The Prodigy star Liam Howlett opens up about how he ‘nearly killed himself in the studio — working has to be intense’ after release of band’s SIXTH No1 album
Most 28-year-old bands - if they've lasted that long - will be playing their golden oldies in front of nostalgia fans...not celebrating their sixth straight No1 album
It is like a museum to the band, strewn with limited-edition vinyl, original artwork, Prodigy-branded beer and a die-cast model bus from the cover of the dance trio’s latest album, No Tourists.
“I guess it is my man cave,” Howlett says with a smile. “It’s where we hang out, where most things start and where we finish late. All this stuff here is because my wife tells me, ‘I’m not having that in the house!’”
We meet between tours for Howlett, who finished a run of thrilling UK shows last week and is getting ready to return to the road, touring Europe as the band celebrate an amazing SIXTH consecutive No1 album.
“We don’t ever expect it because we are not in the public eye and we don’t get radio play,” Howlett says. “We know what we are and we don’t ever expect to have a record do well.
“We don’t take it for granted, especially now, so it’s a good result for the fans who went out and supported us.”
Howlett, who has been married to All Saints singer Natalie Appleton since 2002, says: “Once I’d made the track with my rapper friends from New Jersey, within six months I had six really good ideas. I told the guys I was half way to making an album.”
It was Howlett’s most intensive period of work ever, he says.
“It usually takes five years (to make an album) as we do a lot of the work on the road, which sounds f***ing crazy. But from that point, I came in here every day, sometimes on just three hours’ sleep, as night is the best time to write.
Just a few years ago, Howlett and his bandmates Keith Flint and Maxim (aka Keith Palmer) thought they would never make another album.
They had opted to focus on EPs, having decided albums were too time-consuming.
But a collaboration with US hip hop group Ho99o9 set the ball rolling for a seventh album.
“I am lucky that I have a great wife who supported me through this. Because Nat is in the industry, she understands it. She gets it.
“It was really intense but once I am in that zone, I can roll. It was just me and my assistant Olly in here and I nearly broke him!
“I nearly killed myself in the studio, as working has to be intense. Otherwise it doesn’t mean anything to me. I was like a machine.”
Like The Prodigy’s electrifying live shows, No Tourists comes at the listener like an assault on the senses.
Howlett says: “I talk about the ‘attack’ of my music. It has an atmosphere and tension that jumps out.
“That’s really important in all of the tunes. With this record I wanted to remind people of the different sides of the band.
“But I didn’t want to make a retro record. I always wanted to sound fresh.
“With some of the tracks, it was about bringing in early rave influences and moulding them with violent beats.”
New single Timebomb Zone is classic Prodigy and samples 1986 Alfonso electro-rap track Time Bomb, featuring Jimi Tunnell.
Howlett says of the single: “That track shows an important side to The Prodigy — that we don’t back ourselves into a corner where we just have to do vocal tracks. I don’t really know any other band that can do that.”
Howlett says he didn’t want too many samples on the album.
“I chose a few key ones I liked,” he tells me. “The Loleatta Holloway track (1984’s Crash Goes Love, sampled on Need Some1) was a big part of rave culture. I think about it as a sound, not as a vocal.
“When I hear her voice, it takes me right back to 1990. It’s a total snapshot of then, mixed with the beats I’m doing now.”
Even with The Prodigy’s reputation as one of the greatest live bands around, Howlett says their recent shows are some of the best in their 28-year history.
Taking a drag on his vape, he says: “The gigs are better now. We loved all the gigs in the Nineties — that was the evolving of the band.
“Music For The Jilted Generation (1994) built our style while The Fat Of The Land (1997) cemented it.
“It wasn’t until when we released the Singles album (2005’s Their Law) and then Invaders Must Die (2009) that I found the best way to play the music live. New equipment came out and suddenly we were able to really f*** around with the tracks and make it much more interesting live. At that point we had a third wind!”
The Prodigy have always been more interested in being a rock band than a dance outfit, while defying genre boundaries with their music.
“It’s very rare we do any dance events in America,” says Howlett. “We always play rock festivals because it’s more our audience.
“At Coachella, you can’t take a beer in the crowd for God’s sake! What is that?!
“It doesn’t make sense. I’m not slagging off the festival or the country but you are at a festival and you can’t drink . . . yet buying weed is legal.”
Howlett says giving up drinking before No Tourists dramatically boosted his workrate.
“The party is always lurking in the background,” he admits. “It’s always there to be had but I couldn’t afford to be in bed hungover with this record, as everything comes to a grinding halt if I’m not there.
“I stopped drinking after the last album, as I worried I would have a problem if I didn’t stop.
“There was a lot of going out and getting p***ed with the last record.
“Now, if I go out, I just have a couple of drinks. But it has to be a special occasion for me to have a drink.”
Howlett, who has 14-year-old son Ace and 26-year-old stepdaughter Rachel with Appleton, says that as a parent he hopes younger fans are sensible when it comes to drugs.
“It’s something you can’t avoid and I just hope my kids are sensible like I was,” he says.
“As a dad, you have to allow that conversation to be open. My nan used to say, ‘Don’t do this and that’ — and I did it all.
“You just want your kids to come and talk to you.
“Some people get caught up in it. That’s just the way they are.
“I’ve got friends who are f***ed and others who’ve been in and out of rehab and are fine now.”
On the subject of fatherhood, Howlett says he’s enjoying being a “cool dad” to Ace.
“He brought his friends to one of the Ally Pally gigs and they all had a go on the drums. It was hilarious. I’d remember that for years if I’d experienced that as a kid.
“My son takes it all in his stride but later on he will go, ‘Thanks, Dad’.”
Howlett has never craved the spotlight at home.
He says: “I am anti-celebrity and that side of things was never in the frame for us.
“We’ve just had a No1 album but we are an underground band and have ethics. We’ve never sold out and I’m proud of that. We’d burned ourselves out in the late Nineties, so I met Nat at the right time. Keith and I weren’t speaking.
“If there was any celebrity stuff, LG (Liam Gallagher, who was married to Natalie’s sister Nicole) was there, so he got the hassle and ran the other way. We were left alone.” Today, Howlett says, The Prodigy’s three members are like brothers.
“Me and Keith are getting on at the moment, which is great,” he says.
“We’ve got each other’s backs and love each other to death but we are not in each other’s pockets. Maxim too.
“We respect our space and nothing is a problem. We just deal with it because we are locked in together.
“We know how to balance things these days.
“We don’t usually go out on the road for more than three weeks at a time.
“Then we see family, regroup and go back into the studio. Otherwise, it’s too much.
“We’ve sorted that out. We are on a roll and life is good. I sweated my b******s off making this record and now I’m enjoying it. I’m on a roll and I don’t want anything to spoil that.”