"I'm so tired, we had
a really long, late, heavy session last night man, we were going at it non-stop."
What, mixing the album in the studio?
"No, playing Subbuteo."
So much for the purity of the so-called 'Bristol Sound' of Massive Attack. We're sat at a big round table in the back corner of the sort of semi-trendy, psuedo-sophisticated Bristol wine bar that sells imported bottled beers and Pina Colada's WITHOUT umbrellas. lt doesn't feel particularly Massive Attack if truth be told, I mean, their sound sits snugly maybe, but these are table football type people, y'know, totally unpretentious and all that...
As I gradually drift from my irrelevant decor dominated daydreaming and back to the reality of the series of chaotic multi-directional conversations taking place for my benefit I vaguely hear Daddy Gee trying to close a deal on a new computer with a pal who's wandered over from another table. A-haaa! A straw for me to grasp at!
Err! You're into technology in a big way then, in the studio I mean, for making the music?
"Well. not particularly..." says 3D "...we're pretty intimidated by them intact, we just like playing computer games, I've got an Amiga 500 man... do you know Kick-Off? Wicked."
Kick-Off is a football game, naturally. As it happens I have an Amiga too, and so follows a lengthy chat about the merits of games like Populous, StuntCar Racer, Deja-Vu, It Came From The Desert and half a dozen others...
"Me and Mushroom played Sim City for 3 solid days, we just kept playing, totally re-constructed New York. Anyway, eventually we HAD to go to bed and leave the computer on to keep the game going, but by the morning the whole city had burnt to the ground because one of our power stations had overheated. Imagine that responsibility, millions of people dead because of us, totally wicked man. Where is Mushroom anyway?"
The shy and retiring Mushroom seems to be the butt of some gentle joking from his partners. Daddy Gee and 3D are prone to sniggering at his occasional attempts to make serious points, as if in depth thoughts and theories on Massive Attack are considered somehow taboo, perhaps even a little pretentious...but the joshing is all good natured and eventually they join in too. However, the trio seem happiest when chatting about life in general than music in particular, and claim that their lyrics are more a reflection of everyday simplicity than everyday struggles.
In fact, considering that music has been their way of life for the past 7 or 8 years Massive Attack don't appear overly eager to shove the subject down your throat. What they will tell you is that along with Milo Johnson, Willie, and a pre-Soul II Soul Nellee Hooper they were known as The Wild Bunch, an acclaimed Bristol sound system amalgam famed for their early-to-mid-80s appearances on the infant warehouse and dub scenes of London and the West Country. The Bunch eventually evolved from spinners to makers of music, though the only real commercially released vinyl to result was a 1986 Bacharach and David cover, 'The Look Of Love' on 4th & Broadway. Those who like to draw family tree style conclusions now see that record as the obvious influence for fellow Bristolians Smith and Mighty's later versions of B & D classics like 'Walk On By'. However, Daddy Gee disputes such suggestions...
"Unfortunately people are always trying to link everything up and gather them into a neat package, nothing is ever that simple, the things Smith and Mighty did after we released 'The Look Of Love' were just coincidental as far as I'm concerned."
That seems unlikely in such a small scene, after all everyone is inspired by something that went before, it's natural, not shameful. What isn't in dispute is that Wild Bunch members began to cross into other projects, which for Nellee meant Soul II Soul, for Milo meant moving to Japan, and for the remaining three meant Massive Attack, each in their own way continuing to deal in memorable mellow soul grooves.
"The Wild Bunch was all about being on the road rather than in the recording studio, we were basically DJs who occasionally introduced live instruments like drumsand bass into the show. There were loads of reggae sound systems around at the time but we were the main jamming system with a bit of everything thrown in, there was always a very mixed and wide range of people coming to our jams. We've never aspired to please little sections like a pure soul or reggae or hip hop crowd, we've always done our own thing, mixing in punk or rock n roll or anything, people just get into what's happening."
Conversely Massive Attack is a studio based thing, DJs as composers. But are there any 'real' musicians amongst them?
3D "Ummm! I played the recorder at school... It's a different concept though, our music isn't about the bits of equipment that go into making it, what matters is the vibe, that determines which sounds and instruments are used. We tried a string quartet for one track on the album, but changed it later to a sythesizer sound because it felt better, then on another track the synth sounded wrong so we replaced itwith a 40 piece orchestra. We do whatever's necessary."
Daddy Gee "The use of samples or orchestras is not an issue, there aren't any rules. Everything we do stems primarily from some sort of studio jam and develops from there, we work towards this vague idea that started in someones head, what exactly creates the sounds is an irrelevance."
3D "It's not like some big happy family improvisational session type thing with everyone acting in contented unison, agreeing with each other and going 'Like, wow! what a beautiful piece of music.' At times it's more like a big war between everyone involved, and that includes Shara (occasional vocalist) and Horace. Sometimes there's 4 or 5 ideas fighting to be heard."
Is that what instigated your distinctive overlapping vocal style?
"Sort of, though it goes back to The Wild Bunch jams when Gee and Willie used to push in on each other, over-rapping, it was never 'here's my bit, here's yours.' The whole thing about our vocals is that we want them to be as thoughtful, and yet at the same time as thoughtLESS as possible...y'know, where they move around like the thoughts in your head, you're thinking about one thing when suddenly something totally unrelated jumps in and interrupts. We're not into straightforward ideas, more a stream of thoughts taken from daytoday."
The songs are very visual in a dreamy kind of way, you think imagery as you listen, it's more soundtrack than dance track music.
"Yeah! You know, I can't hear Daydreaming (the last single) without seeing the video anymore. Fortunately in Bailey we found a director who could perfectly visualise our sounds."
So your inspirations spring from hum-drum normality.
"There aren't any views being pushed, we*re not trying to pioneer anything, it's not a crusade, we haven't got any solid political opinions as a unit because we're all so different from each other as individuals."
Gee "There's no conscious off ort to make statements or anything, people keep telling us what they think we're saying, or asking us what makes us tick, or picking up on individual tracks, but basically we're not thinking about ANYTHING in particular, just subconscious thoughts that float around us. You know, at one time we used to pretend that we were all the same, all into hip hop, all with the same ideas, all like the guys in London and all that bullshit, but we came to the realisation that we're NOT the same, that we listen to different stuff and we have varying ideas about life, so why not be true to ourselves?"
3D "Our backgrounds are so different, yet as The Wild Bunch we spent half the time fighting for supremacy, to be the leader, and arguing about who was the most down with this or that. Now we just agree to differ and that acceptance enhances what we do rather than detracts. We can keep and include our differing lifestyles in our work."
Mushroom "It's just being honest to yourself, if you fake it you can't express yourself to the fullest because of the constraints of living up to this perceived image."
Just about every track on the new album seems to mention the word Budokan in the lyric, is it some kind of joke or a subliminal advertising campaign? Are you being true to yourselves, by apparently pushing it?
3D "Every rap track has a reference to Sony, yeah! It's not a plug for them though, it's just that Sony and their Walkman's are such a massive influence and the Sony Budokan is the ultimate portable sound experience, extra bass and a really huge sound. They even give you a cushion to sit on while you listen to it. It's a totally obsessive object and if you have something that you're really into, you constantly think about it, so when I think about words and music I constantly think of my Budokan, it's that simple. I also think about Subbuteo..."
Mushroom "We're gonna be up late again tonight ain't we."
Subbuteo again huh?
"No, we're doing a club thing"
Err! Sort of where I came in, type thing, I think.