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Brighter Days in Heligoland (Music Feeds, 9th March 2010)

Massive Attack are one of those bands whose name is a ticket to Credibility Town. If you like Massive Attack then you know your stuff and no one is getting up in your face. The Bristol Boys are back with Heligoland, another album that will have you frothing all over your Massive Attack tribute shirt.

We snuck in a chat with Grant “Daddy G” Marshall as he had some dinner. Food for thought perhaps? The band produced the album with none other than Damon Aalbarn, whose influence, Grant says, was enough to convince the band to make a big call. Massive, if you will.

“Damon reincarnated the album. We had it slated as something else, Weather Underground, already in the can and we were meant to mix it when we came off tour in 2008. Then we scrapped the ideas on that, started working with Damon and he gave us new direction. He was like the glue that held it together because we hadn’t worked together since Mezzanine really and he held me and D together to a certain extent.”

Aalbarn’s name is synonymous with musical brilliance, I mean he fronted Blur and recently wrapped a song with Snoop, but his special skills brought a new vibe to Heligoland.

“Every album is a new aesthetic we’re trying to achieve. Heligoland has a more intimate sound, a bit more of a live feel to it, raw, like it’s recorded with you in the studio as well, so you feel present. That comes down to Damon, the real raw vocal aspect. It’s different but we don’t like to typecast what we do because if we do then it’d be quite boring” says Grant, with the full knowledge that Massive Attack could never be labelled boring.

In fact it’s difficult to label Massive Attack anything at all, they have a fluidity that makes them hard to pin. One label ‘G’ does welcome with open arms is harmonious. Given the controversy of the line up over the past ten years, with break ups and breakdowns, the band is finally in a sweet spot.

“I think its all been well documented, the trials and tribulations that Massive Attack have had, but we’re in a harmonious place now and working in the same studio on the album was good. Whereas 100th window wasn’t really like that, I sorta walked out on them.”

So what’s the better vibe for creativity, harmony or hatred?

“Well I think it’s hard to choose a great time to make music. It just comes. The blues weren’t sung because people were happy and I think a fractious relationship with somebody creates great music, but it changes.”

Change is something the band has become accustomed to. While their music still holds relevance, the faces of their audience change from the weathered to the wonderfully youthful. And like Grant admits, it’s a fuckin’ trip.

“It’s really funny because the crowd has changed, the ages. Some people I look at and think they would even know Blue Lines, they’re like eighteen or twenty. And they say ‘what are you talking about man; we were made for Blue Lines. Our parents were raising us to that music.’ It’s a trip man.”

But change is gonna come (just ask Sam Cooke) and it’s happening everywhere. Massive Attack are Bristol born and proud of it, but unfortunately the area which is responsible for a lot of great music is being drowned in dollar signs.

“Where we grew up in Bristol was quite a heavy immigrant area, and the vibe was amazing, they had these underground parties, and it was really multi-racial. Bristol is becoming a bit more of a metropolis now, its been influenced by London with high rises and shopping malls.”

“But the way it affected us was that it had quite a big West Indian community. We loved our reggae music and it really influenced the way we wrote. Then we started DJ-ing too, that’s all been quite dissipated now because of gentrification.”

As Grant finishes his dinner, and subsequently this interview, I ask him finally, how the live show works in tandem with the recorded material. His response sounds less like an answer to the question and more like a philosophy for the band.

“Well for the last ten years that’s what we’ve been searching for, a kind of perfection. That sounds really arrogant but I mean something we’re simply pleased with, you know what I mean?”

Indeed I do.

By Thomas Mitchell