Coming from the working-class city of Bristol, England, which sits about 100 miles west of London, Massive Attack was originally three guys: Robert "3D" Del Naja, Grant "Daddy G" Marshall, and now-ex-member Andy "Mushroom" Vowles. In the beginning, they were just neighborhood kids immersed in the sound-system culture of reggae, dub, ska, punk, soul, funk, and '80s UK hip-hop. But soon the trio, forming out of the Wild Bunch Crew, broke new musical ground by combining breaks and rare grooves with smoky bass lines, female vocals, and a unique style of rapping. This was the Bristol sound.
Over the years, the group has explored darker tastes on the acclaimed Mezzanine LP and experienced its share of distractions. Last week, Del Naja brought New Times up to speed before Massive Attack's show Tuesday at Bayfront Park Amphitheater.
New Times: What's been going on with the group over the past few years?
Robert Del Naja: We've been in the studio recording and still doing shows. Our most recent LP, Heligoland, came out last year. We're on a bit of a roll, writing and looking forward to putting out some new stuff.
You've got roots in Italy, Daddy G is from Barbados, and the group came up in Bristol, a city known for its Afro-Caribbean background. How did that influence your sound?
All the records have both reflective and environmental qualities, dealing with things that were going on in the country, politically and socially, when we started in the '80s. The reggae and punk scenes were a base for Massive Attack, and then hip-hop pushed it forward.
What can we expect from the current Massive Attack live show?
It's very much a live experience, giving insight to our past and future with a band and Martina Topley Bird on vocals. We go from quite minimal moments to quite explosive moments. It's all about drama. Visually, we incorporate as many ideas as possible to go alongside the music: using light to translate information, taking a minimalistic approach (not using video), and dealing with what is relevant culturally, economically, and politically. We deal with U.S. immigration issues and the BP oil spill.
In addition to music, you also have a background in art and as a graffiti writer.
I do all of the work on the sleeves for our records, all the paintings. As much joy as I get out of the music I get creating the artwork. I've been doing a fair amount of painting. I did the artwork for Unkle's last album, War Stories, worked with Banksy on some stuff like his "Jerusalem" show. There's always something in the background to keep me busy.
Any memories from your last trip to Miami?
Around 2000, I remember I was submerged in the water on the beach in an electrical storm, which was pretty exciting. It's a hard city to figure out very quickly. I think you need to spend a lot of time there to get it. When you go through, you get caught up in the superficial nature, and you don't get to see what's under the surface. I always thought that under the surface, there's lots of intrigue.
"The reggae and punk scenes were a base for Massive Attack and then hip-hop pushed it forward."