'We'd like to get a No.1 album': Q&A with Manic Street Preachers manager Martin Hall

'We'd like to get a No.1 album': Q&A with Manic Street Preachers manager Martin Hall

Manic Street Preachers manager Martin Hall has spoken of his ambitions for the band's critically-acclaimed new album Resistance Is Futile, which is released via Columbia today (April 13). 

The Hall Or Nothing boss, who has represented the Manics since the early '90s (originally alongside his late brother Philip), told Music Week the trio have been firing on all cylinders since settling into their new Newport base, Door To The River Studio, having been forced to vacate their longtime Cardiff HQ - Faster Studios - due to a residential development. 

"They're in a really good place," said Hall. "On [previous records] Futurology and Rewind The Film, the decision was made to do something more leftfield and push themselves a little bit. They're both great records, just not particularly commercial. But they've made a big rock record this time."

One of the key challenges facing the Welsh rock legends is how they adapt to the streaming revolution. According to the Official Charts Company, just 1,020 of Futurology's 50,192 sales came from streams. Their most popular track on Spotify is their 1998 No.1 single If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next, streamed 15.6 million times to date. 

"If you look at most rock bands' streaming numbers, it's hard - certainly for older bands," observed Hall. "Their fanbase still wants the deluxe [physical] version with all the extras, so it will take a moment for that long tail of the catalogue and new records to start making impressions."

Their 13th studio album and first LP of new material in four years, Resistance Is Futile has been preceded by four singles: International Blue, Distant Colours, Dylan & Caitlin and Liverpool Revisited. 

Here, Hall lets us know what to expect from the record and speaks his mind on reissues, regrets and rugby union, amongst other concerns...

What can you tell us about the new Manics album?

"It is an accessible record. Lyrically, International Blue is inspired by Yves Klein, the painter, and Different Colours is something of an ode to the Labour Party. They're a bit special, the Manics, and the people who get them, really get them. The Manics turned them on to politics and literature through their lyrics, and not many bands can do that. I think that's important - and then the other side of it is them doing things like Sunday Brunch - so they cover the whole spectrum."

What is the strategy around the release?

"They're doing lots of radio and TV and there will be some instore signings as well. Then they've got the tour coming up along with some festivals and European dates."

You've had great radio support, in particular - International Blue even cracked the airplay Top 20...

They're a bit special, the Manics, and the people who get them, really get them

Martin Hall

"[BBC Radio 2's] Jeff Smith is a big supporter, he has been for a long time, as have Radio X, Absolute and Virgin. It's been really good."

What are your ambitions for Resistance Is Futile?

"We'd like to get a No.1 album: That's achievable, but it depends on a few other things around us. Our pre-orders are really strong and we've got a good campaign lined up. Columbia seem really engaged - [Sony UK boss] Jason Iley called me and said it's his favourite new record."

Strangely for a rock band, the Manics have had more No.1 singles (2) than albums (1)...

"We've been unlucky. They lost out by about 600 to Arctic Monkeys on one album [2007's Send Away The Tigers]."

Why were Rewind The Film [September 2013] and Futurology [July 2014] released so closely together? 

"They were done at the same time. It probably wasn't strategically the right thing to do, but that's just how they wanted them. Futurology probably should've come first because it was an easier record with potential singles on it as opposed to Rewind The Film, which was a much more introspective, acoustic record."

The four-year gap since their last LP is the longest of their career. Did the band burn themselves out creatively with that flurry of activity?

"I don't think they've been burnt out, it was more a case of moving studios and just working out what they wanted to do. They're always busy, they're always touring and there are always things going on internationally."

Was there any risk of over-egging the pudding by playing back-to-back 20th anniversary tours of The Holy Bible and Everything Must Go? 

"We worried about it - all Nick [Nicky Wire, bassist] thinks about is strategy - but they enjoyed it and I think the fans enjoyed it as well. You have to be a little bit careful, but I think we got away with it. I didn't think we over-egged it at all really, and both tours were really successful. Seeing Manics fans mouth every word to every song on The Holy Bible was a pretty cool thing to see."

All the Manics' early LPs have received the reissue treatment apart from 1993's Gold Against The Soul. Is that the black sheep of the family, so to speak? 

"That and [2004's] Lifeblood maybe! Actually, I listen to Lifeblood a lot now, I think it's underrated because we chose the wrong single to lead the campaign. In hindsight, The Love Of Richard Nixon wasn't the right song - Empty Souls should've been the first single. So that record struggled, especially after [2001 predecessor] Know Your Enemy, but it is a good record. There are a few good singles on Gold Against The Soul but the band had to move really quickly back then - the pressure was on them to come up with stuff and it was hard to find the material, especially after writing a double album for the first album [Generation Terrorists]." 

Speaking of Know Your Enemy, are there any regrets about that record and the negative effect it had on the band's mainstream popularity? 

"Yeah, there is for me - even the cover is not easy. In hindsight, if we'd gone with another Send Away The Tigers-type record, we could have solidified. But that was their vision so we backed it. It was brave and they wanted to push themselves a little bit, but it wasn't until Send Away The Tigers that they bounced back."

Famously, Know Your Enemy was launched in Cuba. How do you look back on that decision, 17 years on?

"You would never get away with something like that nowadays! It cost the label an absolute fortune to fly everybody there. It was an idea [the band] hatched up and, to be fair to [longtime Manics cohort] Rob Stringer, he backed them and pulled it off. We didn't plan to meet [then Cuban president Fidel] Castro backstage, that was something we hadn't expected, so it was amazing. But it was stressful - the Cubans escorted us everywhere and took over our trip a little in terms of what we would see and do."

And what about the future? 

"They're thinking about trying to get to Japan next year for the Rugby World Cup and doing some gigs around that because they played at the British Lions tour in Australia [in 2013]. There might also be a reissue of This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours down the line [the album turns 20 in September]. Chris Dempsey, who is part of the management team, has done a brilliant job in coordinating all of this alongside Nicky. We brought him over from Columbia, where he was a product manager. The band want to work all the time and they'll be keeping busy. I still speak to Nicky three times a day - Saturday and Sunday is mostly about the rugby. If Wales lose, I don't speak to him for a couple of days because I know he won't want to talk to me!"

Read Music Week's recent cover feature on the Manics, featuring contributions from Hall, Manics bassist Nicky Wire, Sony chief Rob Stringer, X-ray Touring agent Scott Thomas, Columbia UK boss Ferdy Unger-Hamilton and Warner/Chappell's Mike Smith here. Wire also discusses the band's back catalogue and future plans here.

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