James Dean Bradfield on his new solo album, “Tory vandals” and the Manics’ next move
Some people wait years and travel far and wide in search of inspiration. For Manic Street Preachers‘ James Dean Bradfield, his latest muse had been with him for most of his life.
Today (Thursday July 2), the Manics frontman announces his second solo album. Arriving on August 14, ‘Even Is Exile’ is the follow up to his 2006 debut ‘The Great Western’ and has lyrics penned by Patrick Jones – the famous Welsh poet and playwright and brother of Manics bassist and lyricist Nicky Wire. The whole record was inspired by the life and death of Chilean musician, teacher and political activist Victor Jara. Both Patrick and Jara have fascinated Bradfield since his teens.
“The effect that the Jones family have had on my life is mad, really,” Bradfield tells NME. “Writing this record, I got into this routine on Sunday nights where I’d go and see my father and have a brilliant hour of talking shit with him that you don’t talk about with anyone else. Then I’d drive back through the Valleys, say hello to Patrick Jones, see what he’s been reading and thinking and get him to feed me some new books – which he’s been doing since I was 16.”
Bradfield continues: “Both Patrick and Nick were going through a rough period where they’d lost their mother and their father was ill. Patrick was writing a lot more than usual as he was trying to cope. I’ve seen people like Patrick, Nick and Richey [Edwards, former Manics guitarist and lyricist] just writing because they love it and don’t want everything published. I just thought Patrick was going through one of his exercises and then I said that I wanted to do something with it.”
One of the first lyrics to really jump out at Bradfield was to the single that he releases today, ‘The Boy From The Plantation’. “Just like with Nicky and Richey, I could see these lines just charging at me,” says Bradfield. “As writers, all three of them have this power where lines just lift up from the page like special effects.”
After opening up last week about the first two launch tracks ‘There’ll Come A War’ and ‘Seeking The Room With Three Windows‘, now Bradfield talks to NME about his new sound, the problem with Tories, Wire’s own progress on a solo album, and what’s next for the Manics.
What can you tell us about your fascination with Victor Jara?
“I’d known about him all my life. I knew the story, the tragedy, the political history – but I never really knew much about Victor Jara’s music. When I started listening to it two years ago, I was just stunned that his music could have such a tender and beautiful heart. There’s such a spirit of reconciliation in his protest music and I’d never heard that before. Protest music is usually quite confrontational. That led me on to make a record trying to reach and communicate with other people – not to just confront. I’m glad that in this day and age, I chose to write about someone like Victor – a person that wanted people to be together rather than apart.”
Does that mean more to you today, when politics are so divisive?
“Even at the age of 22 when Labour were touching upon elections that we knew they wouldn’t win but were looking to get more seats in Parliament, you knew that someone like Neil Kinnock was doing the job of trying to make Labour electable slowly – trying to push them towards the middle ground while appealing to a socialist base. That’s the trick and it’s fucking hard. Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and New Labour did that to a certain degree; they didn’t let the centre be unoccupied. History and the present day show us that’s where disaster lays. The centre ground is always unoccupied and the moment apart from just vandals. The Tories are just vandals doing a smash and grab. Next election, people will just vote for the Tories because they feel like everything else is being pushed apart. The polarisation of society is bigger than I could have ever imagined.”
Are you a fan of Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer?
“I don’t know. We’ve got other choices here in Wales so I look at everything, not just Labour. I would never look at a party that had evil in its belly so don’t worry about that. The Republican thing, I try to let that go of that when I talk to people with a bauble from The Royals.”
Back to the album – what can you tell us about the different sound and flavour of ‘Even In Exile’?
“At the age of 51, if all of the influences, books, music and things that you’ve seen haven’t settled into your bone marrow then perhaps you’re not paying attention. When I started writing to this, there were little bits of Rush coming out, little bits of an old Welsh prog band called MAN, little bits of David Sylvian, Brilliant Trees, The Bad Plus, Pink Floyd, Nico. Also ith the Manics, you have the pressure of needing to write at least three singles for each album, but I wasn’t this time. That was strange because I’ve been institutionalised that way. For me, the tradition of the great indie single is embedded in me. Perhaps that let a lot of stuff come out in the wash.”
When it’s safe to do so, do you plan to tour this record?
“No, I never intended to make something to take on the road. I’ll do a few sessions, but I just want it to be out. I am in the Manics. I miss doing demos with Nick and Sean [Moore, drummer], and getting excited about ideas, a direction and artwork. I want to get back to working with them as soon as possible. A solo tour would just get in the way of that.”
Nicky Wire recently told us that the new Manics record was sounding ‘expansive‘?
“It’s hard to judge so far. I’m not going to give you a bullshit line on what I think it is because I haven’t got a clue! I was just trying to write something now and was deciding whether it was any good or not, which is getting harder. The one thing I have learned from my new record is to try and get rid of that subconscious urge to write singles.”
Nicky also said he was working on another solo album himself?
“Yeah, he has. We’re following the same pattern we did last time we took a sabbatical [before 2007′ Send Away The Tigers’]. I’d have our studio one day, he’d have it the next, he asked me to play a guitar solo on one of his tracks, and yeah – his stuff is sounding great. There was one song on there that was fucking amazing but hard to describe. It was very modern, very electronic, and very soothsaying and prophetic.”
Would Sean ever make a solo album?
“No, he’s just being really fucking chilled.”
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So the next thing you have in the diary is these huge Manics gigs for the NHS in December?
“Yes, hopefully they’ll come off and the promoters will have backup dates sorted if we’re not able to play at that point. We will play those gigs eventually, whatever happens. It will just be fucking beautiful to step on stage and just move to music. Playing music has been quite a solitary pursuit. You listen to it for comfort, context, prophecy and meaning – there’s a lot of pressure on music at the moment. But the least pressure you can put on music would be just to play it on stage and have pissed-up people moving along. Playing music for people to live to, to groove to, to get drunk to, it will be great.”
What gave you the compulsion to arrange these shows?
“We just saw the struggle. I know a lot of people around me who work for the NHS and you could see the immediate strain that they were all under. We’re talking about proper stress from proper hard work that you’d never ever begin to realise how hard it is. They’re under immense strain. The NHS is the biggest employer in Wales, and all around us we saw people giving and giving and giving and not getting enough back. We just thought that this should be for them. Plus we’ve all been on nights out and know that doctors and nurses just love being on the last. Hopefully they won’t just show up and shout, ‘Play some Coldplay songs! Play some Stereophonics songs! Play some Oasis songs!’ We might just have to be a house band for the night.”
‘Even In Exile’ is released on August 14. The tracklist is below.
2. ‘The Boy From The Plantation’
3. ‘There’ll Come A War’
4. ‘Seeking The Room With The Three Windows’
5. ‘Thirty Thousand Milk Bottles’
6. ‘Under The Mimosa Tree’
7. ‘From The Hands Of Violeta’
8. ‘Without Knowing The End (Joan’s Song)’
9. ‘La Partida’
10. ‘The Last Song’
11. ‘Santiago Surprise’