Interview with 3D of Massive Attack (pucknation.com 2nd October 2006)
Since their first single “Any Love” dropped in 1988, Massive Attack has enjoyed massive success on both sides of the Atlantic. Critical and commercial acclaim have followed the ‘boys from Bristol’ like groupies follow … well … rock stars. They’ve released eight albums—including four studio albums, two movie soundtracks, one remix album, and most recently, a collection of their greatest hits, aptly titled Collected.
Over nearly two decades, their soul-driven, dub-influenced, electronic amalgam of sound has evolved—but their endeavors haven’t always been jovial. There’s the scrutiny that comes along with such meteoric success. There’s the burden that comes along with being the pioneers of a new era in music—the “trip-hop” that critics, reviewers and gleeful fans like me, tend to call it. Don’t ask Massive Attack to call it that, though. Do so, and you’re guaranteed to get a grimace from the two surviving members of the group, Robert “3-D” Del Naja and Grant “Daddy G” Marshall.
Indeed, Massive Attack has undergone many transformations over the years. Musically, they moved from the laid-back, symphonic R&B feel of their early albums, to the dark, tense, distorted guitars and percussion that we’ve all come to know and love. The actual structure of the team itself was in constant flux as well. The departure of original group members like Tricky and Andrew “Mushroom” Vowles, fueled rumors that the temperamental nature of Massive Attack’s music was a reflection of their internal conflicts. When they released 100th Window in 2003, fans and critics alike wondered if it really counted as a Massive Attack album—given the fact that it was practically a solo effort by 3D.
Despite being tabloid fodder, Massive Attack’s appeal hasn’t waned. They’ve been doing their thing for over 18 years. Their success in the States is partly due to the emotive quality of their music—and the fact that it lends itself very well to movies and TV. From The Matrix and Snatch, to The West Wing, House, and Prison Break, big and small screen directors set climactic, heart-wrenching, and chaotic scenes to their signature drumbeats, sorrow-tinged vocals, and keyboard melodies.
And they’re still kickin’ ass and takin’ names! Massive Attack is currently on tour here in North America, and they’re slated to drop their ninth album, Weather Underground in early 2007. I got to chat with 3D as they wrapped up the Texas leg of their tour. And you wouldn’t believe what he said about Austin!
TJ: I’ve gotta admit, I got turned on to your music after hearing “Angel” in the movie Snatch. I bought the soundtrack because I had to have that song. Once I had it, I bought Mezzanine, and I’ve been a die-hard fan ever since. What is it about your style of music—why do you think it lends itself so well to film?
3D: We tend to arrange our music with a certain sense of drama. That isn’t to say that for every song we think about how to instill it [with a specific feeling], but that’s kind of like the quality of our sound. It can be very interesting though, working with a director and using scripts [to create songs]. We’re not in control, and the director has the final say, but then we come up with something that works really well with the film and everybody’s cool.
TJ: How do you feel about the commercial success in the US? “Teardrop,” for example, is the theme song of the TV show House. “Everywhen,” has been used in CSI:Miami. Do you feel like it takes away from the group’s credibility?3D: What credibility? [chuckles] Who’s giving that out? The thing is, when you release a record, it’s out of your hands. What happens after that is sometimes shocking, sometimes exciting, but I don’t necessarily have a problem with quote-unquote, commercial success.
TJ: Music writers and critics have said that 100th Window was very much a 3D solo production. Did you think about how it would be received?
3D: To be honest, I was wondering whether it should be a Massive album myself. But we discussed it, and decided to release it as a group.
TJ: And even though you and Daddy G will be working on Weather Underground in separate locations, will it be more of a return to a cohesive group sound?
3D: With the new album, we’re finally going to be mixing in a place we can trust. There’s a studio in Bristol where we can mix our own materials, but yeah, we’ll be doing many things separately. Here’s something you have to understand. Most bands … it’s not often that you all sit in the same room working together. Even with our early stuff, it’s not as if we’d all be in the studio at the same time. I don’t know where that idea came from. If what you mean is a return to what the fans expect from us, then I guess you could say yes. But when have we ever done what was expected?
TJ: One thing that has always stood out to me was your choice of female singers. Do you feel like female vocals always needed to be part of the sound?
3D: Well, if you go back to the early days, metal, punk, reggae and dub influenced the scene in Bristol—and those sounds were male dominated. Our first vocalists were Tricky and Horace Andy, so I actually don’t know why we got into this ritual of having a female singer. We didn’t set out to do it that way. I guess we’ve always had enough male representation, and it seemed to work with our emerging sound, so we kept it up.
TJ: What sort of female collaboration can we expect on this album?
3D: Off the top of my head, Elisabeth Fraser, who we’ve worked with before. We’ve actually been trying to coax into the studio more. Some other Bristol girls as well.
TJ: Like most New Yorkers, I tend to think that the world revolves around my rotten apple. So, are you excited to be touring in New York? What’s your NYC crowd response usually like?
3D: [chuckles] I am excited to play in New York City. It’s always really good fun, and we haven’t been there in a while, something like eight years. When we were starting out there was a strong New York City influence because of hip-hop and reggae, and punk. I’ve always seen the city through comics and films, so I had a sense of the place, but it’s always slightly daunting.
TJ: What’s your favorite city to play in?
3D: There are so many. It’s hard. But I loved doing the tiny shows in Paris, with really intimate, miniature stages. Then we played in Rome after the World Cup—that was absolute insanity. I really liked Austin, though. It was surprising. The crowd has been really interesting. You have this preconception of what Texas is going to be like, and then, it’s turned on its head.
So there you have it. My fifteen minutes (‘cuz that’s really all the time he had) with 3D. Aside from the fact that there was hella commotion in the background and his thick (but terribly sexy) British accent, I felt like we’d come to an understanding. I wasn’t a music reporter trying to get the dish—I was a genuine fan. A fan that was thankful for the chance to have a conversation with one of the members of my favorite group of all time. All I’ve gotta say now is … I can’t wait ‘till they get here. It’s gonna be one hell of a concert.
by T J Kee