James Dean Bradfield interview

When this interview was scheduled, both James Dean Bradfield and Richey James were expected to participate. The day of the interview, however, a spokesperson for Epic Records informed me that Richey "had a cold." In reality, Richey had disappeared three days before this interview took place. Bradfield gave no indication that anything was wrong during our chat (of course, Richey had disappeared like this before). But Richey never returned. As of his writing, Richey James is believed to have committed suicide. His body has never been found.

JereC7: The Manic Street Preachers started out on an independent label, and then later you signed with Sony. How would you describe the experience of switching from an indie to a major label?

Bradfield: It's a very fifty-fifty kind of thing. Most bands, when they sign with a major, are from an indie. They usually start off with a big dilemma. They think they're selling a part of their souls or they're losing control over an aspect of their lives or something. But we started out very level-headed about it. We just thought, 'Well, we're intelligent enough to keep control of things. We're gonna use them just as much as they use us, and we're gonna reach more people.' After the second album, I did realize that we were quite naive in the fact that we thought as long as you said 'no' to Sony, you could kind of retain control of things. But there are subtle forms of censorship that they do imply in very insipid, subconscious kinds of ways. I think just the whole atmosphere around a corporate and the fact that they have so many different departments, etc., etc., just starts diluting what you actually do. So there's a subtle form of censorship going on, but you're not really aware of it. It took us a while to find that out. As long as you realize that, then you can find ways of stopping it. We lost ourselves for a short while there, but this new album was done with the realization that we needed to regain some kind of control and do this album completely outside of the record industry. They offer to put you in a big recording studio and a mansion house and things. And I think that is just greed. It just makes you sound slightly apathetic and it makes you lose a certain sense of urgency, you know? We just knew that we had to detach ourselves from the record industry itself and sort of divorce ourselves from it to actually make the album sound honest. To make it sound as if we'd recaptured our own language again.

JereC7: I think it obviously worked. The Holy Bible sounds much more like The Manics did around the time of Generation Terrorists as far as attitude goes. I think the attitude and the energy are back on this album.

Bradfield: Yeah. I think so, too.

JereC7: What was it that made you decide to sign with Sony?

Bradfield: They just chased us big-time, you know? (laughs)

JereC7: Must be nice.

Bradfield: Yeah (laughs). And the man that signed us was a massive fan. It's quite a mistake to think that music fans don't work on major record companies. Sometimes, you know, you do find some good people on corporates, among all the infidels. He was just a good guy and understood our reference points because he was a fan of the same stuff. In the back of our mind, we knew that The Clash had signed to Columbia or Sony, whatever. We would never have admitted it at the time, but it did impress us that we had this label with 'Manic Street Preachers' on it, and years before it had been the same label but with 'The Clash' on it. That sort of proves that we were naive enough to be fans.

JereC7: Right now, people seem to be paying a lot of more attention to indie labels in the States. Is this the case in the U.K. as well?

Bradfield: Um, no. Britain's got a very different kind of climate because we've been really into indie labels for quite a long time. If you think about the impact that the Creation label had on British music, with bands like Boo Radleys, Primal Scream, and Oasis. If you think about those bands, you know, they've been having an impact on the British music scene for the last two years. And Primal Scream way before that, actually. Indies started licensing their material through the majors and retaining their own identity a long time ago in Britain. It's pretty much standard practice there, I think.

JereC7: There was an article that appeared recently in a major U.S. music magazine that had the headline "Is British Music Dead in America?" And it's clear that British bands aren't selling as well here as they did a few years ago. Why do you think British bands are struggling in the U.S. now?

Bradfield: I think, basically, America just took the blueprints for all the best rock bands and just gave it back to us again. We gave the world The Clash, The Sex Pistols, The Stones, Zeppelin, and they gave us back blueprints. I see The Clash in Pearl Jam, and to a certain degree I see Zeppelin in Pearl Jam. They just started doing it better. I mean, there's no point in lying about it. I don't think British bands were up to it, including us. I don't think we were as good as we could have been at the start. I think that's the whole crux of the answer. But as soon as the press, or an industry, proclaims something to be 'dead,' then you know it's going to just spring back to life again. Oasis is starting to do pretty well. The Stone Roses are going to start doing pretty well. It's just a cycle, that's all it is. You say 'oh, this is dead,' and then three years later realize that you shouldn't have said it because it was obviously going to come back. Britain, as a pop music nation, used to have this very 'empire' kind of attitude. We used to 'invade' the world with our bands, you know? That's obviously changed, because in Europe they're much more interested in bands speaking their own language. Especially in France and Germany. They're starting to develop their own bands much more.

JereC7: There seems to be some sort of pseudo-punk revival going on here in America, with bands like Green Day and The Offspring selling millions. What's your personal opinion of those bands, the ones who wear their punk on their sleeve?

Bradfield: I can't really be against it or for it. It just feels strange to talk about a 'new' punk thing because that's always been our roots, basically. To hear about a resurgence just feels very strange. I guess I've got a certain admiration for a band like The Offspring. They obviously wear their hearts on their sleeve and you can't ask for much more than that, really. At the end of the day, though, Green Day are still writing pop songs. They're a lot like The Knack and stuff like that. It's not quite as much of a departure as people would like to think. But, you know, I've got nothing against them, they're cool.

JereC7: We touched briefly on it, but how would you compare The Holy Bible to your other two albums?

Bradfield: I think, on the first album, even though it's not perfect in terms of the sonics and things, at least on the first album we sounded like we were speaking our own language. That's one thing about us that I thought was always very important. We seemed to speak a language of our own that you couldn't really apply any kind of logic to. That's the way I feel about the new album. The new album is the most honest and kind of sounds like an exclusive language. My early influences were bands like The Clash, The Sex Pistols, Magazine, and bands like that. For once I've actually reflected all my early influences and assimilated them, and I've never really done that before.

JereC7: I've been a fan for quite a while, and I think it's unfortunate that more people here in the States haven't heard your music. Do you think that The Holy Bible will be the album to really break things open for you in America?

Bradfield: Well, I've got my feet on the ground, definitely. To be honest, we'd just like to play to our fan base because we've never been given the chance to fail in this country. It's our third album and we've only played six concerts here, and that's pretty unbelievable, I think. For once, I'm just glad that we're gonna have the chance to fail because we've got quite a big tour booked up -- over thirty dates. The one thing about America is that it's never seen a quintessential part of us, and that's us playing live. And people are gonna get to see that. If they come (laughs). Also, I just feel it's our best record, so I feel a bit more optimistic.

JereC7: So you're really looking forward to the tour.

Bradfield: Yeah, I am. Yeah. Not in terms of traveling, but I'm always very interested in playing in front of different kinds of audiences. It always affects the way you play.

JereC7: For someone who's never seen you in concert, how would you describe a Manic Street Preachers show?

Bradfield: I would say that a Manic Street Preachers live concert is pretty irreverent towards the actual record which is supposed to be represented. I've never really been interested in replicating the record in live performance, because I'd just get bored. When I was young I used to go and see bands and, even if it was my favorite band, I'd get bored after twenty minutes.

JereC7: So do you like what bands like Underworld are doing, where the record is just sort of a rough blueprint for the show?

Bradfield: Underworld the dance band, right? Yeah, I thought that was a cool album. This one song they do I thought was really brilliant. It's a song called 'Rez.' It's not on the album, just a track off one of the singles.

JereC7: I read that, in concert, they might play the music to 'Rez' and combine it with the lyrics to 'Dirty Epic.' They just play with the song structures and mix it up.

Bradfield: Yeah. I think it's one of the most condescending things to do to expect an audience to come along and just want a complete blueprint of what they listen to in their living rooms. When I was young, I wanted a bit more, honestly.

JereC7: One thing that I think is unique about The Manics is the fact that Richey James (rhythm guitar) and Nicky Wire (bass) write the lyrics, and then you sing them. Considering the fact that these aren't your average love song lyrics, there must be a lot of trust among all of you.

Bradfield: Yeah, there is. With all the songwriting duties, there's a twenty-five percent split all the way down the line. I always thought that the way we write our songs and perform them was fairly unique because my position is quite voyeuristic. I'm completely singing someone else's sentiments and, like you said, they're hardly the old moral bystander lyrics. But I just set myself a rule before I actually write a tune to the lyrics, and the rule is that I've got to take the lyrics on to a level of understanding before I can actually write music to them. What I'm doing is interpretation. If I don't write the lyrics, therefore I must interpret them to the best of my ability. So my rule is that I must understand it, but I don't necessarily have to accept. The thing about all art forms is that a lot of it is interpretation by a voyeur who performs what someone else has written, although I'm not as bad as that because I've written the music. I think people should do it in pop music more. Sometimes it can give you a very detached point of view, which makes things a bit more interesting. Like you said, there is a lot of trust between us. They trust me to never be blasé about interpreting the material, and I never write a tune before the lyrics. I get the lyrics and then I write around them. Some people write music and the lyrics come along and they say, 'Oh yeah, I've got something to fit that.' If that's the way people write songs, I feel like you might as well just go to the supermarket.

JereC7: It's sort of a cheap way around.

Bradfield: Yeah.

JereC7: Have Richey or Nicky ever given you a set of lyrics that you didn't feel comfortable singing?

Bradfield: No, not at all. Never. The reason that's never happened is that we all grew up with each other. We've all been through the same life experiences, basically. Our background is a very working-class kind of environment. I would be very surprised if they gave me something that I couldn't feel any affinity with. But even if they gave me something which I couldn't necessarily accept, as long as I understood it, perhaps it wouldn't bother me that much.

JereC7: While we're on the topic of songwriting, you've only recorded a few songs written by other people, including "Wrote for Luck" by The Happy Mondays and "Suicide is Painless." What was it that attracted you to those two?

Bradfield: Well, we also did 'Damn Dog' which is off a film called 'Times Square.' And we did 'Under My Wheels' by Alice Cooper (laughs). 'Suicide is Painless' was a charity song for The Spastics Society, and the basic rule was that the bands had to record a number one song. That was the only one we could find with lyrics that we actually liked. We recorded 'Wrote for Luck' because I see The Happy Mondays as being one of the last great working-class bands that Britain has produced. They were truly a working-class band, and it's hard to get that sort of thing these days as class becomes more blurred. It's only got one chord in it, too. So that's a relaxing song to play.

JereC7: I just have to ask, how did the duet with former porn queen Traci Lords come about? (Lords sang on the track "Little Baby Nothing" from the Generation Terrorists album)

Bradfield: Well, we wrote the lyrics to that song, and it was obvious that it would be quite condescending for me to sing those lyrics. We needed somebody, a symbol, a person that could actually symbolize the lyrics and justify them to a certain degree. First of all we tried to get somebody else (editor's note -- it was Kylie Minogue) but then our first option fell through and we asked Traci to do it. And she was more than happy to do it. She saw the lyrics, and she had an immediate affinity with them. It was definitely easy to incorporate her personality into the lyrics. We just wanted a symbol for it, and I think she was a great symbol. She sounds like a female Joey Ramone to me.

JereC7: There will be a lot of people reading this article who aren't familiar with The Manic Street Preachers and what you're all about. What's the most important thing you would want them to know about the group?

Bradfield: That we set ourselves a lot of rules at the start, one being that we would never write a love song. We set ourselves these parameters, and I think that we enjoy speaking in a language of our own, to be honest. And that's it, basically. We set ourselves the rule that we would never write a love song because we just felt that everybody knew what it was like to fall in love, and everybody knew what it was like to have a broken heart, but not everybody necessarily knew what it was like to hate something or to really hate somebody. I just think we are of our environment, wherever we come from. Just when we were getting into music, at about fourteen or fifteen, the miner's strike was going on right on our doorstep. That really affected our whole community and everything. Sometimes, you know, you're just part of the circumstances that surround you. It's definitely shaped us, to a certain degree, because we have a very politicized background. I think it's good that opportunity, like circumstances, can really affect what you do and you have no control over it.