Blur finds no Oasis with American audiences
It’s 5p.m., and I arrive right on time at San Francisco’s Fillmore Theater for my scheduled interview with Damon Albarn, lead singer of the English pop oddity, Blur. It’s freezing (by California standards) and, after inspecting the quivering lips of a hundred of so ticketless fans lined up outside the club tonight, I pray that I won’t have to wait too long.
“Last time I interveiwed them, they were two and a half hours late”, said a fellow journalist who stood behind me, “They’re never on time.”
Did they show up? Yes, after a record breaking 45 minutes, which by typical Blur standards is pretty damned timely.
Once inside, there is another delay: soundcheck. The band are all dis-banded; guitarist Graham Coxon is running around the theater doing God knows what, and bassist Alex James is nowhere to be found.
“Where’s Alex, as usual?” Says Damon into the microphone, sounding a wee-bit annoyed. And with that slight hint, the band are together on stage, pounding on various instruments and doing there “1-2-3’s” for soundcheck.
Finally we meet. Damon seems slightly defensive when we first shake hands, but after a few minutes he’s friendly and very articulate. We talk about a variety of subjects: San Fransisco, Hootie and the Blowfish, oddness, and yes, Oasis, among other things.
Addicted To Noise: You’re touring here for the second time to promote the Great Escape, but in the past you basically did one tour per album. Why the second trip this time?
Damon Albarn: Good question. Well, I suppose it’s because we’ve been told that’s what we should be doing by our record company.
ATN: Do you like touring the US?
Albarn: I like venues like this, and I like San Francisco. It’s like the sort of place I like playing at home. I feel as if I have purpose here.
ATN: And what purpose is that?
Albarn: Well, it’s definately a sympathetic ear. We always get a good reception in San Francisco
*Damon wonders why Blur doesn’t get larger or smaller in the US.*
Albarn: We played Bimbo’s (a local club) last year and it was great. San Franciscians, for Americans, anyway have a heightened sense of camp. Because there is such a large gay community here, we can set ourselves up a bit more and they get into it. There are other parts of America where they’re like (Mimicking a sothern accent), “fucking faggot!” so you can’t do anything other than rock in places like those, and we’ve never been able to just do straight rock.
ATN: You’ve been asked numerous times if you want to “Break” America, and you and the band seem like you don’t care either way.
Albarn: Well I do find it a bit frustrating when we keep coming here and we just seem to stay barely static. We don’t get smaller or larger.
ATN: You don’t feel like you’re finally making some headway here in the states?
Albarn: I think we are to a degree, but I would like to make a bit more headway.
ATN: Why do you think you’re not?
Albarn: Too many words. We don’t necessarily make music that immediately comes out of the radio and says “I’m telling you how you feel.”
ATN: Do you think Americans like that sort of music?
Albarn: They do. I think they do like the blander side of things generally, on a mass scale, not on this level. But if you take it to the next big level, and you look at all the bands who sell a lot of records here, you can see that they’re slightly bland in the way of content. Even if they’re rock, they’re the blander side of rock.
ATN: Hootie and the Blowfish?
Albarn: Well they’re just extreme, aren’t they? It’s like piss in the ocean.
ATN: Do you have a hard time identifying with American audiences and do you think they feel the same way about Blur?
Albarn: Well, it’s rediculous because we all speak the same language. It’s mad really.
ATN: Well it’s been said that Blur mostly sing about England, and American listeners just don’t get your songs.
Albarn: I think in some ways that’s a fair comment, but it’s only a geographical thing. What I’m actually singing about is effects on me, “me” being my generation. The sort of characters that have come out of the 80’s. You had Reagan in the 80’s and we had Thatcher, they are similar sort of things so there must be some similarities between us. There must be some point where the experiences are the same. All my characters are completely alienated and in routines which they can’t get out of and they have psychotic thoughts trying to get themselves out of that. They’re all just fucking materialistic wankers (laughs mischieviously).
ATN: MTV has had a sudden interest in the “Britpop” scene, playing a heavy rotation of Elastica, Oasis and even Black Grape videos, yet Blur videos are hardly ever played…
Albarn: I don’t know why that is. It bothers me when it takes a lot of effort to make a video, and we have made lots of videos and a lot of them have been really good, and you’ve never seen them. We don’t just sit around in our videos, I mean that Oasis is one crappy band.
Albarn: Yeah, it’s just trite. To a degree, we have encouraged the whole competition with Oasis, but coming here, the only similarities we seem to have is that we both come from the same country. Our agendas are so different.
*Blur Vs. Oasis – It’s no contest*
ATN: What is your agenda as opposed to Oasis’?
Albarn: We’re into making odd-pop and they just was to make straight-ahead rock n’ roll; the kind that people who drink Budweiser and have mulletheads will get into. That’s what they want to ultimately do, isn’t it? That’s not what I want to do.
ATN: The general population here seems to like easy listening….
Albarn: They are easy listening, so as long as that’s established, I wish them all the success in the world. But I don’t think that they should be allowed to get away with calling themselves the cutting edge, because they’re not.
ATN: It seems like Blur is finally getting some coverage out here.
Albarn: Well that’s fair enough. We’ve been coming out here for six years and for us it’s about time, really. The only difficulty I find is that Virgin intends to put out another single off the album, which is great, and sort of work it all year. And it does look like the machinary is slowly turning and getting into what we’re about, but the thing is I want to make another record when I get back home in April, and I want it out in September, which isn’t really the ideal marketing scheme. I like to put out a record a year and it’s very difficult if you want to be successful here to do that. So you can’t do it. I like saying how I feel every year, that’s why I do it.
ATN: Back in England, Blur is enourmously successful and has been in the past few years. Where do you see yourself in the history of British pop music?
Albarn: I don’t know yet. I think we’ve got to stay around for a little longer. We do have a place now in British pop history, but I think I’d like to have 10 years of hovering around the top of what I do, which is quite a long time.
ATN: Has the success in England been overwhelming?
Albarn: Not really, because it’s sort of evened out a bit now. In Europe, we’ve reached a level of selling 2-3 million copies everytime we put a record out.
ATN: And you can’t pick up a British magazine without seeing your face somewhere on the cover…
Albarn: Well I suppose they like me because I guess I have a combination of…you know. Well I guess they just like putting me on the cover of magazines (laughing).
ATN: Why do you think so?
Albarn: A whole lot of reasons. There are two kinds of people who buy magazines: young girls and then there’s the late-twenties, early thirties types who like to read intelligent things. I’m quite lucky in the sense that I’ve got a very teenage-friendly face, but at the same time I like talking about in-depth things.
ATN: What inspired the album art for the Great Escape?
Albarn: We go quite deep down when we’re thinking about that. It’s quite a pro-longed process. All the imagery on The Great Escape is based around the sort of things you see in those in-flight magazines they have on planes. You know, it’s sort of a vacuous utopia….on one side it’s the studious, clean-shaven office people, and on the front it’s all quite sinister because there’s someone diving off a boat; work hard and play hard. That’s why we put it there. If people see it our way, then great, and if they don’t, then fuck ’em.
ATN: What would you be doing right now if you weren’t in Blur?
*The Great Escape: An in-flight magazine on the way to utopia.*
Albarn: I’d be doing what I’m doing right now, but badly. I really have no idea. The “other” doesn’t exist. I have never really had a proper job, and I’ve been at this since I left college. And I only went to college for a year before dropping out. So I haven’t done anything else, and I’m successful at this.
ATN: What was the turning point in your life or career?
Albarn: I don’t know……It’s never just one incedent…..I suppose where music is concerned, it was when I stopped playing the piano and started writing songs with the guitar. I was quite a late starter. I used to play piano, and I sounded like Barry Manilow more than anyone else. So I changed to guitar, which I couldn’t play, and I sounded a little like the Velvet Underground, which is a lot better than Barry Manilow, really.
ATN: The name BLUR, where did it come from?
Albarn: As a band, we try to balance in the whole scheme. I mean we always want to be popular, and by being popular, you become a balance for whatever’s going on at that time. I hate it when anything becomes to sincere or too hyped. People talk about things in too sincere a way, and it’s only pop music after all. That’s the worst thing about this business. When a band really reaches it’s peak for the first time and everyone just seems to go mad. They lose all sense of perspective. We’re here to inject a little oddness into the mainstream if we can, and I do mean the mainstream because we’re not here to purely be odd; because we could be a lot odder.
ATN: Do you want to be in the mainstream in America?
Albarn: We like to think our records could get heavy rotation here, as long as they’re good and we’re not playing the game and the songs aren’t bland. That would be great. Nirvana’s records were sort of…I don’t know why (Kurt Cobain), got so pissed off about them being so popular. Well, I suppose he got pissed off because they just got completely listened to.
ATN: And if you don’t reach mainstream success here?
Albarn: If I don’t, then I’ll just keep on making records and keep on going. I do it for myself. I’ve made mistakes in the past where I’ve don things which weren’t entirely for myself, and it’s never as good as when I do it for me.