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Behind Closed Doors (The Big Issue South West August 25th 2003)
Homeward bound after a year of highs and lows. Things have been tough for Massive Attack recently. On the eve of their Bristol homecoming gig, Robert '3D' Naja speaks to Ally Fogg about child porn allegations and the truth about absent band members.
Robert '3D' Del Naja could be forgiven for looking rough. He's had a rough year - and then some. In April he told one interviewer that he was going to "turn in to a moth. I will become uglier and darker and lonelier and more undesirable, because that's the way it's got to be this year."
So it comes as something of a relief to find the Massive Attack stalwart patently at ease in the surrounds of his Bristol studio, sharing jokes with colleagues; being hospitable, welcoming and really rather charming. He's clearly buzzing on the adrenaline of a hugely successful tour, ruing that there are only a handful of dates left to go, including a head line spot at last week- end's Creamfields.
"It's quite strange when it becomes a reality that there are only five shows left - it becomes tangible that it's going to be over. All of us on the tour think it's been such a great year for us, we've had such a great team, such a great show, and with each gig we get a stronger sensation of sadness that it's going to be over soon."
The tour has been promoting the band's fourth album, 100th Window which was recorded amid dark times for the band. Core member Andrew 'Mushroom' Vowles had quit, with all the inevitable legal and financial wrangles. Fifteen-year friendships were stretched to breaking point. Grant 'Daddy G' Marshall opted out of the recording, with the official line that he was on 'paternity leave' while awaiting the birth of his child.
"That was what we told people, but the truth was this just wasn't a good place to be, and this band wasn't a place where he wanted to spend time," Del Naja now admits. He says he seriously considered putting the band on hold, if not breaking up altogether, and only the prospect of having to lay off their small entourage dissuaded him.
The result was an album written and recorded by Del Naja alone, a record of dark, brooding menace, thunderous intensity and troubling lyrics about voyeurism and surveillance, exploitation and obsession. It divided critics and fans, yet still flew straight in to Number One in the album charts.
If 100th Window was recorded during dark times, nobody could have imagined what would happen next. Two weeks after the album's release, Del Naja was arrested on suspicion of downloading child pornography. His credit card details had turned up on the books of a company which provided many web services including, it transpired, child porn.
A month later, after police had inspected his computers, video collection .and other possessions, Del Naja was exonerated on all counts. Though not before his name had been splashed all over the newspapers. Certain tabloids showed scarcely-disguised glee in slaughtering the reputation of one of the music industry's most high-profile opponents of the Iraq war. Needless to say, his innocence would later prove rather less newsworthy.
"I still look back on it with semi-disbelief, because it was so not me. And I look back in anger. How did it become protocol that any time there's an arrest in connection with anything to do with sex, someone at the police station calls the papers? Why is that allowed to happen? Why are people's lives allowed to be destroyed like that? I'm not really a celebrity; we don't sell ourselves through the papers, but if publicity was our lifeline it could have destroyed me. Look at John Leslie; his profile is his lifeblood, and when it turns against him he's fucked."
Del Naja says he's made the tabloids four times in his career. Once involving Kate Moss; once when he told Sarah Ferguson to "piss off" when she attempted to present the band with an MTV award; once when he was falsely 'romantically linked' with Bjork, and now this.
"If I had a newspaper cuttings book it would be like an alternative history of someone who didn't exist!" he laughs. "The best phone call I received in the week of the arrest was from Damon [Albarn], who said 'well, you've got to have a laugh, don't you?' He was right, because if you take it seriously they've won. If you take it seriously they've had you. As it was, it felt like they were trying to destroy a reputation that didn't even exist." Asked if he learned anything from the experience, he is phlegmatic.
"I've learned, but I haven't changed. I kept focussed on the fact that it was a load of bollocks, I knew there was no truth in it. While it was going on I worried about the same shit I was worrying about before - how the fuck am I going to finish the house that I bought three years ago and ran out of money on? How long am I going to have to spend in the studio on the next album? Am I drinking too much and should I slow down? Should I go on the Atkins diet so I can drink more? All of that kind of stuff - real things, you know?"
The easy, good cheer with which Del Naja reflects on his tribulations seems far removed from his popular image as a dark, brooding, paranoid outsider. He chuckles heartily as I sketch out his public image. If he's obsessive about anything, he says, it's football, and Bristol City in particular. He's a big Laurel and Hardy fan, not to mention Bo Selecta! and The Office. Anyone who expects the Massive Attack tour bus to carry a soundtrack of Noam Chomsky speeches is likely to be surprised: Alan Partridge DVDs are the order of the day. A-Ha!
For all that, don't expect too many comedy numbers when Massive Attack play their home-coming bank holiday spectacular on Bank Holiday Monday August 25.
"Every year we have the same discussion - can we do a gig in Bristol? It's difficult because the city still doesn't have an arena. But this year the council came in and said they had this idea for Queen Square. It's a recipe for disaster really, it's never been done before, it's right in the middle of town, everything could go wrong, so of course we couldn't resist.
"So we contacted all these people and were really excited to get The Streets, Goldfrapp, The Bees, Martina Topley Bird, all these really cool people. It's going to be completely mad, because it's our hometown with all our friends and family, and the guest list is really quite ridiculous. The only worry is that we're playing Creamfields on the Saturday before, then we'll all pile in the bus, party all the way back to Bristol, and probably collapse. We'll need to be careful we don't sleep in and miss it." •