ScanS → Rage Magazine Interview
Publication Date: July 1991
“All we are a collection of old friends making music. People start reading too much into the word ‘collective’. I don’t know what the word means. I’m gonna go home tonight and look it up in the dictionary.”
Daddy G, Massive Attack’s affable deejay, chews on his swordfish, glances at his colleagues and laughs. And who can blame him? This, after all, is destined to be Massive Attack’s year. Like Soul II Soul’s seminal ‘Club Classics Volume One’ of a few summers ago, ‘Blue Lines’, the Bristol-based crew’s recently released debut LP, takes dance music to a higher plane altogether. It is, quite simply, a masterpiece.
G, of course, has flirted with fame before. A founder member of Bristol’s legendary Wild Bunch Posse, along with Soul II Soul’s Nellee Hooper, he leant his weight to their 1986 version of Bacharach and David’s ‘The Look Of Love’, which left many singing their praises. But, despite their undoubted prowess, The Wild Bunch failed to fulfil their potential. In 1987, after a good deal of trouble and strife, Nellee and Milo Johnson left Bristol for good, forcing Daddy G to pick up the pieces. “The whole thing about The Wild Bunch was that it was one constant battle for supremacy,” he explains, before pausing to sip his umpteenth glass of champagne. “There were five different personalities and everyone wanted to be king.”
Within a couple of months of The Wild Bunch’s dissolution, Massive Attack were up and running. Formed around a nucleus of Daddy G, 3D and Mushroom, they vowed to take The Wild Bunch’s gameplan one step further. Though ‘Any Love’, their collaboration with fellow Bristolians Smith and Mighty, failed to attract the attention it deserved, ‘Daydreaming’, the first release on their own Wild Bunch label, fared far better. Remarkably light-headed, it casually drifted along apparently oblivious to the outside world.
“That’s just the way we are,” reveals rapper Tricky Kid in his strong Bristolian burr. “If me and G went out talking about beating and shooting people it wouldn’t be us. I love that sort of stuff. I’ve even tried writing hard, aggressive raps. But, at the end of the day, that’s not me. Rapping is about putting your personality across and if your personality isn’t coming across….”
“You ain’t got no personality,” says G.
“We’re not saying anything about anything,” continues Tricky. “Someone might listen to one verse and think one thing, someone else might listen to the same verse and think another. Everybody can make up their own mind… There’s not one real song on the whole album. It’s all bits and bobs. Different personalities, different feelings, going to different places.”
“We don’t really conform to the dance format,” adds G. “If you look back at ‘The Look Of Love’, we weren’t conforming to the bpms on the dancefloor then and we aren’t conforming to them now.”
He’s right. If nothing else, ‘Blue Lines’ is an incredibly eclectic album. Whereas the new single ‘Safe From Harm’ and ‘Be Thankful For What You’ve Got’ are soulful and ambient, ‘Hymn Of The Big Wheel’ and ‘Blue Lines’ are tinged with elements of reggae and jazz respectively. Massive Attack, it seems, will try their hand at anything.
“It’s not a conscious effort to make one house track, one soul track, one this, one that,” confirms G. “It’s just an accumulation of everything that’s been going on over the years. You’ve gotta understand that we don’t all like the same music. We’re all so different. Whatever we do isn’t a consensus of feeling. 3D and Mushroom are into things like soundtracks and stuff.”
“Our music as a whole is built from different things that we all like individually,” furthers singer Shara Nelson, who’s worked with Daddy G since the early days of The Wild Bunch. “It’s all sort of pulled into a ball when we work together.”
So you thrive on the friction? “Yeah,” she replies, “I mean who wants to listen to an album put together without any blood and sweat. It wouldn’t mean much to anyone.” Tricky, for one, agrees: “Sometimes there are so many arguments, that certain people can’t be around at certain times. Say I was doing the vocals, right. After I’d done them I’d have to go, ’cause I like one thing and someone else likes another. But that’s good. If everyone agrees on everything, it all becomes too easy.”
It soon transpires that remixes are a major bone of contention within the Massive camp. Not everyone, apparently, sees Nellee Hooper’s ‘Unfinished Sympathy’ remix in a positive light. “Yes, there’s mixed feelings on that one,” confirms Shara. “One member of the group doesn’t agree with remixes, full stop. On the whole, though, we’re quite pleased with it. It’s always interesting to see how someone else has interpreted what you’ve done. You can’t always be over-possessive about what you do.”
“I’m one of the people who actually likes it,” says G, who seems convinced that every other person in the restaurant comes from Bristol. “I find it all quite exciting. What people wanted was deejay friendly remixes of our stuff. People said they liked it but they couldn’t put it on the dancefloor. And that involvement with Nellee was an attempt to achieve that. The thing is, there’s quite a lot of people who we’ve always admired and wanted to work with.”
One of these people is film director Baillie Walsh, the man responsible for the remarkable promo vids for ‘Daydreaming’ and ‘Unfinished Sympathy’. While the former portrays the band stuck in slow motion in the backroom of a dusty house on a sticky hot summer’s day, the latter sees Shara bravely dicing with death as she strolls along a Los Angeles street, narrowly avoiding a couple of street gangs with their dogs, a man “without legs and a bevvy of winos who are clearly the worse for wear.
“It was quite a frightening experience,” recalls Shara. “But, like I said, Baillie’s got the ability to help you forget what’s going on and to just concentrate on what you’re doing. And, of course, I had these bodyguards behind me. I wasn’t on my own.”
“The bottom line is,” interjects G, “with someone like Baillie Walsh, he can visually put into action what we do with the music.”
There are many who feel Massive’s music is the shape of things to come. But, in spite of such widespread acclaim, they remain somewhat unfazed. “It’s nice, but you have to treat it as one big compliment,” says Shara, breaking off from informing her press officer that Bono is a big fan of theirs. “Nothing more. It can’t stop you from making the type of music you like.”
“In the days of The Wild Bunch,” adds G, “we didn’t really care whether the media respected us or not. We don’t really care now to an extent, as long as people respect the records.”
“The music started off as fun, as a hobby,” says Tricky. “And it just so happens that we’re making a living from it. I love writing lyrics, the guys love making music, Shara loves singing. If we weren’t getting paid for it, we’d be doing it anyway.” Be thankful that they are.
Written By Paul Mardles