On the Attack (Las Vegas Review Journal 26th September 2006)
Massive Attack's sound uses atmosphere and rhythms to convey mood.
Grant "Daddy G" Marshall isn't one to fill in the blanks -- he favors mystery over clarity, shadow over light. His songs are like suspense novels, dusky and numinous, with an outcome that's always in question.
As one of the founders of British trip-hop forebears Massive Attack, Marshall has made a career out of pioneering a sound rife with dark corners and question marks.
"That's always been the thing with us: Never tell the whole story," he says. "Tell bits of the story and people can add their own interpretations to what we're saying."
"Massive Attack isn't the most garish of bands," he continues. "The artwork, the videos, the music -- it's not as if we're waving banners and throwing it in your face. It's something that you've got to grow to love. It's something that you discover."
And there's always something to discover in Massive Attack's detail-rich catalog, which puts the emphasis on mood and texture with shape-shifting rhythms and lots of murky atmosphere.
The group's songs are a blend of hissing, serpentine beats, stout bass lines, foreboding rhymes and vocals that penetrate the haze like a fog light. Whereas many hip-hop-oriented artists distill menace via hard-edged lyrics, Massive Attack convey dread with their lugubrious sound, which can be desperate, paranoid and gorgeous all at once.
It's a stark, desolate sound that has made Massive Attack stars abroad, though they remain cult favorites here.
"That's what we're here for, to try and sort of re-address that and put that right, let people know that maybe this genre -- I won't say originated from us -- but we're one of the major exponents of this music." Marshall says. "It's been 15 years, and after that time, I kind of thought that we would have a lot more commercial success in the States. I don't know what it has to do with, to be honest. I'm quite bewildered. We'll just keep coming back until we crack it."
Touring America for the first time in eight years, the band seems intent on further blurring the bounds of their already malleable songs.
"The good thing about doing these things live is the fact that we've been able to reinterpret the songs, so if you come to see us live, you won't necessarily get what you heard on the album, Marshall says. "We work through some of the songs with the band and we've changed them, made them more dynamic, added a harder edge for the stage, added a lot more guitar."
"When you're at home it's a more cerebral-type atmosphere -- you listen to things, and sometimes you like to be kind of womblike," he adds. "But when you're at a concert, sometimes you want to have your head ripped off."
Currently touring in support of their superb best-of collection, "Collected," Massive Attack has been in the studio of late, assembling their fifth album, "Weather Underground," which is due out early next year. As might be expected of a band whose songs unfurl so casually, Marshall says the album doesn't have much of a clear direction at this point.
"When we go into the studio, because we're not the archetypal band that goes in with guitars and stuff like that, quite a lot of the ideas that we come out with are not necessarily what we went in with," Marshall says. "Sometimes, we make a mistake on something and then think, 'Hold on a minute, that's good, let's use that and take the sound somewhere else.' Sometimes we go into the studio without a clue what we're going to come out with in the end."
If there's an air of uncertainty that seems to forever cling to this bunch, Marshall is surprisingly direct when he talks up Massive Attack's current tour. His band may be prone to understatement, but Marshall keeps the subtlety confined to the music.
"Hey, we can't wait. This is it for us," he gushes. "We can feel it in our bones. We're going to kill America."