactly does Nick mean?
James: I think Nick had some political things to say, but he did not find the right words this time. This can not be enforced. This is why he wrote more about human subjects. Topics that are not so condemning. This is also a question of age. Being young does not just mean having healthier bones and more hair. You feel above all invulnerable. This is not the case today. When you're young, you never feel mistaken, you think your opinion is right. You feel unassailable. This is like a bullet-proof vest, in a transcendent sense. When I look back on some of our early texts, I find them not wrong, but often a little overdated. But once you realize that you are not invulnerable, then you are also more human in the way you talk about things. But frankly, this is true for every band that has made more than seven albums. There are no contradictions within what you said at that time. This is what every band does. You realize that you have not always said the truth, but made mistakes. That is why this album, I think, shows something more openness and humanity. And less arrogance.
Are the Manic Street Preachers still the "angry preachers," James?
James: I think we're still alive. And I am definitely still, especially in the studio. Because I could kill the engineers and producers with whom we work sometimes. It still twitches inside me. Maybe we are now he the Lurking Street Preachers.
Your writers and poets, such as Carolann Duffy, Elizabeth Jennings and Louis McNiece, call inspiration for your texts. What can you say?
James: Their [Carolann Duffy's] poems, especially the collection "The Feminine Gospels" are brilliant. It is almost the history of feminist icons. Must have read. Inspired us very much. Likewise, Emily Pankhurst. It is as if they were talking about a female, sensitive side that had been lost. I often read Elisabeth Jennings. It is this idea that people who really love do not lose many words about it, while those who talk a lot about it are more often separated. The fact that we have understood each other for so long must mean something. Elisabeth Jennings has influenced us. Likewise the poet Louis McNiece with his idea of solitude. To be alone as something positive - this is a central theme of the album. Just as in his youth, the days spent listening to music, walking with the dog - that shapes their own life setting. If you are alone today, you are almost an outsider, a spinner. Being alone is good, I think. I had some of the most beautiful moments of my life when I was alone. I think you should not be afraid to be alone.
Which Welsh writers have shaped you?
James: RS Thomas was one of our great heroes. In Wales there has always been tensions between those who speak Welsh and those who do not. It is about the identity of the Welsh, whether the Welsh or the Welsh, who do not speak Welsh, are the true Welsh. RS Thomas has always tried to bridge this ditch. For him there was nothing worse than a divided nation fighting against each other. He brilliant poet, who wrote in his second language, an enormous concession with the aim of reaching everyone: he wrote in English.
Were there also Welsh musicians who inspired you?
James: No, frankly. With the exception of Tom Jones, who is very respected, even if he has something comic. Welsh musicians have always respected him, because Elvis was one of his admirers. Elvis went to the Council for voice and recording. We were more inspired by Welsh literature. Books by RS Thomas, Dylan Thomas, such people. And people like Richard Burton. He was not perfect, I like that, he was self-destructive. He gave his reputation as the best actor after Laurence Olivier for money, just to buy Elizabeth Taylor the world's largest diamond. He has something self-destructive and melancholic. In our approach, we are bitter, confused people, that's what I like about us. I think we have a lot in common with the Scandinavians. This dark, melancholic side. Nick might call other writers than I do, but overall they have shaped us more than musicians.
Your top 5 albums of all time?
James: Definitely "Scary Monsters". "Real Life" by Magazine. "1-2-4" of "Wire". Would like to take The Clash, but I can not listen to their albums anymore. I like "Rattlersnakes" by Lloyd Cole & The Commotions. And "15 Seconds" by The Cure, which was a revolutionary album.
Not a Welsh band? How so?
James: No, there are not many Welsh bands. The only outstanding thing is "Fuzzy Logic", the first album of Super Furry Animals. And Badfinger, which I had forgotten. But otherwise there are not many Welsh bands, except for Budgy, a metal band, Man ...
Little is known about your private life. What makes the special relationship between you three?
Nicky: Yes, and I very strictly separate my private life with wife and child from the band. I have been married for eleven years. But I'm not talking about it. It's great, blabla, my daughter is wonderful. Still, I do not have to write songs about it. I feel safe in my own thoughts. I think we are all three so that we leave these things outside and concentrate on the band. Especially in the last two years we have found a common denominator for our songs. And we did not have to worry about big shows in Cuba or press conferences, but have tried to do something different. The special thing about the relationship between us is that we know each other since the age of five. We went to school together. We were first friends, then musicians. That helped us a lot.
What exactly links you?
James: I do not know if you still have friends from your childhood. We come from a perhaps not remote but rural area with lots of industry. They live in small but self-contained communities. What made us friends was the fact that we were different from the rest. We encapsulated ourselves. This is welded together forever if one is on the same wavelength, but it is completely contrary to the rest. Especially if you also found a band. Then comes this feeling of gait. Without blowing up too much, it was special that we met. We have so much in common. We were all unhappy with the place where we lived. And each of us tried in a similar way to get away from there. With bands like The Clash and the books of Jack Kerouac and Jean Paul Sartre, one reads when you are young. Of course also many films, such as "Rumble Fish" by Coppola. It was one of those moments when four guys, who needed each other, came together. It is about aesthetic things, such as books, movies, music or the common coffee. We have fertilized each other, and therefore the same taste, which always had something to do with feeling different from the rest, as the greatest madmen. When you become successful as a band, it strengthens the feeling of being created for each other. Even if things go wrong, one is still connected to each other. Like a kind of marriage. This is not unusual in itself. It is noticeable, however, that you are still together twenty years later. Most of the time, one moves away from one another over the years by founding families and shifting the focus in life. That would not happen to us, even if the band was dissolved. Nick and I talk to each other several times a day, sometimes only about things we have seen on TV or in the newspaper. Mostly, however, about sports. This is anything but glamorous. We have always been sports fans, that linked us from the beginning. If the band were out of the game tomorrow, I would talk to Nick about the Welsh rugby team, about football or boxing, cricket, or the like. And Sean is my cousin, we've been together since the age of eleven. Even if we were not together as a band, we would be together. I always wonder why people go to class meetings. Because I have never lost contact with my old friends. So why go back in the past to meet people who have never tried to make contact with you all these years? Admittedly, this is arrogant, because I am in the fortunate situation of still being with my friends of that time. And have a job that I like.
You were first celebrated because of your political texts. Later they were accused of being a commercial calculation. What do you think?
Nicky: Take "If You Tolerate That" as an example. The song is about the Spanish Civil War. Not really a commercial issue that could help you economically. I find this not fair. Manic Street Preachers, "This Is My Truth, Tell Me Your's," "If You Tolerate This, Then Your Children Will Be Next", these are not typical pop singles. When "Tolerate" became number 1, this was by far one of the best moments for the band. The feeling of having achieved something. I was really proud. Because the Spanish Civil War was, I mean, actually, this song is almost a pro-war song. Not many bands write pro-war songs. I am open to any allegations concerning such sale. When you're twelve years old, you're almost bound to do strange things. If we had done that, it would have been an album about Richie, how he disappeared, and we went out of his heart for his sake. But we are not like that.
Are you talking about Richie in interviews?
Nicky: As I said, this is ten years back. In three months it is ten years. On the album there is the song "Cardiff Afterlife", where it is a little bit about. For example, in the line: "I am silent / The memory of you in me". We do not want the media to influence our memories of him. They should remain unadulterated. Because most of them are good, a maximum of ten percent are crazy. Of course, there was a dark side. But also one in which we played ten years together football and rugby. We are concerned about this balance.
Nicky: A large UK tour is coming up and in February and March we hopefully go on a European tour. This album will grow, I think. This time it is not a matter of weighty statements. I think you will fall in love with it. So I hope that we will be everywhere.