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
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
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.
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." •