ScanS → 944 Magazine Interview
Publication Date: Januray 2007
DAVID SITEK: I ve been stealing from Del Naja for years. On Mezzanine, I was going, “Is that a synthesizer or a slowed-down guitar?” It’s funny cause the two people I can honestly say I’ve ripped off the most are this guy and Trent [Reznor] and to actually know them and just be like, ‘‘Hey, I stole so much shit from you.” I ran into Luc [Van Acker] from Revolting Cocks and I was like, “I started doing distorted beats based on your shit, and I’m stealing from you and it’s working out. Thanks, buddy.” He’s like, “I should kill you. Let’s work on something.” That guy’s funny as hell.
ROBERT DEL NAJA: Dave may say he stole our shit, but doing this stuff way too long you meet a lot of people, in Europe particularly, that come up and say, “You were my greatest inspiration.” They send me so many fucking CDs and a lot of it is — sad, but true — pretty limp. And it’s all covering that era. But when I first heard TV On The Radio I had no inkling he was part of that inspiration process. I was going, “What the fuck is this? Fuck me.” To me that’s a massive compliment because it was completely different. If you take something from anyone else, twist it, chop it to bits and then ball it up and serve it on fucking pita bread and it tastes good still, then great.
D.S.: I think a lot of it, when we played that first show together…
R.D.N.: That Brixton show (in 2004)?
D.S.: Yeah. We started talking and we’re both questionnaires. It’s not like I sit down and say, “I’m going to make this thing, it’s going to sound like this.” I was just guessing. I will rapidly abandon a bad idea so I will try a thousand in a night and drive everyone crazy. And these guys are the same way. I think it’s more about, “What would happen if?” dictates everything that we do. We’re kind of like kids.
I’m surprised no adults have stopped us. It’s like just sitting there and being like, “Hey, let’s just slow that down and see if that sounds funny.” 90 percent of our work is dictated by a question mark. And I think that’s the exploratory nature of the Massive Attack records, the Nine Inch Nails records and just that no allegiance to style. The same is true with Bowie. It’s like all the people I respect and admire and had the chance to work with.
R.D.N.: I concur entirely; it’s about exploration. We’ve always been at best experimental, and if we’re being absolutely honest, at worst, naive. You’re like, “What the fuck does that do?” And you don’t know what’s going to happen. Like you said, you spend months fucking around with stuff and you might come out with one thing. People say, “How come it takes you so long to fuck around with stuff?” Say, “Well, because you’ve been going down so many blind alleys you’re fucking punch drunk.” But that’s part of the process.
D.S.: Also, just like having the comm unity feeling about music. There’s no division between me and a listener because I am a listener before I am anything. And with me and you, we’re surrounded by some seriously fucking talented people. You can take someone who’s extremely talented in one direction because our relationships with the people we work with are so flexible you can get them to do other things. Jaleel, who s our drummer, never played drums before our band, ever. That was unthinkable to him. And it’s funny to his brother who’s just like, “He’s not a drummer.” We’re like, “Yeah, we know.” But it’s just the ability to say, “Alright, what matters is what comes out of the speakers and who cares howyou have to get there.”
R.D.N.: That’s the same way with the singers we work with. We work with, in a sense, some quite intimidating people, cause they’ve been fucking massive influences so much, from Horace Andy to Sinead O’Connor, with Bowie in-between, working on the track with him for Baz Luhrmann. All these people have history and they’ve worked so many ways with so many great producers and they’ve been in so many mad studios at the time when they were actually at their peak, so they’ve experienced it as it was happening, the whole energy. And you’re sitting there in a completely different environment, backstage in a room with them going, “We’re thinking you might do this like this or that.” They’re going, “That’s not the way I normally do it, but let’s have a go.” And that’s the vibe. Then you take them away from their comfort zone.
D.S.: And then you’re open to a whole new kind of magic. It’s like the role that chance plays in everything that you do and that’s not restricted to music, but just the chance that you wake up or that you don’t get hit by a truck. There are all these things that go on just being present and being, “Alright, this is what I’m dealing with and I’m going to make the most of that at any moment.” When you’re doing that with very creative people sometimes frustrating results can be results. When these guys were in town last week we had 26 people in the studio in three days. And we literally went through my rolodex, “Hey, let’s get this person,” and had no idea what the hell was going to happen. And you guys left with like five gigs worth of insanity.
R.D.N.: It’s fun also because as much as we have massively different experiences there’s a lot of similarities as well. And there’s a kind of visionary sense to knowing how you want to get things done and as much as sometimes you rely on other people, other times you rely exactly on that voice in your head and that image you had probably years ago if you want to get this thing happening. And it means a lot of people, a lot of manipulation, as well as a lot of compromise.
D.S.: We’re kind of like carsalesmen. We’re really trying to convince … but I think anyone who’s ever met us knows the only thing we’re really after is something that sounds breakthrough and new, so they’re willing to accept or tolerate some of our eccentricities. We are very similar in that way. We just don’t hear the word ‘no.’ I call our horn players at four in the morning and I’m like, “I need you to come down here and play on this track.” And then they’re like, “Normally, this would bum me out, but I kind of feel like with you I’m a detective being called on the case.”
R.D.N.: I’ve been like Dr. Watson, seriously. I’ve sat there and watched horn players play at all hours of the morning in my jet-lagged state, going, “Fucking hell, man, this is amazing, to be getting up for work now.”
D.S.: Yep, it’s crazy. But I think that flexibility is essential to grow and evolve. So many people make something one way and once it starts working they’re like, “I better not fuck this up.” Where, for me, it’s like, “I better fuck this routine up or I’m going to get bored real fast.” I’ve been able to maintain that within my own band, but also to work with other people in that same direction. And working with this guy it’s a complete luxury cause I don’t have to justify why I want to record a snare drum in an alley or putting a microphone in a toilet. I can just do it and be like, “Hey, isn’t that a cool sound?”
R.D.N.: That’s like Angelo [Bruschini]. Angelo’s been working with us for the last decade and the amount of times he’s been in the studio, and he’s been in with Dave as well, and he’s looked at us, his facial expressions going, “What the fuck is the point of that? Why would you want to do that? That’s a waste of everyone’s fucking time.” And then later on, “Ooh, that’s not so bad.” There have been a million times where it’s been a waste of everyone’s time.
D.S.: We’re willing to take a lot of temporary heat for a long-term goal. I’ve gotten into so many arguments where it’s just like, “Just trust me.” And everyone’s like, “You’ve kind of used that word enough today.” And I’m like, “No, no, let’s do it.” But I’ve been blessed. I have some really cooperative people that I work with.
R.D.N.: That’s the other thing I reckon. When we got to Brooklyn for the first time, to Williamsburg, when me, G [Grant Marshall], and Neil [Davidge] went over it was really apparent that there was a proper scene and in Bristol unfortunately that scene has kind of evaporated a little ‘cause the city has changed, like every city. The old-school areas are more gentrified. But there was a fucking scene. When we were doing the Wild Bunch thing we were accused of strangling the local music scene because the indie band scene suddenly was less attractive than us doing a sound system in a warehouse. But everyone got over the shock of it. It was actually, “This is more fun. We can do this.” And hip-hop was beginning to be a force in terms of howyou produce records. After punk it was like, “This is great. It’s anarchistic. Chop and cut and paste and fuck everything up and have no reverence for anything, just do it the way that you want to do it.” When I went to Brooklyn I felt that the Bristol scene in the ’80s with Roni Size, the Portishead guys, and with Tricky, that was what Brooklyn felt like a little bit. There were a lot of people hanging out at the house and the energy felt really good.
D.S.: We’re on to something: a new way to make music, which has nothing to do with identity, product, consumer architecture, it just has to do with what is possible in a collective landscape. There is no individual ambition that is more important than the whole experiment of how all these people fit together.
Written By Steve Baltin