ScanS → X-Rayed Magazine Interview
Publication Date: May 2003
Massive Attack mainman Robert ‘3D’ Del Naja says “fuck” an awful lot. So much so that we’ve cut most of them out of this interview. Right now though he’s got a lot to say fuck about: a critical panning for his latest album, an ever-shrinking band, and then accusations -now dropped – of viewing child pornography. Things to get off his chest? You’d better believe it.
What’s your vision of perfect happiness?
Sunset, somewhere hot like Malaysia, cracking that first beer. When the day’s just changing over, that moment between night and day, that’s the moment of perfect happiness. The other side is my most feared moment, the dawn. It’s the end of fun, know what I mean?
Massive Attack seems to be an ever-shrinking organism.
There was a time, during the making of this album, I thought the band was going to break up. Mushroom had gone, the dynamic had changed, I wasn’t seeing G in the studio, we weren’t collaborating. G’s a reactive person, he doesn’t generate as much. I was just working on my own and thinking ‘fuck it, why don’t I do something else? Start from scratch with a new band.’ But now me and G are getting on really well, we’re really enjoying touring. It’s like we’ve faced up to the worst case scenario and come back from it. Thats made us stronger.
Did the reviews for the new album upset you?
Nah. Since Blue Lines every album’s been slightly mixed. When making a record you can’t do, something no one else has ever done before, but, you can do something you haven’t done before.When you do that, you know there’s always going to be as much criticism as appreciation. I loved The Clash as a kid, but there was a part of me that wanted them to carry on doing two minute garage times for classics. So we didn’t use any samples of loops because that’s become a cliche. I didn’t rap on it because rap’s become pop. It just makes me think of kids’ TV now. So I almost deliberately cut off two of our main supply lines! I was more upset by my parents’ reaction! They came round the studio before I went away and they’d had the album for a couple of days. And my mum said, ‘you know what? I preferred it when you whispered’. I was like ‘cheers, Mum’. That was the only comment they made on the album!
What’s your relationship with your parents like?
Really good now. But I was a fucking nightmare as a teenager. I lived with them on the dole for seven years. I used to wake up at two in the afternoon and they’d Just be shutting the pub up for the afternoon, having a break before opening again in the evening. I’d use that two hours to be a total cunt and start going ‘what’s for tea? Can I have this?’ Scratching my arse and making toasted sandwiches, then borrowing a tenner off me dad. Didn’t even wake up to do the bottling up like I was meant to do (laughs), pay my way. Pathetic, really.
I got caught sniffing glue by the police three or four times. I ran away from home for a few days. I used to stay out all night at squats. They’d be ringing round my friends, sick with worry, calling the police to find me. I stopped going to school at one point, and then I got kicked out. I fucked up all my exams. Then after years of doing all sorts of art courses, I got into graffiti, which pissed them off to the max. All those courses, and then I ended up painting on walls. Then I got arrested again for graffiti-ing! I’ve always been aware of the negative effect I had on them as a teenager. I always wanted to make up for It. So I’ve just bought my parents a house, instead of them living above the pub.
Who was the first girl you ever loved?
Jodie Foster in Bugsy Malone. Tallulah. I came out of the cinema smitten. I felt absolutely sick. Sick with love and loss at the same time. My first love proper was a girl called Lisa England. I had an L tattooed on my arm – I’ve just had some laser treatment recently to get rid of it. It got on my nerves – and my girlfriend’s even more! And it was only a crush. And she never acknowledged it. She didn’t even know I existed!
What’s the best book you’ve ever read?
Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love. I want to do a DVD movie for ‘Antistar’ which’ll be a dramatisation of a part in the book. Arturo, he’s a fish boy who lives in a tank, who’s got no limbs. People come for miles to listen to him enraptured. To be part of him they start to cut off bits of their limbs. This surgeon sets up in the square so people can have their limbs removed. You get this level of disciples – the most minimal are the people who’ve just done a finger, who sit at the back. The most extreme, who’ve had all their limbs cut off, are swaddled in bandages and sit at the front, rocking around and listening to every word he says. To me it’s a perfect analogy for celebrity and religion. The cult of celebrity – people want to be stared at by the. pop star like oxygen, like blood.
What’s your most valued possession?
I bought Maradona’s shirt off an Argentinian footballer who’s skint because of their economy. He exchanged shirts with Maradona when he played for Racing Club before he signed to Bocca. I thought of hanging the shirt up in a hot room and letting the moisture run out of it into a little bottle, distill some of his sweat, and put a little drop on my tongue before I play football every week.
When was the last time you were in a fight?
When I got beaten up by my ex-girlfriend years ago. What provoked it? Being human provoked it. Did I hit her back? Well, we had a kind of tussle. I don’t get involved in that kind of thing any more. I’m not a violent person. Look at me!
But you’ve been picking political fights recently?
Yeah, well, I always felt I couldn’t force my views on the rest of the group, but I’ve become more mobilised recently. Getting older, frustration, and blatant anger at the manipulation of power, the hypocrisy of it all. After going through the whole Gulf War thing with Massive Attack, I couldn’t believe the same family was at it again 12 years later. Me and Damon Albarn got together, with the plan to fund these ads with the help of our peers in the music industry. But when we stepped out the fucking door, there was no one behind us. We were like, where the fuck is everyone? The lack of general support was stunning. We pretty much contacted every band in Britain and just got nothing back.
Isn’t fusing politics and music a dangerous move?
Well, I don’t write political songs – The Clash are one of the few people who could do that. But when we got offered ads before we’d always turn them down. Then a couple of years ago we started to say, why turn down all that money when we could take that money and give it to a charity? Which we did with Armani and another one. But then there was an offer last year from Levi’s, and we went ‘great, we can give that to CND and Stop the War. And they pulled the ad! But I’m going to carry on getting involved – much more with CND and Greenpeace.
So how eco are you? Do you recycle?
Yeah, but I’ve always got a bit of a conflict with doing the bottles. You end up with piles and piles of beer and wine bottles, and it’s ‘fuck me, check out the alcy’. I fill ’em within a couple of days, so I tend to chuck a few bottles away to save face, which I feel really guilty about. But I suppose when you’re an alcoholic you’re always in denial, aren’t you?
Do you think you’re an alcoholic?
Fuckin’ course I am, to a certain extent. I haven’t eased off on any of that kind of shit. I’m still reckless as fuck when it comes to going out. I went through a stage last year that I wouldn’t drink Sunday to Thursday. But then it became Wednesday. Then I’d find I couldn’t get through Sunday without drinking. I’d do loads of exercise in that time, culminating in Ashtanga yoga for two hours on a Thursday and then go out to the pub (laughs). That all stopped when I went on tour. I was giving myself a hard time, and I just said, fucking relax and have a drink!
You’re nearly 40. Isn’t it about time you settled down, became responsible and had kids?
My girlfriend Nancy and I are talking about it. I’m drinking Horace Andy’s ‘baby juice’. It’s a vegetable mix which he swears will make you so fertile that just by breathing on a woman’s neck… I’ve started to feel conspicuous in my peer group now. But the total reality of it fills me full of fear, to be honest. Know what I mean? If I was left to my own devices I might just end up going back to the old ivory tower, staring out the window from the roof, watching it all go by below. The other romantic notion is being in the bottom of the tower, in the fucking basement, looking up at the little bit of sky you got guaranteed. I thought having kids would happen without me being too involved (laughs). I’m just a sadly irresponsible person.
Have you ever had a near-death experience?
Yeah, me and my mate were re-enacting a scene from Don’t Look Now. With the dwarf with the red coat. That’s the most scary film ever. Really affected me when I was a kid. And he was pretending to stab me with a big blunt army dagger, and I moved, and it went straight through my arm. We ran to the hospital which, luckily, was just nearby – we ran with my arm in the air. Ran through the emergency doors, people sat around with mumps or toothache or saucepan on the ‘ead and there was blood spurting everywhere, and everyone started screaming. The nurse said ‘if I don’t put these crocodile clips on, you’re going to die’. I couldn’t feel my hand for weeks afterwards; I thought I was never going to use it again.
Do you believe in God?
No, unfortunately not. I’m a bit of a fucking nihilist, to be honest. It’s all simple, personal, man’s fear of death, it’s a safety net – then you can control people. That’s what the church has always done. I believe more in fucking numbers. I have these dreams about numbers. I’ve been having them for the last few years, nightmares being spoken in my head – the numbers are so big that it’d take the rest of my life to hear the end of the number, I knew I would never see the number through, and this ball of matter would grow until it became too big to contain, and disappeared again, and then became zero. When it was everything and nothing was the most terrifying point. That was the bit where I’d often wake up. I could still hear the number in my head as I was washing my face.
Like something from a Darren Aronovsky film!
We might be working with him actually. I’ve wanted to do a soundtrack for ages and he’d be fucking perfect. But talking of Pi, I started reading about the Bible code and started freaking myself out. Isaac Newton tried to decipher the bible without computers, and the closest he got was 2060 as the prediction of Armageddon, and recently an Israeli mathematician used computers and got to 2006. It all explains Osama bin Laden, George Bush, the next great warrior will come from Kurdistan who’ll take on the might of the west, and that’ll be the end of the world.
How can an Intelligent man like yourself believe such nonsense?
(laughs) I am a rational person, but don’t you think every superstition has its basis in reality? I believe everything and nothing. I like to think in my wildest dreams that the Bible was left by another race as a code for us to work out.
Any other weird beliefs you’d like to tell us about?
There was a group called the Physically Immortals. They thought if you believed you weren’t gonna die then you wouldn’t, cos you’d been programmed to believe it. It’s always in the back of your mind, ‘I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die,’ therefore cellular destruction on a self-induced level kicks in. if you don’t believe it, then maybe you can survive. So I did this extreme fast. I’d feel great in the mornings, and shit for the rest of the day. I was just obsessed with food. I’d cook for people just to be near food. I couldn’t stop thinking about eating. At the end of the week, after cleansing myself in this most extreme way, I had a pizza and loads of beer. In the space of two hours I’d destroyed 10 days of real hard work.
OK, so did you look at child pornography?
I’ll tell you what happened. 1999, I got a laptop. I’m , fucking electronic as fuck. I’ve spent all my life involved in electronics. I’ve bought everything I could possibly buy on the net: food, healthcare, clothing, music, films. I paid up for sports sites, I paid for adult sites, porn is something like music, like sports, like politics, one of those things I’ve always been around. To pay to go on to one is a natural thing for me. In 1999 I paid three dollars on my credit card to join a site that was owned by a company that owned hundreds of sites: most of them legitimate, some of them, it turns out, not.
Well, the parent company got busted for selling child pornography. Fuckin’ right, I agree with the action taken against those people. But then anyone who’s been on these sites suddenly gets caught in the net. The operation in Britain was called Ricochet. Now, ricochet, to me, is a bullet fired into a room which randomly hits fuckin’ various surfaces and kills someone by accident. I was sitting there going ‘I’ve been hit by a ricochet stray bullet, and that’s legitimate enough to arrest me? To ransack my house? And then to leak it to the press, when I’ve not even been charged for anything?’ That’s illegal, what they did. I can’t believe they did that to me – you can see how angry I am. I was in disbelief. I’d spent the whole year talking about abuse, talking about pornography, talking about security on the internet [the themes of 100th Window}, talking about hypocrisy in the media. Then bang, this happens to me!
Have you ever been unfaithful?
Yes, I’ve always been unfaithful. Me and my current girlfriend, we had a confrontation recently where I told her I’d been unfaithful and it really broke her heart. I’m trying to mend the relationship at the moment. I’m terrible. Don’t know what it is – childishness, living in the future and not in the present, back to that. It’s a lifestyle thing, just being a typical male opportunist. Men try to justify it, saying ‘fuck it, you only live once, you’ve got to get your feet wet’. The idea that, when you sit back in your club chair with your brandy and your cigar and go, ‘aah…’, and all those faces pass through your mind and you go ‘I’ve had a good innings!’ The idea of getting to that brandy and club chair stage in your life and going ‘fuck, I’ve only had five birds, what’m I gonna do? It’s too late now!’ I’m not talking about being sleazy; I’m talking about sharing something. Even a one night stand can be romantic.
Did you lie about it?
The problem with lying about being unfaithful is it becomes easy after a while. And then you stop even feeling guilty about it, you become immune. Sitting there giggling in a corner like an idiot, thinking ‘wow, I got away with it’. That’s when you understand how politicans work. Once you’ve told the biggest lie you could ever tell, then you can do anything. It’s like The Godfather, when Al Pacino says to Diane Keaton ‘you can ask me once about my business, only once’. And she asks him ‘did you kill that guy?’ and he just says ‘no’, and he justfucking lies. They both know it was a lie. It’s so fucking swollen, that moment.
What else do you lie about?
Nothing. It makes you seem like you’d lie about everything, having done that, but I don’t. I’m not a liar by nature. I’m too honest for my own good. I’m too frank.
How did it affect you?
That’s the most depressed I’d ever been. I’d go out on stage in Australia and it felt absolutely absurd and pathetic. But I couldn’t have let everyone down. Quitting wasn’t an option. That was nine months of planning. I didn’t want to do a runner and disappear and feel sorry for myself.
So what would your younger self think of you If he met you now?
I’m more interested in what the 80-year-old self would make of me. I reckon he’d look back at all the photographs I’ve taken through my life in order to fulfil the 80-year-old’s ambition to sit back and look at his life through a series of photographs. That’s all the police could find when they went through my house. Well, apart from the Ecstasy. Just millions and millions of photographs of me documenting my life over and over again. It must have been the most boring process for them. The younger self would just go ‘fuck! All those women!’
Written By Toby Manning