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Jamie Hewlett is sitting at his desk in a basement studio in west London trying to define his job title. “Ummm … artist? Yeah. I’m an artist,” he says.

Hewlett is one half of Gorillaz, the virtual “zombie hip-hop” pop group he formed with Blur frontman Damon Albarn in 1999 and which has sold over six million records worldwide.

With Albarn writing the music, Hewlett created the band’s four cartoon characters: vacant frontman 2D; bandleader and bassist Murdoc Nicalls; African-American drummer Russel Hobbs and ten-year-old Japanese guitarist Noodle. He also oversees all the Gorillaz’s visuals, including promo videos and DVDs, merchandising, the high-tech “live” gigs and the gorillaz.com website.

Hewlett was a widely respected cartoon artist before Gorillaz, having created the seminal Tank Girl strip, which was turned into a Hollywood movie when he was just 23. But the success of Gorillaz has taken him to another, slightly surreal, level: he is part of a globally famous rock group, yet he shuns the limelight and is happiest scribbling painstakingly at his desk at Zombie Flesh Eaters, the Shepherds Bush studio he set up to handle the Gorillaz work. Read More

The Hot Press Cover Story: Damon Albarn

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The world sat up and listened when sometime Blur frontman Damon Albarn revealed that he had taken heroin as a creative boost. In an exclusive interview he talks about chemical inspiration, his growing spirituality and how he and Noel Gallagher came to bury the hatchet – and not in each other.

Damon Albarn is none too pleased about having to talk to Hot Press. It’s nothing personal; the former Blur frontman isn’t especially keen on doing any interviews today. Which is rather unfortunate because, with his debut solo album, Everyday Robots, about to be released, his label has lined up a full day of press and promotion.

Our location is 13 Studios, his personal recording facility situated deep in the bowels of west London. A Swedish TV crew and a German journalist have just departed the building, leaving yours truly as Albarn’s final-face-to-face of the morning. After he talks to me, he has a series of phone interviews to do with publications as far afield as Japan, Australia, New Zealand and America.

As a veteran star who’s hardly hungry for publicity at this stage of his illustrious career, he’s not especially thrilled at the prospect.

“No reflection on you, mate,” he says, shaking his head apologetically. “I’ve just got a piece of music in my head that I’m fucking itching to get out.” Read More

Damon Albarn ready for a big crowd bath

At the end of the cell waves, it is a Damon Albarn of excellent mood that we join, still impressed of the performance of his band, in Toronto, July 10: “it was epic, one of the best gigs I ever have given”.

This confirms his wish to put Gorillaz back on track after a seven-year hiatus. Disputes with Hewlett had led the two men to take a break. Then, finally, they came closer and decided to dive into Humanz, a festive album, but encamped in a dark epoch, politically. As is the case with each of the group’s albums, Albarn has shaped it with an impressive list of guests including Vince Staples, De La Soul, Grace Jones, Mavis Staples, Popcaan, Benjamin Clementine and Jean- Michel Jarre. A portion of the artists accompanies Albarn on tour, including in Quebec, but on this, Albarn himself has trouble knowing who will be with him, so many evenings follow each other and are not alike …

It surprises you how much Gorillaz, despite its experimental or daring side has joined and continues to reach so many people?

I am particularly pleased. It will be a very large audience in Quebec City and it will be a real test for me to see if I can communicate all this to such an imposing crowd. I played in front of big crowds before, but it will be the biggest for us to date. I hope we will be up to it. We have succeeded great musicians like the Who – it’s an honor because they inspired me greatly when I was a child – and Kendrick [Lamar], which is certainly the hottest thing on the planet. But we’ll be ready! Read More

Gorillaz leader Damon Albarn won’t sit still

In the 16 years since Gorillaz released its self-titled debut album, the virtual, alternative hip-hop band’s co-creators, Blur musician Damon Albarn and illustrator Jamie Hewlett, have wrangled an impressive, wildly diverse roster of music’s biggest talents into their genre-defying orbit. A freewheeling spirit of experimentation colors the band’s work, and over a handful of boundary-pushing albums everyone from Lou Reed and Snoop Dogg, to Bobby Womack, MF Doom and members of the Clash have been charmed by its allure.

Now a few months removed from the release of “Humanz,” the band’s first new album since 2010 — a typically bold effort featuring intrepid contributions and unexpected artistic combos, most notably Mavis Staples and Pusha T on the moody “Let Me Out” and Carly Simon and Colombian-American indie-pop singer Kali Uchis on “Ticker Tape,” Albarn says he’s come to view the process of assembling a Gorillaz album as resembling a contemporary courtship process. Read More