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America under Massive Attack (Toronto Sun 9th May 1998)
Massive Attack's Grant Marshall -- aka Daddy G -- and Andrew Vowles -- aka Mushroom -- look like they'd rather be shopping at Roots than sitting in a boardroom talking to a reporter.
The musicians, who make up two-thirds of the highly respected, Bristol-based trip-hop outfit Massive Attack, have been travelling North America for weeks, promoting their new album, Mezzanine, which hits stores on Tuesday. By the time they get to Toronto, it's hard to hide their semi-burnout state.
"We've been all over North America, this is what we've come to conquer," says Marshall, 38, a friendly, if imposing, man with an engaging British accent, who does most of the talking over the next half-hour.
Vowles, meanwhile, is slumped in a chair beside Marshall and actually appears to be sleeping at one point. He tells me: "You know what I think makes for an interesting interview is when we talk back and forth instead of that boring lineup of journalistic questions. It's much more interesting than like 'What are your influences? How did you meet?'"
Subsequently, Vowles holds forth on Jerry Springer -- "It's stupid; that show is set up for violence," and something he calls "the 4:20 movement" in Vancouver. "At twenty past four everyone stops and has a spliff," he explains.
At the same time, Vowles refuses to talk about the Material Girl, with whom Massive Attack worked in 1995 on a cover of I Want You for the Marvin Gaye tribute album.
"We don't want to talk about Madonna, everyone wants to talk about Madonna," he says. "I mean we've done one tune with her and that's it."
But when I want their take on such British artists as Prodigy, Tricky and Goldie refusing to produce Madonna's latest album, Ray Of Light, they get all excited.
"She asked Tricky? That bitch!" says Marshall.
To backtrack a little, Massive Attack's 1991 debut, Blue Lines, emerged from the same Wild Bunch deejay scene in Bristol that included Tricky and producer Nellee Hooper (Madonna, Bjork). Blue Lines was called one of the albums of the decade by such influential publications as Rolling Stone and NME. But there has been only one other release of new material leading up to Mezzanine -- 1994's Protection, which was followed by a remix album, 1995's No Protection. Massive Attack has also contributed to the soundtracks for Batman Returns and Welcome To Sarajevo and wrote the score for the film 187.
"We've changed since then, quite rapidly," says Marshall, whose band is expected to open for The Verve at Copps Coliseum in Hamilton on July 31. "Before we toured as a sound system, which was based around turntables, whereas now we've got the fully fledged band.
"In America, the whole thing is kicking in for us in a way. I think it's the biggest response of late. I think a lot more people are aware of Massive Attack now than they were when we first came out with the last couple of albums. There's a lot more interest."
With Mezzanine -- a striking, if colder-sounding, collection of Massive Attack's trademark ambient soundscapes with guest vocalists that include Elizabeth Fraser, formerly with the Cocteau Twins, and reggae legend Horace Andy -- that interest is bound to get even more pronounced.
"The sound is a lot colder," agrees Marshall. "The funk has gone in a way because it's just the nature of the way the record was made really. It was kind of made under duress -- just pressure really 'cause we weren't getting on at the time, you know? And I think that's kind of reflected within the music, it is a lot starker."
Marshall is mysteriously vague about what has caused the squabbles within the band -- which includes Robert del Naja, aka 3D -- but Vowles explains their troubles via another influential group.
"Were you a fan of Pink Floyd?" he asks me. "The things that are happening with the band are very similar to the Pink Floyd thing. I guess it happens to all the bands with strong creative will, strong personalities, big battles."
By Jane Stevenson