It's an even bigger shock to find that contrary to his band's dark, uncompromising music the man himself is friendly, polite and above all self-deprecating. Whistling through his recent influences Daddy G enthuses about the people Massive Attack have managed to rope into assisting on the band's new album - their first in some six years.
The band's music has always gone hand in hand with the times. Massive Attack reflected the unease of Britain under a Thatcherite government before turning their back on the Britpop love in.
The affluent decade that followed saw Massive Attack drift through line up changes, with '100th Window' being primarily a 3D solo effort. However with Daddy G back in the fold the band have been working on exciting new material, fired up by new bass heavy soundsystem innovations and an anger at the way the world's poor and vulnerable have been treated.
With Massive Attack's new EP 'Splitting The Atom' out this week (October 5th) ClashMusic sat down with Daddy G to find out just what the band have been up to...
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Where did the title ‘Splitting The Atom’ come from?
It’s just a reference that D made to splitting us. The way that we’ve moved and taken our ideas since our incarnation as The Wild Bunch, then Massive Attack and how things have split away from the main source. People have fallen away, we’ve split off into different factions – it’s just a metaphor for how we work.
Do you feel that you are refining your ideas as you move on?
Yeah. We’ll the initial idea we had as a DJ combo, the Wild Bunch thing, was that we were a five man army and unfortunately now it’s down to a two man. Some of the factions have blown off, and shown us like Tricky, some have come into play to focus on the one central vision that Massive Attack have had. We’ve had people come and go, we’ve gained energy and lost energy.
Can you imagine working with those older members again?
In my wildest dreams, yeah. They’re kind of my wildest dreams, though.
It’s been six years since the last album came out, why has it taken you so long to get material together?
The thing is that people kind of say to us – “what is it with you Bristol people? You work in these five or six year cycles”. But with us it’s not been a case of sitting down and doing nothing but since ‘100th Window’ we’ve had a massive tour – that was a year. We had the ‘Collected’ / Best Of album come out, then another tour. Then last year we had Meltdown festival in London, and that took quite a bit of time to curate. We had the Phantom tour last year, and we had quite a lot of the songs ready for the album. When we came back off tour last year and reconvened, then chucked all the tracks that we had toured with. We started again and over the past six to nine months have been working on new material. That’s what we’re trying to get ready for the next album which is coming out in February. It hasn’t been ‘lazy days of summer’ sort of thing with us.
Why then release an EP? Is it a preview or does it exist in its own right?
Well to be honest, the whole album concept is dead in a way really. It’s just a collection of songs that has a name. In terms of giving people an album’s worth – initially you would get 72 minutes on a CD, which amounts to a fair body of work. But we’ve got twenty odd songs and you can’t release those songs physically as an album. So what we’ve released as a record will come further down the line. This acts as an introduction to the album, sort of thing. Initially when the album comes out we’ll just release the album further down the line. Which is just an excuse to say the album’s not ready yet!
Guy Garvey is a prominent guest on the EP, is it true he writes about six songs on the album?
D was working with Guy Garvey and they’ve done a few tracks. Could be six, yeah. Guy’s been working constantly with D.
How does it work in the studio then? Do have much involvement with those tracks?
What had happened originally is that after coming off tour last year we had a collection of tracks, then we re-convened and prepped the, up for the tour. The idea was to finish them and move on to the next songs. But what happened is that D and Guy moved into the studio and I go and work on other tracks. We’ve also been working on tracks with Tim Goldsworthy from DFA as well. He’s been coming down programming some beats with us as well. But in terms of the songs they are all initially jammed between us.
Does the influx of new names in the recording sessions change the way you operate in the studio? How does this add to the creative process?
It always helps the creative process. It’s good to hear these things from other sides. With quite a lot of these singers we’ve been fortunate enough to work with some people from band’s we’ve loved. You know: Sinead O’Connor, Liz Fraser, Lucy Thorn, Horace Andy. Likewise, those collaborations are still going on with Martina, Guy Garvey, Tunde from TV On The Radio, Hope Sandoval. These people make music that we love and we’ve always hoped to work with them. They bring their own thing to the studio. Guy Garvey’s a great example of this as Guy’s a great songwriter.
You actually get back behind the mic on the new EP, was this a big step?
No I’ve been itching to do it for ages, really and it’s just great to be singing – as good as production work is. It’s good to be back, from that perspective.
3D did a lot of soundtrack work recently, were you temped to branch out and record some solo things yourself?
The thing is, that’s D’s thing. He’s got his own projects that he works on, that he always discusses - like soundtrack work. I’m more into DJing when I’m not in the studio, that’s what my thing is. I don’t have need for more royalties yet!
The new EP comes with new remixes. You must be inundated with offers from producers, how do you pick the right one?
Well the thing is, with these – Van Rivers and Subliminal Kid – we love what they’re doing at the moment. We try to pick people that are happening at the moment, we love working with the sound of the moment. We’re really quite taken with a lot of dubstep, that’s the thing we’re really fanatical about at the moment. Getting involved with Burial, people like that.
Has Burial been remixing any tracks from the album?
We’ve got a bit of a secret project going on at the moment. Burial, working with him. Cotti as well, working with other producers too. Dubstep’s what we’re fanatical about at the moment.
How will the Burial tracks be released?
I don’t know if I should really say this.. but what happened right is that you know that Mad Professor album we did? We’re maybe trying to get that together, where Burial remixes a lot of the tracks. Brings out a different version of the tracks that we’ve done.
What is it that draws you to Burial?
Well we’ve been listening to some of the stuff he does and it’s just amazing. Just the way he does his layers, his drums and stuff like that. The dubstep thing is amazing, there’s a lot of amazing guys – like Kode9 as well. The dubstep thing is amazing and we want to be a part of that.
Bristol has got a massive dubstep scene at the moment, have you been involved with any of those producers?
Joker as well. We’re trying to get Joker to do a remix for us as well.
Can you hear the influence of Massive Attack on some dubstep productions?
To be honest with you, yeah to a certain extent. There’s a certain ethos, a way which music is produced which we kind of relate to. Dubstep is not the next step, but the next natural progression.. not necessarily of trip hop but a similar sort of sound.
Massive Attack has discussed in the past the possibility of releasing the material as stems, which fans could remix – are there any firm plans for these?
That’s another aspect of where we’re at right now, is getting more people involved. As far as we’re concerned we want to use the internet – that’s why our website is a bit more interactive right now. More user friendly. It’s good to get people from the grassroots involved in what you’re doing. That’s how you keep your fan base, keep your fan base fresh.
How did you get in touch with Tunde from TV On The Radio?
Well to be honest we’re just in the great position at the moment where we actually know these guys. Calling on people like Damon, who’s actually a mate of ours, is a great thing. Tunde we met while we were in New York last, and we love TV On The Radio just like we love Elbow. When we were over there we got involved and he was well up for doing a track with us.
Did he record his part in Bristol?
No we went over there and did it. Went over to Williamsburg and hung out, they’ve got a TV On The Radio studio over there.
The track ‘Cry For Rain’ seems quite ambiguous, were you involved in the lyrics?
That’s the whole thing about it. That’s what the song is about, it’s a love song really. Tunde wrote that, yeah.
In the past Massive Attack have spoken about the way in which the outside world has seeped into their music, has the present economic turmoil influenced the new material?
Yeah there’s always a geopolitical aspect to what we do. People around us are being mis-treated and if we don’t speak out about it then we’re just going to be trampled over. You can’t help but feel for people. Not to say that we’re a loud political voice but we want to add meaning to what we do. When we first started off as Massive Attack we were under a Thatcher government and we had a lot to fight against. We were in a recession, there were problems with racism and it was just in a bad way. To be honest, twenty years on we’re back in the same place really. Fascism is on the rise again, we’re definitely in a recession and so things aren’t looking that rosy. You can’t help but look at the times and think that maybe it’s the influence of our time that makes us like this. You can’t help but have that sometimes creep into the music.
How did the recent comeback at Bestival go?
It was great. We enjoyed it, yeah – we love being out. As far as we’re concerned touring is another aspect of getting into the media and meeting the public on a one to one basis. Also it means we can work on out live show and get a real spectacle. That’s what we’re about, a visual aspect as well as an aural aspect. Touring is an important thing, as well as making records, because we love the visual aspect to what we do as well.
Will the light show at Bestival be the one used on the upcoming UK tour?
That’s the main selection. Made by 3D and various other people in anticipation of the tour. It’s just an updated, better version of what we’ve had in the past. We’re fortunate enough to sit down with these guys and build a light show. It’s a great promotion of what we have, as well.
What caused the delay in the album?
That’s what happened. We just came back off tour and decided to re-construct the album again. We didn’t want to rush, and go mad just because we were on tour. But we’ve put a lot of work in and it should be ready for a November finish, coming out in February. But like I said, that album was done and dusted last year really, but we made the mistake of going on tour and coming back, deciding that it had all changed.
You must have stockpiled different versions of the songs, will those ever see the light of day?
We’ve got about eight versions of songs, in some respects. But that’s the thing, maybe we’ll release a few of the demos. Because people are sometimes interested in how you got to the finished result, and sometimes the finished result ain’t even the end result – like I said, these tracks have gone through different incarnations. There might be demos coming out, I don’t know.
I’ve read that the album was going to be titled ‘The Weather Underground’ is this a reference to the 60s activists?
That was just a working title. With us, we need something to work to otherwise we lack focus. But that won’t become the finished product, that was just the working title. That actually an idea that D had, but there is a similarity there yeah.
Big Chill Festival 2010