Bass rumbles in the background of Massive Attack MC Daddy G's mobile phone, and the gentle coo of frequent collaborator and reggae legend Horace Andy is barely audible over the din. "I'm looking at [Andy] as you're talking," Daddy G says excitedly, yelling over the noise. Yes, the group that essentially invented trip-hop has finally returned nearly seven years after their last studio album -- and the sound of their ongoing U.K. rehearsals is about all we can hear when we first connect with the deep-voiced MC.
G politely obliges and takes the conversation outside the studio -- there's much to discuss, and little time to chat. Massive Attack hit the road in less than a week, beginning with a Sept. 11 headline set at Bestival, a British festival on the Isle of Wight, and launching headlong into an extensive U.K. and European tour thereafter (U.S. shows should be set for March, according to G). They've got brand new material to master, namely cuts from their forthcoming, as-yet-untitled fifth album, due in February and previewed on October's four-song EP, Splitting the Atom.
As with the previous four Massive Attack albums, the core duo of Grant "Daddy G" Marshall and production whiz Robert "3-D" Del Naja have enlisted an array of guest vocalists to collaborate, but this time, the names are bigger than ever: Blur/Gorillaz leader Damon Albarn, TV on the Radio singer Tunde Adebimpe, Elbow frontman Guy Garvey, and Mazzy Star's Hope Sandoval are among the contributors, joining Massive Attack regulars like the aforementioned Horace Andy and singer Martina Topley-Bird.
Before ducking back into the studio, Daddy G filled us in about the new album's exciting array of cameos and what exactly he and 3-D have been up to over the nearly seven year gap since 2003's 100th Window. Plus, scroll down to hear a track from Splitting the Atom, "Bulletproof Love," featuring Guy Garvey!
You've worked with big names before -- Tracey Thorn from Everything But the Girl, Liz Fraser from Cocteau Twins, Horace Andy -- but the guest talent is even bigger this time around. Why?
We don't really look at it like that because half these people are mates who we've met over the years. Damon is a good friend of D's and like a friend of the family, you know? I knew Guy [Garvey] before Elbow got big, you know? It's funny now that they've actually blown up. And Martina [Topley-Bird], she was [former Massive Attack partner in crime] Tricky's partner and girlfriend at the time so we were aware of her. It's not that these people needed us. We're just happy to get on board and work with them.
Is it going to be possible for any of those folks to join you guys on the road, play a few shows?
Guy Garvey will be popping up. Martina, she's going to be on tour with us. Horace Andy, obviously. We're bringing Debbie Clare who's singing the Shara Nelson parts [from the group's first album, Blue Lines].
Of all of these new collaborations, was there one that stood out particularly, when you were recording?
When you work with someone like Damon Albarn, you know, he's a genius. You can't help but believe that some of it is rubbing off on you. And you become convinced that you're as good as Damon Albarn, but no. The guy's a genius. Being in the same room with him and watching him work is inspiration, you know?
What about Tunde from TV on the Radio? How did you hook up with him?
Well we knew [TV on the Radio guitarist/producer] Dave [Sitek] originally and we went over to see him in New York to do some original demo work with us on our album. And we got to know Tunde through Dave. Good god, I missed out on Hope Sandoval. Yeah, we've done two tracks with her as well.
How did that come together?
It was more of an electronic thing, you know? We sort of made contact with her, sent her the track, she loved the track, sent it back to us. We loved what she did and we worked from there really. A trans-Atlantic communication thing, you know? Not a studio-based thing.
By the time the new album comes out next year, it'll be almost seven years since 100th Window was released. Has the recording process been going on throughout that year period or just picked up steam again in the last year or two?
That's a good question because people are thinking, "What have these guys been doing for the last six or seven years?" It's more of a case of going out for a year and a half touring the last album. That takes us to halfway through 2004, and then [greatest hits compilation] Collected came out in 2006 and we toured that. Then we curated the Meltdown Festival in England where we got all these bands to come over and step it up. And then we went out on another tour last year, and six or seven new tracks came from that. But the hardest work has actually been done in the last eight months really.
What are some things you've been doing in between, other projects and stuff like that?
Well D does tracks for adverts and stuff like that. Myself, I'm busy with my family. I've got three children, the only thing I can really fit in is DJing. I still want to be DJing.
Are you going to get the family out on the road to travel with you? How does that work these days?
Not if I can help it, no. At certain points it just gets much crazier. When you've got three kids it's hard to bring them out on the road, you know? Cause of school and stuff like that. A few place places -- Paris, Portugal, Italy. We all act like soldiers. Wives and girls and things usually stay at home.