ScanS → Venue Magazine Interview
Publication Date: April 1998
Massive Attack are a band at the crossroads. After two genre—defining albums, where next for the outfit who proved that it is possible to live in Bristol and still take on the world? To the dark zone, that’s where. This month sees the release of their new album, ‘Mezzanine’, followed by a colossal world tour. And after that?
Mushroom (aka 30-year-old Andrew Vowies) is the youngest member of Massive Attack. Traditionally seen as ’1'he Beats One’, his quietly spoken and considered manner means he comes across as ‘The Quiet One’ in the group, preferring to hang back while the more verbose Robert and Grant let rip with the verbals. Relaxing with an orange juice in a Gloucester Road coffee shop, he speaks slowly and deliberately, considering each word before delivery. The band have only returned from an extensive press aid promotion tour of North America a couple of days before; Mushroom in particular seems tired and listless.
ON MAKING ‘MEZZANINE’
“The album is much more different. We’ve incorporated much more of‘ the live thing in there now. When we went out on our first proper tour, it was quite difficult to recreate those electronic sounds on stage. Angelo [Bruschini , Massive guitarist] was a great help there. He was quite good at taking electronic sounds across to the guitar with Various effects, so he was a major part of the evolution. But this time we’ve done it the other way round. We’ve worked with Angelo from the start. But there were a lot of battles in the studio; a lot of bad feeling. So it’s rubbed off in our music. We argued about everything really. lt’s not been smooth at all. We’re all coming from three quite extreme points of View so it was inevitable that it was all going to clash at some point. This really is the fiist album where we’ve done it all from the same studio and we’ve used the same engineer (Neil Davidge). He wasn’t as heavy as a real put—your’foot—down producer like Nellee (Hooper — one time Wild Bunch member who produced the second Massive album, ‘Protection’) who would say ‘Right, it’s time to get working.’ I don’t think it’s fair to drag Neil into that position like that. He was brought in as a friend/programmer/engineer,”
“I think it’ll be all right, but really I prefer to be in the studio making fresh pieces of music rather than just being out on the road doing the same thing over and over again, even though your interacting with the audience. The best moments are always in the studio. When you’ve written this bit of music, sketched out the ideas and made it into a whole piece-of music and it works, you think, ‘this is it’. Coming offstage is still a good feeling because you know that the outside 'world is enjoying it.”
ON THE (SUPPOSED) INFLUENCE OF MASSIVE ATTACK
”I don’t think we encouraged people. Bristol people are pretty strong anyway, they get up and do their thing. People like Krust and Die are doing something really strong but they’re doing it off their own back. I read interviews with these people and nobody seems to be able to write about them without mentioning the Massive Attack name. We’re nothing to do with these people; we’re just from’ the same town, why do they have to bring it up? We were part of a wave of music which also included Portishead and Tricky, but really that was just a coincidence. There was stuff going on before us with Mark Stewart and Gary Clail, so there really has been a Bristol Sound for ages. The only Bristol Sound is the diversity of each individual piece.”
ON THE HARBOURSIDE CENTRE
“They still ain’t serving it up for the people. ,If you look at the crowds pulled by Portishead, us and Full Cycle; 1 mean Full Cycle are pulling virtually stadium crowds already. There’s a really healthy scene going on down here. Each individual nugget of music in its own right can pull a huge crowd. They’ve just got the wrong idea and a bunch of people above it all in the Council somewhere just haven’t got a clue about what’s going on. They’ve just directed all this money into this free range chicken coop which is being built for jazz musicians. lt’s so small down there. If they wanted big returns they should have put the money into a decent arena where a bit of money could be made.”
ON LIVING AND WORKING IN BRISTOL
“You can’t be uncool in Bristol. Everyone’s watching you, which is one thing which really pisses me off about Bristol. It’s Europe’s biggest Village; you can’t move left or right. I’m getting a little bit fed up with Bristol; to be honest. Nobody does anything here apart from talk about the next man. But I guess you don’t get swept up with all this pop star bullshit. It’s also a bit weird; a bit schizophrenic. Because one minute you’re out touring New York in a stretch limousine, or you’re in Istanbul on stage in front of all these people, or staying in some mad hotel in Venice or LA. And the next minute you’re in Bristol down the pub. This time, coming from New York just a few days ago, I’ve fOund it hard to adjust. The record company will serve you up a stretch limousine with champagne in the fridge because it’s the pop star thing to do. But to me that’s just bullshit. People treat you differently but I’m, still the guy I was 15 years ago I still chill with Krust. You go away and you go to all these places and watch people’s reactions to us or Krust or Geoff (Barrow) or whatever, but we’re just ordinary peOple. There’s no room for Liam Gallaghers down here”.
ON THE CURRENT MOOD IN CAMP MASSIVE ATTACK
“It’s pretty down at the moment. We’re all a hit frayed around the edges really. It’s one of the reasons why we’re doing separate interviews. I guess that these are the things that success brings really. Something that makes someone so happy can also make them down and sad. I’m still living in the same house I’ve lived in for years. I’ve still got the same outlook on life, still listen to the same music . . . ”
“You can’t bring that bloody bike in here. Can’t you see We just had these floors polished?” Robert Del Naia (aka
3D), 33, shows all the pride in his admittedly very tasty abode which you’d expect from a man with such strong Italian parentage. Mind you, it’s doubt“! if many flats in his beloved Naples include a full-size Cybennan costume in a glass case or a TV set the size of Hampshire. Nor ’ indeed a video shelf where season by season Bristol City highlights sit next to a much-prized copy of Pamela Anderson’s infamous wedding video. We adjourn to the dining room and sit either side of a solid looking dining table eating toast and sipping coffee.
“Most people we’ve spoken to say they like it and it’s dark but it’s not tragic. That’s important. We didn’t want‘to make a tragic record. We wanted there to be some anger and some hope in there as well. I think this album has been the most honest album we’ve done because our roles have been those of selfish, subjective individuals. I’ve spent days in the studio without seeing anyone,- Mushroom’s worked at home on his own, G might be in the, studio working with Neil. Occasionally we’d get together and our ideas or our lives might coincide. We get on fine outside the studio but in the studio we don’t. “We have very different ideas; me and Mushroom, mainly. We have different influences — maybe because I’m a little bit older than him. I was led into reggae, soul and hip hop via bands like The Clash, then breakdancing and the Wildstyle phenomenon. For me it was a different route in as opposed to Mushroom and G. But those differences are accentuated now; we’ve grown up and outgrown each other to a certain degree. We don’t have the same relationship we used to. The differences in the studio are more apparent; they make working together more difficult and stressful, which means we work alone. I’ve brought a lot of guitar ideas into the album which Mushroom maybe wasn’t into, but Mush knows we’ve got to move on and that music is about change and about evolution. He’s been aware of it and he’s been supportive, even though maybe it’s been more difficult for him; not having the same background as me and G in terms of being into the New Wave/punk thing. “I can see the stress that has been caused either way and I can see that I’m belligerent and selfish, and both of them accuse me of being difficult to work with. I think I am difficult to work with, but I think they are as well in their own different ways. The whole thing is very difficult. There’s a sense of isolation and paranoia to it, and that is what has given the album its dark feel. But it’s not like we set out to' do that. It’s not like a situation you might get in a Tricky interview where you get the impression he’s had a duel with the devil in the studio and the end result is the album. It’s much more obvious and real than that because it’s about social politics with your friends and your girlfriends.”
ON GROWING UP
“We’ve had little stability in our lives over the last few years with being away on tour — which is a step forward in terms of what we’re doing musically, but probably a step backward in terms of who we are as people. \Ve come back off tour and everyone else is travelling at a different time rate. Everyone else has got married and had kids and responsible jobs and is trying to make a living. And we just come back from space with a bag full of toys. Physically we’ve aged but mentally we haven’t. I had a steady relationship for six years, then another for four years, but I can’t see that happening again. It just doesn’t seem to make sense because you betray their trust if you’re not with them. If you’re not with them in the head, you’re not with them and that’s the biggest betrayal of all. I just lie in bed looking at the ceiling wondering if things will ever be any different, if I’ll ever be able to spend time with someone or will I ever get married and have kids. And then I wonder if I’ve been lucky and avoided all that because of what I’ve got myself into. It’s a two way thing, being in a band — the whole thing is unreal and not based in reality at all. The funny thing is that a lot of the tracks on the album are about all that.”
“There’s a period where you’re translating something from your head which is quite hard to define. And it’s difficult to ever be satisfied with that , but somehow, somewhere in the middle is the track and that becomes a whole new thing for you. Even now I’m dissatisfied with certain tracks. I feel they‘re flawed from the inside. Tracks like ‘Mezzanine’ and ‘Dissolved Girl’ have been re, done five or six times but I’m still not happy with them. I’d say I probably have most sleepless nights in the band and feel more responsible for mixing the album and finishing the album and making it have a Vision and a feeling as a finished product. I was very aware at the beginning that that was how it was going to be.”
ON MATERIAL POSSESSIONS
“I’ve done my flat up. I’ve got a big telly, a big hifi. I still buy comics and stuff, and little things " make you most happy. I wanted to torch this place when I came back from New York with all 'this shopping. Every new bit of clothing I put in the wardrobe; I took a piece out because I couldn’t face adding to what I already had anti then I’d give it away to my mates. Everyone loves it when I come back from New York because I 3 give my mates all my clothes. Then I feel gutted ' six months later because I see them wearing them and they look better on them than they do on me. Possessions can be such a burden. I’m not turning Buddhist on you here but it does weigh you down. I tell you right now, I’ve got less peace of mind than I’ve ever had in my life even though I’ve got money. I had more peace of mind when I was on the dole and had to borrow a tenner off people to go out at the weekend. I'm fully aware how fortunate I am to be in this position. I go and see mates who can’t afford a drink down the pub or down to the football.
ON BRISTOL MUSIC
“Roni Size and the whole Reprazent crew is ' brilliant. I remember - seeing Ryan [Williams '- aka Roni Size] down the Montpelier Hotel playing table football with his headphones on. He wasn’t listening to anything anyone else had to say. He had his own music on y in a world of his own. And out of that world, he's “created his own world himself without anyone else interfering; really selfish. And that’s the way we’ve always been. That’s why we find it so hard to get along with each other. Because we are — at , the bottom line — selfish”
“You look knackered mate. Fancy something to eat?” It’s 1pm and breakfast time in the parallel universe of Massive Attack. Grant Marshall (38) leaps around his kitchen, checking the bacon and mushrooms, battering bagels and trying to figure out how his new cooker works. At 6’ 5” and size 15 feet, Grant (aka Daddy G) is the most instantly recognisable face of Massive Attack. He also cooks a damn fine mushrooms in brandy.
I fucking love this album, I really do. I think it reflects what Massive are about. People put Massive in this kind of pot because of the last two albums. They think that the first album was soul-based because of Shara (Nelson). We keep telling people that we grew up in the 70’s with all these other things. We were into punk, new wave and the Two Tone thing as well. But going on tour and working with Angelo, we saw how tracks could be changed and fucked around with. When we played live with Blue Lines and Protection, we used the band to reconstruct half of the track, and having Angelo on guitar gave the thing a bit more depth and dimension for the stage thing. D and Angelo were mates and he became quite an integral part of what we were doing. We talked about certain directions we wanted the band to take and we brought records into the studio for reference points and little bits of inspiration. And me and D thought, lets bring all our old punk records and see what we can do with those, try and make it a bit more punky; a bit more rough and rugged. Gang of four, Pop Group, slits, Wire, PIL, The Clash; records like that. We were just thinking of a different direction to take the music into. And that’s why it sounds like it does really. It’s still being honest because it’s still taking in the roots.
ON SEPERATE INTERVIEWS
It’s got the same way it has with music. We’ve got so personally away from each other now. The bottom line is that it feels weird going into a group situation with interviews with one common goal when in reality it wasn’t like that with he way the album was made; we really weren’t getting on at all. It was really obvious that we’ve moved apart as far as working together and hanging out with each other. Can we still work together after having all this time off?
We’ve spent all these years together. It’s been so tense for us, being the so-said creators of this certain genre of music, and everyone’s looking at Massive Attack tot ry and repeat its success. The pressure came from a directional thing - what directional we going to take with this album? You’ve thrown into a frame with Mushroom and 3D for all these years, but are they really your mates? Over a period of time you find things about them that really irraitate you and that comes over into the work side of things. There’s no-one to bounce all this stuff off apart fromMushroom and D, who you just want to get away from. I was in the pub last week and everyone was talking about where they’re going and all their holidays. All I wanted to say was , ‘Oh, I’m going to America and so and—so’ but then it seems weird because people just don’t relate to that. When people say ‘Look at him, he’s a fucking pop star,’ it makes me cringe. I just want to grab people and say ‘Don’t fucking say that .
ON BRISTOL AND LONDON
“We don’t want to be seen as a bunch of big headed cunts who’ve left our mates behind. But having said all that, Bristol anchors you down and makes you a hit more real. You go to London and you’re the toast of the town and every bird wants to shag you. You come back to Bristol, I can’t even find myself a decent bird. I keep saying to myself that I‘m going to move to London soon because I feel I’ve outgrown Bristol in a way. But I've always begrudged people like Mark Stewart, Bruce Smith (CX'POp Group) and all my mates who fucked off to London. I thought ‘Why have you done that, why didn’t you stay here and try and make this town better?’ Bristol people didn't need to move away. Bristol would have been a lot bigger a lot quicker if certain people hadn’t moved away.”
“This album was done with us all going into the I studio, all at different times to do it. As far as us collaborating is concerned, if you say ‘Blue Lines’ was 100%, just a big jam in the studio, then we kind of fell apart a little bit with ‘Protection’, we had all these tracks ready to rock but we had no studio, no nothing. Nellee came in and gave the whole thing a sense of direction and pulled everything together — for a price. It was like being shipped along at warp nine speed to a completely different era. Like being helicoptered into the World Cup final and the way that Nellee was working with Madonna. I knew he was big but I didn’t realise he was that large; this working class kid made good from Barton Hill. You’ve got to take you hat off to Nellee; he’s made a mark for other budding Bristolians to aim for. And that‘s what this City needs really ~ people like that to show all the non ’believers in this town.”
“Mushroom is a genius really but it’s whether he can adapt himself to a certain working situation. If he’s not comfortable with a certain situation, you won’t get the most out of him, he has to be totally comfortable to work. I’m like the middle person; even when the arguments start, at the end of the day it’s down to me to sort it out in a certain way. I’ve always I been quite moderate, so I’m like the jam between the two slices of bread. D, is terrible, trying to work with him is impossible because he’s so strong—rninded about everything and he won’t waver. And that’s the whole thing about it. He doesn’t waver, Mushroom doesn’t waver and I’m the one who’s the moderate. At the end of the day, it’s like ‘What do you think, G? It’s all on you now. What do you think about this heat, is it working?’ The way that 3D is, he took it upon himself to try and direct the album in a certain way, but at the end of the day it was beneficial because the one thing we couldn’t do was repeat the formula of ‘Protection' and ‘Blue Lines'. Maybe D had more of a Vision of driving it into much more of an opposite direction to the way we should be going. And that’s where a lot of the riffs came from and the fact that he is the way he is — an obnoxious bastard. I mean, I couldn’t work with Massive Attack.”
Written By John Mitchell