When a musician steps out from behind the scenes to become the artist-in-focus, it’s not always a smooth transition. But for Neil Davidge, who has been crucially involved in both production and songwriting with trip hop pioneers Massive Attack since their seminal 1998 LP Mezzanine, debut solo album Slo Light lives up to the standard of his earlier career achievements.
“I’m very proud of the work that I did with Massive Attack, so it’s not like I feel like I need to distance myself from that work in any way,” he says. “I set out to make the most honest record I could at this time in my life.”
Davidge’s CV also boasts a number of film and video game soundtracks, some composed alone (Push, Halo 4) and others made with Massive Attack’s Robert Del Naja (Bullet Boy, Trouble The Water). Although Davidge has been integral to a number of highly regarded studio productions for well over a decade, he’s never been shoved up front for interviews or album promotion.
“I’m typically English,” he chuckles. “I don’t actually like imposing myself on other people. The last thing I want to do is say, ‘Check my album out, you’ll love it! I make great music, buy my records!’ It’s just not me.”
Davidge mightn’t be thrilled about adopting salesman rhetoric to draw attention to his music, but the strength of his new material should ease the pressure. Slo Light is a warmly produced, vividly emotional journey. And it’s something he’s very proud of.
“In terms of my life’s work, Mezzanine was probably the first record I made that I thought, ‘Wow, that’s a good record.’ It’s not perfect, but it’s a good record. This album, I feel the same way about it. It’s not perfect, but it’s good and I think people will like it.”
Every track on Slo Light features a guest vocalist, ranging from up-and-comers Stephonik Youth (Living Days) and Cate Le Bon to a surprising cameo from (supposedly retired) ’60s pop singer Sandie Shaw. These days it’s common for producers to partner with a number of different vocalists on an album, and Massive Attack essentially paved the way with this format.
“I didn’t actually consciously say, ‘OK, I’m going to try and make all of these tracks fit together and make it sound like a cohesive album’. One of the first albums I owned was Abbey Road by The Beatles – every track is very different from the last one. So, if anything, the only thing I did set out to do was to make an album [on which] there was a real journey from one track to the next, and also within each track.”
Slo Light confirms the 51-year-old Bristol producer is more than capable of presiding over a stunning body of work himself. The question is, what prevented Davidge from going out on his own until now?
“There was never really a need for me to express myself as ‘Neil Davidge’ because I was expressing myself through Massive Attack,” he says. “It was actually when we’d made three albums together, I’d been working with them for 18 years, and it just felt like, ‘OK, we’ve done some great work together and I really don’t want it to slip.’ So I set up my own place and I found myself sat in the studio thinking, ‘What do I do now?’ That was when [I had] the idea for putting together a solo album.”
Slo Light out now through Shock.