The Manic Street Preachers grew out of Blackwood, Gwent, South Wales, which boasts a population of twenty thousand. Their lengthy history has already been covered in depth a thousand times over, so I had a real task as I spoke with Manic's bass player, Nicky Wire, aka Nicholas Jones. It was daunting, trying to come up with something original to ask.
Nick, what are you up to?
I'm just at home cooking dinner and washing up.
Is it weird to still be talking about the record?
Yeah, of course it is. It's been out for over a year. It was more refreshing going to America for three weeks because we got to play to new people and it was easier to deal with over there. It made it a bit fresh.
I'm sure no one in America even knew it had been out for so long.
It isn't surprising. I mean, that is the way we planned it. We've been trying to get off of Sony for a long time, so, when we realized that we would be on Virgin, halfway through the campaign we decided to come to America when it was a bit delayed.
How was the trip to America?
It was the best trip we've had to America in the last ten years. We don't pretend to be breaking America yet, but it was five hundred to a thousand real fans every night. I loathe to admit it, but we really enjoyed it.
I was wondering if people ever come to shows and think you are a different type of band, because when I mention your band's name to people they think you are a rap band.
Some people think we are a religious band as well, which is even worse. The funny thing with America is that pretty much everywhere else we are pretty well known and everyone calls us The Manics. But in America people tend to call us The Preachers, which must be some pseudo-religious thing going on. (laughs) It is not big deal. It is up to us to change what people know.
I am a big fan of British music. I was wondering if you had an idea why it is that America seems to be so in the dark when it comes to the British music scene?
I think that in the last five years it has been the same in most countries. I think in Italy it is the same as it is in Britain. If you go to Italy, Italian music is big. I think domestic markets are getting bigger and bigger. Apart from your gigantic artists, like the Celine Dions and Whitney Houstons, there are no real bands that crossover very well. Take a band like Limp Bizkit. They could come over to England and play a venue and get barely one thousand people. I think people are just more interested in their country's own music really. There are a lot of American bands that do nothing in Britain and a lot of British bands that do nothing in America.
When I first listened to This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours, I just loved the melodies and didn't really know there were stories behind the songs until I read about it on fan sites and in magazines. I was wondering how important is it to you that people get the story behind the song?
I only write about things that interest me. I don't go out of my way to be intellectual or anything like that. If a listener gets something out of it, then that is the best feeling of all. If they just get enjoyment out of it, then that isn't a bad thing either. I can't expect everybody to research the stories behind my inspirations. I mean, most people do in the UK and Europe because there is so much internet stuff on it, so most know what the songs are about. I don't demand that from everybody.
The thing I liked best about the album is that I enjoyed it without knowing what I was really enjoying. Then, when I found out about all the underlying stories, it added even more to it.
The great thing about America was that a lot of fans were giving us books. "If You Tolerate This…" is about the Spanish Civil War and I never realized that there is actually an American brigade in the international brigade. So this lovely girl, from Chicago, I think, gave me a book about all the Americans that went to fight in the Spanish Civil War. It was really nice.
I'm lucky in that I get a lot of releases from overseas bands before they come to America. I'm sort of like getting all my news from British mags, like NME. So, unless I can get my hands on something, I have to go with what others are saying.
America has been frustrating for us. We had such a bad relationship with Sony that they never even released our third album anyway. I think Virgin has been an improvement, but we know it is going to be a long slog before we get anywhere.
I also read that the BBC did a documentary on you guys. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to see it, but…
Yeah, they did. It was a fifty-minute special. It was very harrowing, doing it. Film crews follow you around and made me think, "Actors really do this and make money?" It was based a lot around Richey (Edwards, who mysteriously disappeared without a trace in January of 1995), so it was quite hard to do for us, but looking back on it, I think it was really good.
How long did they stay with you?
Ah. It must have been to two, three months.
On and off, not every day, but it was very draining, I must admit, especially because a lot of the stuff never gets used. There is probably five, seven hours of footage on the cutting room floor, as they say.
You were only here for a few weeks, but I was wondering if you got a chance to listen to the radio and watch MTV to see the state of music in America?
I just couldn't believe how bad MTV was. Apart from the Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Scar Tissue", there is nothing on there but pop. It was just frightening.
I think everyone is really getting sick of seeing the same Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears videos over and over again.
Oh, Jesus Christ. I mean, in the UK we have our own form of MTV separate from Europe, but you still get your Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, but you can still get Travis, Stereophonics, and Blur just as much. So I do watch MTV here, but over there I couldn't believe how scary it was.
I've never seen a Stereophonics video in America. I saw them on NetAid the other day.
I don't think that was the best way to see Stereophonics. NetAid is pretty bad all the way around, I think, really. There are better ways to see them than on there.
I'd like to see them live. Speaking of that, I was wondering what you do on the road to stay sane.
I just look after myself. I hardly drink and I try to get as much rest as I can. I do a bit of shopping. I put a lot out there on stage, so I try to look after myself. I just read a book or watch a film on the bus. Or maybe I'll just go for a walk. I really don't do anything extraordinary at all. (laughs)
I don't know how it is for you in Britain, but can you go out shopping without getting bothered?
I still live in Wales and I live in the capital and I get asked for autographs and it is all very nice. Because we have been going for so long, it isn't like a pop phenomenon, so we don't get like mobbed in the streets. It is a bit more reserved than that.
Is it weird to come to America and people think you are a new band?
There are some people that think this is our first record, but it is just rejuvenating. Everywhere else in the world, we play to five to ten thousand people, but America is the last place to, not conquer, but do well. So it was just a nice challenge for the first time.
Are you working on any new stuff?
We are, but we just don't have time to do anything. We are doing a single that is just going to be released in the UK in January ("Masses Against The Classes"), so we are just trying to finish that off. As far as a new album, we have lots of songs written, but we haven't recorded anything.
How do you guys write your tracks?
It's been the same thing since I was fifteen,really. I write the lyrics and send them up to Jim's and he gets the basic tune on them on the acoustic guitar. Nothing has ever changed in fifteen years, you know? If it's not broke, don't fix it, or whatever they say. (laughs)
Who would we catch you listening to right now?
Me? Hm. Well, I'm listening to a lot of Captain Beefheart at the moment, for lyrical inspiration. I am also listening to the new Travis album and Creedence Clearwater Revival's greatest hits album. Liam Gallagher has a jam tribute song out at the moment called "Carnations".
Oasis has an album coming out soon, I guess.
Yeah, in February, I think.
Yeah. Oasis was the first band that sort of broke the British music scene for me. They used to talk about bands and really got me interested in British music.
Oasis broke a lot of barriers around the world, really. I don't know at the moment if radio would play them, but with "Wonderwall" they broke a lot of things down. I don't know if they could do that now because music seems to have gone back to pop and all that now.
Do you have plans for New Year's?
Well, we are doing this big gig in Wales on the millennium, which is fifty-four thousand people. And the tickets went on sale last Friday and we sold twenty-five thousand tickets in two days.
Will there be other bands on the bill?
Yeah, but I can't tell who they will be just yet. I can say it will be really good. (laughs)
I was reading some message boards on Manic fan sites and I came across this question, "Is truth always better than lies?"
I'm not sure it is really. I'm sure I've lied enough in my time, but it has always been for the better. But the truth will always come out eventually.