Manics Q&A #3
The final part of the Manics interview – Part One is here and Part Two here – sees Nicky explain how he felt a balance was restored to the band by using Richey’s lyrics, how Steve Albini helped shaped the album and why James is disappointed he didn’t get to do more guitar wig-outs…
Did you feel like a four-piece again in the studio?
Nicky: “I did a bit. Not that we were necessarily a four-piece, but that we weren’t just a three-piece. I actually found that element of it really enjoyable because there’s a certain symmetry we had as a band while Richey was still around which we’ve never been able to get back. We’ve made brilliant records and we’ve done brilliant gigs, all that stuff, but the actual symmetry of the four of us, it did feel like that balance had been restored and that was a lovely feeling for me. I had no problem not writing the words, it was a relief because I’ve written a lot over the last few years anyway.”
I was wondering what that felt like as a lyricist?
Nicky: “Yeah, it just felt great. I could just sit back and be a fan, concentrate on my bass playing.”
How did the songwriting dynamic work?
Nicky: “I did write quite a bit of music. Obviously since ‘Your Love Alone…’, which I wrote half the music for that, this, I wrote all of ‘William’s Last Words’, I wrote pretty much all of ‘Marlon JD’, I wrote the chorus for ‘Peeled Apples’, the verse for ‘She Bathed Herself In A Bath Of Bleach’, which, for me, is quite George Harrison-esque! And ‘William’s Last Words’ in particular, which is a page and a half perhaps, 600 words or something. I really enjoyed editing that, just me and my guitar, being guided by these beautiful… I think that’s the most poetic “isn’t it lovely when the dawn brings the dew/I’ll be watching over you”, just a gorgeous, like John Betjeman or something…
There’s nothing abstract, it’s a very human lyric…
Nicky: “I agree. I’ve always held on to, because we played football with each other, went to uni together, I used to write some of my essays for him, so I’ve got a lot of memories which are nothing to do with rock’n’roll if you know what I mean, those are the ones that you keep. Like James said, everything else becomes quite blurred and you actually question your own memory at times and these lyrics just allowed us to place it as a human tragedy or whatever. Although I think there’s some kind of uplifting nature to ‘William’s Last Words’, there is a rational man speaking. The decisions he’s come to might be quite grim, but he has come to them rationally. He’s been through a process of just doubting everything, he seems to have found his only way of dealing with it.”
Was there a lot of lyrics that weren’t used – you mentioned in an interview after ‘Everything Must Go’ had come out that there was a line that went “I feel like cutting the feet off a ballerina…” – I was expecting that to feature…
Nicky: “The ballerina line – which Bloc Party Nickyed. They virtually stole it on one of their songs! There’s some stuff we just couldn’t use, that are literally like four-line haikus, it would’ve just been hard to stretch the song, there’s a couple of songs, I think there’s one called ‘Diet Slaves’, there’s one called ‘Alien Orders/Invisible Armies’ which we used the title for an instrumental but was pretty hard to figure out into a lyric. The original booklet also contained ‘The Girl Who Wanted To Be God’ and ‘Kevin Carter’, the stuff that was used on ‘Everything Must Go’, ‘Removables’ as well, but, as a rule, there’s probably six or seven left that we just couldn’t. There’s one really good title called ‘Hollywood Quality Is The Original Asshole’, or something (laughs to himself), but you just couldn’t fit anything to it. But the writing was really quick, I mean, we didn’t struggle at all.”
What was the first song you wrote?
James: “The first three songs were ‘All Is Vanity’, ‘Me And Stephen Hawking’ and ‘Facing Page Top Left’, and ‘Jackie Collins…’
And the last one?
Nicky: “I think the last one was Marlon J.D.
James: “Yes, Marlon J.D, definitely.”
There’s an effortlessness that comes through, the songs don’t sound like they’ve been laboured over, they flow naturally…
James: “Part of that is down to Steve I think, because he never put any doubt in our heads – by not giving an opinion! Sometimes a producer, halfway through a record, will say ‘I think it’s one song away from perfection’, he never did any of that.
Nicky: “He had a brilliant meeting on the first day. “Write this down! Do that!” And he just never fucking looked at it again. It was hilarious.
James: “The only time he ever gave an opinion was when we kind of finished ‘William’s Last Words’ and he just went “I’m stoked after that”. I think it’s part of just knowing he had his job, we had our job and we couldn’t invite any opinion in to the camp because (puts on cheesy accent) it’s between us and Richey, maaan.”
Nicky: “‘Pretension/Repulsion’, in a normal state of affairs, we probably would’ve never let that song lie, we would’ve redone it and overdone it. I mean, it’s not badly played, but you can feel it’s just a band playing live and we probably woulda ruined it.”
What’s your favourite song on the album?
James: “I can’t get away from the fact I think the album starts in a perfect manner and ends in a perfect manner. You can’t get away from that fact. Those two songs just always seem to make perfect sense, the one song says ‘shut up, listen, please take me seriously,’ and the other song, it just sighs softly and doesn’t even make a massive effort to try and communicate to the world, it just says what it says.“
Nicky: “I think Pretention/Repulsion as well, cos we went through a period where we just weren’t sure about it cos we went through it so quickly, it was probably the first track we did with Albini, which is always the iffy one. When James first wrote it, I just thought it was unbelievable, I had this vision of doing the video with Christian Bale playing Richey.”
James: “The one thing on your wishlist you didn’t get!”
Nicky: “It is, yeah, but now I listen to it and it’s, like, two minutes four seconds, but there’s tons in it. There’s an amazing guitar solo, there’s a fuckin’ brilliant chorus, there’s tons of words. I really, really think it’s an amazing piece, that. One of the things you can definitely hear on this album is we’re writing songs that are less than two minutes thirty but have lots in. We haven’t done that for a long, long time. I don’t know if we’ve ever done that, really. ‘Holy Bible’ is not short, really.”
James: “There’s only one really long guitar solo on the record…”
Nicky: “Look how he’s saying that, ‘oh, it’s a shame!’ Hahaha!”
James: “‘Archives Of Pain’ has no guitar solo on it – don’t like that…”