CLAS­SIC AL­BUM: MAS­SIVE AT­TACK

In April 1998, Mas­sive At­tack re­leased their third clas­sic al­bum, Mez­za­nine, the fol­low-up to the era-defin­ing Blue Lines and Pro­tec­tion. But as Ru­pert Howe re­veals in this oral his­tory of its two-year ges­ta­tion, in­ter­nal strife meant the record very near

Q (UK) - - Contents - By Mas­sive At­tack

The year is 1998, the al­bum is Mez­za­nine and the vibe is heavy as trip-hop’s three mus­ke­teers strug­gle with in­ter­nal strife to pull a clas­sic out of the fire.

When Mas­sive At­tack first en­tered Bris­tol’s Christchurch Stu­dios in Jan­uary 1996 to start work on their new al­bum – the fol­low-up to Blue Lines ( 1991) and Pro­tec­tion ( 1994) – the plan was to have it recorded within six months and out by the sum­mer. As it turned out, Mez­za­nine’s fraught ses­sions went on for nearly two years, ex­pos­ing long-sim­mer­ing in­ter­nal ten­sions and al­most split­ting the band.

Neil Davidge (co-pro­ducer): Mez­za­nine was a pretty sketchy al­bum in terms of the way we worked, be­cause the band… were not get­ting on. So I’d be in the stu­dio work­ing with one of the mem­bers and some­one else would come in, then the per­son I had been work­ing with would leave and I’d have to change the track I was work­ing on be­cause they didn’t want to work on that track, they wanted to work on some­thing dif­fer­ent. Some­times I’d be work­ing on per­haps four dif­fer­ent tracks in one day, which was a pretty messy way to work.

3D (vo­cal­ist/pro­ducer): I went in there a bit fuck­ing heavy, a bit pig-headed. I was sam­pling loads of ridicu­lous things, which were never go­ing to work, like Stiff Lit­tle

Fin­gers and 999. But I was try­ing to break the mould.

Neil Davidge: They’d had a lot of com­mer­cial suc­cess… but they were still very much a new band, still learn­ing about how to be a band, what a band is ac­tu­ally about.

Daddy G (vo­cal­ist/pro­ducer): There weren’t too many oc­ca­sions where we were all in the stu­dio at the same time. We just got sick of each other. We get on re­ally well out­side of the stu­dio, but in the stu­dio… There was a lot of shout­ing that went on be­hind closed doors.

An­gelo Br­us­chini (gui­tarist): Most of the songs were still in a blue­print form six, seven months down the line. No­body knew how the hell it was go­ing to hap­pen – no­body.

3D: We never had a band meet­ing and said, “We’ve got to dirty things up.” But, per­son­ally, I was on a bit of a mis­sion to get away from the clean sound of Pro­tec­tion and spoke at length to Daddy G about bring­ing in more gui­tars.

Daddy G: We] nick from any­thing and make a nice lit­tle col­lage. The Tarantino method. But you still have to have vi­sion and imag­i­na­tion.

3D: The beats for In­er­tia Creeps] came from Is­tan­bul. We went to a belly dancer show on our day off in this re­ally tacky tourist club. It was a cabaret thing; this guy did a ver­sion of New York, New York with his cane and hat. Then the belly dancers came on and they’d all seen bet­ter days. It re­ally was hang­ing, but the mu­sic was wicked. Mush went and got some tapes the next day.

Neil Davidge: We re­ally did take a lot of lib­er­ties. An­gelo Br­us­chini] would come into the stu­dio af­ter do­ing a long ses­sion the day be­fore, and say, “Wow, that sounds good – what’s that?” I’d say, “That’s you, mate.”

Mush­room (pro­ducer): If I’d had it my way? It would have been more soul-ori­en­tated – more like Blue Lines. It would’ve been much more of a black-sound­ing al­bum with hiphop in­flu­ences, too. It came out kinda rocky.

3D: I was re­ally keen to get in some of the new wave stuff. I felt we’d re­ally missed out on us­ing that in­flu­ence. Every­body work­ing in Bris­tol now has some con­nec­tion to that pe­riod. I re­mem­ber fuck­ing about with Lu­natic Fringe, a punk band in Bris­tol, per­form­ing Anar­chy In The UK in Sefton Park youth club where Roni Size was work­ing. There’s a core of that whole punk-reg­gae con­nec­tion in Bris­tol.

Mush­room: I was never down with punk. Punks and psy­chobil­lies and skin­heads were pretty much the same thing to me. Neil Davidge: Mush­room felt like he had an at­tach­ment to Teardrop, be­cause the other guys weren’t around when we were first put­ting down the es­sen­tial melodic ideas for that. We got Liz Fraser] to put a vo­cal down on it; she came up with an early ver­sion of what’s there now.

3D: The clos­est we ever got to work­ing with Jeff Buck­ley was Teardrop Liz Fraser recorded her vo­cal the day she heard of her for­mer col­lab­o­ra­tor’s dis­ap­pear­ance]. We were writ­ing that about him, which was very sad be­cause at the time we were cir­cling him like vul­tures hop­ing to get in the stu­dio with him.

Liz Fraser (vo­cal­ist): That was so weird. I’d got letters out and I was think­ing about Jeff Buck­ley]. That song’s kind of about him – that’s how it feels to me any­way.

3D: Liz is very ex­citable and quite mad in the best way. She threw a mil­lion words into the air and we tried to grab a few and work out what she meant. Me and Mush met her in Sains­bury’s and in­vited her up to the stu­dio. There was this nerve-wrack­ing mo­ment be­fore she ar­rived and I said, “It’s re­ally ster­ile in here, let’s light some can­dles in here and make it funky for her.”

Neil Davidge: It was great, ev­ery­one was lov­ing it, ex­cept for Mush­room – he had a very fixed idea of what the vo­cal should be on that track, and it wasn’t what Liz was do­ing Mush­room then al­legedly sent the

back­ing track to Madonna]. I got a phone call from man­age­ment say­ing, “I’ve just had a phone call from Madonna’s man­ager, say­ing there’s a track that she’s been sent that she loves, and she’s won­der­ing what’s the deal?” The shit hit the fan then.

Mush­room: You just hear a piece of mu­sic and think, “So-and-so would sound good on this.” It just makes it­self ap­par­ent to you. It’s like de­cid­ing what clothes to wear.

3D: Me and G were ob­vi­ously re­ally un­happy about the sit­u­a­tion. It was at a point where, af­ter a lot of me­an­der­ing, the al­bum was fi­nally start­ing to de­velop. There were seven or eight tracks happening which were re­ally sound­ing like they made a lot of sense.

Neil Davidge: I think it al­most came to blows. From that point on­wards, Mush­room and D weren’t in the stu­dio at the same time. If Mush­room was in the stu­dio when D was go­ing to come in, I’d get a phone call say­ing, “Could you tell Mush­room to leave?”

Daddy G: Things are never re­ally dis­posed of be­cause you’re at such close quar­ters all the time. The same stuff crops up over and over again and you think, “Shouldn’t we have got that out in the open a long time ago?”

3D: There was a pe­riod where it al­most fell to bits. In Bris­tol we had all fallen out badly about what di­rec­tion it should be go­ing in and it re­ally was look­ing likely that it wasn’t go­ing to hap­pen. To move the ses­sions along, the band hired an ex­tra stu­dio in Corn­wall]. Go­ing down to Corn­wall – in shifts, I might add – made it work. We went in the win­ter, which I loved. The wa­ter’s clear… it’s great to hear the wind just bang­ing on the win­dow.

Neil Davidge: We were lit­er­ally re-writ­ing songs while we were mix­ing… An­gel was] plucked out of thin air at a mix­ing ses­sion at Lon­don’s Olympic Stu­dios the orig­i­nal idea was to record a cover ver­sion of The Clash’s Straight To Hell, but reg­gae singer Ho­race Andy wasn’t happy singing the word “hell”]. D and Ho­race went next door, were kind of throw­ing vo­cal ideas around… and we were mess­ing around with the track, chop­ping things to­gether. Then Ho­race put the vo­cal down and it was like, “Wow, shit, that is magic…”

3D: Ho­race is great, re­ally open-minded. It’s dif­fi­cult for him in a sense be­cause he’s got such a mas­sive his­tory and there’s peo­ple who re­spect him in Lon­don and Ja­maica who could be ask­ing, “What hap­pened to your reg­gae roots, Ho­race?” He’s not wor­ried about what peo­ple think of him even though he’s had peo­ple diss­ing him for it. He’s pre­pared to ex­per­i­ment with the rest of us.

Ho­race Andy (vo­cal­ist): I re­spect 3D one mil­lion per cent, be­cause he let me sing in a way I never thought I could… I still tease them and say they can’t dee­jay – get them in a stu­dio and they will do it, but on­stage you say, “Come up and dee­jay some­thing like a Ja­maican dee­jay would”, and they run a mile. I prob­a­bly shouldn’t let this out on them, but they can’t dance ei­ther – Daddy G and 3D will try to move, but I’ve never seen Mush­room take a step.

Mush­room: The record com­pany… said, “Enough’s enough. You’ve got to put the record out now.”

3D: The ti­tle Mez­za­nine was] pretty much a me­taphor… We don’t feel like we’re in the same time zone as other peo­ple. It’s the feel­ing of not re­ally fit­ting in. It’s a bit para­noid and a bit iso­lated.

“We were writ­ing Teardrop about Jeff Buck­ley, which was very sad be­cause at the time we were cir­cling him like vul­tures hop­ing to get in the stu­dio with him.”

Daddy G: The mez­za­nine? I think D spends half his life there. I don’t think he knows whether he’s com­ing or go­ing.

3D: We did toy with the idea of call­ing it Dam­aged Goods for a while. It seemed to sum up a lot of the ideas that were go­ing on. But it felt too ob­vi­ous in the end.

Will Self (writer): Some­times when I’m with the Mas­sives I feel I’m with three ver­sions of John Len­non, each one of them de­ter­mined to outdo him­self in terms of wit. It’s si­mul­ta­ne­ously mad­den­ing and in­vig­o­rat­ing. It’s the same kind of in­ter­play that you ex­pe­ri­ence when you hear the three of them merge rap­ping, toast­ing, singing and per­cus­sion into their mu­sic.

Daddy G: We’re not an ar­chi­tec­tural band. It’s never been that we map some­thing out and play it. In­stead, it’s try­ing to trans­late some­thing in your head, but to get it from there to pa­per to tape – there’s al­ways that grey area. That’s where it can be quite ex­cit­ing, where ac­ci­dents hap­pen. It also makes it so there’s no re­stric­tion to what we do – we got the right to break down and let chaos rule.

3D: For the cover] I wanted to go for some­thing more pho­to­graphic. I started off with images of spi­ders. I was re­ally ob­sessed, hav­ing mad dreams about them; I wanted a spi­der’s ab­domen on the back of the al­bum cover and I wanted to de­velop this idea of mak­ing clothes from spi­der skin. It was all very trippy shit that proved quite dif­fi­cult to make it into any­thing, but then pho­tog­ra­pher] Nick Knight showed me these shots of bee­tles that he’d taken in the Nat­u­ral His­tory Mu­seum. They were re­ally beautiful. That kind of set­tled it. Tom Hingston (de­signer): A friend of mine is pals with their man­ager. And he ba­si­cally said, “Well… they’re fin­ish­ing off their al­bum, and start­ing to think about art­work.” Prior to that they’d al­ways worked with much big­ger de­sign stu­dios, and I think that what 3D wanted was to have a bit more of a one-to-one re­la­tion­ship.

3D: I was very keen on keep­ing the al­bum sleeve] in mono­chrome. Me and Tom wanted a lurid orange disc in­side – one piece of colour. At this point we’d given in to the idea that the main for­mat was a CD, so we wanted to make the CD for­mat re­ally strik­ing. I wanted to take a more ag­gres­sive ap­proach… with the sleeve, to al­most go back to a black and white, fuckedup aes­thetic but with brand new ma­te­ri­als, which is what we did. There’s also a bit of JG Bal­lard to it, sex­ual dark un­der­tones, which was def­i­nitely in the record.

An­gelo Br­us­chini: They were very, very ner­vous be­fore the re­lease of the al­bum’s first sin­gle, Ris­ing­son]. There was a big sigh of re­lief when that sold.

Daddy G: About six months be­fore the al­bum came out, D said to me, “If this record doesn’t go to Num­ber 1, we may as well for­get it.” He was right, I took that on board the al­bum went straight in at the top of the chart]. If we didn’t get any pay­back, it would have been a waste of time.

Neil Davidge: Mez­za­nine has that post-punk thing, has that reg­gae thing, has a lit­tle bit of funk, has al­most a bit of jazz at times, a bit of prog-rock… it’s a real mix­ture of all of the in­flu­ences from mem­bers of the band.

Daddy G: You some­times hear these bla­tant rip-offs of our sound] and think, “You fuck­ing bas­tards!” But at the end of the day we’ve taken in­spi­ra­tion from other things as well… We’ve never tried to sound like any­one else, but we’ve taken in­spi­ra­tion from other bands. The thing is, we’re not in com­pe­ti­tion with any­one else, we’re just in com­pe­ti­tion with our­selves.

3D: We’ve not de­lib­er­ately been in op­po­si­tion to ev­ery trend and scene, but when Blue Lines came out it was like the Sum­mer of fuck­ing Love and we were do­ing some­thing slow and groovy. Then when Pro­tec­tion came out ev­ery­one was do­ing drum’n’bass, and when Mez­za­nine came about we went into a more rock­o­ri­ented place when ev­ery­one else was bang into dance mu­sic. It’s al­ways by ac­ci­dent with us, re­ally.

Mush­room: There was one jour­nal­ist cheeky enough to call Mez­za­nine] “goth hop”. Fuckin’ ridicu­lous…

Will Self: Mas­sive At­tack have never viewed them­selves as be­ing any­thing but en­tirely sui generis. Which makes it all the stranger the tra­jec­tory their mu­sic has de­scribed… theirs struck me as an es­sen­tially sub­ver­sive sound, vi­tally con­nected to the sex­ual act and the de­range­ment of the senses by any means avail­able.

3D: Peo­ple say our al­bums are dark and melan­cholic, but I say it’s like Ra­dio­head’s OK Com­puter. It’s quite tragic in places, but you don’t leave the al­bum feel­ing tragic. You feel en­light­ened.

On a dif­fer­ent level: Mas­sive At­tack, Oslo, 1998. Mush­room (far right) would of­fi­cially quit the band the fol­low­ing year.

With long-time col­lab­o­ra­tor Ho­race Andy (sec­ond right), Kingston, Ja­maica.

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