The Importance of Being Massive Attack (mp3.com 28th September 2006)
MP3: So I understand that you suffered a few difficulties with the American customs department while you were coming into our fine country
Robert Del Naja : That was unfortunately Horace Andy's particular difficulties, being Jamaican, and we had some visa application forms which he filled out wrong, which basically set a whole chain of events in motion causing us to miss the first week, which was quite annoying. But, you know, one of those things.
They obviously had no idea who Horace Andy is.
I thought maybe you were unfortunately caught carrying liquids or wearing metal shoes or something like that?
Well, I had a metal shoe filled with liquid actually at the time, and I set light to it at the airport, and now I've got...no nothing like that. I couldn't even f****** take a little spray, aerosol sort of like to clean my cuff links and nice shiny buttons on my suit. But, you know, it's a little bit difficult these days wearing shiny objects and keeping them clean at airports.
Right, well apparently you can take over a plane with ranch dressing now.
Seriously, with a lamb mint sauce dressing?!
Yes! Well maybe they were not too excited by the name Massive Attack spray-painted on all your road cases?
That's it. It always causes a little bit of grief, doesn't it?
And the inflammable material logos everywhere might have sort of caused a little bit of concern too.
Right, yeah, well, pretty soon you'll just have to fly naked.
Exactly. I'll do it. I'll do it if the f****** air hostesses do it. That's my deal.
Then, yes, that would truly be the only way to fly!
So you're currently doing your first tour of North America in eight years--is that correct?
Yeah, it seems ridiculous, we were talking about that today, how long...I can't believe it was eight years since we was in San Francisco, sort of when we played last. It just seems absurd, because it does really, quite literally, feel like a couple of years ago. And, yeah, it's been way too long, and it's a shame we couldn't bring the 100th Window tour here, but it was just going to prove financially irresponsible to bring it, so we didn't.
What motivated you to come out and reconnect with your audience this time around?
Well, we were asked on a number of occasions last year to do, if we'd do Coachella, and every year we said we can't--just we're not ready, or we're not right, or we're not touring, or whatever, you know. And this year we had the tour planned, not to start until end of May. Coachella was April, but we thought, you know, just do it man, you know, we've sort of been asked a few times, if we say no again they might see it as a total dis and never ask us again. And, yeah, we kind of sort of moved our rehearsals back earlier and did Coachella and a couple of gigs in Seattle and Denver, and we enjoyed it and everyone seems to love it, so we kind of like, after that, said, look why don't we come back in September when we've finished the rest of the world or whatever, and so we did, you know. And it's been really interesting playing places we've never been to like Arizona and Texas and, you know, states we've never been to, because normally we're kind of quite coastal, you know what I mean? Right. And, yeah, it's been fun.
Have you noticed any difference touring in America this time around, post 9/11?
I mean to be totally honest, I haven't, you know what I mean, apart from the airports. And I've been to Manhattan a couple of times for recording stuff since 9/11. And so I've picked up sort of a bit of a vibe in Manhattan--do you know apart from the airports, no I haven't noticed it, noticed a discernible difference in people and the way they seem to be. You see more flags, you know, and stuff like that, but, but no I haven't, no.
I read that Elizabeth Fraser is actually in your touring band?
I can't imagine. I think I would just listen to her sing, rather than actually playing every night!
How did you tempt her on to the road?
With the promise of Eggs Benedict every morning, Cristal champagne every evening, and, you know, sort of like the biggest bunk on the bus with silk sheets and two hand boys to, you know, basically to take of her every need at any point in the day. Expensive gig I tell you.
Yeah, well I don't think anyone could actually pass up that opportunity.
No, but she's...no she's, I mean it is a privilege, and it's beautiful to be with her onstage when she's singing. It is really remarkable, you know, and really, and really, really, sort of, we're really sort of proud that she's come out with us, and it makes a massive difference to the show.
Oh that's beautiful. So the latest Massive Attack release is Collected?
This album is so much more than just some cheap greatest-hits collection.
I tried my best!
What was the creative process behind this collection, and how did it come about?
I guess it was, it was something that was always lurking in the background since probably post Mezzanine. The greatest hits...the greatest hits, that kind of thing, is always lurking in the background, you know. It's always something you know that's going to crop up and will be, sort of, like spoken about in hushed whispers at the record company offices. And, you know, basically just that those whispers grew louder this year, last year rather, and it was like, OK, so we really couldn't find any more excuses not to do it. The excuses not to do it didn't really beat the excuses to do it, so we went for it.
And I guess the creative thing behind it was just to really sort of try and make it as interesting and as appealing as possible, you know, and attractive as possible by putting together a second disk of other material and mixes and new tracks and sketches and, you know, to create an opportunity to do some really interesting artwork. And I worked with Jonathon Glazier on a new video with the single, that sort of stuff.
And that was kind of, you know, I guess after getting over the shock of putting a "best of" out, you know, it's kind of become, OK let's do this, let's do that, and you get excited about, you know, doing something new. And I guess it's always in our contract and hopefully it now gives us credit with the record company, so we can say next record, well, we want to do this, we want to do that, and we've got no radio singles, and we're not going to, you know. And they'll go OK, fine, we'll give you some money. But that's just the idea behind it really.
Was it difficult? I mean, there's a lot of great rare stuff on here and, as you mentioned, the sketches. When you started unearthing all of this material to be considered to go on the album, did you find that you had a lot more that you wanted to put on than you initially thought you would want?
Yeah, I think one of the actual sort of strange things about it was how much we couldn't put on there, because you're limited by the format as it is, in terms of how much data you can get on disks, and 74 minutes of music at the compression rate you want it, without it getting sort of like losing sort of quality, is the max you can really get on there. And...and on the second disk obviously we could have gone even further, but you don't want to kind of, you know, you can only get 14 or so tracks on disk one. We don't want sort of like 30 tracks on disk two, so it would seem a bit odd. So, it was kind of like, a lot of decisions were unfortunately based around technical specification, you know.
Right. And I understand that for early...in 2007 you'll be releasing your fifth studio album, tentatively titled Weather Underground?
Yeah, that's the idea anyway!
That's an interesting title. I mean obviously you're making reference to the Weather Underground Organization, which was a political group...
Yeah, the Weathermen and that particular period where they became militant and...and went under, you know, underground as it was. The title was more of a mischievous reference to that, and, in a sense, I like what it depicts in terms of just the actual phrase, which obviously, you know, they took it from a Bob Dylan song as well anyway--"and you didn't need the weatherman to see how the weather is," whatever. And I like that idea of the kind of their backs against the wall, kind of urban living, sort of this is what's really happening on the ground. The sky's this color, you know, that sort of thing.
So you feel that in some way popular consciousness is shifting toward awareness to the idea that people's backs really are up against the wall?
Sorry, do I feel that way?
Yeah, I'm serious.
Yeah, you have got to. I think that is the case generally, you know, especially as you were growing up in the UK in the Thatcher era, you know, everyone felt that way. And that's kind of what I suppose informs a lot of things we were doing musically at the time and where we went with our music.
But, at the same time, I think now things have actually got a little bit more difficult, with the legislations and the laws that have been passed since 9/11 and the war on terror, you know. It has changed our sense of freedom and liberty and information and control, you know, greatly, I think. So yeah it is a reference which I think is very relevant.
Yeah, I'm curious what your personal feeling is about Tony Blair, the UK in general, not the populous, but the ruling elite and their continuing to support the Bush administration and their external military affairs?
I think a lot of us in the UK, as you probably can tell by the swell of the antiwar movement, which was quite immense, but never had a real chance to actually change anything... I think it was all very much predetermined, and everyone knew that, but I think the protest was just sort of pretty much, as kind of weak as and as pointless as it could be, showed the rest of the world some solidarity--what's going to happen next isn't what we want, it's not on behalf of us, you know, we disagree.
And I guess I always feel that in a democracy the most ridiculous thing about being a democracy is that you can't actually have a vote on things such as going to war. Then what's the point in having a vote, you know, because it probably is one of the must fundamentally changing global affairs, or events, ever that's going to, you know, it's going to basically influence history from that movement forward. And, if you haven't got a say in that, what's the point in being part of a democracy, and I always find that very, very ridiculous and frustrating.
And I think...I agree with the Dalai Lama. He says war is out of date. I think it really is. I think it serves the purpose of business, it serves to protect businesses' interests globally, and I think most countries now are run like a business with shareholders as opposed to a government. I think it's becoming more and more transparent how world affairs are being conducted, you know. But there seems to be less we can do about it. You know we talk about sort of democracy and freedom, but the way it's now been sort of designed and reinvented that it doesn't really stand for your basic kind of concepts.
I think it...it troubles me that, you know, Tony Blair will say things like that Al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations basically will exist regardless of our actions and our foreign policies, because their ideology is to hate us, and that's what they do, and that's what they want, to destroy our way of life--and yet contradicting himself in a statement later saying if we can basically get the road map to peace in the Middle East back on the ground, we can stop the breeding of hate within young men being radicalized by what they see.
So I'm thinking, well, there are two things--it has to be one or the other. British foreign policy in the Middle East and British politics in the Middle East has been absolutely and fundamentally influential on the whole region for, you know, hundreds of years. And if we're not prepared to accept that now and just take a secondary position in these road map ideas, then we're fooling ourselves. And what we saw in London, on 7/7, is going to happen again, you know. We live in a very multi country. It's not what it used to be. It's different; it's a global village. And our actions and our reactions are defined by that, and if our own leaders can't take responsibility, or will refuse to and hide behind blanket arguments about right and wrong on terrorism, then we're all in trouble. You know, personally, that's what I think.
Yeah, and I actually agree with you about one statement, and that is that these militaristic governmental policies ruling the Middle East at the moment, at least from the United States' perspective, are incredibly transparent. And yet the more that they become transparent, the more the people seem to be willing to allow their freedoms to be robbed from them.
How do you as a musician and artist...how important do you feel it is for people to attack these issues in the arena that they are given, let's say musically? And do you find it somewhat gross that, say, in American culture specifically, they're so obsessed with fluff?
I think it's the same with all cultures, unfortunately. I think because when you look at Europe and Asia now, they have the same populous media rituals, kind of everywhere, you know, from Big Brother to pop idol. It doesn't change. It goes right across the board I think. And I think it serves the interest of the companies who control the media to keep it that way. Because you can keep marketing and profiling and selling people things, and why would you want a politicized nation? It's the worst-case scenario for any government.
So therefore this is going to continue to happen, you know, and I think people become...I think there's so much obsession now with yourself, with one's self, within the Western lifestyle. But it's all about yourself, your house, your car, your haircut, your garden, your sort of shopping, your food, your diet, you know, and so therefore you really don't give a f*** about anyone else, bottom line. And I think that's the way it's going to continue to spread that way, you know. And I don't think it's just restricted to like the USA and Britain. I think it is global, that ideology.
And I think that's something that's been spread slowly since the dawn of advertising, you know. It seems to be sort of like '50s, maybe. I don't know if you can go back to the '40s, but the '50s, I think the marketing, the ideas of marketing, and demographics and profiling and business, it's all about that. That's the way...that's the way it is now, you know. And everything that happens around us, it serves as a way to protect business interest.
I think the biggest shake-up's going to come with the collapse of certain economies. I think that personally America's economy seems, I don't know enough about it to speak wisely, but it seems to be shaky. And I think the sort of like the growth in China and India is going to be a real...that's what's gonna...on the global shift, those are the areas which are going to be very, very interesting, and how it's going to work out, you know.
I couldn't agree more. And I also applaud you for your forthcoming album's title. I think it's imperative that artists put in information for their fans to go and learn about what's happening around them through groups that have been active against the state in the past.
I think it's really important...there's a lot of great films coming out at the moment and have been out in the last couple of years. Documentaries which cover recent and even older history, which most people don't know about, like The Corporation, and The Smartest Guys in the Room, and Our Brand Is, I think it's Our Brand Is Chaos, whatever it is, that new one. There's a lot of good, really great documentaries being made.
And I think, I do think there's a market for people that are interested, you know. But I just don't think enough people are interested. I think people are interested, but we've got to this stage now where people are intelligent enough to go, yeah, I know all about that, but ultimately I'm still more worried about how am I going to sort of like pay my bills tomorrow and how I'm going to pay my mobile phone bill, because I've been texting for two f****** days nonstop. And that's the s*** people are really interested in. So you get this kind of quite apathetic scenario where people aren't ignorant; they're just not interested, because there's too much going on in their own personal lives.
And I'm as guilty of that like the next person, you know. I was sitting there talking politics yesterday to a guy I'd met and reading through f****** World of Interiors, looking at some new wallpaper. It's like, you know, I'm thinking what the f*** am I like. Do you know what I mean? It's ridiculous that I'm a product of the same sort of situation.
Well, we're forced to be. Noam Chomsky said that people are too busy surviving to pay attention to the control mechanisms around them.
Sure, exactly. Like you said, you absorb them, and I think change, even sometimes quite radical change, can happen quite quickly. And we're very adaptable to things. I mean in a sense that when there was a petrol shortage in Britain a couple of years ago, the siege mentality kicked in, and it almost became like f****** martial law for two days. People were sort of like, people were stockpiling food, and you felt this sense of chaos, but you suddenly said, OK, OK, this is the way it's going to be now. Do you know what I mean? It's me against them, you know what I mean?
And it's really weird how people suddenly change, and I think you see it, in sort of like you've seen it more recently in Africa, and you've seen it in certain Asian countries, and you've seen it in the Balkans, sort of like troubles where people can suddenly go from being neighbors to enemies overnight. It's very strange and very quick how people change and how adaptable we are to change and how susceptible we are.
Yet when there seems to be a kind of like an ongoing status quo, like it is, which is about capitalism and business, and we're quite happy to go along with it, you know. But also very easily f****** sort of like, can easily turn back to our basics. Do you know what I mean? If it comes to survival.
It's the way we're born. I've met so many in my [days as a punk]...so many people who said they were anarchists, and I always laugh, you know. I thought I was an anarchist when I was 15, because I didn't go to school a couple of days a week, you know. And that was it, you know. And I used to hang out, and guys I used to know lived in squats, so I used to hang out with them in squats rather than go to my bed. You know, because I thought that was all anarchy was about, and steal milk from the supermarkets in the morning, and all that sort of s***.
But then I meet people now who still think they're anarchists, but they're actually capitalists, all of them. All of them, all of them are in the same place, you know. And all the people I know who have said they're alternative or Goth, they wear uniforms more proudly than the police. You know, it's like if you go to the traveling camps in Britain where all the travelers hang out, and they're the so-called anarchists. They, you know, they all look the same. You know, their uniforms and their tattoos and their haircuts--they might as well be in the f****** US Army or the British Army. Do you know what I mean? Because they're that much uniform. And they all share the same ideologies, and it's all kind of misguided, as far as I can see, because none of them have an individual f****** thought left in their body.
I don't know, maybe I'm ranting now.
No, no you're absolutely right. I think people don't really think of themselves as having the ability to become individuals, or they latch on to very insignificant social signifiers in order to become whole.
Yeah, exactly. I mean, you know, I've done it, and I do still do it in a way, you know. You have a way you want to look, the way you feel comfortable. But I think I'm more happy if I walk out and no one's wearing the same things as me. I'm happy, I'm very happy, so I guess that makes me as equally as much a narcissist as the next person. But some people are happy looking like the guy next door, you know what I mean?
Well, we're all hypocrites, right?
Yeah, exactly. You can't help it though, can you? It's impossible.
It is. Well, Robert Del Naja, that's all the time we have.
Now well thank you for your time.
Yeah, thank you, and I sincerely appreciate it.
OK, wicked man.
by Chris Rolls