Pop Quiz (San Francisco Chronicle, 3rd September 2006)
Even though Massive Attack has managed to put out only a handful of albums since making its stellar debut in 1991 with the classic "Blue Lines," each one has blown all other pop music to pieces. The British trio not only invented trip-hop but it also introduced the world to Tricky and gave new life to forgotten singers such as Horace Andy and Elizabeth Fraser of the Cocteau Twins. For those who missed out, the group has just released a best-of set called "Collected" and is returning to the United States for the first time in eight years for a personal refresher course. We spoke with the group's brainchild, Robert "3D" del Naja. Massive Attack plays Sept. 22 at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley.
Q: You've put out four albums in 15 years. James Brown used to make that many in a week. What's your excuse?
A: Well, you know, apart from doing other things like waging warfare against the government?
Q: Is that what's been taking up your time?
A: Exactly. Banging on the ground takes up a lot of time.
Q: I want to know your exact schedule.
A: On a typical day, I'll head up to the studio kind of around 1 o'clock and spend most of the day there and, depending on how fertile the arena is, I'll be there through the night. Otherwise I'll head up to the pub or shoot back home around 9 o'clock.
Q: It sounds like you are easily distracted.
A: I find myself very easily distracted, unfortunately. I've definitely got attention deficit disorder, I reckon. I've always had that.
Q: Do you actually know how to play any instruments?
A: Oh, crap. I'm rubbish. I can program keyboards and drum machines, but I can't play well at all. I would never, never attempt to play a serious part onstage without absolute fear of embarrassing myself and the rest of the band.
Q: I thought you guys hated each other anyway.
A: Me and Grant ("Daddy G" Marshall) have known each other for 23 years now, and I guess we do have a certain healthy resentment for each other.
Q: What seems to be the problem?
A: He's probably frustrated because, even though I'm distracted, I'm also obsessive about getting things done a certain way. He hates to be in the studio. Sometimes I can see the charm in that, and other times I find it frustrating to work with.
Q: So are you guys more like Mick and Keith or Paul and Yoko?
A: Well, you know, there's definitely no sex involved.
Q: I don't think those people had much sex with each other either. How many babies do you think were born as a direct result of your work?
A: People tell me that happens, that either they fall in love, conceive or have a mad, wonderful night with a complete stranger with our music. That's a recurring theme.
Q: How many terrible Massive Attack rip-off bands have you heard?
A: Oh, man. It's hard. At one point, every A&R man in the country came to Bristol. There were a lot of local bands and a few national bands and international bands. Some things were complimentary and flattering. I suppose a lot of bands have that problem. Trying to get a sound that is identifiably yours and keep it for 15 years is an achievement, I guess. The flattery has been welcome. The thing that pissed us off most is watching movies and television where people have ripped things off blatantly. You lash yourself, thinking, "Man, someone got paid."
Q: So how many drugs went into the making of "Collected"?
A: To be honest, most of the psychedelic input was directed at the sleeve and putting the second disc together. In terms of the history of all the records, I wouldn't like to think. It's a terrifying thought, what I could have done with the money, and what I could do with the extra brain cells now.