25 years in and with 25 million album sales under their belt, The Prodigy are back with yet another iconic number 1 selling album, ‘The Day Is My Enemy.’ We caught up with the legendary Liam Howlett, who just nipped back to London for the day in-between their European tour…
Hi Liam, how are you?
Good stuff! Are you in France at the moment?
No, I’ve dived back to go in the studio quickly before the gig. It’s a little break in the tour.
Ah ok, are you due back in France tomorrow?
Yeah, we just played two gigs in Germany and one in Holland. We’ve got France tomorrow, so I only came back for a day.
Ah wow, did you travel all that way back just to get in the studio?
I always try and get home, to break it up.
So, how’s the tour been going for you?
Yeah, good man! It’s only really just started. We did Australia in February – that was kind of the start of it. After that there was a bit of a gap and then these last three gigs. It’s mega to have so many new tunes we can play. For us it’s all about moving forward. It revitalises the whole thing again and puts energy back into it.
When you’re on tour, do you play any of your older tunes?
Yeah, we understand people want to hear the old stuff. We’ve got to play some of the classics. There’s nothing worse than going to see a band and it’s all new stuff, so for us it’s about finding the right balance, but I would say the majority of what we play is newer stuff. Of course we play ‘Breathe’, ‘Smack My B***h Up’ and ‘Take Me To The Hospital’ but we don’t really play anything from ‘Experience’ at the moment, otherwise the set would be too long. We’re trying to find the right balance, so at the moment we’re chopping and changing, so each gig is different in a way.
You’re touring in the UK soon aren’t you?
Yeah, the UK’s in May. That’ll be good.
Where are you looking forward to playing the most?
Anywhere, man! I’ve got no preference. London’s always a bit stressful because everyone tries to get on the guest list. All my friends come out the woodwork! London always becomes a bit of a party, so it’s more of a pain in the a**e really than enjoyable, but yeah, it’ll be good. We’ve never played Alexandra Palace before, so that’ll be cool.
Sold out as well hasn’t it!?
It’s sold out, yeah.
I can’t go any further without saying congratulations on the smasher album that’s reached number one! Does it still feel as amazing now as it did years ago?
Thanks, and yeah of course! We never expect anything when it comes to chart positions because at the end of the day, the music’s written for one purpose and that’s to take to the stage. The records aren’t written for radio or sales, they’re written for us to play live. We never expect anything to happen chart wise. All we expect is to supply music for the stage. This album was a pain in the a**e, it was a long journey, and the actual writing of it, between me and Keith, was bit turbulent. So this was a good end, a nice ‘pat on the back’ in a way, a nice result from fans supporting us more than anything. This record is quite hardcore – it’s heavy and doesn’t really let up much. It’s definitely not radio-friendly. That’s another good thing – we kind of feel like we got there on our own terms again really.
That’s amazing. It’s really weird because we hear your music on the radio all the time at the moment. But you’ve got such an edgy sound – I can’t think of any other group whose music is so heavy but who goes massive so quickly. You’ve got such a niche.
Yeah, I suppose. We don’t really think about it. We’re lucky, our following is very varied. I don’t really analyse it, we just crack on with it.
How does the producing on an album differ now, compared to when you first started in music 25 years ago?
See even you saying that – it doesn’t really compute with me. Being part of the band has meant my life has moved at a different rate compared to my mates who are the same age as me for example. We seem to be in this time capsule that moves album cycle by album cycle. It feels like everything is much slower. 25 years seems insane. As far as the production goes, I have to make sure I keep myself interested in it, otherwise it can be really boring. The new album took this long because it just wasn’t ready to react. We’re not a push-button band. The record companies say, ‘’yeah, it’s time to write an album’’, and that’s kind of the worst thing they could say to me really. We had five tracks written in 2012 and we thought we were on our way, but when we started to play them live, they just didn’t feel like they were coming together. They didn’t feel like they were hitting the right spot, so I ended up binning them all and starting again!! There’s a time when it naturally feels like ‘The Prodigy’ emerges, it just happens to be now.
Is it true you do a lot of night shifts when you write?
On this record, yeah. I found I’d done as much as I could do during the daytime and it began to feel a bit like a 9-to-5 job. I needed to find a way to up the intensity and finish eight of the tracks that I kind of got stuck on. I decided to work all through the night, going to work at 7pm and coming home at like 4 or 5 in the morning. As soon as I did that, the whole outlook changed. Maybe it was psychological, it put my head in a different space.
Did this lead on to the concept of the fox on the artwork?
Yeah. I kept bumping into a fox outside the studio. I think he was sleeping under my car or something and when I pulled off, it woke him up. I thought there was a bit of a comparison between this creature of the night, out there, doing his own thing, and what I was doing So I went with the idea for the artwork, and then came the title, which was an Ella Fitzgerald lyric. The whole concept came together right at the end. With, ‘Invaders Must Die’ we had the artwork and the title right at the beginning, but with this one, it fell into place literally during the last month – that’s the way it goes sometimes.
Can you describe what a studio session is like for ‘The Prodigy?’
It’s chaotic! It comes in all shapes and sizes. At the beginning, I decided in order to keep my own interest, I couldn’t sit at a computer. It’s the one thing I hate about what I do – the fact I have to use this PC to make music. I decided to just use it as a tape machine, flick it to record and just play a lot of stuff. All the first sessions were pretty much live jams and I’d say 80% of the vocals were done within the first 2 or 3 months. It was down to me then to build the tracks and sift through the recordings. We wrote half the album like that. It was cool and it was different to what we’ve done before. Those last three months were amazing. It was probably the best time that I’ve had in the studio. It was insane, really intense and ultimately really creative. I wouldn’t stop writing.
How have you managed to keep your original sound but still make sure your music sounds current?
It’s because I know how important it is to just do that! Once you’ve carved out a sound for yourself, it’s important not to lose that. This album is harder than previous records, but for me it still has the same sonics and attack that we’re known for. I’m not interested in trying to break new ground or reinvent ourselves, that’s not what I believe we should be doing. If you’re reinventing yourselves, it means there’s something wrong with you. For us it’s about writing better tunes, or tunes that do something slightly different to what we’ve done before, but keeping the same ethics and fundamental sound of what we’re about.
What is your favourite track off the new album?
It moves around all the time really. I think ‘The Day Is My Enemy’ is a killer tune. Since we started playing the music live, it changes. I’m sure it will change next month by the time we get to the UK tour. We always make the live versions slightly different to the releases because maybe the arrangements work better a certain way live. I like that because the tracks keep evolving. For example when we play Rebel Radio on the UK tour it’s going to be a remix that people wouldn’t have heard before.
What’s been your favourite era for ‘The Prodigy?’
They’ve all been so different really. Coming from the early rave scene, we were more like a PA then. We hadn’t really developed into what we are now. We’re still loving it, so ask us when we next split up, we’ll be able to look back then! We’re still doing some of the best gigs ever. Invaders was an amazing period because we’d just got back together, so it felt really fresh again. It’s probably easier to say the worst periods. Around early 2000 there was a low point.
You’ve sold 25 million albums over 25 years. How have you managed to keep so level headed about it all?
I don’t know if I have stayed level headed! We’ve been through the ego stage and come out the other side. We’re on a mission, we’re focused, and when you concentrate on something, you do stay level. You just get on with what you wanna do.
What was the first track you ever bought?
Mine was The Specials, ‘Too Much Too Young.’ I didn’t buy it; my dad bought it for me. That was the first record I wanted.
Once you’ve finished touring and smashing the festivals, will you guys be sitting back and taking some time out to relax?
Nah, basically, we control everything we do. We work the gigs the best way we can so that it suits all three of us. We won’t do a solid 4 months and then have loads of time off, that doesn’t work for us. We always keep it rolling and then we’ll stick in little breaks in between. For example, today I’ve come home for a day, to have a little break, and then maybe during the summer we’ll have a couple of weeks off. We’ve all got families so it’s important for us to not get pissed off with it. In the past, like when we did Fat Of The Land, we were on the roads solid for 3 years, and it burnt us all out. So we all set each other rules and we’ve all got to work within those rules. If we go on tour, it’s for a certain amount of weeks and it’s designed so we don’t get annoyed with it.
What’s life like for you when you’re not making music or touring?
I don’t listen to music. I don’t even listen to music in my house. For me, music is not a job, so I’m happy writing beats, I’m just into it. If I get any spare time and I’m not with my family, I’ll still be writing, because that’s what I like.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt from being involved in the music industry?
I’m not in the industry. I pride myself in not being in the industry. The proudest thing I can say about the band is the way we’ve got to this point. We’ve manoeuvred ourselves, weaved in and out and avoided going down the same route most bands have taken. It’s about turning stuff down as much as it is saying yes. People don t know how much we’ve turned down. That’s how we’ve got here today – by making decisions and not selling out.
These questions are from people on Facebook. Rob wants to know if there’s ever been any discussion about making a Dirt Chamber Sessions Volume 2?
Yeah, course. I’m definitely going to do it, that’s all I can say. Maybe it’ll be this year, maybe it’ll be early next. I did Dirt Chamber Volume 1 on XL Recordings, the old label. The next one will be on Take Me To The Hospital Records, my own label. It’s just getting round to doing it! It’s something I can kind of do in the background, as we’re playing gigs, but it does take time. I think now’s a good time, because people want it to come out, so that’s cool.
Liam is born and bred in Braintree and asks, ‘’How much did Essex influence your music, if at all?’’
The important thing about Essex is its location to East London. The whole mixture of hip-hop, break-beat and rave sound was kind of an East London thing, so I spent a lot of my youth there. You’ve only got to look at where the music was being written. We had Suburban Base Records in Romford and Shut Up and Dance in North East London. When I was living in Braintree we used to go to this club called The Barn and once it got rated in the top 10 of clubs! We spent a lot of time there, it was the centre of the sound. But Essex is a different place now. When I lived there, there was no tanning going on! It’s all gone a bit LA for me.
Finally, could you give our readers a piece of advice?
Keep it real. Keep it original. Don’t sell out. Don’t sell your soul.