Faithless: All the trouble in the world

Faithless are back with a new album and a huge tour. And this time Britain's biggest dance band have some weighty matters to address, they tell Alexia Loundras
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"It's this place," gushes Maxi Jazz, the rapper in Faithless. "It's just so vibe-y." For house-music veterans, the band have an unlikely hippie disposition. Tucked away in the small corner of Copenhagen that makes up the "free state of Christiania", the band's live core - Jazz, a Buddhist and self-professed fry-up master, and the classical pianist turned DJ Sister Bliss - are in their element. The pair have just finished soundchecking for tonight's 2,000-capacity sold-out gig and the venue - a huge wooden hall with a ceiling like the hull of a Viking ship from which hangs a chandelier made of tiny milk bottles and whitewashed bicycle frames - is just as impressive as the liberal social experiment that spawned the idyllic community.

"It's this place," gushes Maxi Jazz, the rapper in Faithless. "It's just so vibe-y." For house-music veterans, the band have an unlikely hippie disposition. Tucked away in the small corner of Copenhagen that makes up the "free state of Christiania", the band's live core - Jazz, a Buddhist and self-professed fry-up master, and the classical pianist turned DJ Sister Bliss - are in their element. The pair have just finished soundchecking for tonight's 2,000-capacity sold-out gig and the venue - a huge wooden hall with a ceiling like the hull of a Viking ship from which hangs a chandelier made of tiny milk bottles and whitewashed bicycle frames - is just as impressive as the liberal social experiment that spawned the idyllic community.

"I love the idea that people can live here exactly the way they want to," says Jazz.

Faithless face a summer packed with festival performances and a marathon 18-month tour to promote their fourth, and most ambitious, album, No Roots. After nine years, the novelty of living on the road together has worn thin. They are not entirely looking forward to what they call their "global schlep".

"Travelling like this," says Jazz, "is like being given a nice big piece of cake and only being allowed to nibble it."

The studio boffin Rollo Armstrong - the enigmatic mastermind who completes the Faithless trinity - has the best of both worlds. He orchestrates Faithless's sound but doesn't tour. He is a redundant cog in the band's stage incarnation and, as usual, he's absent today. Never mind travelling the world, he hardly even leaves Islington, busying himself concocting remixes and producing and co-writing albums with his little sister, Dido.

"We set out thinking this was going to be our last album," writes Rollo in the sleeve notes for No Roots. "Maybe we'd had our time in the sun." With the demise of dance music, Faithless felt their days were numbered. And their record label did little to allay their fears.

"Our record company came at us like the voice of doom," says Jazz. "They said selling us would be like pushing a snowball up a hill."

Instead of a new record, the label were angling for a greatest hits compilation. Bliss fervently resisted. "I thought it was too early for us - a 'greatest hits' record after three albums would have been like a nail in the coffin," she says. "I wanted to make sure people knew we were capable of doing something fresh." Faithless set about doing just that. "We weren't going to compromise," says Bliss. "We were going to make this album as brilliant as we possibly could. We were going to make it so that no one could ignore it."

Faithless have never been ones idly to milk a winning formula: they've evolved with each album. Their explosive 1996 debut, Reverence, spawned the club hits "Insomnia" and "Salva Mea", cementing their reputation for dance-floor-igniting classics. With the soulful follow-up Sunday 8pm, Faithless alternated their pounding house anthems with tales of lives lost and lived. Outrospective, Faithless's third effort, found them moving towards smoother, funkier sounds.

With No Roots, the band have again upped the ante. They sought to make a record in two parts - one more lyrical, the other more instrumental - where every song would be linked thematically. And, to test themselves further, they wanted to confine every note to the key of C - "like having to paint a masterpiece with three colours," says Jazz. It was a challenge. But Faithless have pulled it off: searing melodies meld into one another, while snatches of choruses and electronic swathes make cameo appearances, linking the tracks.

"We wanted every riff and every melody to sound clear - defiant," says Bliss. "Not a mushy stew." The new album, she continues, marks a progression for the band - not just musically, but lyrically too.

"As musicians, as people even, we've grown up," Jazz explains. "In the three years since our last record we've garnered a little more wisdom and we want to express it." Jazz's lyrics have always been powerful - his passionate narratives paint detailed pictures of strife, ecstasy and seduction. But this time he has something of an agenda. No Roots is a protest album.

The first single, "Mass Destruction", is the rapper's clarion call. Inspired by the war in Iraq and the repercussions of the "war on terror", it name-checks everyone from the energy conglomerate Halliburton to the BBC, and rails against ignorance, greed, thanklessness and indifference in the face of injustice. But although Jazz insists it's not a political song ("I'm not a political person, I don't think politics changes anything"), it is intended to incite reaction.

"The current state of affairs affects everybody," he says, leaning intently. "It's not just one army fighting another army - it's like my brother's kids are there in the front line. The most important words in the song are: 'you need to find courage, overcome/inaction is a weapon of mass destruction'. It's up to us individually to do what we can to register our protest, our dissatisfaction. It takes events like this to realise we'll be led into absolutely anything our supposed leaders feel we should be led into." Jazz sits back, spent with frustration. "Freedom of speech is no use to anybody if you're shouting down an empty well." Despite Jazz's undeniable passion, he doesn't intend to preach.

"That's the last thing you want," he says. "You just want to give someone something to think about." And that he does. Faithless believe in the collective power of humanity, which may seem an outdated concept in a world where a feeling of powerlessness has bred apathy. And, like the posters that litter the walls of tonight's venue, advertising a "Save Christiania Festival" (the community is under threat of closure), Faithless hope to fire emotion and inspire change.

No Roots is a stirring record. While Jazz's lyrics and those of the guest vocalist, LSK (who clearly shares much of Jazz's world view), may seem a little dark at times, they're balanced by wit and colourful turns of phrase. LSK's rich, soulful voice compliments Jazz's warm, rhythmic delivery.

Dido, too, makes her usual Faithless appearance, her glacial tones delicately jousting with Jazz's lava voice on "No Roots". (Singing on her brother Rollo's records is, after all, what inspired her to ditch her publishing job and pursue a music career of her own.) But it is multi-instrumentalist Bliss's heaving beats and trademark riffs - her crashing ocean of soaring and driving sounds - that elevates No Roots from a socio-political diatribe to the giddy highs of a DJ set.

But, for all its thought-provoking themes and rousing sonics, No Roots is essentially an album about love. "We're trying to put across an idea of an all-inclusive love," explains Jazz. While songs such as "In The End" and "I Want More" invite us to question the double standards in our society, the more personal "Miss U Less, See U More" and the title track, highlight the fact that, as Jazz says, "all our basic needs and wants have no cultural demarcation." That includes our need to belong.

There's a good chance this Faithless tour will be their last. The gigs won't stop, nor will the albums, but the relentless travelling will. Life, they say, is just too short to be spent on a bus.

"We're all getting on brilliantly and the music's great," says Bliss. "That's not the problem. The sex I'm not getting is the problem!"

The pair burst into knowing giggles. Nine years of hard work has, in one way, paid off. Dance culture may lie in tatters, yet Faithless remain popular - Radio 1 is all over the single. But it's time the band devoted the same effort to their personal lives. They are ready to put down some roots of their own.

"But whatever we do," says Jazz, a huge smile brightening his eyes, "we'll make sure the vibe is wonderful. Always."

The single 'Mass Destruction' is out on 31 May on Arista. 'No Roots' is released on 7 June

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