The Prodigy Interview – Part 2

Liam and Keith on 'Firestarter' fame and more...

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.



– – –

The Prodigy – ‘Omen’

– – –

Do you find it funny hearing your influence in other bands now? Justice, Pendulum, Hadouken!?

Liam: It’s fucking great. I listen to all them and other bands but it’s hard for me to see it…

Does any of that feed back into you?

Liam: No. The thing is, I like The Bomb Squad and Public Enemy and I like the Sex Pistols, but I don’t think necessarily that we sound like them. But I can relate to bands saying they like us and that they have picked up on elements and interpreted it into their own music. I can’t hear any influence of us in there, though. Say Pendulum, they’re like more drum and bass which immediately makes it different. But Rob from Pendulum said that any band who is an electronic band who plays live and has guitars is going to be compared to The Prodigy. But I don’t think their music is actually anything like ours. I suppose we were responsible for bringing the big riffs to dance music in the 1990s and they’ve taken on that aspect. But Pendulum sound more like a band than we do. I’m not criticising, but their songs sound like they are played from the same stock of instruments on each track. Whereas I find that for us, I like to keep the vibe similar but the sound different.

Keith: To be honest, if I was in the studio and thought something we’d done sounded like another contemporary band – whatever and whoever it was – to steer away from that. But if there was say a guitar sound that had a flavour of something that had already been, I’d warm to that. You know? I think that if a guitar sound had an authentic punk sound, I’d love that.

Liam: Guitars are funny things. Before I knew about them it was: “Stick a guitar through and amp and you’re done”. But getting the right sound is much harder. Like ‘Colours’ on the record – we worked so hard to get an authentic 1970s sound. Anything too metal would have been wrong, so we really poured effort into it. You can’t just stick a guitar part over a dance beat, it has to be more than that. Otherwise I’d definitely not use it. The second it veers into metal, it’s out.

Keith: Any comparisons with anything in the same genre as we are all gets ironed out when we get on stage. That is where The Prodigy stands alone and the complete picture is made up. I’m happy with that.

Liam: As far as clubbers go, I’m pretty much 100 per cent sure they’d rather see Justice on stage than our band. Clubbers like that linear thing that fucking keeps going – more like what a DJ would play. It’s more in line with the way Justice play their live shows. Whereas we attack it more like a band. That makes us less of a club band and pulls us away from the dance arena. And the tunes are too song-based for clubs. People often ask me what kind of music we make and I haven’t got a fucking clue. I honestly can’t explain what this band is.

Keith: What kind of band are we? We don’t actually know.

But surely that’s a good thing?

Keith: Yeah, without a doubt. I sit next to people on the Tube and they see this colourful character and ask what I do. “I’m a musician is the loosest sense,” (laughs) and when they ask what type of music I do… I don’t know, I just don’t know. But that’s good.

Are you ever surprised just what a classic LP ‘Music For a Jilted Generation’ has become? Zane Lowe recently included it in his classics series.

Liam: I know people always have their favourite album and automatically I always assume that’s ‘Fat of the Land’. Listening to ‘Jilted’ the other day, I didn’t realise how complex it was. I hadn’t sat through it from start to finish since the day it was completed – obviously I’ve listened to different tracks, but not all the way through. The idea of playing out entire albums on the radio is such a good idea and for Zane to do that is great. People don’t do that anymore. With downloads and iTunes, when I was doing my record – and it’s quite short at about forty minutes – I was sat there thinking, “Does anyone actually listen to albums anymore?” Listening to our one, the flow was really good, and there’s definitely a beginning, middle and an end. But listening to ‘Jilted’ – fuck me, it’s so long (laughs). I was just sitting there for hours. I decided to listen to it in the car and it takes me about ten minutes to get back to mine from Keith’s and I went the long way but was still only half way through. Ended up on the ring road (laughs).

When you were talking to Zane you mentioned that back then you had to make a concerted effort to make the tracks short, whereas now you struggle to get them above four minutes. Why do you think this is?

Liam: Yeah, it wasn’t such a case of getting them up to four minutes but more that they were all done and complete well before that time. ‘Warrior’s Dance’ is actually longer – but the rest felt right at that length. For listening purposes they are all 100 per cent right. They all get changed when we play live and the main element is that they hit at the right point, so ‘Invaders Must Die’ has been chopped to bits for live.

Do tracks change as you play live? Evolve on tour?

Liam: Always. It’s always work in progress when you play out live.

And how much does that feed back in to what makes it on to the record?

Liam: One hundred per cent. Always man. When we played Gatecrasher, the new tracks we played both had the opportunity to go back in and get tweaked, making them better. Usually I know when it’s right. A track like ‘Take Me to the Hospital’, I got that nailed straight away. It worked on record and live. ‘Invaders Must Die’ needed a lot of work for live, but sat really really well on the album. But for live it didn’t work until we repaired it.

Keith: We didn’t even realise it didn’t work until we played it and we were like: “Fuck, this needs sorting”. And it went back and forth a few times. But that is the schizophrenia of the band (laughs).

Liam: I love it though. Before we finished the album and we were doing gigs I said to our tour manager that if I could have all my studio equipment in my room after a show I could finish a track based on the vibe I’d got. I come off stage with the vision so clear in my head and could finish the album in a week if the studio was there waiting. I’d literally come from the gig, have a quick drink, go back to the hotel room, carry on drinking, then hit the laptop and just be writing ideas. And that’s where a lot of the album came from – through ideas off the back of gigs.

If you were to come off stage and hadn’t enjoyed it, would you know that was the time to call time of The Prodigy?

Liam: Without a doubt.

Keith: It’s almost the benchmark. I think that Liam will forever write music because he can’t help himself…

Liam: But The Prodigy can only survive if we play live. Simple. The moment we stop doing gigs is when the band ceases to exist. But I love it and I really enjoyed writing this record.

Do you still get the thrill when people come to the shows and react so well to the new tunes?

Keith: We both said and both knew that these recent gigs have put something in us again. A recharge. I don’t know what it was, but now we just feel complete again. If I were the Six Million Dollar Man… You can buy the figures on eBay and they’ve always got the little bit missing off the arm…

Liam: Mine haven’t (laughs).

Keith: Nah, yours don’t. But I’m the complete Six Million Dollar Man on eBay. The bit of skin that folds back isn’t perished. I’m the full thing (laughs).

When you’re in the studio do you listen to other people’s music? Or do you try and cut off from outside influences?

Liam: Yeah I listen to stuff, just enough to keep my finger on the pulse. I think as a producer it’s really important to keep an eye on stuff – less so for Maxim and Keith – but I need to know what’s going on. On a production level more than in terms of songwriting, you know? I don’t give a shit about the songs – I know what I need to do there. It’s more in terms of the little details and the way things are produced and the way things sound. It’s my job to keep up on that. It’s what I have to do. I listen to as much as I can – I don’t have favourite bands or anything and it’s always been like that. I’ll hear one song from a DJ and one from a band and really pick up on that.

Keith: The thing is that, for instance, I listen to music stations and try and keep myself up and I’ll text Liam and let him know about something and he’ll get in touch with that track.

Liam: We all have really different tastes too, which is good.

Keith: Maybe when I’m writing, or involved with the album, it’s more important to me to just listen to music. So when I’m training I’ll stick the iPod on shuffle, just lots of different music all firing at me. I’ll listen to Zane Lowe when he’s playing new tracks and just see what’s grabbing my attention. I don’t think I’ve ever had to listen to new music to be a part of this band, because as much as I’d like to pretend I’m really in touch and at that fucking club that only has nine people listening to unheard of dub plates… I’d love to be that person, but I’m not. I believe somehow that I’m one of those people who are in touch. I know what people are wearing and know how to carry it off and I know the kind of thing people are listening to and how it sounds. Somehow I’m in touch, but I don’t know how I’d do that.

Liam: It’s because we travel around a lot, and go out.

Do you keep up with popular stuff? Would you even know what’s in the charts?

Liam: No man. I haven’t got a fucking clue. Not in an “aren’t I underground” type of way, it’s just never interested me. I mean, I know when someone like Kings of Leon get to number one because that’s like something important – this really great American band who you’ve seen come up and they get there, it’s a fucking achievement. I obviously know when Oasis get to number one, you know what I mean? The whole family goes fucking mad (laughs), but I’m not really and honestly ever bothered about the charts.

But when something like ‘Firestarter’ got to number one it had such an impact. As a teenager living in a little market town, it felt like being vindicated and part of something bigger. When it was on Top of the Pops it was this massive cultural thing.

Liam: Yeah, I don’t actually remember that happening again since on that level.

I think it was the last number one that caused that generational divide. Made people talk about it at school and work…

Liam: Yeah, and I’m glad to have been part of that if it is the case. Because I can’t actually remember another record that has come out of nowhere to get like that. Not even Radio One would play it – they were like, “No way – no fucking way”. It actually got there on the buzz of the band at street level, which doesn’t happen now.

– – –

The Prodigy – ‘Firestarter’

– – –

During that time you became the certified ‘biggest band in the world’. How did you cope with that? Is it something you’d go back to?

Liam: We never bothered about mass appeal, but with this new record we do want lots of people to hear it. It’s not like “we’re fucking back, like us!” because we don’t give a fuck. We just want people to hear the music.

Keith: We want to rule every festival. We think we are the most important band in the world.

Liam: But what we mean by that is that everyone should think like that. If you’re in a band you should be the best and fuck everyone else.

Keith: We really don’t like looking at the long game. I’m not sat here working out the next haircut and hair colour to make me the ‘Firestarter’ again. I don’t know what that was then, but whatever it is I don’t need it now. You know what I mean?

Liam: I think that to us our first album ‘Experience’ was massive because we were just this bunch of ravers and were like, “Fuckin hell! I can’t believe it.” Then when ‘Jilted’ came out we were like “Fuck, I can’t believe it” again. And then ‘Fat of the Land ‘came out and it was another “fuck”. I can’t say that about the fourth one (laughs)…

Keith: All I want to do is walk on stage like I did on this tour and feel that. That’s the ultimate success to us.

On a personal level it must have been really odd being this cultural figure. I remember fancy dress parties with people made up like you, and parodies on the TV.

Liam: It was funny more than anything else – we just had to joke about it at the time. As soon as Keith had that thing, he wanted to change it though. Move on.

Keith: Yeah, it was done. I was really reluctant for that to be everything that it was about. The band were so much more than that and I felt like it was detracting from the reality of the band and the music, and where it had all come from. The most important thing was that we were so significant in the rave scene and I rebelled against it with that period. Reflecting on it now, it was probably harder work being the ‘Firestarter’ (laughs) than I realised. But at the same time it was ridiculous and stupid and it became a parody of itself.

Stuff like the Lucozade advert at the time, where the elderly chap drank it and turned into a stereotyped version of you.

Keith: Exactly. Someone said to me that that is the ultimate compliment, but I was fucking angry about that. Not because they’re taking the piss out of me, but people think you get paid for that stuff and own that image. And somehow I’d sold that imagery to someone… It cheapened it all. The thing is, being labelled with that madness and eccentricity is 100 per cent me. It’s not an act. It’s what the music and being in the band makes me. It’s my energy. From listening to The Jam in my bedroom, when I get stirred it incites something inside of me. I want to bash my head on the wall… I don’t know what else to do.

Liam: That’s how ‘Run With The Wolves’ made me feel when I wrote that tune with Dave Grohl. I just wanted to physically get it out.

Keith: If I could I’d rip my fucking chest open on that stage. It’s like, “fucking hell!” Expose my ribcage and show that this is what it does to me. It was really muddled emotion that time.

Liam: But it went really quick too. There was no time for reflection. We were just so in it. It was great time but we didn’t have chance to reflect on it until we started putting together the Singles collection and were looking through pictures and stuff. That’s when we began to talk about it and remember all these mad stories.

A lot of that period saw you defined by your videos. Are they an important element of getting across what the band is?

Liam: Every aspect is part of it. So many bands take shit like that for granted, but every thing is fucking important. And why wouldn’t it be? People see the band through that. I personally hate doing videos as it’s the one area that still falls out of your control. At least with artwork you can say which bits you don’t like and it’ll get done. But with a video it’s always that grey area where it can go wrong. And a few times it has gone really wrong. In the olden days you couldn’t do a video for under sixty grand and we’ve had shit videos where we’ve lost a hundred grand. Like ‘Firestarter’, we binned it. We knew the video was fucking great, but the video’s look was shit. So the reason why ‘Firestarter’ was black and white and grainy was because it was all we could afford. That’s the way things are meant to be though. They’ll come good, or not as the case may turn out to be… We’re being very careful on this album not to go in with videos thinking: “Wah! Let’s make it as mad as we can.”

Keith: We want the videos to act as a set up… What is this invasion coming? It’s The Prodigy.

Liam: As time goes on, people will see things build. You might isolate ‘Invaders Must Die’ as a video and say it’s not as good as ‘Smack My Bitch Up’ – but it’s just the start. Something is happening.

Keith: It’s a very different world now – music television is dying and, you know, online gaming communities are what it’s about.

What do you think of the internet in terms of music? Is it a good thing, or a hindrance?

Liam: I’m cool with it now. As everyone who knows me knows, I was dead against it on the last record. I’m down with it now, totally behind it. I like the fact that we play something like ‘Warrior’s Dance’ out live and some shitty little clip from someone’s phone gets a ridiculous amount of hits on YouTube. That to me is great, almost guerrilla. That was just a phone clip with fucking awful sound, but people wanted it.

How about stuff leaking?

Liam: That does my head in a bit. It reduces the impact a bit and a lot of thought goes into the moment it comes out and building to that. I’m not down with that – one element I ain’t. It’s disappointing and we know it will happen. It always does. You just have to be prepared for it.

Keith: It annoyed me as people want to download the tunes as we’re playing them. Traditionally as a band we’d write a tune, put it on the stage and see how it did. So it really hindered us as we didn’t want people saying, “It don’t sound like this”. I mean, obviously we wouldn’t take anything to the stage that is shoddy. Like, “This is fucking shite, let’s play it for a laugh”… But it felt like it robbed us of part of the creative process. But now – even I admit that I use computers. And I’m a dumb arse. I still feel it’s a dangerous piece of kit (laughs). I’m too scared to put The Prodigy into YouTube…

There’s lots of clips. Does it annoy you that people now seem to experience everything through the little screen on their phone or camera? They don’t necessarily live for the moment of what is happening in front of them.

Liam: Yeah – but I don’t mind. If that’s how they enjoy it, fine. You can share all these things with your mates, but ultimately you can’t download the band and the experience of being there at the show. You can’t take that. It’s something you have to be part of, the atmosphere. And that’s one reason we don’t do much TV stuff. It’s the last thing that’s not given away. It’s a thing of value that you can’t take away from us. You have to come and be there in that room with us to feel it.

Keith: I went to our local town and it’s where you’d go to do the Christmas shopping in the past. Now half of it is shut and the other half is pound shops. And I thought: that’s the fucking internet [‘s fault]. It’s great when you want to buy something at two in the morning…

Liam: He means adult material (laughs).

Keith: But when I want to go and experience real life beyond my living rooms, it’s fucking pound shops. Where are we gonna be in a few years?

Liam: You should move to fucking London then.

Keith: (With yokel accent) I don’t want to go to that there London city town because Dracula will come and eat your baby in London where they’re all bloody strange people…

So you wouldn’t move to London?

Keith: I actually have a flat just over the road (laughs)

Does this recession guarantee good music?

Liam: Yes. People always want to go out. We just want to go out and forget about this shit, you know? We can’t wait for the tour.

Keith: Maybe the people who want more than the internet are those people out there at the shows. They want to touch every aspect of it – makes them crave it even more. You can’t touch a band through the internet. You can’t download the atmosphere.

Liam: We’ll be doing as many festivals as we can. We’ve got some really cool stuff coming – a whole year to fill up with gigs. I can’t wait to go to Australia for the Big Day Out. It’s always a really good bonding time for the band. It’s so spaced out. You do a gig one day and then have like three days ‘til the next and it’s summer. It’s maybe too chilled out! You can’t get on any kind of flow.

Keith: It chews out the last of winter for us, so we spend it having fun. We went to the studio last time we were out there. We got so, so bored. It didn’t work then, but it would this time. But we won’t do it this time. It’s called the Big Day Out – we called it the Big Day Off.

Liam: We love playing Japan – the whole culture, the fans. The atmosphere is great. But I couldn’t live there…

Keith: I could. We’ve always loved the place – I can’t put my finger on it.

Liam: I feel the same with New York. I could see myself living there at some point. I can’t stand the rest of America – I fucking hate it, but New York is different. It’s fucking brilliant. My family are there now, but I couldn’t make it. We went and mastered the record there which went fucking wrong. We did the last one in New York and it was a good job and suited that record. But this new one is more in line with ‘Fat of the Land’ in terms of sonics. Americans try to make the loudest radio record they can, and that doesn’t work for us as it’s all about the ‘phatness’ of the bottom end. We thought it would be this great rock and roll ending to the making of the record.

How do you know when a track is finished?

Liam: I tend to know when it’s done for the record. But it’s hard to do something that is right for all aspects, live, on the record… I’m totally happy with this one for the record, it’s perfect, but I know that the live versions will be different on some of them. So I expect to tweak them and bring new life to them. The album version of ‘Omen’ is different to the single version – just some of the beats. The groove is the same and I love doing that. Others like ‘Warrior’s Dance’ don’t need nothing new. From the off it’s just there.

Keith: Everything balances out on the record. Tracks are only there as long as they’re good enough to be there. I don’t know how that happens or when the decision is made, it just comes along and works. I’m as happy to hang in there in the studio whether it pans out or not. I’ll put down an idea – good, bad or indifferent. But I’m there because it’s The Prodigy, and that’s part of the process.

– – –


‘Invaders Must Die’ is released on February 23 via Take Me To The Hospital/Cooking Vinyl and is reviewed HERE.

Join the Clash mailing list for up to the minute music, fashion and film news.