The Manics’ Nicky Wire straight talking to max
With the release of their third album, The Holy Bible (Epic) and news that guitarist, Richey James is in hospital suffering from exhaustion and depression, The Manic Street Preachers are once again standing naked in the uncomfortable glare of the media spotlight. Not only has the already-guessed at emotional problems of one of the Manics' driving forces widened and come to a worrying head. But they’ve also produced (to these ears) their best, most frightening, most exposed record to date. Always impressed by their sneering, slutty, knowing attitude, but never an out-and-out fan of their music, I sat bolt upright when I heard the scorching new album. It's raw. Uncompromising, supremely intelligent and appeals to my punky sensibilities.
Bassist, and Richey's co-lyricist, Nicky Wire is gearing up to deal with the mode inquisition in his newly-decorated Cardiff home. Mine is the first interview of the day and no doubt every journo was going to kick off with more or less the same question: how‘s Richey?
“This time four weeks ago, he was pretty bleak,” Nicky recalls. “I wouldn't say he's better or anything, but he's improving. It did come to a head, so it's just a case of recovery now."
Was it inevitable, given Richey's temperament and the kinds of pressures a band like the Manics have to deal with, that he was, at some point, going to take a step closer to the edge?
“Richey always saw himself as a weak person. He tried to cover that up with either drink or mutilation, it happens to a lot of people in bands, but the more sensitive just crumble. It's a question of how you deal with it. He came to a point where there was no going back. It's a kind of artistic thing as well. It’s hard to separate walking up to the abyss and falling into it."
It’s a pretty scary notion, given the whole Cobain episode, to think that Richey could've gone too far.
“It got to the point where he looked such a mess - he'd lost so much weight and there were cuts all over his body - I honestly thought he might go that way. Then you start asking yourself, what could I have done? Like Cobain, Richey is a very private person - he never talked about his problems. When he first started cutting himself, I thought it was just his way of entertaining, but it obviously took a wrong turn."
So is it important to be able to walk away from the limelight from time to time?
“Yeah, because with a band like us, it's not really just about the music - it's a question of keeping control of everything. But the general fuck-ups that occur can really end up getting to you. I’m lucky - I can just come home and distance myself from it, but I don't think Richey could. It just got to the stage where things just overwhelmed him.”
So d'you blame the industry at all for throwing up the kinds of problems that can lead to messing up someone's life?
“It's reached a peak of corruption that really hasn't been seen since the 60s or 70s. But it‘s all been kept undercover. Everyone has thought that record companies have been quite good - y'know, stopped taking drugs and stopped wasting money. But I think this year has been the most apocalyptic year since 1969 with the Manson thing and everything else. We’ve had Senna and Cobain go and that whole thing with Layne from Alice In Chains, who‘s a hero of mine. Every generation has a year like this, where everything comes out into the open."
Is it time then that we washed bloated beast's mouth out with soap and water and hope the music can be the most important thing again? Or does the biz have so much control that it's ready for anything?
“It's got everything sewn up. Grunge could've been threatening, but it was MTV lead, which sums it up. It ended up not mattering how powerful some of the music or figureheads were – it was marketed in the same way as Pepsi or Coke. That’s something we've always fought against. We've admitted that we’re part of the machine, but we've tried to use it. However, it’s got to the point where we're completely disenchanted with it."
There's a certainly a gloomy feel to The Holy Bible, but nothing to suggest that the Manics are ready to call it a day. They’d be tools it they did. This new record has completely converted me to their punk-pop-glam-combat-rock and I'm sure it's gonna do the same to anyone else who harboured any doubts. A lot of it is to do with the punky element. I often wonder if I'm starting to romanticise about punk rock...then again, isn't romanticism important to music?
“It is important," agrees Nicky, 'But a lot of people do romanticise about something like punk too much. I was too young to experience it, but later I was able to relate to the Pistols and The Clash. The best thing to come out of it was the idea of a band like the Pistols ripping off record companies rather than being ripped off by them. I don’t think that will happen again!"
And of course, punk rock attracted all the 'misfits' - certainly a description that could also apply to the Manics. Was being ‘outsiders' also important?
“It's been an asset to us. We've been going seriously for about four years now and the amount of bands or scenes like Manchester or Suede – I don't see how they can carry on without Bernard - that have failed during that time is incredible. The fact that we're still around is amazing. And take something like NWONW - the journalists who‘re into that are generally the ones who hated us! They missed out on us because they thought we were too pretentious!"
But d'you really feel that the Manics make a difference? Or are all musicians ultimately just ‘entertainers'?
“That's the dichotomy that faces us. When Richey and I have been on stage, we've felt more like entertainers - y'know, him cutting himself and me wearing a dress. We felt that we had to contribute - especially me, as although I'm confident, I feel quite restricted musically. It almost becomes a freak show. Whereas, I’m sure James feels we can make a difference."
The odd thing about the Manics' approach to song writing is that although James Dean Bradfield writes all the music, it’s Nicky and Richey who pen all the lyrics. Odd, in that James is the singer and ‘frontman’ and the one, as Nicky says, who feels that the Manics‘ music and words can change things.
'It‘s just the way it evolved. Richey and I were never that capable musically - we’d prefer to read than practise guitar. On this album, I think it's evident that Richey wrote most of the lyrics - a lot of them are autobiographical. On Gold Against The Soul, we thought every song should have a big chorus and the lyrics weren't poetical at all. But with this album, we'd just present James with a page of lyrics with no verse or chorus structure – just a poem. As far as content goes, we’ve all known each other for so long and we're so close, that we've all got the same sorts of ideas."
Was there a deliberate attempt to take a 'back-to-basics’ approach with The Holy Bible?
“Yeah, we realised that although there was nothing wrong with the songs on Gold ..., we treated them far too well. With this album, we just wanted our true influences to come out – things like early Joy Division, PIL and Wire - stuff we'd been denying ourselves for years. And we recorded it in this tiny, shit-hole of a studio in Cardiff for £50 a day instead of Gold ...'s £1500 a day! We were living at home, we'd drive to the studio each day. It was difficult and claustrophobic at times, but we got the atmosphere we wanted.”
One of the things that has always amazed me about the coverage that the Manics have received, is the way the press have always been more concerned with the idea of the band rather than their music. Maybe this shouldn't amaze me - they’re not the first that this should happen to and they certainly won‘t be the last.
"Yeah, like this is our third album and we've had thirteen consecutive Top 40 hits," Nicky reminds me. "We've sold quite a lot of records! That's way beyond image! Whatever is said about us. you can't escape the fact that we write good, melodious songs. History will prove that people like our songs."
Does music journalism spoil music?
“I dunno. I loved reading the press when l was young, but now things are more tabloid oriented. Interviews used to be 3, 4, 5 pages long - you could really get into something. Now, it seems writers can’t be bothered. It's all career motivated. It's funny when journalists complain about Tory MPs having outside interests - they should look at themselves! They write for 3 magazines, have a radio show, own a record label! Get the monopolies commission in!“
Being self-confessed media junkies, would the Manics make good music journo's?
“Nah, I’d just slag everything off! Writing in general is something we’ve always been interested in though - it's a really in-depth form of expression. I’m trying to think of music journos I like – I liked Simon Price's stuff even before I met him. He's one of the few people I know who actually wants to write about music - it’s quite rare these days!”
Rare, but not unheard of. As long as there're intelligent, creative, shit-kicking bands making quality, lasting music, there'll be a handful of writers who get excited about it and who will want to pass on that excitement to others. And if there’s a bit of rock ‘n' roll outrage in there, well then, yeah, I guess we'll lap that up too.
But I prefer my heroes to be alive. - That way they can continue to create great art. I wouldn't call the Manics ‘heroes' of mine, but damn - if a band can come up with an album as worthy as The Holy Bible, then I’m going to be checking all their future moves. So, c’mon Richey - get your shit together. We've already been robbed of one geezer's rock talent this year. Don't ‘ walk down that same, wasteful road.