Archive: "You can't do 20 years of pure misery"
Along with Massive Attack and Portishead, they’re one of the most important trip-hop bands of all time, and 20 years later Archive is one of the only groups left standing. But at what cost? We spoke to bandmembers Danny Griffiths and Dave Pen about how they stay positive in the face of Brexit and Donald Trump...
cafébabel: What is a False Foundation?
Danny Griffiths: It's based around the idea we can be manipulated, especially during these very confusing times we are living in. I don't think anybody knows what the hell is really going on. Things begin as a joke and end up being the most serious matters. Take Donald Trump. When that guy said he was running for President, everybody laughed. Same in England with UKIP and Brexit... And it just feel like I think it's been in people's consciousness for quite a while, that these slow-moving powers are rising up and everything feels so fake. It doesn't feel real.
Dave Pen: It's also inspired by a story I read about a survivor of the Jonestown Massacre, which again is about someone who was in a position of incredible power, who started so small and built and built until it ended in disaster. We were quite inspired by that, and that's the reason why it felt like the right title for the album.
cafébabel: Are you confused as well by the way the world is going?
Danny: I was absolutely shocked by Brexit. I wasn't expected that. It makes you think you have no say in anything. It happened with the Iraq War, too. At least in France you riot and you kick off when you're not happy. We Brits aren't good at that, we moan like we moan about the weather, but we don't really do anything. So when the Brexit happened, it was a proper shock. Trump wasn't a surprise, because I also believed the Americans were crazy enough to do it. There were needy people over there who weren't being spoken for, and he said exactly what they wanted to hear, like proper politicians do.
Dave: The power of marketing can be evil! If you just keep banging into people's conscious, saying 'fear this, fear that,' you can easily sway people. It's awful, how they do it, it's really fucked up! And they have massive power. It's pretty dark.
Danny: I feel like we're going backwards as well. Before Trump, there was Obama and we saw a step forward as a change. We had a black president who was doing good things, maybe not as much as we wanted but still... And then comes this guy who's not even a politician. He got the media, the money and he is here now. Scary! And we're going backwards in the UK with Brexit, it's pretty dark days. And we titled the album False Foundation actually before this happened.
cafébabel: What do you think of the situation in the UK?
Dave: What's weird about England, and I think a majority of the West, all this shit happens but we're all like, "Oh, is I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here on?" Everybody still goes out and gets fucked up at the weekend. It's mental. There's no rallying really, there's no big events. Everyone just carries on. Everyone's still just getting ready for Christmas, spending money on food. It's mad.
Danny: We need Bill Hicks back right now, to talk about all this!
cafébabel: Could you name a public figure who might embody a brighter future?
Dave: Movements like Momentum with Jeremy Corbyn and stuff, it gives people hope but how realistic is it, what he is saying? How realistic are the things he wants to do?
Danny: The problem is, if he would put in practice what he says then it would be amazing because he really speaks to the people. And he goes against all the others like the Theresa Mays and Boris Johnsons of the world, all those scumbags. So he says what we want to hear, but he's still a politician, you know? And who trust politicians really?
Dave: It's an impossible job. If he can really do something different I think it could win over a lot more people and I really hope that more people see the light. People do need a bit of hope and he does bring that.
cafébabel: You don't have any faith in politics?
Danny: Not at the moment.
cafébabel: But not never?
Danny: There was hope for America when Bernie Sanders was running. But once he was gone, they were left with a choice between two corrupt and evil human beings. Things seems to be already organized. It's already planned ahead. For the Brexit, it was like: did that really happen? Such a bizarre thing. And now even the people who voted out are complaining because the pound is dropping...
cafébabel: You think there's a conspiracy or something?
Danny: Well, nothing surprises me in politics. I'm not a massively into conspiracies, it's just weird how it happened with Brexit. The politicians who voted for it suddenly disappear, like Nigel Farage, he went to work with Trump. And one day Theresa May is in power and no one voted for her. David Cameron just did a runner. It's like they all talked about it beforehand and got it planned out.
Dave: But there's conspiracies about the banks and the money, maybe now England uniting with America to become this global force, this financial global beast. There are a lot of theories that could drive you mad.
cafébabel: How do these events reflect on your music ?
Dave: I think it's just the frustration of it, in an artist's point of view. You really take inspiration from that. As dark as the content might be, we just have to do it with a positive energy. There is one thing about making music that I love. People say "Oh, it's too dark," but if you get into it, the energy inside it, that's our expression of frustration. That's how we use it. We always write about dark concepts. We are not a band who would write about happiness. We're not a pop group.
cafébabel: Would you say Archive was about a positive reaction to something dark?
Danny: I think we didn't really know what we were doing at the first place. But in the lyrics, we talked about people on the street and observational things back then. I suppose that was always in there, and as we've grown we've learnt to dwell in positive misery.
Dave: But you can't do 20 years of pure misery [laughs].
Danny: The music itself speak for that, even without lyrics. This diversity and the energy is integral to our work. And things that we do in the world - we're not into massively into politics, but we do observe. We read the paper, read what's going on, write about that. And then we slip in the occasional love song.
cafébabel: The most obvious thing you did on the political level was in 2009 with the album Controlling Crowds. Was it a political stance against something?
Danny: Controlling Crowds was supposed to be EP and once we started writing it just grew into an album. It was a very observational album, and this one is almost like a sister to it in a way, we've gone back to it. The albums in between have purposefully been different.
cafébabel: I have the impression Archive’s work is often surrounding by mystery, evolution, progress, new start, transformation, revision... What do you want to express with Archive as an artistic collective ?
Danny: It might be a cliché to say, but I think Archive is really about the music. We are not expanding into the visual things. There is no one face of Archive, it's not like a normal band. If we had our way we wouldn't even do press shots. We prefer to put a naked dwarf on the cover, or an elephant or something. I don't think our fans need all that. After 20 years, some of them are still trying to find things out about us, which is great. We don't just give it all away, and that keeps Archive interesting.
cafébabel: What was the objective of creating a collective rather than a band ?
Danny: In a way, that's what Londinium [their first album, Ed.] was originally about. I loved the native tongues, we had A Tribe Called Quest and Jungle Brothers and De La Soul and Black Sheep all working with each other. We went through the band phase and we realised that it's not all about one person. Everyone writes together.
Dave: A lot of people came in from other groups, I came in from another group that still functioning. It just felt freer for us all. The pressure just came off.
Danny: It's so much nicer to have other people coming in and getting involved. There's a lot of good energy coming in. And I think it's the reason why we are still here. We keep it open and interesting.
cafébabel: You toured a lot around Europe in the past few years. You know the Old Continent better than the average European because you've travelled around so many countries. How Europe is like for you guys ?
Dave: It's a joy. It's an absolute pleasure. You come and you see different cultures, you see the different ways people live. It's just amazing to see how certain countries, especially in Eastern Europe, have grown. Eastern Europe has just become the same as the West. We walk down a high street in Warsaw and tit could be a street in Southampton. It's just the same wherever you go and it looks a bit odd. And then you see sides of the culture who want to stay as they are; Ukraine, Georgia, Turkey... it's just really inspiring. But it also represent how the world can be a bit scary. When you're going to places you've never been you don't quite know what to expect...
Danny: You find yourself out of your comfort zone all the time. Sometimes on tour you just want to stay backstage or on a bus, because it's comfortable. It's just like your home for seven weeks.
Dave: You get to know places really well. Since Brexit, we took some shit in a bar in France because we were British. I don't want to say where it was; but some guys insulted us. I don't want have to defend myself because of a decision made by 51% of the country where I'm living. This is what I tired to explain to the guys. And I said to them, "You want to have a good look at your own culture and your own country, what's happening with Le Pen. It's scary times." And these guys were just dumb. It was horrible thing. Just beacause I was English they were like "Ah, your fucking Brexit..." Stuff like that is just not nice, because we've always been a big part of Europe. Just because we were English, we had to take a couple of body blows for these idiots. But I shouldn't say they were idiots because a lot of intelligent people voted Leave too, that's the problem with painting everyone with the same brush. You have to have an open mind. But we love travelling around Europe.
Danny: I remember Moscow, it was exactly what I imagined to be. A lot of places are very different to how you expect, but Moscow really is as grim as I thought it would be [laughs]. It was cold and grim and everyone looked like they wanted to kill you! (But not the fans!)
cafébabel: You've had less success in the UK than the rest of Europe. How do you explain that ? Do you care ? Does it disappoint you ?
Danny: It's a bit of a funny situation. I wouldn't say I don't care cause I like going back home and it just being normal. But on the other hand, I'm a bit frustrated because you want as many people to like your music as possible. I'd rather do better other countries in Europe, but I just get frustrated of explaining myself in the UK. Nobody really believes what I do. Half of my friends have never listened to my music, they just know I disappear for a few weeks to a studio or on tour.
Dave: We've been getting some plays on the national radio we didn't have before. It slow because England is swamped with really good and really terrible music. To get what we've got so far is good at the moment. We don't really lose some sleep over it, though,we just keep going. If it breaks it breaks if it doesn't...
cafébabel: You grew up in an era where rip hop and hip-hop were massive in the 90’s. What was it like to grow up in London at that time?
Danny: I loved it. I started working in a record shops when I was 17 in 1987. Just to sell hip hop. They offered me a job because no one knew about hip hop as much as I did at that time. And then the house scene started kicking off as well, and I love great house music, it's really good dance music. And then with Massive Attack and Portishead, we grew up in a kind of the same kind of music background. There's soul in there, hip hop, good techno. Other bands like the Happy Mondays and the Stone Roses came out at that time as well. We actually had really great music to listen on the radio. They were great times.
cafébabel: In 20 years of your career, what do you think has been the most important evolution in music?
Dave: The Internet - it ruined everything!
Danny: It changed everything. All the old ways of doing things went out the window.
Dave: If you look on the bright side of it, it gave artists a lot more control. You used to have these big advances from record labels with money pumped into them, and when that ended the artists said "I'm not going to do what you tell me to do, I'll do exactly what I want to do," which is the best thing to come out it all. The money would have been nice, though... But if you think about Dizzee Rascal's first album, which he did all at home, and then the electronic music scene blossomed - people realised they didn't have to spend so much money in a studio when they could just do it all themselves.