After two years, Blur are back with their new album 13 (not for being unlucky we hope, but for the number of songs on the album). Damon Albarn (vocals), Alex James (bass), Graham Coxon (guitar), and Dave Rowntree (drummer) are always good for a surprise. They’ve gone from being a rather boring rave band when they formed in college in the late ’80s, to practically inventing Britpop in 1993 with the album Modern Life Is Rubbish (named after graffiti on a London establishment). They then went on to more radical times with more cynical (yet highly successful) albums and crusades against Oasis before finally pronouncing Britpop – the genre they started – dead. Their recent two-year hiatus seems to have mellowed the band out a bit. Even frontman Damon Albarn appears to be more relaxed.
NYROCK: It’s a bit surprising that you’re still around. For a while it looked like it was the end of Blur and you all had enough of the music business…
DAMON: I’m actually glad that Blur is still around. You know the British culture went through a couple of weird changes. Some survived; some didn’t. Maybe that’s the reason why I like Kurt Weill [composer, 1900-1950] so much. He’s a survivor, just like we are.
NYROCK: For a while you were almost a political band, if I think about songs like “Charmless Man” and such.
DAMON: I was naive enough to believe it would be enough to replace the government. Well, I made fun of the people in the government and then realized that even if we got rid of them, they were replaced by exactly the same guys.
NYROCK: Do you think your audience understood what you were trying to say?
DAMON: Not really, I don’t think anybody understood the irony. I seriously doubt it. Modern Life Is Rubbish  and Parklife  were angry records. The Great Escape [1995, number one in the UK, and Blur’s biggest-selling album worldwide to date] was a rather cynical album, everything seemed to be going down hill, and I was cynical, too cynical.
NYROCK: A lot of great songwriters are often cynical, look at Bob Dylan or Lou Reed…
DAMON: Yes, but just being cynical isn’t enough. Music is something that should speak for itself, straight from the heart. It took me a long time to understand that.
NYROCK: You’re in a fortunate position; a lot of bands don’t have so much creative freedom, but your record company doesn’t seem to interfere.
DAMON: We’re really lucky. Yes, the people at EMI are the same. They’re the ones we’ve worked with through all our career. We’re on really good terms with them, almost friends. They know that we’re not going to mess up.
NYROCK: Since you invented Britpop and then declared it dead, did you ever have the feeling that it was like a ghost that came back to haunt you?
DAMON: Oh yes, definitely. It wasn’t that we were the initial spark. It was worse what happened with it on the long run. I mean look what happened with it. I still get upset when I think about Oasis. What on earth did they do? They nicked our ideas!
NYROCK: For a while you had quite a war going on with Liam and Noel…
DAMON: For Parklife we got four Brit Awards and we said we’d like to share the award for best band with Oasis. I think that went to their heads and they just got out of hand. They were rude and completely out of control, and the whole country was hanging on to every word!
NYROCK: What do you think about Oasis?
DAMON: I think Liam is a fantastic singer! Everybody thinks he’s a terrible guy, but I think Noel is far worse! I don’t want to talk about them anymore. What went on was really bad and hurtful. I choose to ignore it! They never knew when to stop and always went right over the top!
NYROCK: Your new album is definitely not Britpop…
DAMON: We already left Britpop behind with our last album [Blur, 1997, a UK number one album]. It’s just more obvious on this album.
NYROCK: So what was the main inspiration for 13?
DAMON: Well, basically, I was miserable. I was going through a break up. I was depressed… I really did need to do something. Recording an album was a great escape. I don’t know what would have happened if I wouldn’t have started to work.
NYROCK: You’re talking about the breakup with Justine from Elastica?
DAMON: We were together for eight years. Eight years are a long time, a very long time. Especially if the relationship is as public as our relationship was. I went through a phase where I thought I’ve got to justify my feelings, everything I invested in that relationship. As a musician usually music is your way out.
NYROCK: Isn’t it hard for you to talk about it?
DAMON: Yes it is, but you know the press in England; there were already enough rumors flying around. I thought it best to take the bull by the horns, you know, to get out there and tell them. You could say I came out with raised arms and was hoping they wouldn’t shoot.
NYROCK: So would you say that 13 shows the new direction of Blur?
DAMON: No, every album is something like a snapshot. It only shows one moment in time. It shows what we feel and think right at that point in time, nothing more and nothing less.
NYROCK: How would you describe your new approach?
DAMON: It’s easier, more natural, less constructed and it definitely is not so British anymore.