World economies rise and fall, governments come and go, but Massive Attack remain untouched by the outside world. Now working on album number five at their own leisurely pace, they tell Jim Carroll that they’re not too slow - the rest of the world’s too q
IT’S ANOTHER soft English West Country day in the life of Massive Attack, another day nearer the release of album number five. You could say that this album is long overdue, but you’ve probably said that about every Massive Attack album since their debut Blue Lines appeared back in 1991. That one was probably overdue too.
Today, as always, the men behind Massive Attack are hard at work. Believe it or not, says Robert “3D” del Naja, they actually do clock in and out most days. “We’re in the middle of rehearsing for this forthcoming tour. And we’re getting our shit together like we always seem to be doing.”
Del Naja chuckles. As the leader of the band often accused of turning procrastination into an art form, he has become used to jibes about their lack of finesse when it comes to meeting deadlines.
But it’s not true, he protests. Massive Attack have always taken their time because it’s time worth taking.
“Don’t get me wrong, I’m always thinking about stuff for Massive Attack even when I’m down the shops,” says del Naja. “But I do think that people’s attention spans have changed and record companies sometimes feel that people forget about you if you’re not constantly in their face and doing stuff.
“Right from the beginning, we never subscribed to that. We did things at our own pace and in our own time. Sure, we came late to it sometimes because we never followed a traditional path. And that’s not going to change for us. We do what we do when we feel it’s right.”
This policy has served the original musical riddles wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma well over the years. World economies can rise and fall. Governments can come and go. Football clubs can enjoy seasons of triumphs followed by years of despair. But Massive Attack go on and on and on, unfettered and untouched by the outside world.
That’s not to say that there has not been plenty of drama over the years. Founder member Andrew “Mushroom” Vowles split after 1998’s Mezzanine album, griping on his way out the door that Massive Attack were no longer the collective he had joined. The following album, 2003’s 100th
Window, was really a del Naja solo affair, with Grant Marshall sitting that one out. The official reason was the birth of Marshall’s first child, but the truth was, according to subsequent interviews, that the pair were sick of the sight of each other.
Eventually, there was a reconciliation and work began on album number five.
Even then, as del Naja notes, “there have been other distractions which have taken over from Massive Attack” in the past few years.
He’s referring to his own run of film work where he collaborated with Neil Davidge under the 100 Suns monicker on music for In
Prison My Whole Life, Battle In Seattle and Trouble the Water (the Hurricane Katrina doc even got an Oscar nomination for its music). He also worked on music for 44 Inch
Chest and Gomorra. Then, there was the nixer curating last year’s Meltdown festival at London’s Barbican. Del Naja and Marshall invited acts