There are three different characters behind Britain's coolest, most influential dance act. One hip hop obsessed b-boy. One DJ who admits they used to judge each others' trainers as harshly as their music. And the third? He's been up all night again, which is why their new album 'Mezzanine' is set in the paranoid hours between night and morning. Is this Massive Attack's most revealing interview ever?
Writer: Alexis Petridis
Photographer: Victor Boullet
Massive's 3D takes an exploratory sip from his glass of Martini and crushed strawberries - "Oh man, that's just ridiculous," he enthuses - and begins to explain the Mezzanine, the title. "It's that particular point of the day when the night-before feeling turns into the morning-after feeling," he says, "and you're up and you're with someone and it's just you two against the World. That idea reflects me, my kind of lifestyle." Bearing in mind you're a Mixmag reader, you might just have been there. Back home from a club in the grey light of dawn. Too much of everything, so you're never going to sleep. And there's nothing to do but sit around, staring at nothing. Watch the air move. Try to ignore that slow, creeping, nameless fear.
In a London hotel room, Grant Marshall, Massive's Daddy G, laughs. "The mezzanine? I think D spends half his life there. I don't think he knows whether he's coming or going." On the Mezzanine, when you're too fucked to talk and too wired to make any sense, the only thing to do is listen to tunes, and wait for the World to slip away. Massive Attack have made an album just for you.
THESE days, the three members of Massive Attack are interviewed separately. Mushroom claims it saves time. 3D says that last time they tried a group interview, they nearly came to blows over the relative merits of Puff Daddy. Massive Attack can agree on everything, he explains in a speedy West Country accent that sounds nothing like his rapping voice. Everything except music. "We have fun. We experience the world together. We get on really well together, as long as we don't talk about music. As soon as we talk about music, we argue."
It usually comes to a head in the studio. Massive Attack's records may glide out the speakers, the sound of spliffed-up, laid-back contentment, but the making of the classic 'Blue Lines' and its follow-up, 'Protection' were fraught with disagreements. "I'm a perfectionist," says 3D, "so each album's a bit of a struggle. I listen to all three albums and I think four or five tracks are fucking crap. I intrinsically hate them, but the others like them." On 'Mezzanine', the three worked separately. "Individually recorded because we're individually minded," he explains.
The results are bleaker and heavier than anything Massive have recorded before. Horace Andy's plaintive voice against a wall of distorted guitars. Breaks that shudder and collapse into scraping noise. Songs about comedowns and boredom and falling out of love. Its working title was 'Damaged Goods' because "it felt that way, it felt flawed, it didn't fit". And 3D's whisper sounds more chilling than chilled. On the remarkable 'Group 4', his voice is positively evil, whereas before he sounded... " ... more like a kid?" he grins. "I've just got older, that's all. My voice has finally broken. Or maybe now I'm just a depressing bastard."
The guitars have spilled over from their live shows. The grinding loops are 3D and Grant's new wave influences, samples pinched from arty punks like Wire and Bristol's own Pop Group. But there's something darker at the heart of 'Mezzanine' than just playing with sound. For the first time, Massive Attack sound menacing. 3D dismisses the idea of "pop stars locked in studios, shadowboxing with the Devil" as a cliché, but you sense 'Mezzanine' was made against a sombre background. He talks about having "morbid thoughts" and dysfunctional relationships inside and out of the group. "There's less stability now. You never know what you're going to be doing in a month, how you're going to fit into things, how your mood's going to be affected by what happens in the studio. Relationships are suffering because of that. In the studio it's too intense, it's too difficult, it's dysfunctional. But that's the beauty of it. It gives us something in our music. I wouldn't have it any other way." Really? He considers for a second, then laughs. "Actually, that's a rash statement..."
Massive Attack continue