Massive Attack are quite simply a British – and Bristol – institution. From their ground-breaking Blue Lines and Protection albums right up to the present day, the ever-changing collective have conjured up the soundtrack to many lives and pushed musical boundaries consistently. Now evolved more into a traditional band and on the verge of releasing their 5th studio album Heligoland, I caught up with Grant ‘Daddy G’ Marshall to talk music, rifts, working with Damon Albarn and Guy Garvey and winning their first Ivor Novello this year…
Tell me about the new album, Heligoland…
“It’s been about ten months in the making. We were meant to be releasing an album last year but then we went on tour with the tracks, came back with them and decided to ditch the lot and start over – and this is it.”
It’s been a long time since your last album…
“Yes, but we’ve been busy! We toured the 100th Window album in from 2003 for two years, then we did Collected and toured that in 2006/7, then we curated the Meltdown Festival and toured again in 2008. Plus I’ve been DJing and D’s (Massive cohort Robert ‘3D’ Del Naja) done some soundtrack work too. We can’t afford to be idle for too long – creatively and financially.”
There’s a star-studded cast on the new album – how did you end up working with the likes of Damon Albarn and Guy Garvey?
“The thing with us is, if we want to work with someone because we like them we knock on their door and ask – we’re music fans, so most of the people we worked with we asked because we were fans. Damon is an old friend too – we’ve worked with him before in his studio, he’s a genius. Similarly with Guy, we’ve known him for three or four years too and love him. All the singers on the album are great – especially Horace Andy who we’ve worked with on all our albums.”
So you were actually in the same room recording with these people?
“Absolutely. The only person we didn’t work directly with who’s on the album was Hope Sandoval.”
I see that Adrian Utley from Portishead played guitar for you too – are you all still good mates?
“Yeah – with Adrian, Jeff Barrow and a few others.”
“Well we’ve had some well documented fallouts with Tricky, but he came to one of our rehearsals recently and it was good to see him – it was the first time we’d seen each other for ages. I’d like to collaborate with him in the future – let’s see if it happens.”
Do you still look back fondly on your seminal albums, Blue Lines and Protection?
“The answer is yes because they were our first albums. But over the years we’ve had a bit of an evolution in our style. Blue Lines and Protection were studio-based albums with lots of samples but over the years we’ve now developed into a band playing live instruments. They were a good stepping stone to where we are now though.”
Do you still enjoy playing them live?
“Definitely, but they don’t really sound like they do on the albums. Now we’ve got musicians on-stage with us, so the interpretation is completely different which is really exciting to do – injecting new life into them.”
You’ve collaborated with loads of artists – is there anyone you’d like to work with next?
“We’re big fans of a lot of other artists and we’d love to work with them – people like Aaron Neville, Annie Lennox and Patti Smith. We were meant to work with Patti recently but it never happened which was a shame.”
You had a break from Massive Attack in the early part of this decade – what made you leave?
“The fallouts in Massive Attack have been well documented. Working together in the studio could get quite fraught with a lot of tension – our brotherly love fell apart shall I say. I’ve known D for 27 years now and sometimes that happens. That, and I had my first child so my priorities shifted from studio to family. So I took a break, but now my focus is back on the band and it’s good to be back.”
What made you come back?
“Same reason that drove me away – because I’ve known D for 27 years! We have good blood and bad blood, but brothers do. Things heal, opinions change, people soften and we reunited.”
You won an Ivor Novello award this year for Outstanding Contribution To Music – how was that?
“We’re not really archetypal musicians, we’re from a DJing background and our first two albums were sample-based. Slowly but surely we’ve evolved into a band and to be accepted into the inner circle was bizarre. It was embarrassing because we’re not traditional musicians, but it was such a great accolade to be voted for by your peers. That part is more than we could have ever wished for and it was really quite overwhelming. A very proud moment.”
Massive Attack’s new album Heligoland is due out February 2010.