But today is different. The maestros of kaleidoscopic British pop act Massive Attack have invited Innerviews to visit them in their hallowed fortress of solitude. "Sometimes, it's cathartic to just sit down in here and tell it like it is after you've been on tour stewing in your own fucking juices for a few too many days," says the group's Robert "3D" Del Naja, who proceeds to quaff a Beck's. The intriguing and promising comment immediately snaps your intrepid correspondent out of "Oh-God-not-another-jaded-pop-star" mode.
On this San Francisco afternoon, Massive Attack's bus sits motionless beside the Warfield Theater's stage entrance. The only thing rolling is opening act DJ Lewis Parker who sits quietly in the front compartment preparing to spliff it up. In the adjoining cabin is reggae legend and part-time Massive Attack vocalist Horace Andy. He's rummaging through his belongings residing in one of the tiny, claustrophobic cots masquerading as sleeping quarters. In the rear dwelling sits 3D whos surprisingly eager to discuss the drama and trauma of creating the group's latest release Mezzanine.
Wearing a black t-shirt, two-day stubble, and an omnipresent mischievous grin, hes unafraid to throw some punches at fellow Attackers Andrew "Mushroom" Vowles and Grant "Daddy G" Marshall. After all, their combative arguments, tantrums and personality clashes that came to a head during the making of Mezzanine are no secret. The ongoing battle was splashed across the covers of every British music magazine, each making hysterical claims about having "the most revealing story" about the oh-so-sordid situation.
Ultimately, the only thing to reveal is that Massive Attack is comprised of three very different individuals who've spent far too much time together. Theyve been a team since first working together in 1983 with the Wild Bunch sound system. It was a loosely-connected group of MCs, DJs, graffiti artists and vocalists known for playing underground clubs throughout its native Bristol. In 1988, the trio reinvented itself as Massive Attack. Over the course of 15 years, theyve evolved from kids with rudimentary MC and DJ skills into distinctive vocalists and masters of samples, sonic collage and cutting-edge studio production techniques.
So far, the most significant product of this union is 1991's Blue Lines. The disc is an incomparably seamless blend of HipHop, soul, pop and rock influences thats influenced countless artists since its release. The follow-up, 1994's Protection, extended Blue Line's unique vibe with a more mellow, trippy and atmospheric feel. Mezzanine is another leap forward. It integrates a heavy rock-based sound, worldbeat rhythms and a multi-layered, stylized approach.
Other common threads throughout the trilogy include Horace Andy's sweet, uplifting vocals, and the rap-inspired alternating wordplay that shifts between 3D's hushed whisper and Daddy G's deep rumble. A revolving roster of guest singers also take turns leading the charge. The Cocteau Twins' Liz Fraser, Tricky, Tracey Thorn and Shara Nelson are just a few of the luminaries that have offered their services to the group.
Recent years have seen Massive Attack transform its polished studio sound into a spectacular live experience. The acts concert ensemble is comprised of a versatile, heavy duty four-piece band, Horace Andy, and Deborah Miller who brilliantly subs for all of Massive Attack's female vocalists. And of course, there's Daddy G, Mushroom and 3D. Surprisingly, they're reduced to little more than guest appearance status at their own gig. The fact that these interviews were conducted while the band soundchecked without them says it all. But they maintain theyre content with popping on and offstage throughout the show, alternating performances with Andy and Miller.
Massive Attack alternates during interviews too. Because of their ever-emerging personal differences, the trio refuses to engage the press together. So, after chatting with 3D, Innerviews proceeds backstage to talk with Mushroom. We sit surrounded by a cartoon mural of San Francisco's skyline as well as the hustle and bustle of band members and road crew. Dressed in a black skullcap, orange t-shirt and denim jacket, he appears caught in a tour-induced haze. Whether hes tired or wired is a matter of debate. Mushroom table-drums throughout the interview, and proceeds to hold conversations about "spring rolls from that Buddhist place" and "wicked Adidas tracksuits" with passerbys at random intervals. Even stranger is how he perks up and focuses when the name Mike Oldfield, former labelmate and elder purveyor of all bells tubular, is discussed.
During these engaging conversations,
3D and Mushroom discuss the challenges of life on the road, their ongoing clashes,
heading up their own label Melankolic and what awaits them in the future.
Its been seven months since Mezzanine came out. Youve had a lot of time to digest, remix and perform these pieces live. How are they holding up?
Fuck me, yeah. It's seven months isn't it? It's old. Fuckin' hell. It feels longer than that even. I'm fucking so bored of it. It is difficult to play the same things. We've played 75 shows and it's getting more laborious every time.
How do you try to keep the gigs interesting?
By getting drunk. We're onstage almost exactly half the time. I'm onstage every other song, except for two songs in a row during the end. It's cool. It gives me more time to get drunk in between songs.
That's what's going on during every show?
Fucking right! [laughs] I'm not doing hair and make-up d'ya-know-what-I-mean? I'm just sitting there cracking a beer and [makes a puffing sound and smoking gesture]. I'm thinking "Ah, Horace is in tune tonight. Oh lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely ." and watching everyone else get on with it. It's weird. Maybe that's half the reason it's difficult. I'm listening to the songs so many times, even when I'm not performing them, know-what-I-mean? You forget what it's like to write them and what it's like to be in the studio getting them outta your head. It becomes slightly detachedit feels like someone else's music.
You're almost a spectator at your own show.
Yeah, sometimes it feels like thatto a certain extent. But because I'm doing vocals, I get involved. I've done them so many times that I get bored of them too. A lot of bands I've met suffer from the same thingwhen they're onstage singing or playing their instrument for 15 songs or whatever. They find it boring too. You go into autopilot sometimes and you come out of it and realize you've lost yourself. You come out of it and it's quite scary when you go "Fuck, where am I in this song? Fuck where am I anyway?" It's quite weird.
If you wanted to, you could set up these tunes to have improvised elements.
We can to a certain extent, but it's difficult. Most of the improvisation is done between the gigs. We change a lot of the tracks in rehearsals. I told the guys "I'm so fucking bored of 'Karmacoma' that I wanna change it." So we put new parts in ita new intro, new middle section and a few new lyrics. And it's still fucking boring! But it sort of spices up the boredom a little bit. [laughs]
What about the differences in crowds from night to night? Can that spice it up too?
You can always divide the audience into three groups: ecstasy, alcohol and fucking spliff, d'ya-know-what-I-mean? [laughs] The spliffheads are the ones nodding, the e-heads are fucking losing it and the drunkards like me are wearing silly grins on their faces.
The tension between the three of you during the making of Mezzanine has been discussed to death in the press. But what I haven't seen discussed is the fact that you ultimately got your way.
Yeah, it was more my direction on this record. It's difficult for me to say.
How were you able to assert yourself over the other two?
By being stubborn, throwing tantrumsthe usual fucking childish behavior. [laughs]
That's it? You threw a shitfit and they fell in line?
I think it's because I spent a lot of time in the studio stressing myself about thingsabout tracks, ideas and trying to get off the beaten track a bit. I always said it was for the greater good of the fucking project because if this album was a bit different from the last two, the next one would be even freer to be whatever it wants to be, d'ya-know-what-I-mean? And after the last album and the other bands that have come out since us in and around Bristol, I didn't want to feel the fucking net closing in on us as if we had to be what we were and be that defined. I don't want people expecting a certain sound from us because we are what we are, or because of where we come from or whatever. I feel we've totally succeeded in that because we've turned a few people off and turned a lot of people on who weren't into it before. We've also kept a lot of people interested who sort of waited for it. And to a certain extent, we kept ourselves interested in the studio even though we rowed about a lot. I think the next album could be very different entirely and maybe Mushroom will take the fucking helm.
He leans more to the HipHop and soul side than you, doesn't he?
I think if it had been more HipHop and soul it would have died. I feel Protection was more what Mushroom's intoits a bit more HipHop, soulful, and R&B-orientated in places. I think that was fine 'cuz it was a completely different record than Blue Lines. It was about where we were then but I think we would have fenced ourselves in entirely by doing the same thing again. I think we wouldnt have been true to ourselvesit wouldn't have been reflective of all of us. That would have been a problem for me and probably a problem for 'G. We took the live music back in the studio and vice-versa. It would have been difficult to go out live and develop ourselves as a band and tour the world if we hadn't done what we did. It would have been something sad like Soul II Soul where you repeat your formula and it uses itself up and you dwindle your resources.
It almost sounds as if you've emerged as the de facto leader of the group.
It wasn't my intention, it was just getting into the studio and working on tracks and it was obvious what was working and what wasn't. I think 'G understood that and Mushroom understood it too but it pissed him off, d'ya-know-what-I-mean? But Mush would bring tracks in that really weren't gonna work with the rest of the album in context and that was difficult. Like I said, I was the only one at the particular time that had a vision of how this album could sound as a whole. Everyone else had fragmented ideas and that's good sometimes and dangerous other times. We'd been fucking around for a long time and it was about time to finish the album d'ya-know-what-I-mean? It wasn't fucking easy. It was painfulthe arguments and everything else. But it had to be done, otherwise we'd still be fucking around now discussing what kind of album we're gonna do.
Describe the strengths and weaknesses of Mushroom and 'G as collaborators.
I don't want to get too personal about this. [long pause] The problem is, it's very subjective, especially without going into personalities because we all hate each other's personalities in certain ways because we've lived with each other for fucking years. There are things we've hated about each other which have been there for a long time which is like any relationship, d'ya-know-what-I-mean? But if I'm going to get very subjective, I have to say that I'm very much into change. I get bored of things very quicklybored of ideas and bored of doing the same thing. I think Mush is into doing the same thing. I think he likes what he doesa particular way of making music, a particular sound and that's the difference between us. I like to keep reinventing it. I don't know if that's a strength or weakness. I think Grant sits on the fence sometimes. He sits on it too much. He'll take the easy way out every time. [pauses] This is getting too personal. I'd rather leave it cryptic.
Do the three of you hang out anymore when you're not working?
No. [laughs] Not when we're home. After the last tour, I didnt see Mush for seven weeks until this leg. I went to the studio after the first week back and I was there every day and did some work with Neil [Davidge] on some tracks. I did a remix for the Manics [Manic Street Preachers] and one for U.N.K.L.E. for the track "Rabbit In The Headlights" with Thom Yorke on it. I also did a new b-side track for "Inertia Creeps." I didn't see anyone and that was cool. I was just hungry.
You did the Massive b-side without any input from 'G or Mushroom?
Yeah, it's called "Reflections."
It's just me and Neil. Its a quick track. It's almost a sister track to
"Inertia Creeps." It's very simple, but its got a nice vibe to it.
It's like Public Image if I was to compare it, which I shouldn't do really.
Are you planning to release any material under the name 3D?
The "Rabbit In The Headlights" mix for U.N.K.L.E. is a 3D mix. That's their next single, but I don't think it gets a release here in the States. I don't think Thom Yorke has given proper single rights for it here. To be honest, I did the Manic Street Preachers mix on my own too because Mush and 'G weren't up to it. So, I did it with Neil [Davidge]the Massive Attack mix. I didnt have a problem with it because I spend so much time in the studio on my ownthe same as Mushroom does. I dont think there's an issue in that you're branching off on a solo thing. It seems to be working as normal. The only difference is it got finished and no-one here had to approve the idea of itthat was the weird thing.
Could Massive Attack continue as a duo if one of you left?
[laughs] I can't answer that question. I dunno. I'll take the fifth on that. It depends on the duo and what was happening at the time. It's not a surreal idea though. It's not an abstract sort of question. But Massive Attack has a pull for all of us, d'ya-know-what-I-mean? I think it has something that connects us. And even though we've outgrown each other as people in a certain way and our ideas have outgrown each other, there's something in the middlemaybe a comfort zone where we all work together and live together and it supports us at one level as a creative thing. We all have a respect for each othersometimes healthy, sometimes unhealthy. We've got a lot of stuff to sort out in the new year. We put a lot of stuff aside until after we finish the tour. It will all get a bit difficult. There are a lot of personal issues that we chose to bury.
Can't go into it. I can't. Put it this way, it's about everything I've said to you about the album, direction and the rest of it. It's all about where it's going and what it's about. There are a lot of repressed issues and they've got to come out. We'll see what happens then, but the bottom line is we do have a respect for each other. We have integrity and creativity and respect each other's personalities even through they're difficult and we hate each other for the same reasons. It's such an average fucking situation. It's like any fucking marriage.
Do you believe one has to suffer to create great art?
Mushroom disagrees. He thinks making music should be simpleyou do this, you do that and you get what you want out of it. I disagree. I think if you want to do something different, you have to take yourself out of a comfortable area and feel exposed. Sometimes you're embarrassed or ashamed of the things you've tried out 'cuz in your mind they might not have been honest or they might have been for a ridiculous reason or the wrong reason. But when you deal with that, you find the right things. If you work in the same area the same way, then it's gonna be easier all the time. You comfort yourself in your joys. I'd rather use hobbies to comfort myself like football, or drinking and sex.
Drinking and sex? You must hang out at some interesting hobby shops.
[laughs] I didn't mean to say sex as a hobby! As I said that I tried to pull it back! Y'know, it's as opposed to music. I dont consider music a hobby. Every now and then you get wicked fucking joy and satisfaction out of it. You can even be surprised at something thats happened. Sometimes you go to the studio one day and come out with a track. You could have gone to the pub instead. But you wake up the next morning and you put on the tape and you go "Fuck me! That was last night and the only reason it exists is because I couldn't be fucked to go out." Other times, you spend three days in the studio and fucking nothing. You play it back and it's just fucking bollocks and you rip it out of the machine and say "This is shit!" and have a complete fucking bout of self pity and self doubt. I think thats part of the process. I can't see how it can all be fun. I dont think it's real if it is.
Describe the relationship between the group and Virgin.
We've set up a situation where we always have artistic license whatever we fucking do. We've been screwed on fucking compilation albums like every band and on soundtracks where we really didn't want to put things onto them and we couldn't persuade the label otherwise. We've regretted odd decisions maybe, but not big decisions. In our records, our music, our fucking images, it's all us and that's the way it is.
What you're describing is almost unheard of for any act on a major label.
Oh, totally. The two guys who signed us to Circa records which got soaked up by Virgin which got soaked up by EMI are still with us. They came over here to run Virgin America. At the end of the fucking day if we have a problem with Virgin we say "We're not fucking doing this, we do what we want." To be honest, we've never been told otherwise. We pulled a video we did recently because we didn't like it. It cost fucking 120 grand. Half of it was our money and we just pulled it and said "We're not using it, it's shit!" There was no reason for it to go out there. Most record companies would have freaked. Marc [Picken], our manager, was in the firing line. I didn't see all the shitit was all second hand to me. I just sat in Bristol saying "No! No! No! Fuck, no way!" just like the rest of the guys. And Marc was on the phone fucking going "Listen, listen, listen the boys feel this way "
Can you read music or play a conventional instrument?
Not really, no. That's the
beauty of it. Everything I've ever donepainting, music, writinghas
always been untrained and uneducated. It's been about finding books yourself,
art you like, images you like and parts of the world you fucking like. I don't
think its a necessity at all for most bands. It's the same for Roni Size
and everyone I know apart from people like Adrian [Utley] who plays guitar for
Portishead. He's a classically trained musician, and so is Angelo [Bruschini,
Massive's guitarist]. He can fucking read anything. But for us, it's much more
about ideas and imaginationthat's why it's not a conventional structure.
Massive Attack was always an idea. No matter what happens in the future, we
will continue to make music in one shape or another. And it'll be driven by
the same thing what's happening in your head.
How do you go about planning and structuring a piece without traditional notation?
I think you can write a song on paper, describe the sounds and plan the fucking track out and the arrangement without actually writing music. I do it as a fucking set of images, drawings, arrows and liststhat's how I write. And then I'll get into the studio and I'll have a loop or I can operate a sequencer and write beats, bass lines and music electronically easily, d'ya-know-what-I-mean? In terms of fucking describing it to someone else, it's a completely difficult matter. If I want Angelo to play a part, I have to sing it to him, and he'll do something completely different. Then I'll go "No, it's like this" and sing it again. I might play a bit of music which will give him an idea of where I'm trying to go. We get there eventually.
You said you were singing parts to Angelo. Do you consider yourself a singer?
[laughs] I'm a vocalist. I can sing a melody to him, but I wouldn't go out there and sing. It's a vocal thing. I don't like calling it rap either, 'cuz I don't think it's relevant.
You've established an instantly-recognizable vocal style. Along with Horace Andy's voice, it's one of the things that defines the band's sound.
Does that mean I've become a cliché meself?
[laughs] Fuck! I've fucking blown it already! Third album in, I've fucked it up! My range has got an eight octave whisper and that's it. That's all I can do!
During your days with the Wild Bunch, did you ever get behind the decks in addition to doing the MC thing?
I was never behind turntables like 'G and Mush who are very much DJs. I had a pair of decks and a mixer, and I did a couple of little cheesy shows at clubs, d'ya-know-what-I-mean? But it was never my thing really. I was always more into the lyrical sidethe MC side, and also the painting which I've still carried on doing.
You're behind all of Massive Attack's album and single art, right?
Yeah, and stuff for MoWax.
For Mezzanine, it was more of a graphic thing. We deliberately wanted it to
be different from the other two albums, so I didn't try to force my ridiculous
images down everyone's fucking throats this time.
"Inertia Creeps" is the current single. My hunch is you wrote it. Tell me what it's about.
[laughs] Yeah. It came out of Istanbul. I already had a lot of the lyrics written before. It was just about a relationship I had been going through. It's about being in a situation but knowing you should be out of it but you're too fucking lazy or weak to leave. And you're dishonest to yourself and dishonest to the other person. You're betraying them everyday and the whole scene feels like it's closing in on you, d'ya-know-what-I-mean? The idea is a combination of movements propelling yourself forward and pulling yourself back at the same time. That's what the track's abouta fucked up relationship basically and there it is.
There are some interesting worldbeat influences strewn throughout the track that are new to Massive.
The music came from nights out in Istanbul. There's some mad music there at some belly dancing shows which are pretty embarrassingly tourist-orientated. But the music was fucking really cool. I got some tapes and I was in the studio when we were working on this music. Mush came in and I was fucking really bitching and beat as shit and I said "I got this fucking wicked beat I heard from this fucking tape" and we started writing this new beat from it and so it was really cool, d'ya-know-what-I-mean? It was one of those good fucking days in the studio when everyone was on the same fucking vibe.
Describe how you work with the artists you've signed to Melankolic.
Horace [Andy] we know, Craig [Armstrong] we've worked with and he knows the music business quite wellhe's seen the good and bad side of it. Lewis [Parker] did a one-off deal with us for an album that was already recorded and he's starting to record a new album which will be new territory for him. Two bands we've just signed from Bristol in the last six months which come out next year, as well as Alpha kinda know us and know our history, d'ya-know-what-I-mean? So, they're prepared to go into it and say "Look, this is how we work." They already know us because they've seen what we've done and have talked to us casually in the pub or whereverBristol is a small community. So, everyone's from the same place and everyone gets to know everyone else's business.
We make the music we want and decide how and when we make it. That's the kind of premise people come into the label with. They want someone they can rely onsomeone that's gonna be there who's not gonna fuck them around. They want someone who understands and isn't about to be fucking changing companies six months later y'know? Because that happens all the time. People sign to a person rather than a company and that person fucks off and they're left out in the cold. They [Melankolic signings] know that ain't gonna happen with us. Musically, we don't try to interfere too much. On a couple of projects, we collaborated with people and we've given advice on track listings, production, ideas, recording and some of the programming, but on the whole, the people we want to work with know where they're going.
It sounds relatively devoid of standard-issue music industry politics.
Not really, no. Things happen. We have an office that takes the pressure off. We don't get involved in the day-to-day running of itthe release dates, the promo and all the shit of it. That's when the pressure comes in and people start having tantrums like we do, d'ya-know-what-I-mean? When things like artwork get fucked up, they don't phone us up and go "Do you believe the fucking thing? There should have been a spot color on the fucking cover!" We don't get involved in that. That'd be a nightmare.
I understand Virgin is less than pleased with how large Melankolic's roster is.
They wanted to slow us down and restrict our signings. We're signed to EMI now since Virgin merged and we've been sucked up into that vacuum. EMI is probably all going to change again by the looks of it 'cuz it's fucked. The first thing they'll do is cut the fucking roster down, sort the accounts out and see what's making profit, what ain't and all that shit. They'll balance the books and see our labela small labelhasn't made any money yet. It costs money even though the acts that have come in have sold really well. That's because of the initial advances. Obviously, things aren't going to be going great for the first five years initially 'cuz it's a new company. But they're [EMI] not looking at it that way. They'll say "We've got this thing Melankolic here, what the fuck's going on?" d'ya-know-what-I-mean? It's basic accountancy and all that shit.
We're trying to sign new acts now. We've got seven acts including Horace on this small label and we're trying to sign Liz Fraser for her solo stuff. So, that's eight acts and that's not what Virgin intended. They intended three acts and everyday they're chopping off heads and fucking whittling things down and we keep stuffing stuff in the middle. But they're scared of saying no to us because they know the things we're signing are fucking good and we're not pushing anything to the front of the line. Everything we've brought in they've liked which is why they've agreed to sign the two last deals we did with them. They're really big fucking deals for the artists concerned and we don't get that much out of it. We get a fucking couple of points which is fuck-all for a lot of work to be honest. Plus they're scared someone else will take it. They know most of the things we worked with we've put X amount of time into. Everyone in the industry knows the connection and there are fucking vultures out there ready to say "We'll have ya and see ya!" Virgin's so scared they shit themselves. They're fucking scared that they'll go for a drink with another A&R person six months later and the guy's going "Yeah, I've got this fucking great act!" and they're fucking thinking they could have had that, d'ya-know-what-I-mean? "Straight from fucking Bristol, they're our Massive Attack," d'ya-know-what-I-mean? "They'll be the next Portishead"all this shit.
Bristol seems to have successfully transcended its "flavor of the week" status and has established itself as a long-term musical hotspot.
It's a family thing and
it's all fucking good. Everything is about being hopeful and promising. No-one's
got in each other's way. Everyone is being helpful and fucking supportive, d'ya-know-what-I-mean?
But I know A&R people who came down to Bristol after Protection, Portishead's
Dummy and Tricky's Maxinquayethey all came flocking and signed a few bands
and said "This is our label's Massive Attack or Radiohead or fucking Verve"
and all that shit, even though it's not real. They came down and they fucked
What do you make of Tricky assaulting that journalist from NME recently?
I think it's silly. I don't think it helps him at all. It's a paranoid fucking sort of insecurity. I read the article and there's nothing offensive in it. In fact, if anything was offensive, it was Tricky saying that we didn't take him up to receive our Brit award for best fucking album or something because he co-produced it which is absolute bullshit. He didn't co-produce the tracks he worked on and we weren't offered the best album. It was three years after the album came out. It was a dance band award and it was all bullshit. It was just a bit of vitriol and it wasnt very clever vitriol. It was pointless to me. The fact that he can read his own review and attack a journalist seems crazy to me. It's a bad sign I think.
The only consistent element in the group beyond the trio is Horace Andy. He's almost the fourth member of Massive Attack.
I think that's safe to say. Horace Andy, sweet like candy. [laughs] It would be hard to imagine us working on an album without him. It would be hard to imagine us going on tour without him too, so without out a doubt, yeah. But then again working with everyone herethe band quote, unquoteI can't imagine doing it with anyone else. We've established such good relationships over the last four years that it would be hard working in any other situation.
How do you bridge the generation gap with Horace? You're all a lot younger than he is.
He's the fucking biggest kid you've ever met and I mean that in the best possible way! [laughs] That's why he's still very creative and so open-minded as opposed to saying "I only do reggae." He's into experimenting and that's the great fucking thing about keeping your brain alert, young, and naïve to a certain extent. Y'know, one of the reasons we three argue all the time is because we're childish. We're all fucking kids which is probably why we're so dysfunctional at home after going on tour in this fucking playground.
What do you make of the group's predominantly white audience, despite all of the HipHop and soul influences?
[laughs] To be honest, I've
never noticed it because it wasn't an issue being in Bristol, d'ya-know-what-I-mean?
When we started, it wasn't an issue. The reggae thing was more black, and the
white people were on the periphery of it. But the HipHop thing brought a lot
of white and black people together in most of the cities in the U.K. at the
time. It was quite an important part of the process at that timethe early
80s. It really did change quite a lothow clubs were laid out and what
kind of people went to what places, d'ya-know-what-I-mean? People started co-mingling
in places you wouldn't expect them to. I think when we did our first sound systems,
it was still predominantly whitedefinitely at the club we used to play
in which was The Dugout in Clifton. It was a mixed crowd, but a bit more white.
Our crowds have always been a bit more white.
Some have suggested that Massive Attack, Portishead and Tricky offer a safe version of HipHop for white audiences. It represents a level of abstraction that allows them to buy into HipHop from a distancewithout attempting to identify or understand the charged racial undercurrents of the music. What do you think?
Hmm. [pauses] I haven't heard it said that way before. I think the Beastie Boys and Public Enemy did that more y'know. They brought a lot of white people into the rap scene without having to understand the black culture of New York or L.A. or any of the other cities which weren't so obviously televised. I think for us in the U.K. and Europe, we brought in more rock and jazz people and others from outside the world of HipHop and techno who were slightly too scared to touch it. Portishead definitely crossed over the first into the indie market big time, d'ya-know-what-I-mean? That was a big surprise for them as well as everyone else. I think the problem isn't so much with HipHop, but R&B in the States which is becoming very generic and suburban. It doesn't seem like it's coming from L.A. and New York anymore. All the excitement and chaos seems to have left it. It seems to be very simple and straightforward nowalmost churned out to feed the masses. It seems to be entirely targeted at the same audience as white fucking rock and country music and there's not a lot of change at the moment. It's very near MOR. I think that's what put a lot of people off HipHop in the U.K. and Europe to a certain extent. It suddenly started to look uninteresting and un-dangerous.
If you had it your way, would you prefer more faces of color in the audience?
When we played New York,
I was surprised there were a lot more black people there in the audience than
had been in any other place in States. It was goodit was really good.
I remember thinking "Fuck me! There was a really good mixed crowd there!"
as opposed to a white Boston crowd, d'ya-know-what-I-mean? But when you're up
there onstage, it doesnt really fucking matter. I'm more worried about
connecting and communicating and a lot of it depends on the sound. Obviously,
my vocal style is quite quiet. Some fucking places take a lot of bass and fucking
throw it around the room, so I'm not getting heard properly and that winds me
up, 'cuz I know I'm not really communicating. It's annoying. It's all a personal
issue when you're out there and you come off thinking "I did that really
well and I played that really well." It's all about how you feel as an
individual because you always feel you're on your own out there. You feel everyone's
looking at you and it's weird. If I'm into the music, I don't give a fuckI
love it and Im right into the track. If I'm not happy, I completely feel
like I shouldn't be there and I wanna get fucking off. I think "What the
fuck am I doing here? What the fuck are you looking at?"
There have been rumors of a remix album for Mezzanine. Is one on the way?
The Mad Prof has mixed a lot of things and we have a lot of extra tracks and remixes from Blur, the Manics and Primal Scream. There's a lot of interesting things, but we're trying to work out a way we can put it out without being fucking corny 'cuz we already did the No Protection album. That was fun, but a lot of people have done remix albums since then. It might seem like flogging a dead horse.
You really are intensely worried about falling back on cliches or becoming caricatures of yourselves aren't you?
Exactly. And doing a remix album again would be like "They did that the last time." We got a lot of stick for No Protection in the press. Half the reviews were good and half were like "Oh, this is the fucking hard sell." Our vibe on it was we did it for a laugh. We got so sick trying to make an album that we wanted to give it to the Prof so he could fuck with it and go completely mad over it. It wasn't meant to be taken seriously. Certain people did and they thought we were fucking ripping everyone off. And we said "No, we're not. If you want it, you want it. If you dont, you dont. Take it or leave it." It's not a fucking must have thing. If we can put something out at a real low fucking price and keep it cheap and cheerful, that would be good. But we don't want to come across like we're trying to resell the album because the album is what it is. Virgin have asked us to do a boxed set of all our singles as welleverything from the Blue Lines album until "Inertia Creeps." We don't know how we feel about that, especially since Virgin has lost all the artwork from the first two albums. We'll see.
You're 32 now. Do you see Massive Attack as your long-term career? Will you still be in a Massive Attack when you're 50?
Not as a touring, performing band. As far as doing something creative, yeah. But not in this sort of touring state. I wouldn't survive. It's too abusive, d'ya-know-what-I-mean? It's too unreal and you don't connect with people on the right level. You just fucking lose your mind. You can't do this forever.
That's what Mick Jagger said about the Stones back in 1968 too.
[laughs] Yeah, but I think the Stones are big enough to do it. We're not the sort of band that makes a grand comeback and sells out Wembley, d'ya-know-what-I-mean?
But you are about to play several weeks worth of arena shows in Europe. That's an unprecedented milestone for a group with Massive Attack's vibe.
Yeah, but wait a couple of years and we'll have to go back and start again, rather than maintaining the sort of level you sort of get to.
What are your immediate post-tour plans?
By the time we finish, it'll be Christmas. I think I'll go back into the studio. I know I'll be bored pretty quick. I'll be sick of touring big time, but I'll be real eager to do something.
As Massive Attack?
Yeah, I feel the next album will go this way: I do X amount of work, Mush does X amount of work and 'G will figure out where he wants to fit between usif he's gonna do stuff on his own or come in on our projects or whatever. Then somewhere down the line it'll start to combine or we'll fucking pull apart. Either way we'll have an album or albums out of it.
What's a rough timeline for this stuff?
My idea is it would be good to get an album out for 2000. It would be pointless to try and throw an album out next year because what people expect of us isn't what we expect of ourselves. It's ready when it's right. We'll go into our process which makes it easier to write as individuals as opposed to trying to sit in a room together and fuck each other's ideas up all day by going in completely different directions. I think we'll write alone and bring all the ideas together and see how they correspond and fucking feel together vibewisesee what story they tell or don't tell. That would be cool and an easier way of writing rather than forcing ourselves on each other in the studio. That's what we tried to do at the beginning of Mezzanine and Protection. Blue Lines was a new experience and we didnt know each other that way. But now we know how fucking bad it can be. It's better to just be honest and treat the whole album in a very straightforward way, even if its a fucking self-possessed wayfor the group fucking therapy of everyone.
Do you have any specific musical ideas for the next album already?
I've got a couple of bizarre fucking musical ideas that are very punky, jazzy thingsfucking quite weird. They're difficult to explain. Its a sound thing. I imagine this piano thing with a guitar over it and one becomes the other and back again. It becomes hard and soft very simply but without any seams, d'ya-know-what-I-mean? It's very rotational and trippy and you direct a vocal for it and lift it and drop it as you feel. But again its a list of ideas on paper that goes "This is how the track starts, then it does this, then it does that, and maybe that sort of sound in brackets next, and maybe this fucking line goes through it."
Ah, the scientific method.
[laughs] Yeah, like we discussed before, I just write listsjust like shopping lists. And then I get to the studio eventually and start working on a beat or something I like. Then I'll go "Yes" or "No" or "Here's something out of the blue" and then force things into place. It all happens naturally, but more often than not, it's difficult because you lose a lot in the fucking translation along the waythat's the most painful bit. The original idea changes shape. It's a lot like what you do when painting. You start the painting with a clear vision, a sketch and a set of colors and halfway through it becomes something completely different. You think "Well, I'll belligerently go forward and start fucking with the shapes and colors and make it into what it's gonna be because I know it'll become this. Or do I let it be what it is now and leave it? Or do I go off and take it in another direction?" And then you start mixing the track. The possibilities are endless, d'ya-know-what-I-mean?
It's been seven months since Mezzanine came out. How are its tracks holding up for you?
They're holding up good. Its been going quite well. Weve been touring most of the time since it was released. Its the best way of doing things but were getting slightly fed up with it now. But weve got to keep doing it until the tours over.
Is there any room in the songs to improvise to keep them interesting?
You cant really keep it interesting, no. You just play the same thing and do your best really. Theres not much room for improvising because theres a lot of samples put into it. Only the bassist and guitarist can improvise over it really. I dont think wed want to do that much anyway. We like to keep it tight and smart.
Have you had any kind of life since the album came out?
[laughs] Only this really. But you learn to live your life alongside it.
Mezzanine has sold 170,000 copies in the States since its release. Blue Lines and Protection have each done 140,000 here since they were released years ago. Are you pleased with the progression?
I guess were kind of pleased, yeah. Its good to sort of spread the word around yknow. It dont really matter though. We just want to make music for ourselves. How far it up the charts it goes doesnt really matter. The acceptance doesnt matter at the end of the day.
The disagreements between you three during the making of the record have been well-documented. But if you could have it entirely your way, how would it have sounded?
It would have been more soul-orientatedmuch soul-ier. More like Blue Lines. Well, I cant say more like Blue Lines, really. But it would have felt much more soul-ier. It would have been much more of a black sounding album with HipHop influences too. It came out kinda rocky. That was from 'D who is quite rock and punk-orientated.
Can you be more specific about the soul and HipHop sounds you would have preferred to hear?
Not your cliched stuff. Pretty advanced stuff. Its hard to describe music thats new sounding. You have to hear it really.
Is Mezzanine a new sounding record?
Yeah. Its new to us and thats all that matters.
With these three clashing personalities, how were you able to come to consensus on what the final product sounded like?
Its the record company that decided in the end. They said "Enoughs enough. Youve got to put the record out now." It just got done, really. We just write the music and choose the tracks and certain tracks made it through and some didnt.
Describe the strengths and weaknesses of 'D and 'G as collaborators.
[laughs] I dont like doing that really. Id rather leave that alone. I dont like to talk about itabout people and stuff. [long pause] I dunno. Its just not a nice thing to do.
Is it a case of "If you cant say something nice, dont say anything at all?"
[really long pause] Uh, Id just rather not and leave it alone. [laughs]
Your approach to writing evolved out of DJ culture. But Im curious if you have any background with traditional instruments?
I've always played a bit of the drums since school and now I program a lot of beats. I also play a bit of keyboards, but DJ-ing is my main thing. It's quite a natural progression to go from being a DJ to being a musician, like Funk Master Flex. If youre into music as a DJ and a great buyer and listener of music, youre going to want to make music yourself someday. I guess if you make music, youre a musician.
Youre onstage less than half the time. You're almost a spectator at your own concert.
I like that. [laughs] I think its good to just sit back and watch whats going on. I kinda think its a bit different as well. Everyones coming on and off stage. Its like the sound systems we used to do with MCs and DJs coming on and off all the time.
Do you see yourselves as modern day Duke Ellingtons or Count Basiesacting more as directors than performers?
Yeah, could be. We direct the way it goes.
Do listen to any jazz?
Personally, yeah. Ronnie Laws, Hubert Laws, Roy Ayers, and a lot of obscure stuff too. A lot of 70s stuff like Eric Gales, Passport, Azymuth and Spyro Gyra. All of it I'm into. When I hear it or see it in the shops, I buy it. All the spin-off bands too, like Isotope.
To me, Massive Attack is predominantly about taking HipHop and soul in new directions. So, does it surprise you that the band draws a predominantly white audience?
It doesn't surprise me, but I don't like it yknow. Personally, I don't like it at all. But I guess it's just because of the way the record is marketed. Also, the segregation you get in music in this country and various countriesactually, every country in factplays a role. There is white music and there is black music and theres only the odd few songs that will cross over into different worlds.
What do you perceive as the roots of the musical segregation?
Theres some very strong identities over here. Its a bit of both: marketing and identities. I just think over here, people don't venture out of their own world really. You won't get so many black people listening to Mike Oldfield, Cream and The Beatles or something as you maybe would in England. But England is much more white than this country is. It's 1.5 to 2% black people. And in England there's no black radio stations which is pretty messed up. But at least in the States, theres support for each community whether it's white or black. Each community has its own radio stations, its own media and its own magazines. Its segregated, but at least theres strong support for identities. There is a good, strong underground scene for black music in England, but no support for it on the surface. Its a sad country in that way and you get all these white people like All Saints ripping black people off. This sort of white girl band doing songs like "Booty Call?" Its fucking pathetic! [laughs] I personally dont like it, the music business there.
Any thoughts on how turntablism has evolved into high art in the last few years?
I think its cool. I know Pogo from England. He and Swift are some of the all-time masters. I grew up with them in the HipHop scene, when Cash Money first came to England and all that scratching came to the front. I think its good, all of thatturntablism, yeah.
The Recording Industry Association of America is now clamping down on DJs that put out mixed tapes and tiny CD runs featuring unauthorized samples. Theyre treating these DJs as criminals. What do you make of that?
They're coming down on the mixed tapes now? That's pretty wild, this publishing stuff. It's sad in a way. It's like samples as well, really. I sample myself and I do think that it's good to sample and make a mix tape. But on the other hand, you are taking someone elses piece of music. We've been in legal battles with Isaac Hayes, and now John McLaughlin over samples.
John McLaughlin? The jazz guitarist?
Yeah, from Mahavishnu Orchestra. He reckons we infringed on his copyright by taking "Hey, hey, hey" for "Unfinished Sympathy" which I think is really stupid. But if you sample people for a four or eight bar section, it's fair to pay up money to the original artist. I guess it's the extent of what you take it to really. The mixed tape thingyou are using a complete record. Its another artist's piece of music and youre making money from it really. I've got nothing against that though, unless the mixed tapes become number one hits.
Has anyone sampled Massive Attack?
[laughs] People have done
covers and stuff. Some Canadian people did a cover of "Safe From Harm"
which was quite big up there, a number one hit. That was years ago. I cant
remember their name.
Massive Attack recently started its own label called Melankolic. What sort of advice do you give new signings like Lewis Parker or Craig Armstrong?
None really. We tell them we like their music and tell them to get on with it really.
Do you shield them from the nonsense of the record industry?
Not really, because the industry is, like, the industry yknow and Melankolic has to deal with Virgin at the end of the day.
How involved does Virgin get in the musical side of things at Melankolic?
Theyll listen to the music and give their advice about what they think about the music, but theyve put us onboard as glorified A&R men, so I think they just sort of trust us a little bit. Theyve made no major suggestions that really affect the artists, but they tried to shut us down once and said were signing too many acts. We wouldnt have it.
It sounds like Massive Attack has some good leverage with Virgin. Few major label acts can say "we wouldnt have it" in the face of corporate directives.
We can, yeah. They've never sort of tried to control us. We've always told them to "Shut-up, keep your head down and let us do what we've got to do," which makes them a good company. I think that's what Virgin was originally built onoff-the-wall kinds of music, things like Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells. So, they've always kind of had that easy going thing. They went a bit off with the Spice Girls though. [laughs]
Virgin was anything but easy going with Mike Oldfield. They made him write pop songs and tried to get him to abandon the long instrumentals. He got so frustrated that on Amarok, one of his last albums for the label, he included morse code directed at Richard Branson that said "Fuck off R.B."
Amarok? What's that?
Its one of Mike Oldfields best albumsa 60-minute continuous piece of music. It came out in 1990.
1990? [in astonishment] This is a released album? Wait a minute! Is it as good as Tubular Bells?
Better, in fact.
Reallly? An instrumental album? He did it in 1990? I guess it sounds quite modern then. See, I bet all these sounds are shiny and new, with synth sounds and new, electronic bass drums.
Its got a heavy acoustic element, but its much choppier and even dissonant at times compared to Tubular Bells.
It's up and down like Tubular Bells? [laughs]
Im surprised youre so into Mike Oldfield. Youve mentioned him a couple of times during this interview.
Yeah, unfortunately I had to miss his Tubular Bells III album release concert in London by one day. Have you heard the album yet?
Yeah, its a very dance-oriented, beat-heavy version, believe it or not.
I bet that's not too good! [laughs] Did you hear Tubular Bells II with Trevor Horn? I thought it was kinda good too, but nothing beats the original. That's just an amazing record.
A lot of people point to Blue Lines as being a pioneering record on the order of Tubular Bells. Do you think its worthy of the praise it's received?
I don't know. We made it for ourselves, not to get praise. It's a bit of an ego thing to say. I guess it's a cool record, but I praise it because it pleases me. I don't ask for any praise from the outside. We don't make any of the albums for listeners and buyersit's just for us.
What did you think of the Straight Outta Bristol book?
Thats a terrible book. I recommend fans don't buy it. Phil Johnston is just an asshole. He doesnt have a clue. About 90% of that book is crap. Hes just some guy who came in from the outside for a couple of weeks who thought he knew everyone really well. Its bullshit. Its a really horrible book. Loads of stuff pisses me off about it.
Are you surprised at how devoted hardcore Massive Attack fans are? "Any Love" singles are now changing hands for more than $150 and there are several bootleg live and compilation CDs floating around Japan and other countries. [hands Mushroom a copy of the Remixes and Unreleased Songs disc]
$150 for "Any Love?" [breaks out into laughter] But I love it, I love all these bootlegs. I just think its good. These people just want to do it, dont they? Its music innit? Its for everyone. Why not go out and bootleg it?
['G stops by the table and Mushroom hands him the CD]
Mushroom: Hey 'G, look at this.
Daddy G: Whats this? A bootleg?
Mushroom: Yeah, it's great. I love it.
Daddy G: I fuckin' hate
it! I can't believe it. Fucking tricky bastards!