attica blues interview
(13th October 1997)

On a late summer tour with Morcheeba, Attica Blues are out promoting their new album on Mo'Wax. It's a full realisation of the blueprint laid down on...err...the "Blueprint" 12" of last year: lush vocal arrangements and music steeped in hip hop. Smoky back-rooms with a pair of technics, a crate of old skool vinyl and a few mates brought direct to your living room on a groove-laden chunk of plastic.

Although they're usually bunged in with the Trip Hop gang, Attica don't have much time for such categorisations, preferring to do their own thing and at their own pace. It's a strategy that will pay off in the long run as the headliners on this jaunt round the UK will no doubt discover when they've been discarded by the pop crowd in 18 months or so. Live, Morcheeba display none of the slickness of their records, instead they sound like a bunch of indie-funk chancers who've welded a deaf DJ to their half-time-breakbeats and stuck a great vocalist on top to cash in on the trip hop thing. The kids loved 'em. Attica are the giants upon whose shoulders Morcheeba are standing and, to give them credit, they've chosen a firm foundation, hip hop is a solid base on which to build and when you've got an innate knowledge of the bricks and mortar, you can't really go wrong. Attica blew Morcheeba away. The kids weren't into them at all.

Displaying their brickie arse-cracks: Tony, Charlie and Roba do battle with the Magic Robot. All questions from Smash Hits or related to Clint Eastwood (don't ask).

What's the tour been like?
R: Well, at the Olympia in Dublin we were supposed to be supporting Morcheeba and there was a mess-up with the promoter where there was a play beforehand and basically we would've had 20 minutes to perform and no line check, so we had to blow that one out but the promoter managed to get us a support with Coolio, which was very...interesting, playing to 5000 12-year-olds.
Me: How did you go down? Were you too sophisticated?
A: They were just into hip hop, so if you're playing hip hop they'd be like "yeeeaaahhhh" and nodding their heads...These guys refused to look at the crowd.
T: I didn't want any criminal proceedings towards me! I mean, so long as you shout "Coolio" every ten minutes, it's alright. But it was amazing, just in terms of being in front of 5000 people, that was...quite mad.
Me: Is that the biggest audience that you've played to?
T: Er, yeah...we played to 2000 with Massive, but that [Coolio] was stupid; it was almost like playing at Wembley Arena, you know what I mean? It was a strange, strange experience.

Would you appear on Kid's TV on a Saturday morning?
C: Of doubt. Definitely.
T: Which one?
C: Oh, Live and Kicking or a guest appearance in Beverly Hills 90210, y'know or perhaps have my own cartoon named after me and my own superheroes. I don't think there's anything wrong with doing kid's TV.
Me: The reason the question's on there is that bands are trivialised by the programmes, just wheeled on to mime for 3 minutes and then booted off again.
C: Well, that's the way that the industry is, you can't escape that. If it's not children's TV that trivialising you, it's the music papers, so basically that's one of the things that comes with the job. Y'know taking the message of Attica Blues out to people, be they any age, kid's TV is a medium for doing that and I think we're prepared to do it cos we've all been kids once. It's not like, we're so cool that we wouldn't do it.
T: Would you go on the Lottery thing on a Wednesday?
C: If it's a chance to play live, then definitely. If they're allowing us a forum to go and do what we do without any restrictions, then why not? If they were making us dress up in spandex pants, then I'd have to think twice about doing it.

Who do you compare yourself to? Or how do you describe your music?
T: No comment on the first part. I'd say our music is hip hop foundation with a twist, basically. Anyone that's into interesting hybrids of music and likes to nod their head at the same time, they'll be into us.
Me: Do you think there's any blues in your sound? I wanted to ask you because of the name.
T: Not really.
Me: I don't mean, like 12-bar blues or anything, but do you think you've got the blues?
T: No.
C: Of course.
T: Have we?
C: Yeah, definitely. Quality black music, that's what we do...yeah, in the sentiments in some of the songs.
Me: Well obviously, you don't sound like John Lee Hooker or anything...
T:, but I wouldn't say that our music has got any kind of blues influence.
C: I disagree.
T: Blues is a scale, a very classic scale...
Me: ...but it's a spiritual thing as well...
T: ...but most of our songs aren't about, I don't know..."my girl's dun kicked me out". They might be more investigative than that, so I wouldn't say blues in that respect either. In terms of, no not at all, there's no form of real social document...
C: what's "Atlanta" then?
T: That's just observation, "Atlanta" is escapism.
C: Is it? Why's that?
T: 'Cos it's all about imagining being somewhere else, so you're escaping.
R: No it isn't.
T: What's the first lyric?
R: "Is it possible for you..."
T: Thankyou, so you're dreaming, right?
C: No, that's not dreaming at all.
R: "Enter" is more about escapism than "Atlanta".
T: You think so? OK. [turns to me] We've never had this discussion before...
Me: Carry on...
T: me, "Atlanta" is about, like, isn't it possible that this is the imaginary place.
C: No, not at all.
T: So right at the end: "where is, where is Atlanta?", i.e. y'know, you're yearning for this place. That's how I read it.
R: But that doesn't mean it's about escapism though.
T: [lengthy pause] OK.
Me: [changing the subject] So if you don't compare yourselves to anyone, who do you get compared to most often?
T: Massive Attack, Portishead, Morcheeba, Moloko, Mono...all those, basically anyone who's got a singer singing over a beat.
Me: Do you mind that?
C: Yes, it's lazy. It's like when people say that, it's like they're saying "OK, we've got Massive Attack already, so why are you doing music that's similar?" You don't go up to John Coltrane and say to him: "give up the sax 'cos Charlie Parker's already done it before you". I think it's because people are allowed to get away with it 'cos the bands don't really associate with each other, they're so determined to distance themselves from everyone else. That way you don't get a movement which really there isn't. Just around a certain period of time, a set of bands came out, similarly inspired, using similar types of sounds.

Who is unforgiven?
Me: Now you get to slag some journalists off or something.
All: Calvin Bush!
C: Yeah, any journalist that just discredits the music without listening to it and without offering an alternative can really just, y'know, fuck off...fuck off and die. It's like a lot of these people will just, y'know, it's become very popular to talk and discuss music and I think a lot of people are losing the sentiment of what music is about, intellectualising music without really knowing where it comes from. If you don't, you should just leave it alone. Go and talk about indie music, if that's what you know about.
Me: So what did he say?
C: He just said, y'know, straight rubbish...
T: ...basically he didn't like the album. Now, we don't mind criticism, but the way he wrote it, it's obvious he just flicked through the CD going "yeah yeah, fuck off...yeah, yeah, fuck off", y'know? Making a brash assumption based on a 10 second listen to each tune, so it wasn't even a proper criticism. It was just cack.

What's your favourite style pasta?
T: Tagliatelle. That's from Spaghetti Westerns, right?
Me: Yeah, no-one ever gets that, so well done, must be that filmic trip-hop thing...
T: Ha ha! Nah, that's the band from Bristol.
Me: Actually, I was reading some of your press and I think they got it better than some of the music papers when they say "classical and hip hop". Do any of you have a classical background?
T: No.
C: Yeah, I have.
T: I didn't know that, we're learning plenty this afternoon.
C: I learnt the violin for 10 years. And played in orchestras. I think that constitutes a classical background...
T: The closest I come is listening to "Messiah" every Sunday morning when my dad put it on.
C: ...and since I was finally allowed to put down the instrument, I have not looked back.
Me: How come it takes you so long to put out records? It seems like ages since "Blueprint" was out.
T: Well, after "Blueprint" came a record called "Tender" and after that, before the album there was "3ree" and between the first two, we recorded the album....
R: ...and sorted things out with the record label.
Me: What's it like being signed to Mo'Wax?
R: [immense pause] It was better.
T: That's a very good answer, perfect answer.
Me: Better before they made the deal with A&M?
T: Yep.
Me: And you don't want to talk about it?
T: [deep breath] No.

It was a real pleasure to interview Attica Blues. Bands that are prepared to enter into a serious discussion on whether or not they've got the blues must be few and far between. Still fewer are bands that display the kind of attention to detail and loving care that has obviously gone into the making of their album. There's no rapping on the LP; all vocals are delivered by Roba's glorious singing voice, welding quality songwriting to uncompromising beats and scratching with minimal samples. It's still undoubtedly hip hop though (to me). But it'd be a shame if there was any of that hip hop elitism/snobbery here (in either direction); you don't need to be able to name the S1Ws to get into this, just be able to appreciate a good song when you hear it.

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