HEADPRESS: Why a book on this album, Know Your Enemy?
STEPHEN LEE NAISH: The Manic Street Preachers were a subject I’d wanted to broach for a while. But I didn’t want to write a traditional biography of them as there are already plenty of very good bios that have been published over the years.
I wanted to look at the band’s career with a critical eye and apply what I’d learnt about deconstruction from my previous books. initially, I set out to tackle the band’s entire output, their whole career. But it was far too unwieldy and too contradictory to maintain a clear focus. It would have been an unreadable and a vast mess.
In an effort to not overwhelm myself, or any potential readers, I looked for a good microcosm of the band. Know Your Enemy jumped at me because it was a record that I loved when it first came out and it seemed to contain everything that made the band interesting, exciting and radical. It contained a set of brilliant lyrics, great artwork, abrasive yet also epic tunes and with the band’s trip to Cuba to launch the record, an extreme close-up of the band’s political ideology. It was a record that referenced the past in sound, yet pointed towards a potential future. It was also an underdog, not particularly loved by the band or even the majority of fans, so writing about it gave me an opportunity to be critical and not just shower praise on the band, but observe their mistakes, which in rock and roll are absolutely essential.
Is this album a good entry point for the Manics? If not, what album would be?
As explained, Know Your Enemy is a kind of microcosm of the band’s output and political ideology. In some respects it makes perfect sense as an entry point. However, it’s a very weird and also very long record which I don’t think would generate a lot of love from someone without patience or unfamiliar with the band’s past. The band was basically out to refine their audience down to a devoted core at this point anyway. This is partly why I wanted to write a book about the record, to act as a kind of primer for the listening experience. To give it some much need love.
If I had to convert someone, then their 1996 record, Everything Must Go is the perfect gateway drug into the rest of the band’s music and aesthetics. It worked for me anyway!
How do the Manics fit in your own musical interests? How big a Manics fan are you?
They are my last and most lasting obsession. As a young teenager, I binged on a band’s records, interviews, anything I could consume. It always ended with the musical output though. When the Manics entered my life at around the age of fifteen I was ready for them to educate me in aspects of musical history, politics, pop culture, art and literature. It has never stopped. Many have tried, but no band has come along to replace them. It feels like they provided a bottomless well in which to dip down and pull out your latest obsessions. I’ve fallen down so many rabbit holes just by reading a simple quotation they printed on a single sleeve or a lyric in a song. Even on their most recent release, Resistance is Futile, they are still providing it with songs about Yves Klein and Vivian Maier.
What did writing this book do, if anything, for your ‘faith’ in the Manics?
At the very, very start of this project my working title was Death to the Manics! I really felt like tearing into them because of one little thing I disagreed with in which the band plugged what I considered to be a pretty dull single on Strictly Come Dancing. At the time the UK was tearing itself apart with the student protests, there was Occupy camps in New York and London. All this in retrospect was pretty tame in comparison to the divisions in UK politics and society today. I was deeply frustrated with them for not speaking out or playing a Woody Guthrie song as an act of protest, which is a fucking silly idea. Of course, I was at fault for believing that a rock and roll band could change anything, or even should be obligated to change anything. Positive political and societal change is down to people. The Manics have always signified this. So in some respects in writing this book my ‘faith’ in the band has been restored and also redefined.