For someone in a group known for their slow, deliberate rhythms, Massive Attack's 3D (born Robert del Naja) talks surprisingly fast. Words and phrases come shooting out of his mouth with machine gun intensity, so you're quite prepared to believe him when he says that "I'm the impatient one in the band." And, the rapper adds without provocation, "I'm very hard to please."
Given the fact that in recent interviews, the core members of Massive Attack (3D, Mushroom and Daddy G) have been mostly taking aim at each other, the next logical question to ask is if he's happy with the band's third album, Mezzanine. "Yeah, pretty much," he says, after a slight pause. "There are some great moments, but on every album you'll always be dissatisfied with some tracks."
What pleased 3D most was the album's return to what he called the band's roots: surprisingly, new wave music. "Bristol was always into reggae and dub and hip-hop," he explains, "but there was also a lot of punk. But the bands we liked were never the full-on stuff. We were into PiL, Gang of Four, Wire, the Ruts, the Slits ... bands that used rhythm in an interesting way and has a lot more space in it." He pinpoints PiL's Metal Box (a k a Second Edition) as a touchstone: "It's the first album we ever [picked apart track by track]. It went on it's own leisure."
On Mezzanine, he says, you can hear PiL's influence in the guitar sound. "I wanted to use guitars to create a different sonic. I wanted them to be used in a moody way so they would enhance the feeling of the songs, and not just be there for the hell of it."
It was not a point of view shared by everyone in the Massive camp, however. "Getting from one point to another might take four hours. After a while, I'd go to the pub because I got sick of it; I'd say, 'I'm going to get drunk, and I'll come back with some new lyrics or I'll have fresh ears and we'll go forward.' I'm never satisfied with the finished result. If I stay too long, I'm quite inclined to tear it up."
This state of affairs is leading the band to take the radical step of, if not quite breaking up, going the White Album route and have their next album be a series of solo tracks released under the Massive Attack banner. "We're probably going to work it where we're each going to go in and work on five tracks each -- on our own, without any interference, then bring them in and see what we got. It should be very interesting. We might leave the tracks alone, or we might cross-pollinate. We haven't decided."
Whatever the future holds, the band currently find themselves in the midst of a world tour that takes them from Europe to Asia and Australia before hitting the States this summer, initially opening for the Verve, then returning for their own headlining gigs. 3D thinks Massive have sussed out bringing trip-hop ("We don't mind that term," he laughs, "but it's being used for so much crap.") from the studio to the stage. Nothing is canned ... even the samples are triggered by the drummer. Over the years, he explains, the band has learned how to react to the audience and win them over. "Wait til you see our show," he crows, "it rocks. We've even surprised ourselves with how the crowd reacts."
But will they be able to win over the Verve's new-found fans, more interested in arena-style rock than sampling? "'Bittersweet' is built around a sample. In that sense it's not very different from what we do." But he cautions, anyone who "expects a band that's just going to entertain you for an hour without leaving an impression, you're going to be very disappointed. And if that's what they want, fuck 'em."
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