Gorillaz Leader Damon Albarn on Pacific Ocean Garbage, Pop Music and (Not Knowing Who) T.I. (is)
There really is a plastic beach.
Not with Lou Reed and a bunch of cartoons making hip-hop music — that’s just a fictional backdrop for the third Gorillaz record — but in the Pacific Ocean, where a soupy mixture of oceanic garbage has massed together to form something scientists have named theGreat Pacific Garbage Patch.
It’s the size of Texas, if you can believe it.
What else can you learn from talking to Damon Albarn, the Gorillaz leader and former Blur singer who brings his artsy virtual band to Comerica Theatre tonight?
Actually, I’m hoping you can make more sense of what he said that I could. It was a bit tough to hear Albarn over the roar of street noise in whatever city he was strolling around while we chatted, and I think it’s obvious from this transcript that I understand very little about his Gorillaz project.
I, in turn, confused him by asking a question about T.I. Albarn says he has no idea who T.I. is, despite the rapper’s well-publicized legal troubles and the fact that he has three consecutive #1 records on the Billboard 200 and has had seven top 10 singles onBillboard‘s Hot 100 over his six-album, 10-year career. But, hey, Clifford Joseph Harris has never broken through in the U.K. rap scene ruled by Gorillaz collaborators like Snoop Dogg and “grime” artist Kano, so that’s understandable.
Anyway, here’s what Albarn had to say…
Up On The Sun: You started this Gorillaz project 12 years ago. It seemed to me at the time, maybe like a one-off. I never would have thought this would be what Damon Albarn would be doing in 2010… Is that how you felt about it or did you think you’d be touring in support of your third album?
Damon Albarn: It does feel like there’s a change happening in the moment… I think there’s a change in our perception happening. Especially with the audience, there’s an audience that’s grown up with our music and there’s a genuine communication with the audience and then you go through all the trouble to play live, and that becomes the most important aspect of it…
UOTS: I guess the interesting thing to me with this record is the line between pop and parody of pop… You’ve said this is about as poppy a record as you want to do, and there’s a threshold between pop and a parody of pop, but what’s the difference between Gorillaz and Katy Perry if they’ve both got Snoop Dogg and they’ve both got these great hooks? What is it that makes Gorillaz the parody they are — and I’m not sure if you mind the word “parody” or not…
DA: Parody? I don’t know about that. That’s genuinely how I hear pop music.
UOTS: So Gorlliaz are how you here pop music and it’s you doing pop music?
DA: Yeah, I can buy that. That’s how I hear it.
UOTS: But the fact that you have the cartoons and all that… because of the nature of a cartoon kind of an exaggerated version...
DA: There is that aspect of it, and you need to immerse yourself in it. It’s very geographical, Plastic Beach. It could very easily exist. It’s the kind of popular music that’s played on Plastic Beach.
UOTS: What do you mean when you say Plastic Beach is geographical?
DA: It is a place. Not only is it where the cartoon Gorillaz headquarters are on it. There is a huge area of plastic that’s gathered in the Pacific Ocean [the Great Pacific Garbage Patch] that’s like it’s own island, that’s collected there right in the middle of the Pacific.
UOTS: And that’s what inspired this project? That idea?
DA: No, but it sort of came to partly represent this project.
UOTS: What does that idea of a plastic beach in the middle of the Pacific Ocean mean to you, what do you take away from that?
DA: That whatever you discard will eventually manifest itself as something else.
UOTS: And Gorillaz are kind of reclaiming things that have been discarded then?
DA: You’re being quite literal about it all. Metaphysically speaking, yes.
UOTS: Can you give me an example of something that Gorillaz are manifesting that is out there that you want people to see the way you see it? You said this is how you hear pop music.
DA: It’s always been quite important to sort of [inaudible] the aura of the plastic celebrity. Do something a bit more soulful, real…
UOTS: Sure… And I feel like celebrity is getting a lot more plastic. You started this in ’98, I don’t know if you view it that way, but it seems like that was sort of before the era of the reality celebrity and all that. Do you think maybe that’s given Gorillaz more and more momentum, as our culture really gone that direction, and become more and more plastic?
DA: What happens to people when they’re watching these [reality] shows is they get caught up with the journey that the individual has been processed though. So when they actually come to actually do something everyone has been mesmerized by the actual process and they’re not actually listening to the music anymore. And the music is bad. It’s just there’s no good music about it… You’re mesmerized by the glamor — glamor being a very ancient word that means to put a spell on something — and we do get caught up in the glamor of things. We don’t just listen to the music.
UOTS: How does that fit in with somebody like Snoop Dogg, someone who is your collaborator, who has really sort of traded on his reputation?
DA: That’s incredible music.
UOTS: So you feel that is good music?
DA: Oh yeah, definitely.
UOTS: So then where does someone like T.I. fit in? Is that someone who’s making good music today, even though he’s got all this scandal surrounding him, and who is unapologetic about money but also sort of has…
DA: Who are you talking about?
UOTS: T.I., the rapper.
DA: Who are you talking about there?
UOTS: T.I., the rapper.
UOTS: I’m here, can you hear me? I was talking about Snoop Dogg before and I was asking you to contrast him with someone like T.I…
DA: I don’t know who T.I. is for that comparison, sorry.