Gorillaz Go Wild Down Under
Damon Albarn isn’t impressed as he glares up at the grey sky.
“We’ve just been holding onto the image that as soon as we landed in Australia it was going to be beautiful summer weather,” the Gorillaz frontman mutters.
Albarn, along with the band’s co-creator and animation whiz Jamie Hewlett, is talking backstage before the Gorillaz’s first Australian show in Perth earlier this week. He admits he was hoping to spend the day hanging out in the sunshine. But for a change, the sun isn’t shining in WA.
“Arthur, who looks after Bobby Womack, is convinced he controls the weather so I am going to have to have a talk to him today,” Albarn says. “I need an explanation as to why it’s overcast.”
The pair are somewhat appeased when it is suggested that perhaps the sun will greet them on the east coast.
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“I sincerely hope so or otherwise I am going to be so pissed off,” Albarn says.
Albarn and Hewlett, who spent the first day of their Australian tour relaxing and enjoying a fine drop at Little Creatures in Fremantle, are at least a little more impressed by Australia’s culinary offerings.
“We went for a rather splendid lunch by the beach,” Hewlett enthuses. “We had steak and mussels and a nice bottle of white wine.”
“Yeah that was nice,” Albarn agrees. “But why was it so busy on a Monday? It’s Monday. It’s not summer holidays. What is everyone doing? Do you not work for a living here, for f—‘s sake? It’s Monday morning. It wasn’t even like it was just pensioners.
“And there was a nice seagull that came and kept us company,” he continues, eyes twinkling. “Our seagulls are much more anti-social. They attack you. We have ASBO (anti-social behaviour order) seagulls like we have ASBO teenagers. It’s a country in terrible decline, the UK, I don’t recommend Australians come over anymore. It really is beyond me why they turn up in their numbers, I mean thousands and thousands of them, to this miserable, grey, overcast, over-populated, dirty, depressed little island in the Northern Hemisphere.”
Hewlett chimes in: “All we have to offer them is Walkabout pubs.”
Gorillaz’ first Australian tour comes on the back of their latest album Plastic Beach. Gorillaz was initially conceived by Albarn and Hewlett in 1998 as a virtual band and occasional live outings saw the musicians performing behind screens. These days Gorillaz is a legitimate touring band with Paul Simonon and Mick Jones of The Clash permanent fixtures on stage.
“Having instrumentalists like Paul Simonon and Mick Jones, well you can’t hide them really, can you?” Albarn says of the band’s unveiling.
Hewlett happily admits that his role on tour is minimal.
“There is nothing I can do in the live context anyway because I’m not Rolf Harris,” he jokes. “Although I wouldn’t mind being Rolf Harris. I have to do my stuff ahead of time. Drawing is not a live spectacle. So I’m purely here because I’ve never been to Australia and the band that I am a part of is touring Australia, so I’d be an idiot not to come and experience it.”
“Australia was the last place left on our list,” Albarn says of the tour. “As long as you are into it and the crowds are excited about seeing us then we will give you amazing shows. In all honesty the reaction we’ve had on this tour has just been sublime as long as it continues like that we’ll be very happy.”
Albarn reckons while the production is a logistical and financial behemoth, the quality of the show makes up for the organisational headaches and extravagant costs.
“We offset it by being really good,” he says. “It’s the only justification I can give.”
Later that night Albarn proves his words aren’t just hyperbole. The explosive live show is nothing short of spectacular.
Supplemented with guests De La Soul, Bobby Womack, Hypnotic Brass Ensemble and Little Dragon, it is an innovative mash-up of astounding musicianship and incredible audio-visuals.
Albarn and Hewlett may create in different mediums, but their working relationship is harmonious and complimentary. The former flatmates and best friends say a single word or phrase can inspire their albums.
From there, each puts their head down to develop their own ideas before reconvening to check they are heading in a similar direction.
“The finished song is required before I start animation for the videos, but the rest of it we start around the same time,” Hewlett says.
Albarn, who has been here before with Blur says he’s looking forward to chilling out and enjoying himself while in Australia.
“I’d love to get on the beach and see a bit of the countryside,” he says. “Given the chance I’d love to go out into the Outback.”
It is rare for this music-maker to rest on his laurels. On the band’s recent US tour, Albarn spent his spare moments recording a new album entirely on his iPad. The album will be released on the band’s website on Christmas Day.
“At the moment we’ve got an advent calendar on our website and there is a daily door that opens to reveal a gift,”
Hewlett says. “On Christmas Eve a video for one of the new songs from the iPad album will be released. Then, on Christmas Day fans get the whole album downloaded to their computer for free as a gift.”
Albarn says he wanted to create the world’s first iPad album.
“I wanted to make sure that it came out at the end of the tour because I don’t want anyone to think I’d tampered with it.
I literally made it on the road in America over a month. I didn’t write it before, I didn’t prepare it. I just did it day by day as a kind of diary of my experience in America. If I left it until the New Year to release it then the cynics out there would say ‘Oh well, it’s been tampered with’, but if I put it out now they’d know that I haven’t done anything because I’ve been on tour ever since.”