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Massive Attack visit the Mezzanine level of Undercover

While England has a reputation for creating music fades, the real stars of the industry are the ones that defy categorization in the fade of week contest. Many of these acts become the quiet achievers of the English Music Scene, and are recognized by their longevity in the industry.
Massive Attack would fit into this category. Although only three albums deep in catalogue, they have been together since the early 80’s and formulated their current line-up later in the decade.

The Massive Attack influence is deep in the English Music Scene. Over the years they have also produced and remixed many other acts including Madonna as well as started their own label, Melonkolic to promote new artists.

DJ Mushroom recently caught up with Undercover Executive Producer, Paul Cashmere.

Was there a different vibe in the studio recording Mezzanine to the two previous albums?
Yeah, different kinds of vibes, but it didn’t really effect us that it was album number three because we are pretty cut off down in Bristol so all the hype doesn’t really touch us. We can go on and make music at our pace and our own selfish way, you know. This album, we incorporated more of the live thing into it. That was the sort of vibe this time.

What’s the creative process for Massive Attack. Who brings what to the table for consideration of an album?

There isn’t really a process. It can start with someone making a high up pattern or maybe a few lyrics, a bass line pattern, a keyboard pattern, you know. There’s no sort of set thing. We just get into the studio and mess around really.

How do you choose the vocalists for each album. Do you hold auditions?

Sometimes. We like to work with people we have admired throughout the years. It’s funny because Liz Frazier (Cocteau Twins) we actually met in a supermarket and asked her if she was up for doing some work and she said "yeah". There’s a number of ways we get together with vocalists.

What was she buying at the time?

I think she was buying some mops.

The choice of vocalist makes great contrasts between each album and within each album. For Mezzanine you are working with three vocalists. What were you looking for in each of them that made them different to each other?

Just diversity. Maybe just to sit in on our music and maybe set the music off in an interesting way. Somebody with a versatile, interesting style really.

Horace was also with you on the first album. Do you feel like some of these people become unofficial members of the band after a while?

Horace has always been with us, in the studio or on the road, so he feels like part of the family. We are bringing Horace’s album out on our label and a few other things. We are steady developing that stuff at the moment. Horace is probably one of the all time great reggae singers.

Massive Attack initially had a good track record with reggae.

Mainly just with Gee, he used to be a reggae DJ. He used to do a bit of sound system work before The Wild Bunch and stuff. Reggae has never really been my music so I’ve never really listened to reggae that much.

It was reported that there was a bit of tension in the studio while recording Mezzanine. Did that make for a better album?

I guess it made for a better album to the listener, but we were not really aware of that really except for some of the reports that come back. It wasn’t necessarily good for the making of the album though. We just had creative arguments, creative differences, stuff like that. They happened in a big way.

Will these creative differences within the band impact on a forth album?

We will have to wait and see, really. See how it goes.

Massive Attack chose a very unusual way to launch the new album – via the world wide web.

It was just a different way of doing things this time. Next time we might go with something else. It was just for variety really. Something different. That’s what we always strive for. I don’t really know much about the internet. I don’t really use it. The only time I use the computer is for writing music.

You’ve chosen an extremely graphically impacting video, the foetus, to portray the first single Teardrops.

It was Walter Stern’s idea. He’s the director who does a lot of The Prodigy videos. It’s more or less a celebration of life. We didn’t know whether to go with it or not, because it looks a bit dodgy but it actually turned out to look quite nice. The idea for the video came well after the song was recorded.

What are your favorite Massive Attack videos?

I like Unfinished Sympathy. We’ve done quiet a few now.

How did the Primal Scream remix of Teardrops come about?

I guess they were just up for doing a remix you know. Various bands, they just appear, and they say we wanna do a remix. They say they are up for it and they make contact and it just happens, you know.

Do you have a hit list of who you want to remix your songs?

Sometimes, yeah. We will sit down and if we want some dub mixes we will make a decision of who we want dub wise to do it, The Mad Professor or whoever.

What about The Blur remix?

That’s just another case really of Blur coming up and saying they wanted to do a remix. I’m not a fan of Blur at all. It’s not my music at all, nor Primal Scream. It’s not my music. I listen to a lot of American Music.

So the Britpop thing must be quite alien to you.

Well we are part of the music scene in England as all this is going on so it’s a little hard to ignore it. I don’t think we have anything to do with it really.

You’ve been around a lot longer than Britpop, you’ve grown right through it really.

We’ve been around 15 years in total, including The Wild Bunch. We’ve seen all these little fads and slogans come and go and all along we’ve sat quietly watching them through the port-hole in Bristol. Rave and Trip-hop and all that bullshit has come and gone.

What was true story about the reported Massive Attack remix of Radiohead’s OK Computer album?

That was just some journalist getting hold of it and blowing it up more than it ever was. There was only ever slight talk about that. We never were really going to work with Radiohead at all. There was no time and no money.

Tell me about your record label Melenkolic?

It’s just an escape for releasing the stuff we like. We’ve always been into music being DJ’s. We’ve always been great buyers of music and get listeners because that’s really been a DJ’s job and it just stemmed from their really. We all do a sort of an A&R job, finding the bands, helping them through. We look for anything diverse, just like with our choice of vocalists or choice of music. Something a bit different.

Are you open for submissions?

Oh yeah, that happens all the time. But unfortunately, being a label under a major label like Virgin, means they try and cut it back, making less acts we can sign.

The Craig Armstrong release was a great find.

He’s great, Craig. He’s worked with us in the past but he’s never been part of Massive Attack. He’s done some string arrangements for us. He put together the piano piece over the top of Weather Storm. He had a bit to do with the classical side of Protection in its later stages.

So what was it like for you as the creator of Weather Storm, hearing his version on his album?

It was nice.

Another interesting person you worked with was Madonna on the Marvin Gaye song I Want You. Did you actually get anywhere near her when you recorded that song together?

No, I didn’t get anywhere near her. 3D did. He went over to New York to put the song together but it didn’t take all of us to go over there. I didn’t meet her. It was Madonna and Massive Attack. The music was all finished, she just sang the song over the top of it, and then we mixed it. That was it really.

Are you a Madonna fan?

No, no, no. I’m a Black American Music fan. I like a lot of hip-hop, a lot of jazz.

The Massive Attack mix bought a whole lot of new fans to Madonna. Did you find you got a whole new audience from her as well?

Maybe, we really don’t know. We really don’t know who listens to our music out there. They are just figures on paper really.

Another interesting cover of a Massive Attack song was when Tina Turner covered Unfinished Sympathy.

It was OK yeah. I think Dionne Warwick has covered one of our songs as well. Someone played it down the phone to me once, but I haven’t heard anything about it since. Tina was good back in her day, but she’s not really from my time, you know. She was before my time.

How far back exactly does Massive Attack go?

Since 1983. It’s a very long time. We were The Wild Bunch originally back then. There were more of us then and The Wild Bunch were more like a sound system. We became Massive Attack in 1988 or 1989, when The Wild Bunch finally split up and went their separate ways.

Massive Attack is an interesting name. Where was it derived from?

Really a massive attack of arts. It’s sort of using the phrase in it’s negative way.

Nellee Hooper was part of the background as well.

Yeah, he was in The Wild Bunch. He was sort of a producer or a co-producer on our second album as well.

What was the catalyst for when The Wild Bunch evolved into Massive Attack?

It was when Miles and Eddie went away to do their thing and develop their thing in London. There were basically just three of us left behind in Bristol and we just formed the group, and Nellee went on to produce Soul 11 Soul.

Have Soul 11 Soul and Massive Attack evolved parallel?

Yeah because Soul 11 Soul were a sound system as well, and as The Wild Bunch we used to play with them as well.

Can we still find recording of The Wild Bunch?

Not available, they are quite rare, but they are still around.

Will you re-release them on CD?


You’ve received a lot of awards over the years. What does an award mean to you?

A bit of molded metal really. No, I guess it feels good to get up there on stage and realize that people are out there accepting what you do and they think that you’re special. That’s alright.

I guess your occupation as a member of Massive Attack is a pretty cool job to have.

Sometimes its not, sometimes it is. Because when you look in from the outside it’s a lot different than what’s going on in the inside. There’s a lot of creative arguments really, the freedom of trying to get your own thing done.

Paul Cashmere