Liam Howlett The Exclaim! Questionnaire
Published Sep 01, 2004What are you up to?
I thought I could put my feet up after I finished the record but I forgot about all of the promo I have to do. So that whole thing started, but it's kinda cool because I'm happy with my record and I can talk about it all day long. So, I'm just spending the time meeting the other guys in the band, working out a live show.
What are your current fixations?
I think the last time I was truly blown away by a movie was City Of God. I really liked the film and bought the DVD, but I really liked the documentary. The film, of course, was amazing, but the documentary really blew my mind. On the music side, I keep my ear on the ground and listen to what's going on. There's one track by Nightbreed called "Pack Of Wolves," it's like a fusion of punk rock and drum & bass that is really good.
Why do you live where you do?
I've got two houses one in London and a house in the country. When I'm working I'm living in London and when I'm relaxing I go out to the country. Right this minute I'm in the country doing my interviews on the phone and I've got the baby. So it's kinda cool having both places and they're only an hour apart. I live in London most of the time because I like the vibrancy, it's a great place to go out. It's a young city, where it's happening. When I want to shut off, we just drive an hour and come here.
Name something you consider a mind-altering work:
There has been nothing lately that has gone "Pow!" to me. I try and get out and see and hear as much as I can, but maybe it's because I'm not as naïve anymore. As I've gotten older, I've become more desensitised and things don't surprise me or make me go "Wow!" as much.
What has been your most memorable or inspirational gig and why?
The gig we did in Moscow's Red Square was just insane. It just seemed so surreal and abstract. We were there sitting in the middle. One minute I would be engrossed in what I was doing and the next I would be looking around at the scenery. It was just so abstract. And then looking out to the crowd when the police didn't know what to do because the kids were going mad and they pulled their truncheons out and tried to beat them back. It was just insane, man. I think 20,000 people paid and then another 60,000 people showed up because it was so loud. There were people as far as I could see. It was fucking incredible.
What have been your career highs and lows?
When I think back, because I have a really bad memory, I try and think of how I felt at the time I signed my record deal. I was so happy just to go, "Fuck it," I am now out of my job and doing something I really wanted to do. That was a really good time. That was a career high. There have been many, like Red Square, and the success you feel when you've written something in the studio before you play it for anyone else. I kind of get a get a big rush when I get something down that I feel is a good part, like a beat, even. That is when I feel successful, when I have just accomplished something.
The lows were around 2002, when we released our last single ["Baby's Got A Temper"]. I was in a situation where I felt very stagnant as a writer. I kind of had that stage where I was in the studio, locked in a room, and I wasn't depressed, but it just felt like it was a general time of no ideas.
What's the meanest thing ever said to you before, during or after a gig?
It's too loud. Basically I was standing on stage watching people down the front holding their ears going, "It's too loud!" I don't know if that was actually mean because it was pretty funny.
What should everyone shut up about?
Black Eyed Peas. I shouldn't go on about it because my stepdaughter loves them but I've had enough.
What traits do you most like and most dislike about yourself?
I like my ability to get excited about the simplest thing in music. What I don't like is that I try and control everything. I'm a control freak. I'm the type of person where if I don't do something, it ain't going to be done properly. I hate that.
What advice should you have taken, but did not?
I should have listened to my gut instinct about "Baby's Got A Temper." At the end of the day, things didn't work out too badly. It's a whole learning curve. I think at the time I was disappointed for not listening to my own advice.
What would make you kick someone out of your band and/or bed, and have you?
Well I'm married now, so we'll just say band. Disrespect. There's got to be a level of respect. When someone's doing it for the wrong reasons. When someone doesn't pull their weight. I'm not the boss. I don't want to be big boss man. Leroy left the band because his legs nearly fell apart, and I wish he would come back. We're all together and we're still friends.
What do you think of when you think of Canada?
I think of my wife [former All Saint Natalie Appleton]. She always goes on about Canada and being Canadian. I also think of her tattoo, a maple leaf on her inner lower part.
What is your daily vital ritual?
I like to have a glass of champagne at night. It ends the day nicely. I'm not an alcoholic, but I like the buzz of it.
What are your feelings on piracy, internet or otherwise?
I think it's a shame but most of the people that do it are fans of the band. They do it for reasons where they genuinely want to hear the music. They don't just want to rip it and sell it. There are two types of pirates: the kids that are excited and just want to get advanced copies and then there's the people who just don't give a shit. Those are the ones that need to be hung. It has an impact, unfortunately, if the record is leaked on the internet. I don't think the kids realize that if it affects record sales it makes promoters think bands aren't as popular and they don't get booked for gigs. I don't think they consider that when they burn shit.
What was your most memorable day job?
Car cleaning. On freezing cold mornings when I was 14, I used to work Saturdays. I'd go to school during the week and earn my 15 pounds on a Saturday by cleaning 15 cars. Even when it snowed, I'd clean the snow off the car and polish it with my hands turning blue. My boss used to come out at the end of the day. He was a horrible, fat fucker, and he would come up to me with his fat beer stomach and his wad of money, thinking, "Look at me," while he just peeled off a ten and a five pound note and give it to me while he had about 500 pounds in his hand. He was horrible and that's why I remember it. So when I had loads of money, I went round to him and smashed him over the head with five grand. No, I'm joking.
How do you spoil yourself?
I used to spoil myself a lot more than I do now. I kind of used to fucking spend all the money I earned on shit and rubbish, clothes and going out partying, but I've toned it down a bit. I still like partying but most of the money goes towards having a good time. Y'know, just partying man, that's what I do.
If I wasn't playing music I would be:
I would be in advertising. Before I started the Prodigy, I was in art school and went on to work for magazines and graphic design. I was always into creative things and I would do music along with my job.
What do you fear most?
I haven't got any fears. I'm not that type of person. I just decide to live my life with a philosophy of things that are meant to be are meant to be.
What makes you want to take it off and get it on?
My wife. I've got a baby, I've got proof of that.
What has been your strangest celebrity encounter?
I was in L.A. four years ago and we had done a gig. I came outside into the car park, where the tour bus was, and this guy came up to me and swore to God I was his brother. "Steve, fuck man! My brother, man!" He was freaking out, he was totally fucked, like he was on acid. He was crying and hanging off me. People were just freaked out. In the end, I had to grab a bottle and smash it on the ground and go, "Fucking leave me alone man." It was a pretty heavy situation. It had done my head in. I had to try and get violent to ward him off. I've had many weird things happen to me like that. People knocking on my door telling me I've written the devil's music when I did "Firestarter." There was this one lunatic churchgoer that came around with his kid and tried to get into my house, so I had to beat him down to get him out of my house. Those are the kinds of things that have happened to me over the past few years. It's been pretty fucked up.
Who would be your ideal dinner guest, living or dead, and what would you serve them?
Do you who Rolf Harris is? He's the Australian artist. I'd like to have dinner with him because I think he's insane. He would just sit there and make noises [he impersonates a chimp] like that shit. I think he would be fascinating and it would be exciting to have dinner with him. I think he'd like, I don't know really, but whatever food you gave him he would be the type of person that would make shapes with the food and try to make animals by moving the food around.
What does your mom wish you were doing instead?
When she heard some of my music I think she wished I had stayed with my artist job.
Given the opportunity to choose, how would you like to die?
I've often talked about this on mad nights, sitting there drunk. It's one that always comes up. I'd hate to burn alive, that's likely the worst. I think drowning must be quite peaceful because you go from sheer panic to kind of bliss. If I had to choose I would probably get in the fastest sports car I could find and drive off the cliffs of Dover playing the Sex Pistols. It would be the ultimate English death.
The Prodigy has been away for a very long time. Their Billboard-topping 1997 album, The Fat Of The Land, took them to the top of the booming electronica heap, only to see them vanish from the limelight. But ringleader Liam Howlett is back with Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned, an album full of fierce, violent beats and a powerful surge of electro-punk and hip hop that features high profile guests like Juliette Lewis, Kool Keith and his brother-in-law, Liam Gallagher.
Missing, though, is the punk with the silly green reverse mohawk and the tall one with the crazy eyes. Howlett explains, "I called Keith and Maxim into the studio after I'd written Girls' and Wake Up Call' and explained to them that we have to take this album live and we're all still a band, but I wanted to go back and bring people's attention to the music more."
With four very different albums to date, Howlett's music has continuously evolved while selling millions of records. He adds, "The Prodigy has always been the best when it is unpredictable and moving around in many directions. So what I had to do was take it back to the beats, back to sampling culture."
And sampling is one of the album's finer points, especially his brave attempt to mess with Michael Jackson's "Thriller," a song that came with a hefty price tag. "It was difficult. I had to give a lot of the publishing away, but I like the idea of taking what is probably the most famous song of the 80s and just tearing the arse out of it."