Twenty-odd years on, do the Manics ever feel hamstrung by their very Manic Street Preachers-ness?
I think the only time we ever felt like that was after [2004’s] Lifeblood, when we took a two-year break and myself and Nick made solo records. But it was the opposite of being hamstrung by being in the Manics. We actually felt as if we’d deconstructed and delineated all the best parts of ourselves. With that particular record we felt like we’d lost our true essence and to realise what made us good as a band, we just had to stop. I’ve known Nick [Jones, aka Nicky Wire, bassist] since I was four years old and Sean [Moore, drummer] is my cousin – virtually my brother. We’ve been writing songs together since 1985 and we just had to take a break. At one point, we were suffering from paralysis through analysis; subconsciously we tried to find a different version of ourselves. When we go wrong is actually when we think about ourselves too much and try to change our nature.
Do you acknowledge your position as elder statesmen of UK rock?
I don’t ever see myself as being part of an institution, and I never use words like ‘legacy’, because that is the easiest way to press the self-destruct button. I see myself as part of a family , more than anything. I grew up with Nick and Sean and Richey; we played in the same football and rugby teams, we asked the same girls out and got turned down at the same school disco. I see myself as some-thing that’s a bit more homespun.
Do industry accolades mean anything to you?
Things like the NME’s Godlike Genius Award are supposed to lend you gravitas and with that, for the first time, we may have felt a hint of some kind of standing. The day after that is when I first pitched the idea of this album to Nick, so perhaps I was thinking: What are we supposed to do now? Shall we just bathe in this afterglow?
Why did it take so long for you to use the lyrics Richey left behind?
Richey had handed us a book of words at what you might say was a strangely tactical time, most of them in lyric form. He didn’t give them to anyone other than us and we’d always wondered what we’d do with them.
Did you feel the need to somehow secure Richey’s ‘permission’ to use his lyrics?
We always assumed we had Richey’s tacit permission, because he gave the lyrics to us just before he disappeared, but we wanted the family ’s blessing. If his mum, dad and sister had ever said to us, ‘We’re not sure about this,’ then that would have been a bar to it.
What about squaring with Richey’s desire to have the record sound ‘like Pantera meets Screamadelica with Trent Reznor producing’?
That’s the strangest feature of the whole process – Richey had never given any musical direction in his life until then. Back when he initially gave the lyrics to me, I didn’t really think I could turn them into music, especially given Richey’s mission statement as to how he wanted the record to sound. Back then I wasn’t sure I could connect with some of the lyrics, but I have hopefully garnered some insight since 1995. I just looked at them one day and felt like I did connect with them. I felt like I circumnavigated myself throughout those years and came back to the same spot, which was just like me writing music to Richey’s lyrics for The Holy Bible. It didn’t feel any different. In some way, writing it felt like being set rigid homework – homework that you could enjoy.