“Nostalgia when it is used well is beautiful ... But when it comes to writing, you have to use nostalgia as an image and not as a way to live”
such as Elbow, Flying Lotus, Tom Tom Club, Gang Of Four, Gong, Yellow Machine Orchestra, Stiff Little Fingers, Mark Stewart and others to perform. Naturally, they also did a gig themselves. So much for procrastination.
“Our manager is very good at imposing periodic deadlines about tours and collaborations and stuff which is very good for focusing the mind,” says del Naja. “Without that, we’d be even worse than we are now. Things would drift on and on forever and tracks would never see the light of day.”
Some deadlines, though, don’t stick. According to del Naja, the fifth Massive Attack album was actually ready to roll last year. “We thought we had an album finished last year,” he insists. “We did Meltdown and then did another tour but when it came to the last shows, we felt we had already released the album. We’d sent it out there, we’d played it in front of X amount of people and it felt like we should start again.”
That must have come as news to the other musicians, crew, management and record label. “To be fair, they get well frustrated. The band are pretty cool with it because they’re here in Bristol with us in the studio, so they’re alright, they know the score. The crew, they’re alright with us too, I suppose. I mean, we’re touring more than we’re releasing records these days.
“For management and the record label, though, it’s a totally different kettle of fish. They’re like ‘what the fuck?’ every time. But since we signed with our record label, we’ve seen the pyramids built and crumble. We’ve seen so many different people come and go. The label we signed to is now gone. We signed to Circa, which became Virgin, which became EMI, which became Terra Firma. It’s a totally different world.”
With work on that album now appearing to be reaching a conclusion (see panel), Massive Attack are about to embark on yet another tour.
“After 100th Window, I really began to enjoy the live shows because of the visual stuff,” says del Naja. “What was really missing for me from the live show in the early days was a feeling of being able to communicate the point of the band or project across to the audience.
“Using the LED art screens or information boards, or whatever you want to call them, to transmit all these ideas really appealed to me. It meant that every time we updated tracks, we also updated the visual side – which was very interesting to me. It felt more cinematic and it got across all the extra meanings that the songs had.”
There’s even some new music to accompany this tour. The four-track Splitting the Atom EP features contributions from Elbow’s Guy Garvey, TV On The Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe, Horace Andy and Martina-Topley Bird.
Intended as a taster for the album (“People can hear that we have been working,” giggles del Naja), the music is naturally deep, broody and cinematic. Interestingly, it brings such current woozy, wonky beat-diggers as Flying Lotus and Hudson Mohawke to mind – and reminds you that this new school owe a bit of a debt to the Bristol crew. It’s a link del Naja also points to. “When we did the Meltdown scene, we were able to put on acts like Flying Lotus and
Shape Of Broad Minds and it was great to be able to showcase people like that. Then, there are the new names coming from the avantgrade scene like TV On The Radio and Gang Gang Dance who are doing some really wild stuff.
“When I hear weird dubstep now, the slow, dark stuff especially, it sounds so much like some of our old demos from 10 years ago which we never released. All these dark, druggy, cinematic grooves – we’ve tons of that stuff which we never released.”
But while some at their record label might think the archives could provide an album or two to fill a gap before the new record shows up, del Naja has no intention of going back in time.
“Sometimes, it’s good to go back through the archives to hear something and go ‘wow, that’s cool’, but you don’t really use it. That’s in the past; I prefer to think about the future.
“Nostalgia when it is used well is beautiful. It’s an important emotion for people and I find that melancholic angle, that beautiful, bittersweet sadness, to be very important for our music.
“But when it comes to writing, you have to use nostalgia as an image and not as a way to live. You always have to look forward.”