Interview: The Prodigy

I interviewed the Prodigy on Saturday afternoon before their show in Seattle. The British band is hugely influential and relevant – a sure sign of their relevance was shown to me by the youth apparent at the show. When teens like something that means it’s a presence to be reckoned with, whether you like it or not. I happen to love it. Another sign of the band’s importance was likewise reflected in the presence of fans who have stuck with them since their first LP, Experience.

Liam Howlett, Keith Flint and Maxim answered a variety of my questions from such as what they think of EastEnders and Gordon Brown, controversy surrounding the band, and the Prodigy’s place in British music.

Dagmar: I was reading that Liam is a fan of horror movies – are you all fans?

Liam Howlett: It’s just me I believe.

Maxim: I do like the old style horror movies.

Keith Flint: I like porn, myself.

D: You did a song for a porn movie soundtrack, right?

LH: Not a very good one.

KF: But it was the first zero gravity cum shot.

LH: That is true.

D: Is the music available?

LH: I think you can probably hear it on youtube. It’s called Titan.

D: The band doesn’t make many TV appearances, why not?

LH: What it is, in a world where you can download the music, steal it, get it from mates or whatever, you can’t download coming to see the band. It’s fine if it’s a bit of footage of us playing live at a festival but we tend to try to stay away from more studio stuff.

D: There’s a lot of compromise on that level. When you go into the studios there’s always a compromise of some sort, whether it’s the sound, whether it’s the lights, whether it’s the performance.

LH: We want people to come to the gigs.

KF: They think they’re doing you a favor, putting you on the show and they become more important than you are. The music – it’s not about our performance – it’s about the importance of the music. If someone’s prepared to do it the way we want to and have absolute control over the sound . . . we have live guitar and live drums onstage and people try to mix that like it’s a live band. Essentially that’s not the sound of the band.

M: When we do a show there’s no restrictions. When we’re performing onstage Keith or myself might jump in the crowd. When you’re in the studio you’re told to perform within a certain area. We’ve never done it since day one so I feel like we should carry on . . .

D: I read that parents used to write in to TV stations and complain that kids were scared of Keith in your videos.

KF: That’s ludicrous. I think that’s ludicrous.

LH: We were always confused with that. I think they were scared of expression. Marilyn Manson is scary to kids.

KF: [It’s] honest energy. I think it, in effect, makes me more chill. You get up there [onstage] and get all your anger out. I reckon I’m more chill. It’s something that often comes up and I’ve never found the right answer for it. There’s nothing scary there. There was never a day where we thought there was an angle . . .

LH: Saw is scary.

KF: Kids, whilst they’re watching that, go into their rooms and turn on their laptop, pressing two buttons and watching anything they want to on the Internet. They should get scared about the right thing.

D: How did you balance on those ropes in Firestarter?

KF: Harnesses.

D: It looks kind of fun.

LH: It was good.

KF: It was a sixteen-hour day. A lot of the time they save the most arduous shots till last and I remember at the end of the day just having my nuts crushed and blood rushing to my head. It was all in good fun.

D: The video for Baby’s Got a Temper is great too – what was making that like? I love that video.

LH: You’re the only one. It was alright. Baby’s Got a Temper came from a dream I had, playing to a bunch of cows. We went to the gig and all the sudden [the audience] were all cows. I mentioned this to the director and he made the whole story about it. It was pretty cool to shoot.

KF: I actually haven’t seen it since the day it was made.

M: It was quite humorous . . . the people that played us.

LH: We don’t particularly like that song. It was written during a downtime for the band. We look at that period and we don’t really reflect it on much.

D: I’ve been reading that you consider the new CD to be more positive.

LH: That sounds a bit hipped-out. More like we had something to prove to ourselves. The last album was seen as more of a solo album, which I didn’t intend it to be, that’s just the way it had to be for us to move forward. We had unfinished business. We needed to make a band record, with all three of us. In the positivity of that, in getting back together in the studio, made the sound feel really up. It’s not a dark album. It’s got a lot of up energy in it.

M: Where we are as a band is reflected on the album. I believe that if a band’s going through a tough time you can hear it through their music downer.

LH: Baby’s Got a Temper felt lethargic and low energy, to me. I’m pretty critical of my music.

D: I read Liam watches EastEnders?

LH: I don’t watch it anymore. My friend is actually one of the main actresses in it, she plays Roxy, a barmaid. Do you watch EastEnders?

D: I do but I’m behind.

LH: How far behind are you?

D: A couple years.

LH: So you know the Queen Vic gets blown up by terrorists?

M: I actually hate soaps.

LH: I watch films.

M: Yeah, loads of films.

KF: I do watch TV. I have to watch a certain amount of TV to chill me out at night.

D: Keith, you’ve turned down a few reality things.

KF: I’ve been offered reality things. It’s just not something I’d consider doing. I’d rather die poor than die with the shame of doing that.

D: There’d be footage of you brushing your teeth on TV.

M: Some things you’re supposed to keep to yourself.

D: What about tattoos and piercings. Are you going to get more?

KF: I don’t like my tattoos. I think piercings are over, well and truly over.

LH: Tribes in Africa don’t think that though. They get them for the right reasons. I watched a documentary yesterday [about Masai warriors and earlobe loops] and the bigger the loop the more the women go [for them].

M: Same with the guys with the lip plates.

D: The beginning of the song Firestarter, how did that develop?

LH: We were friends with Dave [Grohl] and he was a fan of the second album. He was telling us about Foo Fighters and he gave us the first album. I was playing it and I think it was track seven – I really liked the guitar riff. I got my guitarist to come round and said, can you play something similar to that? He played a riff that was different enough but had a similar energy about it.

KF: Put it in the computer and then fucked it around a bit.

LH: Fucked it around and reversed it. I rang Keith and said I’d done the first track for the album. It’s going to be an instrumental – come by and check it out. Keith came round and said if there’s ever a track I want to be on, this is gonna be it. He picked up the mike and a day later he’s finished. The demo is the actual thing that we used. We went into the big studio to mix the whole tune, and we ended up using the demo and recorded the vocal into the demo. Not a lot of people know that. I’d produced it so well at home that they couldn’t recreate it in the studio. I was proud of that.

M: Sometimes things that are raw like that are the best.

D: Do people still say stuff to you about Smack My Bitch Up?

LH: We laugh about that. Funny enough all the actual attention came from America. We came home one night and they were talking about it on BBC TV on some kind of politics show. It was Tracey Emin, who was basically on our side, talking for us –

KF: About freedom of speech. We’re in touch with the kids and they’re not in touch with the kids. They just don’t get it. The fucked up side of it is that they don’t see hot chicks at the front of the stage singing Smack My Bitch Up. The girls think it’s their track. As Liam says, I come back and turn on the TV and there’s an art critic, Tracey Emin the artist, a guy from the NME and an MP on a political program that’s usually debating the state of the Euro . . .

LH: A bit surreal.

M: Debating about Smack My Bitch Up is quite contrived.

LH: It shows you much the times have changed. To us it’s not controversial. The video was controversial. We set out to make a controversial video because that was our further way of laughing at everybody.

KF: You think that’s controversial wait and see what we do when we want to be controversial.

M: I think having the debate was more controversial.

LH: Now, like Keith was saying, kids can turn on the computer and see something far more shocking. You can’t create controversy like that. Kids are smart. You can’t create false controversy. When people do that people see through it. We’re not prepared to do that. If it happens naturally, cool.

D: Did you all learn to dance?

M: No, we just went out and took loads of pills. It’s just expression. I don’t actually call what I do dancing. I’m not a dancer, I just move across the stage and bang my head.

LH: I may have [danced] in 1992 when I took loads of ecstasy. But not lately.

M: I dance probably in the same way as you do when you go out and dance. I’m about 5 foot or higher than you are but . . .

LH: We come from the British rave scene, which was a dance culture. The idea of anyone giving us dance lessons is hilarious to us.

KF: That’s why the band has the appeal to the kids. . . express yourself across genres. It’s just three lads that are real, that get up there and do their thing. We didn’t go to music lessons and dance lessons and have rich parents who said you must perform and make money.

M: It’s raw.

KF: We knew we could do it. Liam was obviously writing music and we just jumped on his bandwagon. I’m just a guy who jumped up onstage one day and never got chucked off. That is my role now.

M: There’s nothing about us that is trained. When you say dancer it scares me. I hate that. I don’t like that word because it puts you in a category with like, Beyonce and dancers behind her doing all the routines. There’s three terms which I hate: MC, dancer and electronica.

LH: Or an MC that dances to electronica.

M: Some people put that title on me. That’s the most hated person on the planet.
D: Are there any tunes you haven’t been able to sample and been disappointed about?

KF: The theme tune to EastEnders.

LH: Some of the stuff is obscure so it’s kind of hard to sort out. I try and find things that people haven’t heard before. The latest record doesn’t have too many samples – Warrior’s Dance has got a big sample.

KF: It’s hard to use a sample without people getting excited about the Prodigy using the sample, and thinking they’re making it the next big thing. Samples are there to enhance a body of music.

M: Liam doesn’t use a sample as a blatant sample. He uses a sample and makes it his own sound. He twists it up, recreates and creates a new sound of it.

D: What’s something that drives you crazy when you read about the band?

M: Electronica. In America we’ve been trying to shake this electronica tag for years. We just want to be seen as a band, a band that’s separate from a scene. Probably with how I imagine Nirvana were fucked off with being called a grunge band. They probably just wanted to be a band and get merit for their own music. If electronic music is in fashion, our music should be on the radio.

M: That word [electronica] pulls you back into a pigeonhole.

D: How’s your Prime Minister, Gordon Brown doing?

LH: He’s fucked it right up. I think he’s in trouble at the moment. If there was an election he’d be out straight away. It makes you think Tony Blair was actually all right, which is quite scary. People are wishing he was back.

D: Keith, I was reading that you would deliberately give yourself shocks?

KF: I used to tempt myself and pull the plugs out and touch the prongs in an attempt that I might get an electric shock. I don’t know why I did it.

LH: [It’s not like you were] putting a jump lead on your dick.

KF: One time I went to a restaurant with a girlfriend of mine and they wouldn’t let me in because I wasn’t wearing a tie. So I went to the car and all I could find was a set of jump leads. I put them on and went back to the restaurant. They told me they’d let me in as long as I promised not to start anything.

D: How do you think you fit in with some of the other big British bands like Oasis?

LH: Oasis would be the first band to agree that they don’t fit in either. If you’re in a band, you don’t want to fit in. I think the Prodigy, as a band, has always ridden the outside of any scene. Even when people were talking about, here they come they’re techno, we said no, we’re not techno because we respected what the real techno was. We knew we weren’t that, we’re not purists. We’re a mish mash. We’ve never worried about fitting in. You make yourself relevant by what tunes you write and make sure the production sounds fierce.

M: As individuals we’ve got our own style. We don’t fit into any scene.

KF: We take pride in the fact that we can go to a rock festival and play it and on the same hand we can do a dance festival. No one thinks we’re faking at any of them and we are not. That lack of restriction is key to us. One day Maxim will be vocalist, then I’ll be a vocalist, we’ll both be vocalists, we’ll sample a track or it will be an instrumental track.

LH: Firestarter can be one single, Smack My Bitch Up could be the next and Warrior’s Dance could be the next. There’s no confusion where you have to have vocalists on every track.

KF: People tried to take that from us but we’ve fought to keep it.

M: It’s the same thing with being pigeonholed. How are you going to move on from that?

LH: Especially in England people respect the fact that we can move around and not be tied down to one format.

D: I read that you have said you will never do a track with Madonna.

KF: She missed the boat on that one. The boat wasn’t there actually.

LH: The boat sank. Or blew up. Anyone that knows the band knows that that’s something that will never ever happen. It’s like asking Hendrix to go on Kylie’s album. We’ve got respect for her. She was the one that headhunted us. She didn’t send a fucking load of people from her office to see the band. She came to the gigs and went out of her way to sign us. I think when you’re in that pop world you’re looking for the producer to take your career to the next thing. At that time Fat of the Land was big and I was well known as a producer. She was probably just trying to get a piece of us to put on her next record. At the end of the day she didn’t need us anyway.

D: In terms of drugs what’s the scariest?

LH: Acid, for me. You can’t escape it. You know you’re in for a long, eight- hour trip and if you’re not enjoying it within the first five minutes you’re fucked.

KF: Drugs are hardcore, that’s the end of it. Don’t fuck with them if you can’t handle it. They’ll fuck your head up.

M: I don’t fuck with drugs.

LH: We’ve never been a smack band. That drug wouldn’t suit this band anyway. We come from the British rave culture, which is an ecstasy culture so that is in us, that energy. Our music encompasses the British party scene.

I also took photos of their show that night – check them out here.

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