Neko: intervew with LH (28th September 2004)
Just before playing the first few shows after a 2 year break, Liam Howlett has taken the time to talk to nekosite again and discuss AONO, the upcoming live shows, doing videos and new material he’s already written.
neko: This isn’t the first time that you’ve returned with a new album and a totally new sound. For the previous albums though, you used to experiment with different versions of tracks. This time around though, you just disappeared and came back and said ‘this is it, this is the new album’. How was this different this time? Did it feel like you had to be on your own to write this album without anyone interfering with it?
Liam Howlett: All the tracks on the album went through changes, just the same as before, I have to live with them a while and go back to them and then make changes. They get played in the car, to my friends and put them on at night when I’m drinking and partying.
As I said in the past it will be inevitable that at some point in the future there will be a Prodigy album with like singles, remixes and demos. I really want to make that kind of record into something that people will want to hear, you know, with the different versions on it .the actual writing process has always been the same—on my own. I seem to be more creative if it’s just me, at least for the initial vibe anyway.
The tracks will change again once we’re starting to play them live. About 80-90% of the tracks we played live have changed over time – apart from the likes of Firestarter, SMBU which were more or less there and the rest we did in the studio to change arrangements and stuff. This time around I was in this really good headspace and didn’t want to get influenced by the live show and do it like with a band; that was more Jilted and The Fat of the Land. If I did that, I would have slipped back into a ‘Nuclear’ and ‘Babys got a Temper’ phase, and I didn’t want to do that again.
If you listen to the new album now you have tracks like ‘Wake Up’, ‘Spitfire’, ‘Hotride’ and stuff like that. They are all tracks that are going to be rocking live, you know.
And on that basis, they’re no different, they still have the same energy as TFOTL and I don’t think that much has changed. Although, when I’m in the studio – in my head I actually visualize how a track is going to sound live.
Do you think all of the new tracks could be played live? You’ve mentioned about 6 would be played live but then I can imagine this will probably also get moved around.
Yeah. I think I wouldn’t want to play all of the new tracks live, because about 30% of the album is really Liam Howlett. Like, the track I did with Liam Gallagher, ‘Shoot Down’, that was definitely more on my side. But the rest of the album is more the band, you know.
With the number of vocal collaborators on AONO – you had Juliette Lewis, Liam Gallagher, Twista, Paul Jackson – what was the writing process of these lyrics? Did you input anything into the writing process or did you just produce the music and say to them “there you go”.
I was actually in the studio with most of them, apart from Twista. I spoke to him on the phone a lot, but that was kind of weird because I usually like to be in the same room. It’s good to quickly try a different idea if shit isn’t working, but it was fine, it worked. He gave three versions of the track and that worked out well.
I had input to some ideas, but everyone put their own ideas into the lyrics. They were fine with that their vocals weren’t going to be used in a traditional way on the album but maybe just a line like a sampled vocal, so that worked out quite well.
What happened in the end to ‘No Souvenirs’ [the collaboration with Rob del Naja from Massive Attack]? I already asked this in the last interview, but have to ask again now …
I really, really wanted it to be on the album, I spoke about it so much now. We were going to get back to it, but Rob was on tour. He was going to do some new vocals for it, because that’s what he wanted to do, I did some new music. So by the time we had done the new vocals we sat down, but felt the track had lost its original vibe. But at that stage it was literally the last week of recording for the album. But it will definitely get finished at some point.
So will people get to hear it?
Yeah, people will hear it, I think, also the original version – probably both of them. It still didn’t get finished, but once we’re happy with it, it will – it may be on a future release or album.
Are there any other collaborations that didn’t make it onto the album? What about the one with Noreaga? And wasn’t there a second one with Kool Keith as well?
That’s right, yeah. The second one I did with Kool Keith was actually a part of ‘Girls’ – at the end of ‘Girls’. It was basically all the beats of ‘Girls’ all slowed down and Kool Keith came in and did like one verse of lyrics. But in the end that didn’t work, so that got shelved. But there is also still the ‘Wake Up Call’ full vocals version.
Noreaga – I really wanted to work with him. By the time it finished it, it sounded very dated like he was talking about hummers and shit, you know like, it wasn’t really Prodigy, it was more like straight hip hop, it didn’t sound twisted enough. The lyrics just weren’t right for the album even though his flow u can’t fuck with. Also, I didn’t want to have collaboration after collaboration. In my mind the way I used vocals, they were more used as samples, I didn’t really want any more full vocal tracks, you know.
Then also Peaches, I did a track with Peaches really early on. I have much respect for her, but basically it didn’t work out. She put some vocals down but there wasn’t enuff ,By the time I went back to do more work on it she couldn’t find anymore time, she was doing her album and touring .
Surely you must have been aware that the album got leaked on the Internet quite early on. How did you react to that?
Very frustrated. Very frustrated for sure. [pauses] I think that fans often only see as far as that they want to have the record, they download it and then they have it. They don’t see the implications of what it has to the band. If the fan then buys the record – that’s cool. If someone liked the band and then downloads the record – if I’d downloaded a record I probably wouldn’t buy it – this then has an impact on the perception of the record, you know what I mean, that things aren’t as good as they should be. But I’m quite relaxed about it now to be honest. My main thing for the Prodigy is still – as long as we can take the music live – that’s what’s important for the band.
If, for example, no one had bought the album and loads of people had downloaded it then it would be a problem because promoters wouldn’t have known how successful it was. Promoters go after successful records, you know, they don’t go and see how many people have downloaded it. That has a roll on effect on if a band gets booked for gigs so that part was quite frustrating for me.
I guess, XL weren’t as tight as they should have been in this whole thing, you know releasing promos and that. But, you know, fuck it, the record did well, and in the end everyone is in the same boat. So, I’m kinda cool with it now.
Have the reactions to the album been what you expected?
Absolutely. It was never going to be The Fat of the Land part 2 and I think people who know me know that I don’t do the same thing over and again. I don’t really read all the reactions, because I know in the studio what makes a good record. I read a few things though. But you know what really made me laugh, was when someone downloaded it in really bad quality mp3 and then was moaning about the production of it. The production of the record was different than the last one, this is more trashy sounding. People have to understand that if my record sounds like that, that is how I want it.
Now that the album has been released, is there anything you would change about it?
I wish that the track I’ve done with Keith last week, ‘Warning’, I wish that had been on the record. Very early on in the process of writing this album we made the decision to take the focus off Keith, work on a record that was very much back to the beats, back to the samples, know what I mean. But If I had written that track 8 months ago, it would have been on the record, coz it feels fresh. Can’t really think of anything I would have changed, no, I’m quite happy with it. I really enjoyed writing this record, it was a good experience.
Does that track ‘Warning’ fit into the same kind of vibe as AONO?
I don’t really know –I think it retains the right twisted humour and it knows what it is. It isn’t trying to be punk, it just is. ‘Warning’ is still evolving and Keith definitely sounds good on it. The lyrics are cheeky as fuck,
One of them is:
‘im not a punk
im just a cunt
if im talking to you
im probably drunk’
It’s a hooligan song. Keith has always been a good lyrics writer, I always thought that. Also with his project Flint , but that was much darker. It wasn’t right for the Prodigy, but it was good.
Are you planning to play it live at the upcoming live shows then?
Yeah, definitely, second track, watch out for it.
You also mentioned that there was a new track with Maxim and Keith, which was the fastest track you had ever done. Is this the same as ‘Warning’?
Yeah, it’s the same track. It started off with 175bpm, but its now 166bpm. We all were in the studio to rock it, and Keef seemed to have the vocals covered on his own. It wasn’t like “ok both will have to do lyrics”, because it often just complicates things and I wanted it to be simple to rock it live for people to get it first time they hear it.
Are there any other new tracks apart from ‘Warning’ you’ve written since the release?
Quite a few, but I’m kind of sitting on them, because we’ve got a set we’re happing with. But, I’m just in a really good writing mode at the moment! Ever since writing the album, you know. It’s not like after The Fat of The Land where I just didn’t want to go back, I’m now actually really excited to be back in the studio, it’s weird.
I guess it’s got a lot to do with my headspace and using Reason for this record and the album’s just come out. One important thing to say about Reason though, a lot of people think I did everything on Reason, but in reality I just use Reason as a notepad to write demos and then everything is done on Protools. Then it’s mixed back through analogue valve equipment. The sound of Reason doesn’t really have anything to do with the album; it just helps me to write down ideas very quickly.
They have these things called Soft Synths on Reason that try to duplicate the sound of old analogue keyboards- I never used these, I always use the real deal. A bit technical, but it had to be said!
You’ve included Keith on ‘Warning’ and Maxim also on the track ‘More Girls’, does that mean they will be back now on new material?
Keef is on warning and I’m doing new shit with Maxim as well.
Basically this album gives everyone a bit of breathing space.
Maxim and Keith, everyone expected them to be front men again for this album, so I didn’t want to do that, I wanted to do something different instead. Now that people aren’t thinking that they’re going to be on it, I want to get back together and bring them back again, you know what I mean? And that’s the way it is. And the other thing is, if tracks don’t work out, then they just don’t work, you know. you can’t force an idea just for the sake of it. That’s another reason why they’re not on it. In the ‘Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned’ sessions there were just no Maxim and Keith tracks. Tracks like ‘Wake Up Call’ and ‘Girls’, they were more – pushing it, you know. And people do need to understand, I just didn’t want to keep repeating myself, I just can’t do that. But the reason we’ve gone back into the studio for this ‘Warning’ track is because its working, it feels natural.
But, I mean yeah, the whole idea of like, me writing this record and Keith doing this whole solo thing has led to the confusion about “Are they going to be on the record? Are they not? Has the band split up?”, and all that shit. So it’s now time to say “Here we are, playing live, and making music, I like to turn it on its head. It will be rocking!”
With regards to playing live, we heard that Leeroy would be there again to DJ at some of the shows….
Yeah! Basically Leeroy wanted to get involved again – and Leeroy is just great to have around, you know, his jokes and all. But he definitely didn’t want to come back as a dancer, he was absolutely sure about that. He just wanted to be involved with the band. And Leeroy is a DJ now; this is what he does now anyway. I think he just came back from Taiwan or something like that, you know, so we just try and get him along as much as possible.
Apart from Leeroy, are you planning to have any specific support acts on tour with you or are you just going with local bands wherever you are?
We haven’t picked UK ones yet – this is still a while away really. But on the European tour we really just try and get whoever is cool locally, it’s good to support the local bands. Yeah, I get sent a lot of tapes, but it’s also up to the promoters. Sometimes we get a choice to say, but often we don’t. But even if they’re no good, we usually don’t get there until just before we’re about to play anyways.
So what about the old material? Are you going to update it in any way? You said somewhere that you were never going to play ‘Firestarter’ in its original form again …
This is not ready yet, I know you will probably go to a few gigs so you will probably hear the transition to a new ‘Firestarter’. It will be something maybe bootleg style. Keith basically said he didn’t want to do it in its original form any more, so definitely by the UK tour I will be chopping the older tunes around, you know. For the first few gigs we really just want the new stuff from the new album sounding right, so we felt like, we can still change the older sound after,– if it works ‘Firestarter’ will be done by the UK tour.
So you’re still also going to play stuff from Jilted?
Any plans to play some stuff from Experience at all?
Ha ha ha. Nah, I don’t think so. Basically, we all kind of said, out of all the tracks ‘ Jericho ‘ is definitely the only track we could still do live, but we’re not going to do that. We may still play it on the UK tour, you know. I respect the old tracks, it’s all cool…
I told a few people that I was going to do this interview and everyone said “Tell him to play Experience tracks again!”….
[laughs] Which ones?
I think you’d get away with any of them …
‘Weather Experience’, I guess, that track always kind of works live. Definitely ‘Prodigy Dancer’ [‘Death of The Prodigy Dancer’], a proper version of that would be cool – How long have you been into the band?
‘Out of Space’ kind of era…
I guess we could play that as well, that’s another track – [surprised] quite a few now! But I think the first few gigs now has to be the new album and getting it to sound right.
So how are you feeling about getting back on tour again, are you excited about it?
Totally, yeah. I’m really looking forward to it!
We were going to go to the States before Christmas but that’s not happening anymore, we haven’t got time anymore so that will be next year now.
But yeah, I am really quite excited – we’ve been working on the set for the last two weeks, reworking the tracks, getting the vocals ready and all that.
Are you planning to bring any of your collaborators on stage with you?
Ahm, our main thing to be honest at the moment – it is really important for the three of us to get our shit sorted now. All of us are well into it and want to make it the best it can be.
I think we don’t really need to bring other people in, especially not now for the first months. I’d like to see Paul on stage at some point though, to do ‘Action Radar’…
Are you going to play this track live at all?
i won’t play it unless Paul does it. It’s the Paul vocals. Keith and Maxim doing that track – Nah, wouldn’t feel right. I don’t think it’s really a Maxim track.
We’re not taking Paul around Europe , but we may do some gigs in the UK with him if we can work it out – you like that track, don’t you…?
Yeah, it’s going to be remixed. I’m excited how the tracks can evolve now for live .I guess it’s the same for a lot of bands, changing arrangements and speeds of tunes to fit in with the right vibe. I’ve worked on ‘Wake Up’ and ‘Girls’, they kind of sound the same but they are more pumped – it gives it a different fresh angle.
You had some very promising fills you used to play at live shows in your ‘Nuclear / Trigger’ period two or three years go, ‘Goblin’, ‘Dust Yoself’ and an intro you played at Leeds and Reading. Are you still planning to use these again at some point?
Basically, ‘Goblin’ was this very slow kind of track, it worked pretty well as what it was, but I don’t think it’s sounded Prodigy enough to become a full track. We may still try and work on that, but we haven’t really got there yet.
‘Dust Yoself’ is rockin, off the hook, the track has potential. It’s quite bootleggy, . Maybe that can be used again, I don’t know, I liked doing it live, I think it worked.
The Leeds and Reading intro is very old skool, kind of like back in 1996 breakbeat era.
I know it’s quite a favourite with the fans. I like the beats, the beats were good and some of the parts, but it needs updating. It just didn’t flow enough when I took it to the studio so it didn’t really go any further.
You’re next single is going to be Hotride, have you got a video planned for it?
We’re just doing it now. I hate doing videos, you know, because you’re basically laying all your trust in a fucking video director. I fucking hate it; we’ve been let down so many times.
Hotride is gonna be a limited edition ep, we aren’t going for a big push to get in the singles charts, I don’t give a shit about that. I would much rather release a good 4-5 track ep in the future.
I think that the ‘Girls’ video in my opinion was different, it worked and suited the tune cause it was kind of cut and paste 80s influenced .those guys were cool who did that video ,they were the same dudes who did the cover .
Making videos is usually stressful though; you can’t go back and get it changed ,there are deadlines to meet. So I personally hate doing videos. I wish there was a way I could do it myself and be directing it and be in control.
Usually you get sent a so called treatment from the video directors and it can read really well on paper. But it’s such a different thing than the video you get back.
It was the same when we first saw the SMBU video without any of the effects, I fucking hated it. It was very straight forward filming, it was nothing, it was just someone walking around with a camera through London . So it all went back and they did all these mad effects to make it seem drug induced then it made sense to me ,it blew my mind .
One video that you did change though was the ‘Firestarter’ one. I always wanted to know what the original one was like?
Haha. Basically what happened was, we saw an advert we all really liked, we liked the effects. It was early days, it was before anyone really had done any of this grainy kind of stuff. It was this really degraded film they had used. So we approached them, I think it was their first music video.
What really didn’t work was Keith had his hands tied behind his back so he was totally restricted and Keith is good when he’s moving about. You’re really not getting the best out of him that way. So basically, they tied him up and he was there just doing the vocals into the camera.
So that was bad, but also then for every downbeat there was an old tyre bouncing to the boom, it was a fuckin joke. I said to the director ‘you ain’t putting that fukin tyre to that beat, it deserves more!’ .I can’t even remember being in it, me and the other guys, it was that shit. I wish I could play it to people, I’ve been looking for it but I can’t find it anymore. I’ve been looking for it to show people how shit it was!
At that stage, we were really lucky, because we had made the video really ahead of time. And we had the extra two weeks to phone Walter up and go like “Help us out here, mate, we really need another video”. We kind of had wanted a new director, we thought we had done enough with him, but then he basically got him back again, and we knew we could trust him. He pulled it out the bag with Firestarter, it is filmed on cheap film as well if u look at it.
It’s the performance and the direction that makes it work.
Basically, the way I feel about videos is id rather not have one than have a shit one.
So Walter is not doing music videos anymore then?
It was different when Walter Stern was doing it because he knew us all really well. But Walter is not doing videos at the moment, we miss having him. he is doing films for now but I’m sure I will get him back to do something again later on.
Talking about videos, are you planning to release a DVD with live material?
Yeah, absolutely, we really want to do all this. Basically, what we are doing now is all the live shows are being recorded and then we’ll see what’s going to come out.
But this thing about Maverick. It really struck me as odd that they had sold only 16.000 records in the first week. We sold more in the first day here! I told them I could have sold more out the back of a van myself! And basically, they haven’t done any promotion to promote the album at all to be honest, nothing…
You have a street team …
Oh, yeah, they’re really on the ball, they really know what’s going on, right! [laughs]
Maverick got bought out by Warner Brothers – and basically our record came out at a really bad time. Obviously I know everyone’s moaning because of record sales down and everything. I know that there are more than 16.000 fukin people in America in one week interested to buy our album, but no one even knew it was out. Maverick totally screwed us and I’m really angry with them. I know we would have sold more albums. They should’ve just fucking told us in time that they were not going to do anything about it and we could have released it ourselves, you know, via XL in the States.
We are only with a major in America cause they had the muscle. Do u think I like being on a major?
We maybe should have done more ourselves to promote it but I think they didn’t know what the fuck to do with it on a street level, they only really deal in pop shit.
I cant see future albums being on Maverick , definitely not. But you know we will go over there and do some gigs soon. Lack of communication, it’s one of the main downfalls. I think they should just re-release the album and promote it properly. And America is like a fuckin huge country. We’re just really angry at the moment; they’ve really let us down. If we had sold like 50.000 albums, that would have probably been ok, comparing the time, you know with the band having been away for so long and record sales being down in general. That would have still been more in line with what we’d expected. Maverick still have a job to do promoting this record. I’m more angry about that than any Internet leak or anything. I mean it went to top 10 in most European countries, people here knew it was out.
So does that mean you’re going to write a new album quite soon so you’ve got something new to release?
I’m gonna be writing all the time now because I love it. What it will lead to we will see but I know I wont let the touring affect my writing again. It’s important to me to be spontaneous with what we do now, shit like putting white labels out of new tracks etc.
I said I’d like to do an album of work we have done so far but with new tracks, remixes and demos, like a cool special package for the people. Wait and see.
Interview by Andrea Schnepf aka neko / 28th September 2004