CONFLICT AND FRICTION aren’t the first words which spring to mind when you think of Massive Attack. Yet the band who introduced the world to the uplifting groove of songs like ‘Hymn Of The Big Wheel' or the gentle comfort of ’Protection' have just given birth to their third album, Mezzanine. It wasn’t an easy birth. Or as Daddy G would have it: ’lt’s been hell on earth making this album'.
Cut back to 1991. The core trio of Massive Attack — Robert del Naja, aka 3D or just D; Grant Marshall, aka Daddy G; and Andrew Vowles, aka Mushroom — has evolved from Bristol-based sound system The Wild Bunch. They release their debut album, Blue Lines, to critical acclaim and follow it up with 1994’s even more successful Protection. The dominant mood of both albums is one of rhythmic relaxation, mellow mind music for daydreams. Dance music for the head rather than the feet.
Mezzanine is a bit different. Alongside shimmeringly beautiful vocal contributions from Liz Fraser of The Cocteau Twins, there’s an air of creeping menace and uneasy paranoia about some of the tracks. The usually sweet voice of long-time guest vocalist Horace Andy whispers darkly. Occasionally, guitars cut in and carve up melodies. There are elements of dissonance
shot through the tracks, an undercurrent of tension.
Daddy, D and Mushroom are doing press for Mezzanine in a London hotel overlooking Hyde Park. Daddy is conducting interviews in his room, Mushroom is speaking to journalists at one end of the dining room, D is speaking
They say opposites attract, but the smooth sound of
is at odds with personal tensions within the band. With a new album and sell-out tour on the horizon, it's time to find out if three really is a crowd. Words: Jonathan Trew
to journalists at the other end. They have as little contact with one another as possible.
In person, Daddy is friendly, laid back and sometimes self-effacing. He’s wearing dark glasses — not to be intimidating, he explains, but because he had 'a couple of bottles’ last night.
Mushroom appears to be the most thoughtful of the three. He considers questions slowly, turning them around in his head before giving a fully formulated answer. He is prone to heading off on wild tangents.
D twitches with nervous energy. He talks fast and throws questions back. Fidgeting and looking around constantly, he would rather be somewhere, possibly anywhere, else. He says he no longer smokes because it was making him too paranoid.
Here's D’s descriptions of himself and his fellow band members: ’Mushroom is eccentric, obsessive but ultimately self- centred. Daddy G is eccentric, social and friendly. I'm tense, self-centred, obsessive and a good laugh when I’m pissed.’
Here’s Daddy's description of his fellow band members: ’I don’t like them.’
Obviously, you don’t mean that. You don’t hate them?
Daddy, quietly: ’I do.‘
Together, and often separately, they created Mezzanine. So do Massive Attack
create their work from friction? ’There are different kinds of friction,’ ponders Mushroom. 'On this one there was a lot of bad friction caused by creative differences.’ Isn't that chestnut?
’Our different backgrounds clashed on this one.’
Daddy G has a more positive spin on the making of the album. ’We're all from different cultural backgrounds and into different sorts of music, so we can draw on a vast reserve of musical information. I think
a hoary old
that’s why it works, the whole juxtaposition of everything, from the way we are to the music that we like.’
Perhaps the most diplomatic of the three, D reckons that ’everyone has been going through a period of change and instability, which has come out in the album’.
Three different people will almost inevitably have three different views on any subject. If they are all ’obsessive' or ’self- centred' (to use D’s words) or perfectionists (to be kinder), then working together to create a sound can’t have been the most amiable process, especially given the relatively undefined roles of each of Massive’s members.
’None of us is a trained musician, so there are no rules with us,’ says Daddy G. ’We work in an unorthodox way. We figure how we want something to sound by translating from something as vague as tapping on a chair or a hand gesture.’
’There’s a preconception of Massive that there are three characters and that in some way we are compatible,’ explains D. ’We almost fell for it ourselves, but we are all individuals and we all have our own visions, and a lot of this album has been done on a very individual basis.’
If you ask Mushroom if there is any such thing as a Bristol sound — if there is any real connection between the music of Massive Attack, Portishead, Tricky and Roni Size — or whether it is all just a set of coincidences bonded by lazy journalism, then the answer he gives would apply equally well to Massive themselves. ’The only Bristol sound is the uncompromising nature of the music,’ he says. ’Uninfluenced and isolated geographically, people are selfish and they do what they want to do.’
In Massive’s case it works.
Massive Attack play Glasgow Barrowland, Sat 18 Apr. Mezzanine is out on Virgin on Mon 20 Apr.
2—16 Apr 1998 THE usn