Keith Flint: "Were one of the few bands who actually came out of a scene, and our arrogance was our punk attitude. "
Keith Flint couldn’t wait to get back on his motorbike after coming off at 240kmh and hitting a barrier while racing at England’s Mallory Park in March, 1999. Although it resulted in ligament damage to a knee, the incident seemed to excite rather than scare him.
"I came off hard, yeah," the dancer, occasional singer and "mad one" of the Prodigy says with a laugh, "but it was all right! It was adrenalin stuff and it didn’t put me off at all. I still motorbike, but I try and make sure I stay on these days, that’s all. "
Despite the tales of recklessness, Flint isn’t a lively interviewee. When I catch him, he’s lounging at home in Essex and barely manages to raise his excitement level to beyond mellow. Asked if he’s softened with age, his reply is telling. "No, not really. Oh, only when I’m stoned. I don’t think so. Errr … I hope not. "
The Prodigy are returning to Australia for the first time since 1998, when they were riding high on the back of their The Fat of the Land album. The album had by then spawned the killer singles Firestarter, Breathe and Smack My Bitch Up, and with Flint’s technicolour haircut and piercings, and Maxim Reality prowling the stage with scary cats’-eyes contacts, their stage act was one of the most incendiary around.
There was a sense, though, that the personalities had become bigger than the music. Does Flint still see any Keith imitators? "Oh, God, no," he groans in his Cockney accent, "but I never saw them, anyway. Only at the shows. I never saw them, like, out and about, down the pub or whatever. "
When I speak to Maxim, as he’s about to walk onstage at the Gold Coast Big Day Out last weekend, he says that’s one of the reasons he’s changed his look. "I lost interest after Marilyn Manson and Limp Bizkit caught on to the cats’ eyes, you know!" he says with a laugh. "I’m not so caught up in shock value or image any more, anyway. I think people perceived us as being a bit cartoonish. "
The Prodigy were formed in Essex in 1990 after Flint, Leeroy Thornhill and a female friend of Keith’s called Sharky began dancing to producer-DJ Liam Howlett’s music when he played out. Maxim Reality (aka Keith Palmer) joined after Howlett realised he needed an MC. Their first single, What Evil Lurks, was released in 1991, with Sharky leaving shortly after. Their next single, Charly, which featured a sample from a BBC public information film, became a British club anthem and was first in a wave of massive hits over the following years.
With the group now recording an album, Flint and Palmer each take a different attitude to the Prodigy’s acid-house rave origins. "I think our rave beginnings are still relevant, yeah," says Flint. "I think we still carry the attitude, really. The attitude of the early stuff still informs what we do today. Musically we’ve moved on, but the vibe remains the same. "
Palmer disagrees. "Those foundations will always be there, and we can’t disrespect what’s gone before or where we’ve come from or our background, but the sound has changed so much, I’m not sure it’s relevant any more. "
With their first album, 1992’s Experience, re-released last year, Flint had a chance to assess the group’s beginnings and reminisce. "I look back on our early days very fondly," he says. "We were doing something really special. It was a time of ignorance, innocence and no concessions towards a perceived commercial success and the ugly side of what we do." He spits out the phrases "commercial success" and "ugly side". Didn’t he enjoy the success and attention surrounding The Fat of the Land album? Was life unpleasant?
"Unpleasant?" he says incredulously. "God, no! Nothing at all unpleasant about it! For me, it’s the dream. The thing is, we’ve learnt to live with it by playing it on our own terms, so that’s why I can laugh at it. We weren’t like, ‘F--- the industry’, either. We’re just really bloody-minded and we knew we’d come across with some sort of authenticity. We’re one of the few bands who actually came out of a scene, and our arrogance was our punk attitude. "
One change since their last Australian tour is the departure of Leeroy Thornhill, who left to concentrate on his solo work as Flightcrank. It seems the group are still tight with the lanky dancer, though. "Leeroy was hanging out with us at the festival shows we did last year in Europe," says Flint. "He just wanted to get out and do his own thing, and we’re cool with that and he’s cool with us. "
"Some of the Flightcrank stuff is good," says Palmer, "and Leeroy is concentrating more on his singing now. I didn’t realise he had such a good voice!"
Flint is tight-lipped about the new album, which carries the provisional title of Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned. Howlett has been beavering away on tracks in his studio for the past couple of years and Flint says there are about nine completed tracks. "We’ve got loads of ideas," he says, "but it’s taking a long time. These things can’t be rushed. "
Palmer says we can perhaps expect a single around September or October and the band hope to release the album by the end of the year. "The new stuff heads down a bit more of a punky route," he says. "Obviously things change, but the material’s definitely very strong – not as hip-hop influenced as everybody thought, either. "
The Prodigy perform three new tracks at the BDO shows. Palmer describes Baby’s Got Temper, which Flint wrote, as "a very strong track that can’t be compared to anything", Trigger as having "a great groove and quite fast", and Nuclear as "a bit punky".
"The reason we’ve introduced them to the set is to see how they work live," he says. "The live set is a testing ground for the response, because the shows go hand-in-hand with the writing. It’s being on the road, capturing a vibe and working with everyone together. We need that balance. "