The adage about the proof being in the pudding: nonsense. When have you ever picked through your cake crumbs and discovered a certain vindication?
But there’s much to be said for another: Aesop’s one about not counting your chickens, or alternatively something a Clash sort mentioned moments ago, along the lines of not jumping into the fire before you’re told to. Makes no sense to me, that last one, but it’s appropriate here: do not pass go ‘til The Prodigy say you should.
The rave pioneers, turned dance-rock festival headliners, turned influential ‘heritage’ sorts, turned back-with-a-vengeance venomous party-starters, release their fifth studio LP later this month. ‘Invaders Must Die’ is ostensibly something of an echo of their earliest work – the albums ‘Experience’ and its Mercury nominated follow-up ‘Music For The Jilted Generation’. But it’s not made purely for retro thrills, as anyone with half an ear will tell you. Read the Clash verdict on the album HERE.
Clash’s Adam Park spent serious time with the band’s musical lynchpin Liam Howlett and their fiery (oh, ha ha) frontman Keith Flint; third member, emcee Maxim, showed up for our exclusive photo shoot – pick up the current issue of Clash to see the results – but strayed from our spiel once the recorder was lit red.
THIS IS PART ONE.
READ PART TWO HERE.
Are you excited about the new record?
Liam: Totally man. It feels like a triumph for us on this record. It was really fun to make… and hard – but fun. And I think it was because we were all back together again. You know, we’d sort of fought through the hard times and got to this point where we could make a really really great record. And that’s where we’re at. I think we’re just really happy with the result, do you know what I mean?
Keith: I mean I don’t think The Prodigy would do, or at least release, anything we weren’t excited about… Although there has only been one mistake…
Keith: ‘Baby’s Got A Temper’.
That was a mistake?
Liam: Yeah, but I mean we learnt from it. It just wasn’t one of my favourite records… Well, actually it wasn’t a record I liked at all (laughs). I must have liked it at the time it went out, but I knew it wasn’t a sonic reflection of where the band were heading. It was slow, lazy and just down. It wasn’t an up record… it was just… (shrugs)
Keith: I think the reason we didn’t see through ‘Baby’s Got A Temper’ for what it is… Shit! I’ve got us on to not such a great subject, but fuck it – all aspects should be covered as it is part of the band and happened naturally. But the track was there and we couldn’t see past the celebration of working together. I think, anyway.
Liam: Yeah, it was the one thing that brought us back together and we weren’t able to say, “This isn’t any fucking good, this tune”. But that’s that.
Keith: This record wouldn’t be here now if we weren’t 100 per cent happy with it. There’s no fucking around on this record. Whatever it took: time, sweat… Whatever. It was either going to be fucking perfect or not at all. It had to be.
Liam: Yeah – it had to be. I think people view this as our comeback when I don’t think we’re coming back. We haven’t been away. Some people probably see the last proper Prodigy album ‘Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned’ – ignoring the singles collection – as confusing. It was a confusing album to people, and I can understand that. I think, for one, I fell out with the record company completely as they basically wanted ‘Fat of the Land Part 2’, which I absolutely didn’t want to do. As an artist I categorically believe that you should be allowed to do whatever the fuck you want to do, not be told that you have to do another ‘Firestarter’. And so I’d already made up my mind what I was going to do, and it took a long time to write that last record.
Keith: Turning our back on writing ‘Fat of the Land Part 2’ was detrimental to the band, without a doubt. However, not as detrimental as writing ‘Fat of the Land Part 2’. So however difficult that period was, we’re so glad we’ve been through it. You know, it hasn’t all been good for the band. Same as when you first start out and have to travel in the Transit, it’s garage sandwiches all the way and you’re trying to do two gigs a night to get enough money to live… It’s the same. We don’t want or expect it to be all roses, and we had that period that was a bit of a fucking battle, but looking now it was good. It’s been good for the band because out of it we’ve written this triumphant album that is totally natural and totally 100 per cent Prodigy, as it should be right now.
Liam: I think if you listen to the record… I mean, we’re a moody bunch of fuckers us three, and it feels like quite an ‘up’ record.
Keith: For such grumpy c*nts (laughs)
Liam: Yeah (laughs), it is! It’s not a dark record at all. It’s just a fucking fantastic party record.
So how long were you record the LP for? At what point did it become ‘Invaders Must Die’?
Keith: May last year.
Quite quick then?
Liam: We were in the studio previous to May, but I don’t think before that anything got on to the album… But previous to that we were out of a record deal, so we hired a big live room and wanted to set up a really relaxed area so we could be like, “Yeah, come into the studio and lay some ideas down, or just hang out”. A real relaxed kind of atmosphere. I think during that period a lot of partying took place and there was no sense of urgency as we didn’t have a record deal. We were just using the time to experiment.
Keith: I personally think we were intent on not locking ourselves down to ‘must dos / should dos’, that kind of thing.
Liam: We didn’t want to pressure ourselves. We self funded all that. Looking back I think I should maybe have been more of a co-ordinator and pulled some of the ideas together quicker. But I just got caught up in the idea of partying, champagne bottles stacking up in the corner…
Keith: But again, out of that only came good.
Liam: Yeah – there were actually some really good ideas, but no finished tracks. I think when we eventually said, “What the fuck are we doing?”, it all started to come together better. We had the Gatecrasher Summer Soundsytem booked in and basically we said: “Right, let’s write a track for that and forget about the album”. We knew what that had to be. We knew it had to be a slamming tune and how it needed to perform on stage for that gig. So that kind of took the pressure off the album and that got written in less than a week.
Keith: Yeah, it was really quick. Again referencing all the old tracks that really used to make us buzz and the simplicity of tracks that you’d hear and there would be these huge rumbling warehouse riffs! Just pumping tracks. We realised that it was just simple and whilst the tracks on the album aren’t really that simple in the sense they’re packed with ideas, the way of writing took this on board. I watched Liam – and this is really hard to say – but I watched him writing the tracks in the same way and building the sonics of the soundscape around these big beats and writing big riffs and throwing them on the top. And stealing bits from here and there and slicing them up.
Liam: It just made me remember how I used to write music. When we started the album I just wanted out of the comfort zone and we tried to write songs. That was the wrong approach, and we realised a few months in we were going the wrong way. I knew all along that I could write beats with my eyes closed and so maybe we shouldn’t start with that and look to what I thought was the foundation instead. Songs and guitar and lyrics… (laughs) Just write in more of a traditional way. But how the fuck can we sit there with an acoustic guitar and write shit! (laughs)
Keith: We’re not the Arctic Monkeys, you know. We’re not even the fucking Monkees (laughs)
Liam: We need fucking bass. Turn the bass up!
Keith: We’re all about the buzz. I need to walk in there and Liam says, “Here, check this out,” then presses the button and BOOM!
And you know straight away if there’s something there?
Keith: Yes. The energy is there.
Liam: But we got four months in this time and didn’t realise it wasn’t right… We tried this different approach and we were like three little kids when we started, all back together working again.
Keith: We were all there with this massive determination to make it work and make it great. And that was it. That was it. And in that determination none of us wanted to lay down any real rules, how it must be or how it shouldn’t be. Liam has a vision for this band musically – he knows what it is and he knows that we understand that. And that’s how that works. You know why? Because democracy doesn’t work in a band. “Oh Graham I love your fucking bass part – shall we put it on instead of the piano riff…” That shit doesn’t work for us. The Prodigy is upfront aggression with very single-minded idea of what it has to sound like. And that’s what the band is all about. So I think once Liam had taken the reins it came together. But we’re all a sum of the parts – that’s not taking anything away from myself and Maxim. Too many chiefs and not enough Indians springs to mind on certain projects.
Liam: From the start we decided it had to be a band album – so no room for any vocal collaborations. I did record three and they were good, wicked tracks. Who were they with? I can’t say as they may come out at some stage. They’re pretty much finished. One of them is with someone well known, the other two aren’t. But basically we got 70 per cent of the way through the record and I was like, “Fucking hell – let’s carry on because the stuff we are doing is so much better than that and gives the album more integrity”. And it just feels like a really fucking great band album. Much more than any of our other albums and that makes it really different. Say ‘Fat of the Land’, it had three – maybe four – vocal tunes on – whereas this album incorporates the band on every single track.
Is it important for it to be an album as an entity? Not just a collection of tunes?
Keith: Yeah. And with this album, as much as it can be seen as a complete band album, it’s also an album that we could play from start to finish tomorrow and take it on to that stage and perform it. And that’s exactly what this album is about. The last one confused people as they couldn’t see how it was the band. Anything that comes out from The Prodigy, me and Maxim feel part of it, end of story. Not as a token gesture, not as a loyalty gesture; but because we are part of it and we’ll always represent it. But this is a complete band album. I remember saying to Liam that there was something I’d done that I liked and he was like, “Yeah, that sounded good man but I want you to sound great”.
Liam: You make me sound like fucking Phil Spector (laughs)
Keith: There’s no halfways or good songs. Only great songs.
How does the subject matter of the vocals come about? Do you go into the studio with some themes already in your head?
Keith: It happens in varying degrees of a track. Say something like ‘Colours’ was almost done in terms of the track, then Maxim came in and did a part which then became a part of the chorus way after when the track was done. So Maxim opened up a completed song and then helped take it to another level. Sometimes, like ‘Run With The Wolves’, which has Dave Grohl on drums, was from an idea I’d put down on this mic we had set up at all times just to mess about with. And obviously I put a lot of shit on there, but some good stuff too. I originally put it down on something quite funky although the vocal is really aggressive and then we took the idea and rewrote some of it and it got changed and eventually became the track on the album. So in that case it all came from the vocal idea. So there’s no real rules. But almost all tracks start from a great beat or loop that Liam has laid down.
Liam: The fundamental thing of the band is drums and bass. Take that away and it’s not a Prodigy record. We never forgot that but we just wanted to approach it in a different way. Turns out it didn’t work.
Did you find it liberating not being with XL anymore?
Liam: Absolutely man. I’m still friends with everyone from XL. We never fell out, but sometimes relationships come to an end naturally. I mean, contractually it came to an end after the singles collection (‘Their Law’) which incidentally I didn’t want to do at the time, but grew to actually be very proud of. And the tour was amazing and cemented the band back together. It was a no brainer for us to go out on tour and play the hits. People always want to hear the hits. But we felt like we’d gave it everything and I fucked with old stuff to keep it fresh, but compared to the new tour where it’s at least 40 per cent new stuff and that people have never heard before. That fucking rocked more than the singles tour.
Keith: Yeah, I mean we thought that the ‘Their Law’ tour was fucking awesome. A real peak. But I say this with all the confidence, reality and with my feet placed firmly on the ground that this latest tour has never seen the band so on fire. This band has never been that good before.
Liam: We were shocked ourselves. Not shocked that we were so good, but shocked how together it all was. I mean we did a few rehearsals, but it’s difficult for us to do. You can’t do it unless you’re in that environment in front of those people. So all we can do is rehearse to the point we know what parts to play and what’s coming when.
Keith: It’s not us running that show from start to finish. It’s more like Liam saying, “You want to do ‘Run’?” and we’ll do ‘Run’ then I might suggest going from that into ‘Firestarter’ and doing something between the two…
Liam: But as soon as you get on stage it all changes. And Keith always fucking misses stuff (laughs). I’ll be like, “I thought we doing that,” and Keith will be “Yeah, I missed it – you must have put a different beat on it”. And I never have.
Keith: But ultimately, there is no preparation done for that stage and that spontaneity with professionalism and as much focus as you can put in it – that is what sets people alight. So it might be the same every night in terms of what we play, but the spontaneity means that it would feel different. I truly believe that.
Liam: Musically it would be different too. As we move through a tour things change and get honed. So I tweak the tunes as the tour goes on.
Keith: On this tour we started in Liverpool and thought, “Fucking hell, that was banging,” and we were almost waiting for the anti-climax gig… But it kept on going (throws arms upwards). All the way along up to Brixton. And then at Brixton the next night was even higher.
Liam: It was a good end to a year. We haven’t even released the record yet!
Keith: You wait until we’ve got the new record locked down. I mean, don’t think that we’ve taken a shoddy version out that’s half rehearsed or half done. But wait until we’re really fucking on it and up to speed… Fucking hell, we’re gonna be banging it!
Do you prefer the small shows or the big shows?
Liam: For me Brixton [Academy] still intimidates the fuck out of me. You feel so exposed on that stage. You can’t escape. With a little gig say, you have the small ceiling and you know there’s a divide. But in Brixton people seem to be everywhere. You look out and they’re just there, up to the ceiling. It’s like being under a microscope. Playing Brixton for me is far scarier than playing Knebworth before Oasis. It’s really fucking full on. I can deal with it, you know – but it definitely makes me stand back and think.
Keith: Everything comes to London. If it’s on tour, it’ll be in London and probably in Brixton at some stage. So as a place it’s very take it or leave it. People will turn up to Brixton and be like “is that it?” – you can’t fake it at Brixton, you bang it or you die. And if you die, it’s like telling a bad joke. It’s goes silent. It’s horrendous.
You just mentioned Knebworth, how was that to play?
Liam: It was great man. We’re actually supporting Oasis again in Ireland in July. I really enjoyed that day – it was good, and different. We’re used to playing in the dark, so that was a bit fucking weird playing in broad sunlight.
Keith: I think we approach gigs like that as a challenge. We think, we’ll launch ourselves out of out comfort zone but still stand by the rules of what we do and fucking rock it.
I’ve never seen a crowd come round so quickly. Disinterested to frantic within a couple of minutes.
Liam: We felt like we did a good job. It’s hard to make any kind of shockwave in a crowd that big, especially when they’re not there to see you. As a support the crowd must be thinking, “Fucking hell, let’s just get on with it and get the proper band on”. So we felt like we went out there and gave people something. Hopefully Ireland will be the same – the new record will be out and I’m really looking forward to that gig.
Keith: Yeah, me too.
Liam: We spend most of the summer doing festivals in the dark. Doing something in the light now and again always brings a new energy to stuff.
Your gigs are always sweatboxes…
Keith: Liverpool on this tour was incredible. Incredibly fucking hot. I mean… Fuck. It was hot.
Liam: I never take my leather jacket off man (laughs), never! It’s a joke in the band that it doesn’t come off. I made it to the third tune and then was like to Keith: “Yeah, I might just slip this off…” (laughs)
Keith: That shit don’t come off for anyone. He even spent his wedding night in that fucking jacket (laughs).
Do you like this period between the album being finished and it coming out?
Liam: I fucking hate it! As soon as I finish a record I want it out. This is the thing, right, what does my head in; in this day and age when everything is so fucking fast and we have the internet, why the fuck do we still have to deal with four months between finishing [an album] and getting it to people. It’s the only thing that hasn’t moved on. When I finished the album I was like, “So when’s it coming out then? Before Christmas?” They were like, “No, March”. The fuck?! Fucking March… It’s unbelievable. It does my head in.
Keith: I went fucking bananas, I’m telling you. Everyone was telling me to chill out, but I was fucking mad.
Liam: So we did actually put that tour in before Christmas to compensate a bit. It was only six dates, and I think we should have done more…
Keith: I would have done another six for nothing. It was amazing.
Liam: But I thought we wouldn’t be doing anything before Christmas. So I’ve spent the time in the studio, doing b-sides and bonus tracks, that kind of thing. It’s enabled me to finish other tracks that weren’t right for the album but will be for something else. I found another tune that I’d forgot I’d done – it was like: “Fuck, this is a perfect album tune”. It’s this disco punk tune, really different to anything else on the record. But that’s going to be on something else we’re putting out. Like a limited-edition EP thing.
Keith: You’ll fucking love it. I love it. I wanted to do it on tour. It’s really different for the band though. People will be surprised.
The track ‘Warrior’s Dance’ is amazing – harks back to the old Prodigy days without being revisionist. Have you been revisiting older records?
Liam: Absolutely. So we had the Gatercrasher gig looming and Keith suggested we fucked the album for a minute and focus on a new tune to play that doesn’t even have to go on the album. We know it’s got to be a banging tune that’s easy to digest on the first listen. So we went into the studio and had the twenty years of acid house in our heads and started listening to all that great music again: Renegade Soundwave, Shut Up and Dance… All that early shit and found I really loved it again.
Keith: I mean it sounds really crap, but even the smell of the old records and holding the vinyl again… It gets you reflecting on the old stories and the vibes. Not trying to make it sound all deep, but it was fucking great and that’s what the band is really all about. That feeling.
Did you enjoy Gatecrasher?
Keith: Yeah I did, you know. To be quite honest, because of the weather it was a challenge…
Liam: It was a bit shit really. I was glad to be back. But I think it would have been beneficial to us to do a few small dates first, you know what I mean? I didn’t particularly enjoy it.
Keith: I felt sorry for the people having to stand out there in the wet and wind. You know what, it’s really cool when it’s summer and it’s a banging festival. But when the rain comes down you have to try and think fuck it. Standing their frozen in a field with tents blowing down – that’s hard work for the promoters and the people. We were really determined to give everyone a fucking great show, but it was hard. The wind was that strong the sound was being blown back into the speakers and that’s not good for us as a band. It’s not good value.
I’ve always thought that The Prodigy treats the crowd as equals – as if they’re part of the band. So if the crowd are suffering, it reflects back.
Keith: That’s absolutely right and I’m glad you say that. I am no different to them people. I am no better than the crowd. I’m representing them and I’m basically the stage diver who doesn’t get chucked off. I am them. Without them people doing what they do and feeling what they feel, I couldn’t do that. They are my fuel. That’s not trying to be right on or in touch with the kids, it’s just how that works.
The diversity of the crowd at a Prodigy gig always shocks me. You have really young kids rubbing shoulders with old ravers. My mum went to see you…
Keith: You’re so right. I can tell you really understand the band and I know you’re into it. You talk like I talk and pick up on exactly what I see. I saw some kid at a gig recently who could barely see over the barrier – who would have been me years ago. He probably felt as funky as anyone else there and didn’t feel like a kid. How the fuck he got in and made it to the fron… I don’t know. He was there, giving me the finger shouting, “you c*nt!” And next to him is some forty-year-old geezer – top off, covered in tattoos – at the front joining in shouting, “you fucking cunt” at me. I love it. That diversity is more fuel when you’re up there.
But they’re a good crowd. Everyone looks out for each other. When my mum was there she was down the front in Manchester and surrounded by all these tough-looking lads, but they formed a wall round her and looked out for her.
Liam: Yeah, I can imagine. Kept her safe.
Keith: I think that it’s a bad-arse crew, but [one that] displays a unity that reflects the old rave scene. There’s that ethic of the rave scene – a unity. As much as we’re insightful we also unite everyone. We’re all there for a common cause. That people will look out for people’s mums whilst still kicking off is what I love. I believe we have the hardest crowd for anyone else to come along and play to. If you’re supporting us: fuck, good luck!
Liam: It’s hard to pick the right band to support us. Dizzee [Rascal] for the arena tours was an easy choice though.
Keith: Hopefully he’ll make it after his road rage incident recently (laughs).
Liam: The thing about Dizzee is he’s really established and strong in his own thing, but usually we try and go for people who are up and coming. It is a hard thing to try and find as we want to put on a party night – every aspect of it, so it’s a good night throughout. We had Does it Offend You Yeah? on the Brixton shows and they worked really well. When the support act is on I’m normally in the hotel room watching TV though (laughs)…
Keith: I’m always there…
Liam: Yeah right!
Keith: Nah, I’ll be soundchecking. Going through all my mics (laughs). Am I fuck.
- - -
READ PART TWO HERE.
‘Invaders Must Die’ is released on February 23 via Take Me To The Hospital/Cooking Vinyl and is reviewed HERE.