ScanS → Hot Press Magazine Interview
Publication Date: July 2006
Terms like ‘seminal’, ‘pioneering1 and ‘ground-breaking’ are often flung around far too liberally. But in Massive Attack’s case, they can all be deployed without any fear of exaggeration. In a very real sense, the Bristol collective can be credited with inventing a new musical language.
Variously described as ‘trip-hop’, ‘drum & bass’ and simply ‘the Bristol sound’, the genesis of the entire phenomenon can be directly traced to recordings made in the late ’80s by the then Wild Bunch.
By the time their debut album Blue Lines hit the shelves in 1991, it was evident that something quite astonishing was afoot.
Dark, arresting, hypnotic grooves with an abnormally evocative, almost cinematic atmosphere had their roots in American hip-hop, but in their scale and ambition, were truly unlike anything anyone had heard before.
Massive Attack’ efforts soon formed the template for the efforts of dozens of like-minded bands -Portishead and Morcheeba leap to mind – but none were able to remotely replicate the original’s power.
Though infrequent, their albums (six to date, including two film soundtracks) invariably proved well worth the wait. A compilation was long overdue, a situation finally rectified by the release of Collected, an almighty anthology of the Massive journey so far.
Collected cometh in two parts: Disc One is a 14-song travelogue of their acknowledged highlights, Disc Two an intriguing odds’n’sods mixture of rare, unreleased and half-buried material spanning the last decade. Its highlight, to these ears, is ‘Silent Spring’, featuring the wondrously ethereal, near-hallucinatory vocals of Elizabeth Fraser, whose work with The Cocteau Twins will hopefully be taught in schools a hundred years hence, if the world’s still there.
Indeed, sympathetic collaborations with a certain kind of female vocalist have always been one of Massive Attack’s specialities: they’ve recorded with Madonna, Sinead O’Connor, Everything But The Girl’s Tracey Thorn and several similar sirens, (instructed by HOTPRESS to pursue the possibility of working with Ronnie Spector, they promise to do what they can.)
Robert ‘3D’ del Naja concurs with my evaluation of Fraser’s genius: “She’s totally mysterious, and even when you get to know her there’s still so much you don’t know. She’s like a walking instrument, her voice is so out there and other-worldly it’s like a unique language. I think the reason we wanted to put the demo version of ‘Silent Spring’ on the second disc was cause it was really unplanned and spontaneous, just a totally incomplete demo with a made-up language, unfinished but beautiful. I like the balance of it, the way Disc One has all the achievements. Disc Two is the polar opposite, a mix’n’match of all the bits and pieces you haven’t heard.”
“I enjoyed putting it together, and I was really pleased that Liz was up for putting it on there. I thought she might say, ‘you can’t use that, fuck off, it’s too raw and it’s not finished, don’t touch it’ – like most people would – but she was really open-minded about it which I thought was really refreshing.”
Vicious rumours have reached my ears that the lads have soundtracked a porn movie. Is this true?
’’Yeah,” 3D grins. “I was approached for it, of course. It was a friend of Nellee Hooper’s actually, because he’s a total playboy and he spends half his year in Monaco and Cannes – fair play to him, that’s his thing. One year I went down with him to the Grand Prix, had to take a look to see what it was all about, and it was absolutely wild, totally off the scale for me – a completely different world, but very interesting. Private magazine had this entire beach where they were hosting the alternative porn version of the Cannes Film Festival, which of course attracts more attention than the real festival but doesn’t get talked about that much. ‘Cos everyone wants to go to their parties, but they want to keep it under wraps, no-one wants to admit to it. It’s that typically British hypocrisy about sex, porn and orgies. The attitude is still, 7eah, we’ll use it to sell everything, but we won’t admit to enjoying it’, which is fucked-up. ‘Anyway, I met the people from the company who said ‘do you want to do something for this film, The Uranus Experiment? I jumped at the chance, then I roped Liam from the Prodigy into it, which is one of my greatest achievements.
“It was good fun. I got really anal about it – I got annoyed, ’cause I’d done this great track, got really into the mix of it and making it sonically great, then they sent it off to Barcelona and this fuckin’ idiot dubbed loads of grunts and moans and groans over it, which I thought wrecked the whole thing. Because I thought my vibe was to try and take the medium in a slightly different direction, you see a lot of this in America now where women are getting involved in the industry and starting to direct their own movies and make it a bit more sensual and interesting and take away the cliches, but we did all this and some cunt just poured all the cliches back on top and destroyed it.”
Even before their foray into the triple-X industry, Massive Attack’s music has, over the years, provided the soundtrack to many million episodes of carnal frenzy. Obviously, it’s largely a matter of subjective individual preference, and I’m sure there are some souls out there who prefer getting it on to Chris de Burgh, Napalm Death, military marching songs or the Champions’ League theme tune.
Still, huge swathes of the Massive catalogue – in particular, the relentless ‘Angel’ – are unsurpassably magnificent to fuck to (with the exception of Anita Lane’s entire works, and the Peel Sessions version of Gallon Drunk’s ‘Ruby’). Without condoning drug abuse, it’s especially spectacular when accompanied by judicious use of E or coke. They’re aware of the pervy associations, surely?
“Allegedly,” chirps 3D. “We’ve never tried it, ‘cos as soon as you hear the sound of your own voice you lose interest. I’ve often wondered why people find that about our music — we never spt nut with that goal in mind, but it’s probably got a lot to do with the pace of the music, the human breath, heartbeats and everything. A lot of it’s down to the mood of it too, we’ve always liked to keep it melancholic and moving, which does enhance sex. On the other hand, some people might like fucking to full-on slamming techno in the middle of the afternoon. We’re getting old now, though. Downtempo is less strenuous. I think ‘Live With Me’ is such an emotional track, I played it to my dad in hospital and it brought tears to his eyes, which wa: cool, it was one of those moments. It really touche people, and I think it’s the kind of track that make you want to embrace someone and hold them. If that leads to fucking, great!’
Where were you when John Peel died?
“In Majorca, in this old church in this beautiful little town,” explains Daddy G, aka Grant Marshall. “I found out from the paper, a couple of days late. It was a massive fucking shock. Peel’s show was the first place you heard everything, from Tubeway Army to the Specials, with different versions of the Fall’s ‘Rowche Rumble’ every 10 minutes, and six Undertones songs every show. We met him a couple of years ago, not long before he died, and he was still running around like a little kid, he was the biggest little kid you’d ever known. My fondest memory was he’d just got hold of one of these mechanical pipes you can smoke hash with, and he was going around doing his best to get everybody stoned on this fantastic pipe, you couldn’t refuse him. It was surreal. The pipe had one of these battery things that spins itself and creates its own smoke, you don’t need to light it, you just put it to your mouth and suck, it does the rest for you.”
Do you still like a spliff?
“Fuck yeah, we still like a drink and a smoke,” enthuses Daddy G. “you’ve got to relax. You have to keep a balanced diet.”
Bristol City or Bristol Rovers?
“City” they respond, in stereo.
What’s the social background?
“It’s just North and South Bristol,” explains Daddy G. “There is a slight difference, Rovers have more working-class fans. Weird bumpkins with strange accents.”
Daddy G’s analysis of Bristol’s footballing sociopolitics is shot down vigorously by 3D: “Don’t you dare say that. City have Knowle West, Hartcliffe, fuckin’ Beniston – you can’t get more working-class than that. Rovers share a ground with a rugby club, so they’re definitely more gentrified than us. Although we had Rod Stewart and Elton John playing at our stadium last year, so I don’t know what that says about us.”
Written By Criag Fitzsimons