The Prodigy’s Liam Howlett is in the mood to divulge secrets.
For a start, the band’s seminal Firestarter video came about by accident, the music producer and songwriter reveals – after he “binned” the video that was intended to accompany the track.
“We’ve probably thrown away four or five finished videos,” Howlett confides. “The guy finished the video for Firestarter and I just hated it and thought it wasn’t good enough for the song.
“In the original Keef was in a straight jacket and had this ball bouncing – it was just nonsense. It cost like £100,000 but I just put it in the bin.”
Much to the consternation of the band’s label, XL Recordings, one assumes – given all that time and money spent shooting and editing the video for it all to go down the drain.
Liam says he “made a few calls”, however, and got director Walter Stern on board – having worked with him previously.
“Videos cost a lot more money in those days and I think we only had £20,000 left, so I asked Walter if he could help us out.
“The reason why the video was black and white was because we couldn’t pay for colour,” he adds.
Having the menacing-looking Keith Flint perform in a disused London Underground tunnel in anything but black and white seems unthinkable now, but Liam promises it wasn’t a conscious decision.
“This is how these things happen with our band, they’re very spontaneous. None of it is pre-conceived or contrived in any way. We go with the flow of what feels good and what feels real.”
After a four-day shoot for the original, the new video was shot in one day: “We all moaned, everyone was whingeing we’re gonna get asbestos poisoning from the tunnel – from being down there sweating [like crazy] – but the result is great. It’s one of the greatest videos ever.”
Fortunately, the 47-year-old didn’t get his way over the controversial and groundbreaking Smack My Bitch Up video. He admits to falling out with the video’s Swedish director Jonas Akerlund because he didn’t like it.
“I saw it before it had any of the effects on it – it was just a guy – or a girl, as it happens – walking around with the camera – and it didn’t have any of the drugged-out effects on it yet.
“But when I saw it in the end, I was like… this is amazing.”
‘We’re not a retro band’
The Prodigy are back with their seventh studio album, No Tourists, which relies heavily – some may say too heavily – on the group’s old sound.
To listen to the album brings a comfort and familiarity – perhaps a strange achievement for the abrasive electronic sounds the band are renowned for.
“We’re not a retro band – we don’t want to ever be retro,” Howlett insists. “Songs have to have a freshness about them. Even though I’ve utilised that early rave sound quite a bit, it’s still welded to the violent beats of right now.
“It just makes me ill when bands jump on the latest craze and they do whatever the latest thing is now. We’re not a band that are embarrassed of our roots,” he continues. “We own that sound, we created it.
“We’re not interested in reinventing ourselves, because we’re happy with ourselves – we don’t need to.”
Collaborations are for ‘weak artists’
The group, which first emerged in the 1990s underground rave scene, have used a number of guest vocalists on previous tracks. Artists to have lent their voices to Prodigy records range from Liam Gallagher to Juliette Lewis, but Howlett says he hasn’t the slightest intention of working with other producers or DJs.
“You don’t put Gordon Ramsay in a kitchen with Jamie Oliver, do you? It’s just pointless. They’d just get in my way – and don’t get in my way,” he warns sternly.
“I think when you’ve got this producer, that producer, two vocalists and a rapper it just looks like it’s just for money. It annoys the [hell] out of me – and I’ll never stop being annoyed about it.
“It’s like a load of weak artists put together to try and get one good one,” he adds.
‘We don’t mix politics and music’
Surprisingly, for a band that has represented a counter culture in the UK over three decades, the producer says The Prodigy is not openly political.
“We’re not a political band, we’re an escapism band,” he says.
“We don’t ever want to stand on stage and preach our beliefs to people – I personally don’t like that. We try not to mix politics in our music.”
Howlett does, however, go on to add that No Tourists is about the “current climate”.
“It’s about not getting drawn into this so-called tourist path. People have got a bit lazy with that and they need to jump off the path and explore a bit.
“It’s really important that people still go manual and go ‘Hold on a minute,’ and look over there and see what’s going on.”
So is there anything off the beaten path that is on his to-do-list?
Howlett, who has been married to All Saint Natalie Appleton for 16 years, goes back into confessional mode and admits to being a massive fan of horror films – appropriate given we’re talking on Halloween.
“I feel like at some point I’m going to be doing a soundtrack to one – I’ve just gotta find the right one. Gotta do that – it’s definitely on the list,” he adds.
A collaboration with his wife’s band, perhaps? Funnily enough, “It’s never come up,” he says.
But in the spirit of how we started, he leaves me with one more snippet: “I’ll let you into a secret, though,” he says. “My wife did do the opening vocal on Spitfire.
“Not many people know that.”
The Prodigy’s album No Tourists is available now.
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