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On The Attack (The Seattle Times 25th April 2006)

Massive Attack, the seminal British trip-hop band, will play its first concert in America in eight years Wednesday night at the Paramount. A huge multi-platinum act in England and Europe, the band has never quite conquered this country, although it has a large cult following, especially among ravers.
Robert Del Naja, one of the two remaining original members (along with Grant Marshall), called from a London rehearsal hall to talk about the band, the tour and the new greatest-hits album, "Collected," a two CD/one DVD set. His thick, working-class English accent rendered some answers unintelligible, but we caught most of it.

Q: On this quick tour you're playing just three dates in America. How did you choose Seattle as one of them?
A: We're going to tour more dates in the States in September. Seattle was definitely going to be in our itinerary. It's a funky city.
Q: Raves here have featured Massive Attack music. Are you a rave band?
A: We came from a culture of parties, spontaneous if not illegal parties, back in the '80s. They later became what are now known as raves, because you couldn't get away with it in the cities anymore. You couldn't get licensed premises to do them legally, and the police were cracking down on legal parties. So people started going out into the countryside, 'cuz they could borrow the land off of some farmer. There were loads of different raves. It was the Acid Revolution. LSD, Ecstasy, that was the big thing. It changed the face of our country, really. It wiped out football hooliganism overnight. It was a completely strange time, actually.
Q: What does "trip-hop" mean to you?
A: When the phrase was coined originally I quite liked it because it did describe the hip-hop thing we were all about, the hip-hop way of putting things together, which was quite anarchistic in the sampling of other people's music, and creating new loops out of things and extended beats, everything being beat-driven. That really excited us as the next musical movement. That really turned us on. The "trip" thing pretty much summarized the fact that what we were doing was more psychedelic.
Q: In a landmark case about sampling, you were sued by Manfred Mann for using his music on your song "Black Melt." On the new greatest-hits album, the sample is removed.
A: To be fair, we've sampled people and people have sampled us, and people have taken influence from us and vice versa. It's the nature of music. It's how music evolves. Manfred Mann quite rightly said man, you owe me some money for sampling me, and we paid up. Simple as that, really. I think it was more of a case where he felt he was being disrespected by not being credited. No disrespect intended.
Q: "Live With Me," the new single on the "Collected" album, has a soulful sound. Tell me about that, and its controversial video, which is among the 16 clips on the DVD.
A: It's a classic blues song with a modern twist to it. We wanted to keep the music simple, and we wanted to do something direct with the video. Jonathan Glazer (the video director) came up with this idea of watching someone drinking, basically — watching someone get drunk, watching someone fight their demons. We thought, wow, that's pretty intense — no one's ever going to show it on TV, they'll probably get mad, but let's do it. And we went for it. It's trying to illustrate what people do. Weekends, and every day and every night, we use alcohol or drugs to escape from ourselves, battling our demons for whatever reasons they may be there. And it was trying to capture that on film. And I think it does. It's really beautiful. But it doesn't sort of gloat on it, it doesn't dwell on it. It's not trying to overly romanticize it but just trying to not show a train wreck but a normal sort of person doing this, y'know?
Q: "Weather Underground" is the name of your upcoming album, due next year. The name is a reference to a radical '60s group here in America. Is the album political in nature?
A: There will be politics within every track, but the title is about being down in the trenches, what it's like to have your back against the wall, what it's like in the real world when you're not looking at TV, the environment we're in and how we live and communicate with people, know what I mean? Obviously the reference to the '60s political student movements is slightly playful, but I think an interesting part of history that a lot of Europeans know nothing about. And it's topical because of the feeling of disillusionment with the war in Iraq, and the riots in Paris with the disenfranchised ethnic youth and the students. It's a circle.
Q: In Europe, Massive Attack is huge. Are you still working on America?
A: We never came with that kind of agenda to crack America, as they call it. We're a hybrid, so we can't get easily boxed as dance or hip-hop or rock or electronica. We do have a really cool, solid, curious fan base in America. Why we never crossed-over into the mainstream, I don't know. We may never. But it's never been something we've been obsessed about.

by Patrick MacDonald