Manic Street Preachers
MANIC STREET PREACHERS - by Jon Savage
What follows is a transcript of an interview done with Nicky Wire and Jon
Savage in February 1996, during which Nicky agreed to talk frankly and on
the record about Richey James' continued disappearance and its impact on
the group. It is to be hoped that these answers - will reduce the need for
further questioning on the subject.
Jon Savage: The single, "A Design For Life" seems to be about Blackwood,
going back to where you started.
Nicky Wire: "A lot of people think that "A Design For Life" is quite
negative, but it's almost heroic, in the sense that whatever is thrown at
the working classes by the upper classes, we will always come through.
That's what the lyric is about: we always come back with something better.
Whatever you say, there is a working class in this country and I think
it's got more talent that any other class. All my favourite bands are the
same, working class people with pretensions. The first single we did with
Heavenly Records, "You Love Us", it's got on the cover Travis Bickle, Pete
Townsend, William Burroughs. It does sum up everything we loved at the
time, and we haven't really changed, they are still the things we go back
to for comfort. So it's going back, it's rediscovering what we always
liked about our youth".
JS: The single sounded very focused, more direct than "The Holy Bible".
NW: "When James wrote the tune, he phoned me up that night and played it
down the phone to me, and he had the complete vision of how it was going to
sound, an old Motown record, a bit of REM, a bit of Ennio Morricone, which
we don't always have. Fortunately, we're better players now and it's a bit
easier to nail it".
JS: Tell me about "Everything Must Go".
NW: "We recorded it in this little recluse in Normandy, which is like being
in Wales. It's in this big chateau, it's the old Abbey Road desk, it's all
wood. "The Beatles" and "Dark Side Of The Moon" were recorded on it. It
actually does sound very warm. It's such a relief when you can't speak the
language because no-one can speak to you. You just say a few words: Coke
or Mars bar, and that's it. Mike Hedges was really nice as a producer. We
did seventeen tracks and we're going to pick twelve for the album".
JS: Can we go back a bit and talk about some of the misconceptions. You
and Richey both wrote the lyrics, how did that work?
"We used to sit down and write lyrics together. It's very rare for any
band. Sometimes I would just have a title and he would write the song,
sometimes we would write them together. For example, "Little Baby Nothing"
was my title, but Richey wrote all the verses, I wrote the end. "Roses In
The Hospital", I wrote virtually all of that. With "The Holy Bible",
obviously Richey's state of mind dictated that he wrote many more of the
lyrics. I had just got married and moved into a new house and I didn't
want to write about death camps and mutilation. I had a lot of songs
stored up then but I still wrote about 30% of the record".
JS: Would you say your writing style is more direct than
NW: "He was black and I was white. I'm not pretending to be the same kind
of lyricists as Richey on this album I don't reach the depths of madness
and self-hatred that he did".
JS: Do you think the sensationalism of the early days is a help or a
NW: "It would be wrong to say we regretted it. We could have sold a lot
more records if we'd done a debut album that was ten songs just like
"Motown Junk" and played the game a bit more carefully but I prefer bands
when they're messy and sprawling and epic, and they make mistakes. Philip
Hall always encouraged me to be controversial, always".
JS: Do you still feel that need?
NW: "I do deep down. That was the difference between me and Richey, he
always wanted to be understood but I preferred being misunderstood. I get
strength from feeling that no-one likes me, that I'm being anti-fashion.
JS: Can we talk about Richey now? I suppose one of the most disturbing
things with hindsight, is that you expect pop music and performance to be
about some kind of artistic projection rather than strict autobiography.
Was that a problem for Richey, that it was very autobiographical, that
people didn't see the warning signs?
NW: "I've always felt that for all of us, there was a massive
self-fulfilling prophecy, that we would implode. I always thought Richey
would be the first. We did what we could, but I always felt something
would happen, not to the extreme that it has. The first thing that we said
in an interview was that we were going to set fire to ourselves on "Top Of
The Pops". You don't say things like that for the sake of it, you do
actually believe those things when you're young. If you'd gone into any of
our houses, any of the four of us, you'd see all the books and all the
videos, all the same, all negative. Depression, suicide, alcohol, that's
what we all found interesting".
"The whole thing is hard to document, sometimes you can say carving 4 REAL
into your arm, that's suicidal but then for a year or two it went away, and
then with "The Holy Bible" it came back. From the time we went to Thailand
on, I felt something was going to give. When we released "Faster", from
then on, I felt something wasn't right. Everything Caught Up with us".
"It's not like the Kurt Cobain thing, because we spoke to Richey every
single day for the last five years, there wasn't a day where I didn't speak
to him. The first time I didn't speak to him, I called his parents, rushed
down there and he was in a state.
JS: It seems to me that you're in an impossible situation. If someone
close to you dies, it's difficult anyway; you have the shock and then you
have the stages you go through, anger, grief, acceptance, whatever. That
takes a long time anyway, but if you don't know, that must be all the more
NW: "It's suspended, mixed up. At the end of the day, you can't feel
grief, because you don't know if he's dead. You feel anger, sympathy and
sadness. The thing is, the tragedy lies on a personal level. On a
professional level, as a professional band, it doesn't really come into it.
You don't think 'oh, the band's fucked'. We've known each other too long
for that. It's the personal element that is the hardest to take".
JS: Do you have a gut feeling about Richey, one way or the other?
NW: "Personally, I still think he's alive, although I've got no physical
evidence or reason to think that he is. But I do. I've spoken to people
about this who say you're just trying to block it out, that I've just got
to accept that he's dead but how can you accept that he's dead, when
there's no body, no evidence whatsoever? It's irrational".
"We slept in the same bed together for about six months. We shared a room
in every hotel. I've know him since I was six but if someone wants to
disappear, they can. It's not very hard at all. It really isn't".
JS: Will there be any of Richey's songs on the new record?
NW: "Some of the songs were written while he was still around. Three or
four songs are Richey's lyrics: two of them are co-written, we did them old
style, and two of them are completely his. They're pretty heavy going.
There's one track called "Small Black Flowers That Grown In The Sky", which
he wrote about getting borne in zoos and just going mad with boredom, but
if you read it, you'd just think it was about him".
"We were thinking it might be better to put them out on an EP later but
somehow I think if he's out there, he'd like to hear his songs. We've done
the things like set up a trust fund forhim so all his publishing goes to
him, which is horrible because legally you can't say he's dead anyway. It
takes seven years. I speak to his parents and his sister every week and
they really want us to put this record out, because they think it might
flush him out".
JS: Obvious question, why did you keep the name?
NW: " We did consider changing the name and starting over again, and we
probably would have done if we knew he was dead. It would be more like a
Joy Division/New Order thing then. It was an imponderable position really
to consider changing our name, it was about the last thing on our minds,
JS: How have you personally coped with the situation?
NW: There's one line on the album that says: "All I want to do is live no
matter how miserable it is ..". I'd rather live in total misery until I'm
150 than die. With Philip and Richey, it's been very hard, I don't know
how we've managed to make records through it, but the last three years have
brought home to me how precious life is, even if it is miserable. I'd
rather be alive than anything else".