Do you get fed up doing interviews?
The thing is, you end up doing them all at once. If you did them one at a time you could get into interesting ideas and stuff. But it’s f**king doing them all at once which is a pain, isn’t it (laughs).
100th Window is out imminently,
how do you feel about the album now that it’s finished?
Being a slight perfectionist I’m never totally completely satisfied with anything I do, you know.
Have you got a flavour for
how it’s going to go down with the public?
Yeah, I get more of a flavour from the reviews I guess. I’ve played it to friends and colleagues but obviously they just tell you they love it, and I’d expect them to. We’ve had 90 per cent good reviews and the rest have been really scathing. Which I think is the best place to be because the earlier albums, Protection, Mezzanine have all had that response.
How does the sound of this
album compare with the previous Massive Attack albums?
We used a lot more instruments than we’ve ever done in the past. The computing power that’s available to us contributes to that. With Pro Tools we can store massive amounts of audio in reservoirs and draw from it. There’s also been a lot of intricacy in the way we’ve arranged instruments around each other and around drum sounds. Before when we sampled breakbeats there’d be this one solid body going through a track, but when you take it away there’s a gap. I wanted to create better relationships between the different parts and the beats, so that they would respond to each other as we arrange the tracks.
Would you say it was a more
complex album to make then?
Much more, although we did it a lot quicker in the end. We spent a long time messing around with other ideas we weren’t happy with. The making of this particular incarnation of 100th Window took about six or seven months, which is obviously not a long time for us. There was a lot of complexity in the arrangements but we had a sort of thing going where we were focused and it was happening quite quickly.
You began working on the
album with Lupine Howl. What went wrong?
I had an idea at the time (and it’s always interesting to looking back at what you think at a certain time), I thought rather than starting off with a few small ideas and expanding, let's get a lot of things in there and start deconstructing, taking things apart and finding new ideas. But it became a massive task and, in the end, we were so weighed down by the amount of material that we weren’t writing songs and distilling anything that we felt we believed in. Starting again was tough as there was a lot of great things to put to one side, but it was something we had to do. And it was unburdening when we said, OK, let's start to write some new stuff. I found that really refreshing, and I started to realise why I was doing this, you know.
Sinead O’Connor sings
on this album. Did you approach her?
We’d met her in the past and talked about it, but it didn’t happen. But I thought it was the right time to approach her again. Because she comes with such a passion I thought it was important to get some of that, you know. Everything seems so predictable and generic right now, I wanted something that felt very human and real. We never wanted to create a lead singer situation where that person becomes the focus. I just wanted someone who was strong and believes in what they’re doing. We’ve had lots of tapes over the years that have been so insipid you wouldn’t touch them, you know. So it’s great to get something more powerful.
How do you tend to work
We often send people very simple things so that they’ve got room to develop them. On Prayer for England we just sent Sinead a bass line. With all the singers we work with we never write their lyrics for them because that’s truncating the project before you’ve started. We want someone to collaborate on a project fully.
You sing on this album.
Is that something you felt able to do for the first time?
Well I don’t sing really, it's more melodic whispers. It’s just a matter of challenging yourself to do something different. I just wanted to push the boundaries a bit. I’m very aware of my own restrictions, as I think everyone should be, but you’ve got to push yourself. Every time we start a new album there’s a challenge to extract yourself from what you did before.
How do you guys manage to
make your albums sound fresh and original, while keeping the Massive Attack
There’s no blueprint. I think there’s obviously sonic things that turn you on. We’ve always traditionally started with drums and bass and extended instrumentals. From our history, coming from the sound system thing, from the DJ thing and the sampling ethic, it’s something which is always there. One of the things that feels very Massive Attack are those bass frequencies and those elements. And obviously the melancholic aspect is important. All of us in the band always enjoyed sad songs, always thought they had more poignancy and more distance to go, staying with you longer.
There’s also a lot
of effects and soundscapes in your music, this album in particular. You must
spend a long time playing with equipment to get that effect. Do you ever find
you can’t see the wood for the trees sometimes?
(Laughs). Often, yeah. You can go on forever dealing with the details, looking at things closely, but it’s about having the ability to say OK, let's stop there and move on to something else. But you can remix things over and over again on computers these days - it’s difficult to know when to stop.
Neil Davidge is lesser known.
What does he bring to the project?
I’ve worked with Neil for seven years now. He’s the co-writer really. He’s someone I trust. We have an intuition between each other and a communication process. It’s important because, not being traditional musicians, lots of things need to be verbalised. Or even a look can mean, you know, let's try this.
How do you tend to work
We often send people very simple things so that they’ve got room to develop them. On Prayer For England we just sent Sinead a bassline. With all the singers we work with we never write their lyrics for them because that’s truncating the project before you’ve started. We want someone to collaborate on a project fully.
The tour’s coming
up. What can we expect to see?
It’s difficult because we want to do so many things but we’re also aware that we want to keep it quite pure and simple. We’ve got a lot of ideas about using lights, using pure white light around the stage, not using spots or moving lights. And using LED screens to transmit pure colour because LED is a very pure source of light. And using lasers in a very subtle way. We want to use information and data and code and statistics, then turn that into light and colour.
It’s about trying to do all the things you want to do but presenting it in a very simple pure, direct, way. It’s the same as the artwork. On this album, creating the glass figures and destroying them again and filming them. There’s so much stuff there, you can really go to town with it. Trying to distil it and make something out of it which is direct and pure is a really exciting exercise. You have to challenge yourself to remain subtle and not show everyone everything.
Do you get involved in the
graphics and presentation?
I’ve always loved presentation. As an artist, presenting ideas is important to me, and packaging is an exciting process. I find it amazing that all bands don’t want to be involved in it.
You’ve said that Massive
Attack is more of a concept than anything else. Which is why its members have
tended to stay out of the spotlight. If that’s the case, what is the concept?
I think it’s ambiguous. It’s more a project than a band. The project is where it’s at, at this stage, and it’s going to change again. Which is why I baulk when people ask if it’s a solo thing because, no, it’s just events and history that has led to this moment, and the project was always meant to be so much bigger than that, in terms of its ability to evolve and change. That’s why we’ve worked with so many different vocalists. I’ve always liked bands that had the ability to evolve. The Clash, Public Image were two bands that I loved when I was growing up that represent themselves, and I find that idea really exciting. I think it's destructive using your own self-image as a presentation of the music, because it’s not just about one face or a group of faces. There’s so much more that goes into it, so many different layers.
Can you imagine a Massive
Attack album without you being involved?
Yeah. Maybe in the future (Daddy) G and Neil and some other people can make an album without me. In some ways that would be a real release. I could go around the world for a year and disappear and get spiritual and pretentious you know, a voyage of self discovery etc.
What other kind of projects
do you think you’d like to be involved with, Massive Attack or not?
I’d like to put a couple of books out of all the artwork we’ve done in the past. It’d be great to compile them in different ways. We’re always talking about putting movies to the music, always getting in touch with people about soundtracks. During the Brixton Academy shows we’re hoping to do a visual installation at a venue in London, which coincides with the aftershow party of the last night at Brixton. There’s so many things we’ve put together with the visuals that we want to expose it in the right way.
The title 100th Window comes
from a book about computer security. Is that something you care about?
It’s not about that. It’s often referred to in the press but it’s not about that. What I actually felt about "100th window" when I saw it written down was that it’s a more spiritual place. The third eye, the window to the soul, the whole idea of the place where you can communicate without thinking, examining the world without your personality being in the way. That’s what it’s about really. If that doesn’t make me sound like a total w**ker (laughs).
How do you feel about the
fact that your new album has been available on most of the p2p file sharing
networks since late last year?
It’s a difficult one. When Melankolic was up and running properly as a label, we were in the middle of it and we signed people we new from Bristol that we really liked. Then they started, as bands do, taking the piss. Hiring limos and cars, keeping drivers in hold and spending loads of money, and not paying their bills and having a right old time. Then we get the call from Virgin saying, "These boys are taking the piss."
My first response was "fair play", you know. But then I think, hang on, we're the label here, that's out of order, don’t take the piss. Then I think, hang on, I’m contradicting myself here. And in the same way I think that if you can download the album more power to you. You’ve fond a way of doing it, good for you, it's the age we live in. But, at the same time, it's how I make my living. And it’s frightening when you see some sites giving 25,000 downloads. If you times that by all the sites that are doing it then that’s my profit gone. That could be it for me, you know.
All bands are struggling with this. People have made grand statements saying piracy’s great, but it will cheapen music and it encourages the labels to take more drastic action. And that compromises the bands and the listeners out there. The main thing about it is that it’s not people at home doing something cool in a Robin Hood style. There’s big cartels involved, and drugs cartels are moving into burning CDs. Piracy accounts for 30 per cent of sales in Germany and you know that money isn’t going anywhere good. It’s a difficult one to have a clear opinion on it.
If you were to create your
own bootleg Massive Attack track what would it be mixed with?
I’ll get back to you on that! Although Sepultura have just released a version of Angel which I think will be, well, exciting.
Which track by someone else
do you wish you'd written?
Ah, there’s been loads of tracks by people that I wish I’d written, though I never really think of it that way. I like being envious of other bands. It’s something that spurs you on. It’s not very often that I do hear something that’s really inspiring. Obviously historically there are loads of things but I’d hate being pressed into naming things because it takes it out of context and cheapens it a bit.
Do you really hate any particular
kinds of music?
It’s not so much individual tracks or artists or bands, but the general consumerist culture. The way that record companies market things to people and the way they lap it up really annoys me. The way that everyone is in on the act, the record companies, the radio stations, the TV companies. The franchising of everything really pisses me off. Pop music has become so shallow and dark, that it is simply a process about money. It upsets me seeing people buying into it when there are so many great things out there.
Even if people enjoy it?
There’s lots of satisfied customers out there with their Gareth Gates
Yeah, but it gets to the point where you think, "Why don’t we all just do a version of Unchained Melody. Every f**king month someone could do it, we could all do it, it’s the nation's favourite song so everyone buys it. The record companies don’t have to spend money on marketing. It’d be great, save a lot of f**king time (laughs).
Do you think there's still
a place for sound systems like the old Wild Bunch sound system in today's music
The difficulty with sound systems is buying the kit. When were doing the Wild Bunch thing we never bought the gear, we used to hire it. That was always the difficulty because you never knew how much money your were going to make, so you had to come to arrangements with these guys with deposits and stuff. You had all these scenarios going off, people sharking each other, doing a runner before they come to take the rig down, that kind of stuff. It’s a big commitment buying all the gear. Also, times have changed. I don’t know whether it’s the law or just the time we live in, but to be able set up a system in an empty warehouse and fly it publicly, and get away with it, now seems unlikely. It was a moment in time which sadly is not going to happen again. Now you have to find it in places like Jamaica. That’s where it really exists in the culture, and there’s also the aspect of the climate.
Can you recommend a piece
of music to our users?
Requiem by Gabriel Fauré is always a good one. I find it beautiful, everyone else finds it depressing. It’s a guaranteed winner to annoy your mates with.