REWIND: A classic interview with Massive Attack's Robert '3D' Del Naja

When Massive Attack decided that they'd meet the press in Dublin, Stuart Clark got just thirty minutes to prepare for the interview. But he still managed to talk to 3D about music, football, the band's then new album Mezzanine - and the difficulties of making sweet leurve to the sound of your own records!


As regular readers will know, Hot Press interviews are normally organised with SAS-like precision. No stone is left unturned in our quest for dir..., er, background information on a subject which can be used to loosen their tongues.

This relentless search for the truth has brought with it its own folklore - who can forget the week Liam Fay spent camped out in George Michael's dustbin waiting for a copy of Practical Flasher to land on his head, or Barry Glendenning's attempts to determine Richard Gere's sexual orientation which culminated in him disguising himself as a hamster?

Actually, I'm making all of this up, but at least by now you have some sense of the wonderfully meticulous planning and gloriously selfless sacrifice which goes into each of our journalistic probings. It's therefore with considerable trepidation - not to mention indigestion caused by bolting down a Lamb Shawarma in world record time - that I arrive at the Shelbourne Hotel for a meeting with Massive Attack which was only arranged 30 minutes ago. In fact, I suspect if you asked The Carter Twins to rescue the ailing Far Eastern economy, they'd feel better prepared.

The Wild Bunch's original reluctance to talk to the Irish press has been cured by what 3D informs me was "fucking mad session" at D2 dance emporium RíRá. He may be bloodshot of eyes and standy-up of hair but, otherwise, the Massive Attack main man is in the chipperest of form.

“I got a serious fright when I looked in the mirror this morning, but I actually feel alright," he says trying to smooth down his unruly mane. "Relief at getting the opening night of the tour out of the way, coupled with the fact that a load of friends of ours are over from Bristol, meant that we wanted to kick back and, I tell you, Dublin's a real party city. It reminds me of the way England used to be when the scene was still about music rather than money.”

"I know it might come across as a bit prima donna-ish," he continues, "but we're not one of those bands that can do 16 interviews in a row. If we're in the mood for talking, though, you'll never fucking shut us up!"

Sadly, there's no trace of the Jamaican aroma which was evident last July when I got passively stoned with the Massive collective backstage at the RDS.

"Too early in the day, mate!" 3D chuckles. "Actually, that gig was such a disaster that when we came offstage, all we wanted to do was get blasted. Radiohead had asked us about a year before if we'd do support and seeing as our last time in Dublin - at The Point - was such a laugh, we jumped at it. It was only when we were getting ready to come over that it struck us that OK Computer was just out and it would be entirely their audience. Not only that but we had to go on during the daytime, which is shit. It's one thing if you've got a set-full of anthems you can blast out but we need to get a vibe going."

Which isn't to say that Massive can't hold their own with the more bombastic members of the rock 'n' roll community.

“A couple of years ago, we played this mental fucking festival in Italy with Slayer and the Sex Pistols. The Pistols were on before us and spent an hour dodging rocks and bottles which were being thrown by their own fans. We were watching this from the side of the stage thinking, 'Oh my God, we're going to be killed!' If it'd been up to me, we'd have slung our hooks there and then but we went on and these punks and metallers from hell loved us.”

"Actually, it was great because we got to spend most of the day hanging out with Paul Cook. He's a really nice bloke but incapable of going ten seconds without saying 'fuck', 'wank' or 'cunt'. I don't think I've met anyone who swears as much as he does."

The dinner party types who decided to add Protection to their post-Tiramisu listening mightn't have copped it, but I'm not being facetious when I say there's always been a punk rock element to Massive Attack's music. Indeed, it was The Slits' spiky-haired cover, rather than the supersmooth John Holt original, which prompted the inclusion of 'Man Next Door' on their new album, Mezzanine.

"I have to say that the idea of Protection being brought out with the After Eights is a bit fucking disconcerting," 3D admits. "I know I'm being guilty of reverse snobbery but I don't want our records in the same collection as Rumours and Hotel California. Physical Graffiti and Animals, maybe, but not those two!”

"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. G saw The Clash on the White Riot tour but he'd never really heard The Pop Group or Wire or the Gang Of Four, so I lent him a load of my records. In fact, we've done a rap version of the Gang Of Four's 'Damaged Goods' which'll get released when we pluck up enough courage!"

Of course it goes full circle when you have ex-Undertone Sean O'Neill saying how much of an influence Massive and their Bristolian cohorts have been on his new band, Rare.

"Did he say that? Fucking cool! One of the samples on this album is The Cure's '10:15 Saturday Night' so, you're right, everybody takes from everybody else."

While Robert Smith was more than happy to let Massive contribute to his pension plan, Isaac Hayes and The Velvet Underground's people were so slow giving clearance to samples that the songs featuring their bit-parts nearly had to be yanked off the album.

"British companies are bad enough but, Jesus, the Americans are desperate," 3D rues. "You know that track we did with Madonna for the Marvin Gaye tribute album, 'I Want You'? Well, we originally wanted to use Aaron Neville 'cos we love his voice, but it got so corporate and involved that we thought 'forget it’.”

"Another person who turned us down - at first, anyway - was Liz Fraser. We sent her a tape five years ago and she blanked us."

That changed when Fraser moved to Bristol, the Cocteau Twin deciding it would be darn un-neighbourly not to help the Wild Bunch out and contributing vocals to three of Mezzanine's finer moments.

"I love the way her voice just merges with the music. The Cocteau Twins are a bit too light and fluffy for my taste, but when you give her something darker and more rhythmic, she's brilliant. Actually, she's managed by the same person who used to look after Jeff Buckley. We wanted him on the album as well but, y'know, obviously that wasn't possible."

Liz Fraser is the latest in a long line of people who've had the best coaxed out of them by Massive, the downside being that when they leave the fold, whatever they do next pales by comparison. How does 3D reckon their former associates are getting on?

"I didn't like Shara Nelson's album because it was straightforward soul - there's no edge to it. Nicolette's got a superb voice but, again, we had to work really hard in the studio to get the results we did. Tricky, well, Maxinquaye was a fucking genius record but since then it's all been a bit too easy. He's got a formula that works and he's sticking to it. The same's true of Portishead. Geoff does beats, Adrian's a jazz musician and Beth's a blues-type singer - not a bad set-up but too rigid. Y'know, there are other avenues they could be exploring.”

"That said," he qualifies, "I'm not into things being done just because they're commercially expedient and might broaden your audience. I don't want to slag Goldie because he's a mate of mine and I generally love his music, but 'Tempertemper' struck me as being a bit of a showboat."

I've always thought of the Wild Bunch being the Wimbledon FC of rock - no matter how many line-up changes they go through, the Crazy Gang spirit remains intact.

"What I love, outside of Massive itself, is the amount of shit that's going on around our studio," 3D enthuses. "Liz and her new man Damon - the drummer from Spiritualized - have been working on some music which we're going to release through Melankolic. Alpha, who are the support on this tour, have an album out and we've just signed a new band with the working name PhD. The Insects, who worked with us on Protection, still drop by pretty regularly and there's a guy who used to be in Chillum, Johnny, who we want to get on the label as well."

Any plans to liaise with that other Bristol neighbour of theirs, Gary Glitter?

"Him and his fucking hard-drive. I'm a big Gary Glitter fan so I'm hoping it's not true but when you listen to his songs now, they all seem to implicate him."

We'll take that as a "not in a million bleedin' years!". His football predictions may have been a bit wayward this season, but Jonathan O'Brien got it spot on in the last issue of Hot Press when he described Mezzanine as "undoubtedly their hardest album to date. Massive Attack are still intoxicated by all the sonic possibilities at their disposal, and still have more grasp of atmosphere than 99.8% of British bands." In fact, the only thing he overlooked is just how sexy those slow grinding rhythms can be. I know it's a tad masturbatory but has 3D ever, you know, got his jollies whilst listening to one of his own records?

"Nah, simply because I know that at a crucial moment I'm going to stop and go, 'that fucking snare! And the arrangement, it's brutal.' Actually, there was one girl who stopped me mid-shag and said, 'it's the music that's turning you on, isn't it, not me?' I panicked and went, 'no, no, no, it's you, it's you', but she was right. You just get lost in what you're listening to."

The Wimbledon FC comparison apart, we've managed to go a highly impressive 1,688 words without mentioning football. 3D may be one of the most amiable people I've ever interviewed but serious daggers are shot when I mistakenly suggest that his allegiances lie on the Rovers-side of Bristol.

"Fuck off," he splutters incredulously. "That's worse than accusing me of bestiality! I've been to virtually every Bristol City home game this season and I was tipping us for promotion long before the glory boys arrived on the scene."

Those of you who have some semblance of a life mightn't be aware that the City/Rovers rivalry is the sporting equivalent of the Yom Kippur War.

"I don't know if you saw it on Sky, but last year the City fans chased the Rovers team off the pitch. It was fucking hilarious, although I did feel a bit sorry for Scott Davidson, the former Pet Shop Boys keyboardist, who's our chairman. There he was shaking his head at the carnage below while I was pissing myself.”

"Was I ever a hooligan? I'll stand on the terraces shouting 'You're going to get your fucking head kicked in!' but I'd never actually act on it. I got chased a few times by Man U skinheads when Bristol City were in the First Division and it wasn't a pleasant experience."

Saves you having to buy All-Bran, though. Nearly as breathtaking as City's brilliance is the ineptitude displayed this season by Signor Del Naja's other team, Napoli.

"That's right, I'm half-Italian. Actually, before I met you I was onto this bloke whose number I found in World Soccer. He's got 18 videos of Maradona at Naples and Boca Juniors which I'm going to buy off him. I'm resigned to the fact we're going to be in Serie 'B' next season which is why I want a reminder of the glory days."

That's not the end of 3D's footballing woes, however.

"I'm a bit miffed at the moment because, the way it's worked out, we'll be travelling during the first two weeks of the World Cup which is my favourite part 'cos you can have your mates round and get pissed watching games that don't really matter. On the plus side, we're going to South America for the first time, which means I may get to see Boca in the flesh."

He will of course be sitting on his sofa when Alan Shearer tearfully holds the World Cup aloft at the Stade de France in Paris on July 12th.

"I think they've every chance of winning it. . . but only on my Playstation!"

So who's he going to be putting his next royalty cheque on?

"Italy, mate, got to be."



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