Like the best elements of his band’s music, pioneering Prodigy producer Liam Howlett doesn’t hold back. It’s been this way since his band first rampaged onto the electronic scene from Braintree back in 1990. And in the 25 years since the band formed, Liam’s band has sold over 20 million records, released 5 chart-topping albums and as an incendiary live force, have continued to headline major festivals worldwide - with Benicassim and Isle Of Wight festival already confirmed for summer 2015. Always eager to wrong foot at the right time, they even had ‘Firestarter’ used in Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony in 2012’s summer Olympics. As erudite as ever, Liam’s come to right a few wrongs and also to discuss their new album, the riff-driven ‘The Day Is My Enemy.’ Listen and learn.      

As a band, you’ve come a long way as a band without doing certain things.... you refused to do Top Of The Pops, for example. The market comes to you.

‘We decided very early on what kind of band we wanted to be and how we wanted to come across. TV isn’t the best environment for us to be on and feel comfortable on… none of us wanted to be stars. That was more of a record company thing. But it wasn’t a rebellious statement – it wasn’t a stand off.  The only thing we ever did was a show called Dance Energy. At this time I’m 19, we were just standing around and I rang out of patience. I was like “BOLLOCKS!” and went over to Janet Street Porter [the producer] and said “I’M GOING!” And she was shouting “you can’t go!” and eventually it all calmed down and we did it. But we’re not dinosaurs, we understand the way the industry has changed. Certain things come along…”

Like The Olympics opening.  

“Yes. What happened was [producer/director] Danny Boyle phoned me up in the studio. I knew he was a fan of the band as he’d tried to get me to do something for The Beach years before. It took ages to convince me… I wanted to know what people would be doing and so Keith and I went down. I felt like the band was important enough to be there. I was proud, man. Only me and Keith and John Lydon actually took the time to go down there. I’m very careful about what we agree to do but I see him hands on like I am hands on. The worst thing would be watching and it ruining my night but it was amazing, man. We were in good company.”

And now you’ve made a new album with incredible anger and intensity. 

“I don’t think it is angry. This is the music I write and it sounds right to me. Over the years, I have been visualizing how it will sound on stage and I know what dynamics I want. People respond to riffs and beats but I’m not an angry person: I hate false anger. Teenagers have every right to be angry but people see through that a mile off. I’m not someone who listens to music at home: I use music to wake me up. ‘Invaders’ was the sound of us getting back together. but it wasn’t a full band album like ‘Fat Of The Land’. This one is live-driven and sounds right.”

Are you friends with Keith and Maxim beyond the stage performance?

“I can’t describe our relationship except to say these are my brothers. Me and Keith had some proper rows on this album but then the dust settles and you never think of it again. Maxim is more the mediator, the wise one. We’re not going out to eat every week, I live in London and the others live in Essex and we’ve all got families. But equally if I rang the lads up and said lets go out on Friday, we do that.”

We’ve heard that Keith bought a pub – isn’t he teetotal?

“He is right now! Have I been there? Yes, it’s near Chelmsford and it’s mega. It’s near his house and it’s out in the middle of the countryside. I’m not a pub goer but I love it.”

We hear you’re into cars…?

“I’ve always had cars but they’re the same ones I’ve had for years. I’m not a racer. I just love being in the studio and always want to write stuff. I rinsed my brain doing this record, mentally and physically but it got better when I flipped to working at night. I would hang out with my missus [during the day] and at night, go to work. There’s something cool about working at nighttime: it’s when interesting things happen. All our gigs, all our inspirations… always at night.”

We asked Twitter for some questions and the best three are below. Firstly, what would the 19 year old Liam think of the Liam of today?

“He’d think he’s a right miserable cunt! I don’t know. I am the same person. I’ve always been a control freak. When you have a vision of how you want a tune to be, the artwork and so in, if you didn’t think about these things, I would be suspicious… and the band has enabled me to do that. Being in this band, I feel like it’s been a slow time capsule. Album to album, not year to year, blocks of time. I’m the same person but with a wise head on me.” 

Will there ever be a b side collection?

“I know the fans want to hear this but if it ain’t pushing my buttons… it’s only going to come out if its exciting me. I’d rather record new stuff than mess around with old stuff. 

Is The Day Is My Enemy in the top 3 albums you’ve made?

“Yes! It’s my favourite album I’ve made. When other bands say that they’re bullshitting but I know this is the best album I’ve made all the way through because of the consistency and how it represents us. The other albums had big hitting tunes but ‘Jilted’ is too fucking long! That pisses me off. And ‘Fat Of The Land’ has killer tunes but it ain’t consistently strong.” 

Where do you hear new music now? 

“It gets to me. I’m not standing in clubs, my clubbing days are done. But its my job as a producer to listen. With thus record, its important to listen to music. But I didn’t have to tap into what’s going on, that’s for Madonna! The Prodigy is Public Enemy and The Sex Pistols with rave. And that’s what this album is too, it’s the same ingredients going into the pot. You want it to sound fresh but it might be from a production technique. You want something that pokes its head out! Not the formula shit!”

You came across as quite outspoken in The Guardian. 

“It didn’t come across how I wanted it to. Use your mind and push it forward or you’ll sound like everyone else. There are too many options to grab this and that and it’s by numbers. I haven’t coped with the commercialisation of dance music, the way it’s become so mainstream. I’m not into mainstream. As a kid, you’d hear ‘Come On Eileen’ and then out of that crap comes [a band like] The Specials. Musically they’re proper. People can’t pretend to be one thing. I’m the real deal.”

How much if at all do those early experiences inform what you do now?

“I am a firm believer that you are what you are built off of… the way hip hop and punk rock are installed into me, I can’t change the way I am. Going to Raindance in the pissing rain and the car breaking down, this is what this album is. ‘Destroy’ sounds old school and it is! But I’m not an old school head – I’m not someone who thinks the old tunes are better. The band has kept me young. And I look young!”

You can't be bald and in a rock band. Or at least, you can’t let on.  

“That’s one thing my brother in law always tells me: you cant be bald and in a band. Time’s ticking on. Everything we do is real. We don’t make plans any more.”

 Rahul Singh, Rex Features

Rahul Singh, Rex Features

 

Originally published in Mixmag / April 2015