Paul Morley’s Showing Off… Damon Albarn
PM: Let me ask you first of all whether the Blur reunion has given you a better or different understanding of your place in the pop firmament.
DA: That was really strange because it was a very disciplined time. I stopped drinking entirely. I stopped making this Gorillaz record, which has been all-consuming, for three months as well, because I’d got to a point where there was no way I could do that and that at the same time. And bit by bit we got back up to the level we were at when we were at our prime. Where it was stadiums, and everyone was singing, and it was very euphoric. And then after the last gig in Scotland I got on the train and left it all behind. That’s it. I haven’t thought about it since. I haven’t watched any of the gigs, I haven’t watched Glastonbury. I had to approve a few of the live things that inevitably come out of that sort of thing, but I haven’t given it any thought. For me it was so nice to do that again and know that I left on a good note with Graham, Alex and Dave. I didn’t come offstage thinking “I’M A ROCK STAR!” at all, I really didn’t. It was really strange. I enjoyed it, I loved every second of it, it was incredibly emotional, there was a real resonance, I really felt the songs had lasted and in a way they’d been a vision of Britain as it is now. So all of that stuff. But when it finished it was like well, we’ve all got to get on with our lives now, don’t think this was… it was a really nice holiday, a real treat, a real honour to be able to experience. You can’t underestimate the feeling of 120,000 people at Glastonbury just singing every word back to you. It’s an incredible feeling. It’s unbelievable. I suppose the only thing that’s come out of it maybe is that I’ve worked a lot harder making my lyrics and my melodies clear on this Gorillaz album. That’s probably what has come out of this summer’s experience.
PM: Because I was going to ask you, if there was a weird sense with putting Blur together that you were recreating a sense of what happened first time round when you were in a group and then the disadvantages for you as a musician in a group enabled you then to set all those other things in motion. I wondered if part of it would sort of imply that going back into it you’d come out of it again…
DA: Well I thought I was over running around and jumping up and down but it didn’t seem to stop me this summer. I was right back at it and loved every minute of it. I had my mate Smoggy who’s been there in the pit and whenever I went into the audience, pulling me out . And it was all great. And we loved every minute of it. And it was very sober, except right at the end when it went a bit pear-shaped actually, the night before the last gig, but that’s another story. Not me, but as a group we all slipped back. It was good that we stopped at that point!
PM: Let’s think about what they’ve now called the noughties. Did you have all these things in your head?
DA: I was at Shepherd’s Bush last night, as I said, and there were all these adverts for this “I Love the 90s” club with a picture of Jarvis looking young and slightly wasted. So that’s there, that’s what that is now, it’s as much nostalgia as everything else. But it’s funny that Blur songs were about that inevitable nostalgia that the country is weighed down by. So it’s kind of funny you know, Pop will eat itself.
PM: But do you shape things into decades and think of it like that, like the end of a ten-year period, and then you look back at what you’ve done and work out whether you’ve achieved, and satisfied your goals?
DA: Er no, not really. I mean I’m just, ..I’m a musician now. I say that in the sense that though I did write the majority of the stuff in Blur and in the studio played the stuff but on stage I was always just a frontman really.. and the gap between Graham’s musicianship and mine now is ridiculous, he’s so… he’s just spent twenty years playing the guitar and he’s just incredible. Whereas I’m just jack of all trades. But you know it’s alright, it’s okay. I’m getting to do another opera at the Royal Opera House so I can’t be doing too badly.
PM: But that’s your decade then, isn’t it? That’s the decade you became, officially, the jack of all trades.
DA: Yeah, I went back to a lot of things that I’d put on hold, like writing music like orchestral music, and thinking about dramatic stuff. But I would like to think that in the next decade… although we don’t look at decades in the cosy way we used to look at them because things are so uncertain…
PM: Well that’d be nice… a bit of uncertainty.
DA: Well there’s a lot of that. It’s everywhere. The Noughties is all about the realisation that we are absolutely at the end of our imperial phase. The Nineties was the last embers.. this is the beginning of the austere cold winder. It was the autumn of our empire, the nineties. And now we’re definitely in the winter.
PM: So you could detect a kind of pattern then, if you think about it?
DA: Yeah. Well there is always a pattern. What I was talking to my dad about last night, my dad’s finishing his book which he’s been working on for something like ten years on, called Pattern and Belief, which isn’t about that, it’s his master work and it’s nearly finished, I was just talking to him, it doesn’t matter what you achieve in life, old age brings a sense of your complete insignificance, it doesn’t matter what.. in fact the more you create, the more you realise that! But isn’t that kind of beautiful, in a way? [laughs] I thought that was kinda nice.
PM: So if you look at the Jack of all Trades Damon that emerged Damon, I was interested in you’ve got your Mali Express [sic], you’ve got your group The Good, The Bad & The Queen, you’ve got Gorillaz, you’ve got Blur, going out, coming back again, how are they in your head? How do you hold them in your imagination? What do they mean to you?
DA: They’re all the same thing, you know. Having done Monkey, and knowing the constraints I had, with what Shi-Zheng brought to the table with his circus troupe and what he wanted… at the moment, bless him, at the moment he’s directing China’s version of High School Musical, so, he’s gone that way [laughs]
PM: That was your fault! [laughs]
DA: His agenda with Monkey was obviously that he wanted to make some money and I didn’t really see it in those terms so the fact that I got the chance to do something else on another incredible subject means that I will see that as being very public, a bit of an education and will approach it in a less dilettante way the next opera. I might even go and go back to school for a bit.
PM: You say that they’re all the same thing but they’re kind of not, not the same thing in a way. They’ve got very different parameters to them, very different presentation, so they’re not the same thing. So they are not the same thing, you are holding different things , it is an unusual thing to do, isn’t it, different models, ways of making music and presenting it to the world, all going on at the same time.
DA: I suppose so but I don’t see it like that. I just see that I’ve got massive interest in every aspect of music from the most kitsch to the most hermetic.
PM: Do you have a favourite model in your head. Like, they’re all your kids but you can’t but help feeling occasionally that one of them is your favourite?
DA: I fall in love with them all at the time… I suppose with the Blur thing this summer I was able to walk away with it. It was the first time in my life that I had accepted nostalgia, as which was something unavoidable really, and actually important. It’s ritual. It was ritual. Ritual is nostalgia, the whole.., from the aborigines calling on the ancestors continuously every day, that’s nostalgia.
PM: We have a weird anxiety about nostalgia don’t we, largely because in many senses it takes over the commercial world but on the other hand it ruins the idea of repetition of certain, like you say, rituals which are important.
DA: Yeah, the rituals are important, and I felt at Glastonbury we elevated art performance to the level of ritual. Which was what we had to do. I’d had a massive ongoing fight with the BBC up until a few hours before we went onstage that I didn’t want it filmed, because I just felt, this is the moment, if I can’t get it right at this time, if I can’t evoke that spirit, then I’m never going to be able to do it. I don’t need it to be filmed, because it will stay anyway.
PM: The other thing that’s happened with music is that there with there being so music, so much consciousness about music, everyone’s talking about music, that thing that you were trying to create there, almost a secrecy if you like, it’s impossible nowadays, as soon as something happens it seems to be completely co-opted and some of those secret moments and secret knowledge.
PM: What’s it like when you start a new project Damon, and you just get stuck in, and you just do it?
DA: But it takes an awful long time. This whole Gorillaz album ‘Plastic Beach’ which is nearly finished now, started off as Carousel and this room and it was about the mystical aspects of Britain but obviously as it’s Gorillaz it’s moved into a different place but it still maintains a lot of the melancholy. So things move. You can’t be sure when you start something that there’s going to be any resemblance to the finished thing.
PM: And what about what you’ve done in the past, do you feel there’s any sense in which you have to outdo that? Does that become a burden on you? Do you try and rinse that away? Do you have a perception that people have a sense of who you are and will expect certain things and by satisfying that you’re repeating yourself but on the other hand you don’t want to go too far away?
DA: Well you have a nature don’t you, and that you can’t lose. So that’s the link isn’t it.
PM: So what do you think your nature is? What comes through, whatever happens?
DA: Well I’ve got… I’m quite good at capturing that collective sense of melancholy. With Gorillaz there’s a lot of Hip Hop and I have to work as a complete innocent when I’m making it because if I try to make it sound cool it’s disastrous.
PM: And do you think that those… you know we were talking about patterns in the noughties, in the last ten years, just to go back to that for a second, what is your reading of it as a fan of music and someone who is such a fan of music that you ended up doing it in the way you did it, and for a while there seemed to be a narrative to pop music and the way that it moved forward. What do you think happened to it in the last few years?
DA: Rock music hasn’t fared very well in the sense that there hasn’t been much, unless I’ve missed it, in the way of new ideas about what rock music is. Urban music has become mainstream music and the traditional ideas of pop have become so saccharine and it’s become so poor and manipulated by a small group of people, to mention no names…
PM: Do you feel any responsibility to keep putting forward the alternative to that?
DA: Well that’s why I do Gorillaz records. That’s why I’m making this one the most pop record I’ve ever made in many ways. But with all my experience to try to at least present something with some kind of depth.
PM: So when you use the word ‘Pop’ then, what do you mean? Because the word pop has been taken away a little bit from what, when we were growing up, the word ‘Pop’ meant. When Louis Walsh, I’ve mentioned a name now, says to someone ‘you look like a Pop star’, I don’t know about you but I…
DA: You can’t avoid that subject, can you?
PM: No, I’m sorry about that… [laughs]
DA: But you can’t avoid it, can you. I suppose what I’ve done with this Gorillaz record is I’ve tried to connect pop sensibility with … trying to make people understand the essential melancholy of buying a ready made meal in loads of plastic packaging. People who watch X-Factor might have some emotional connection to these things, this detritus that accompanies what seems to be the most important thing in people’s eyes, the celebrity voyeurism.
PM: What about your relationship to celebrity? It’s quite a complicated one, because you’ve got it, and your name is something, and it’s out there and you’re playing Glastonbury, but on the other hand you’re trying to stay in the shadows and lurk about…
DA: Yeah as much as possible, totally. I have no interest whatsoever in engaging with it now because it doesn’t mean anything anymore. There was a time when being a pop star was a kind of other-worldly thing… did I feel like a pop star when we went onstage at Hyde Park and Glastonbury? The applause.. was connected to that, but no, I just felt like myself, a father who is passionate about music .
PM: Is it possible to maintain that hold, though? In those circumstances, that kind of objectivity, when…
DA: Yeah, yeah, yeah…
PM: [laughs] Are you sure?
DA: Yeah, well I was able to, definitely.
PM: You don’t feel an allure? A sway, pulling you back into…
DA: I thought I might, but I didn’t.
PM: And you were prepared to take the risk were you, in a way?
DA: Well I had to take the risk. Because I would never have addressed the demons that were lurking.
PM: What do you mean by that?
DA: Well… had I reversed the process when we kind of finished Blur, or when we changed its nature from being very brash and pop into something more dark, was that because I just couldn’t handle it or was it because I was genuinely interested in other things? And I know it was because I’m genuinely interested in other things now. Because I definitely embraced it again.
PM: So it was just a nervousness…
DA: Yeah it was my inadequacy, and I couldn’t actually deal with it…
PM: So the Blur reunion was like a grandiose form of psychotherapy?
DA: Most definitely, thank you very much everyone [both laugh]
PM: They’ll be thrilled… who was the patient?
DA: .. All of us [laughs]
PM: What about the African side, the other side, what do you think has changed and happened with our sensibility of that, has it just been absorbed?
DA: Well I think Africa Express has done a little bit towards getting people working together. There are a lot more musicians working together. So that. That was happening anyway and this is such an unbelievably multiracial country now. It’s funny, I was finishing a mix, and it was that Tuesday when they had that that… I’ve forgotten his name now, that BNP member…
PM: Nick Griffin…
DA: Yeah, Nick Griffin. So it was going on down there and I was watching it on the telly and was sitting there doing nothing and just watching the news. So I got my bicycle and I went down there. It was really interesting. The first guy to come up to me was a black guy and he said ‘what do you think about this Damon?’ and I was going ‘look at the crowd here they’re all white. It’s all Socialist Worker syndrome, bless ‘em’. I experienced all that during the anti-war stuff, and it’s a group of people who will protest about everything forever. It’s a way of life, it’s a culture in itself. So they were there. So we had a bit of a laugh about it. We agreed, they should not be here, just let this guy make an idiot of himself, he will make a fool of himself anyway, and the people on there are very qualified to make sure that happens. And don’t make a fuss about it, don’t give any energy to this because a lot of what it breeds on is that antagonism. So anyway I’m standing there and then these two lads come up to me and go ‘what are you doing here? You’re with us aren’t you?’ And I said ‘who are you?’ and they said ‘BNP’. But it was okay, we talked about it and I said ‘I’m not in any way with those protestors there but I’m not with you either. At all. I love this country as much as you do, but I like this country as it is. If you’re talking about are there too many people in the country – maybe. But it’s irrelevant where you come from, that’s just economics.’ I thought it was going to go into something but it just defused… and then they went down the pub. And then the BBC, they had realised I was there so they just left because they were going to ask me to do interviews and I wasn’t going to.
PM: So there you are you see. You turned up, you just wanted to be you, but you couldn’t.
DA: No way. I know that, so that’s why I left.
PM: But is that annoying, that you can’t hide the celebrity thing, you can’t be a witness anymore can you?
DA: I can’t be in this country anyway, no. So… Africa links to that in a way.
PM: Was that partly a reaction to what happened to you in the ‘90s? Because it was very white in a way, Blur was very white, the whole thing was very white. And your next steps was that part of your wondering what the hell was going on with it?
DA: Well I suppose so. We all react to it in different ways. So if as you were saying what was the difference in the Noughties for me was that I addressed what had always been part of me, that I had carried from a very young age, being into that feel, that cultural feel, that sense of openness and expressiveness which was not always apparent in white culture.
PM: And then what about that other thing, that you called Jack of all trades, and the potential, I think we’ve talked about it before but we can officially seal it now, the decade is officially over, the Stingo [??] thing, you know, the dilettante thing, a bit here a bit there…
DA: Well I’ve never myself like Sting but if people…
PM: Do you know what I mean? There’s China, there’s Africa, to tick off, is there a little element, sometimes, that you feel that that could be how it’s perceived, that you’re not completely absorbing yourself in it but you’re skimming surfaces…
DA: Well I’m still… I’m making another record with Tony Allen and Flea actually, which I’ve nearly finished. Hopefully, at the end of this year, if I finish this in time, I’m going back to Africa again in January or February or whatever it is, and then I’m going to do another record with my old friend Afel Boucoum, hopefully in the desert, that’s next year. So I don’t feel like I’m in any way… you know. I just don’t do it all the time. It’s not entirely my thing. But opera isn’t my thing all the time but I’m coming back and doing another one and, you know, I’d like to do another Good, The Bad & The Queen album actually, if we get the chance, because we’re still really good friends and we only just started that but it’s a case of, I always had to go back and do the Blur thing, at some point, so I’ve gone and done that. After four years, or five years, I started another Gorillaz thing so I feel like I don’t have the time, physically, to do it all at once. So I have to sort of…
PM: If we could go back to the psychotherapy thing again. What do you think it ultimately is that drives you to want to do these things?
DA: I want to be a better person in every aspect. I really don’t feel like I’m anywhere fulfilled my potential [sic] in every aspect of my life. I really don’t want to fall off without at least feeling, you know, I’ve been,.. I’m a good person, you know? A simple motivation really.
PM: And is that connected to any form of anxiety about how people perceive you? Do you care about how people perceive you? Do you worry that sometimes people will perceive you as something that you think is underestimating or misinterpreting you? Because sometimes you get yourself in little eddies, you know..
DA: I’ve worried about that an awful lot in my life but I’d just like to think that I’m less preoccupied with that now. Maybe I’m wrong but I sincerely hope so.
PM: It’s a weird thing you know, I get the feeling, we talk about The Good, The Bad & The Queen and Gorillaz, Mali Express [sic], the Mali records, everything you’ve done, I think there’s a tendency for you to think, when you talk about them – and Monkey – , that you might be showing off a little bit,.. you seem to therefore go the other way.
DA: I know. I have a reputation really badly… I hope it’s not quite as.. well you can’t really ever lose those tags, that’s always going to be there.
PM: But is it just in Pop and Rock, that constant change, I mean you look at someone like Clapton, it’s almost like he’s never listened to any music since 1967…
DA: I know, I never understand that. Barry Gibb as well.
PM: Do you think that’s been important in a way? I was going to ask, in terms of the Gorillaz record, there were certain things you involved in the first sonic area of Gorillaz, but have you been incorporating new things into it as well, because a lot of people stop don’t they?
PM: So you have..? So what…
DA: I did so much orchestral stuff for it believe it or not. I’m only going to use a fraction of it. So I did that, and I did loads of orchestral stuff with the Syrian National Orchestra. I managed to get bits of all of them on the record but essentially I’m trying to make a pop record so it can’t be totally orchestral.
PM: Hence Barry Gibb. What do you think he thinks of you?
DA: He didn’t even know what Gorillaz was. And knows now.
PM: Did he know you?
DA: Who knows. He lives in Miami in a marble palace. Why should he know about me? [laughs] No, I don’t actually know, I haven’t spoken to him. Bobby Womack had no idea but now we’re great friends. Snoop, because he’s [on] there, he knew about Gorillaz. He was a big fan. So it was very easy to get him. Lou Reed, he knew about me, Mos Def, I’ve known him for years. Well, Bobby Womack got into it because his youngest daughter was a big fan. So that’s how he got into it, and had it all explained to him. But I think Barry Gibb was was completely oblivious of everything. But you know, he’s Pop… [Damon searches for a term to describe Barry Gibb] what’s the most valuable thing on earth? [laughs] He’s that, isn’t he. He is on that pantheon of sublime Pop music. For whatever reason.
PM: And what kind of kick is it for you to be able to do that? To tell your own history of popular music in a way?
DA: Well I didn’t get all of them. I didn’t get Engelbert Humperdink. But you know, you win some you lose some…
PM: But what kind of kick is it?
DA: Well it’s not as easy as you think, you get these people and you get the result. Because a lot of the time you can’t actually be with them when they’re doing it, and it’s actually, to start off with, a bit of an anti-climax. Because you’ve built it up and then you’ve got to work on the track, and edit, and turn it into something that works.
PM: Do you have a greater sense of wanting to leave things behind. You’re talking in that way, that happens after a while, your legacy, do you have a big enough ego for that, to want some of the stuff that you do to stick around as a document as where we’ve been in this time?
DA: I’d love to think that but I don’t know whether I’ve done anything good enough for that yet.
PM: So just thinking about you as the Pop star at the moment, with the100,000 at Hyde Park, Glastonbury and everything, and ask a few questions along those lines as if that world still exists. So what was your highlight of the Noughties?
DA: Well many highlights. Being a father, number one. Discovering Africa, having the chance to hang out in the most sublime, ancient places.
PM: I love that thing you were saying about Africa almost being futuristic, more futuristic than we think…
DA: It is. It’s our future. The first time I went to Mali I was taken to the huge great recycling market / massive rubbish landfill. And the way there, where they drop everything off this cliff, it’s this huge great valley that’s just full of rubbish and people are on there every day, in the 100 degrees, taking every little bit, a little bit of fabric to the fabric regenerators, or the metal and the cans to the ironsmiths and the aluminium recyclers, and it goes on and by the time you get to the road, they’re selling stuff. Then I went into a landfill outside London on Friday, I got permission, because you can’t just walk onto these things , to go and record the seagulls. Because plastic beach needs seagulls in abundance, all over the place. And I’d been recording them down on the beach that’s next to my house in Devon, where I got the idea for Plastic Beach, I was just looking for all the plastic within the sand, that’s where it came from. So I recorded them there. But I thought, I needed my dystopian seagulls so I went and recorded them but you know, this place obviously, having the juxtaposition of the Malian landfill and the way they’re dealing with it there, and here it was the wildlife that’s dealing with it… you know they’ve got more snakes… like adders, grass snakes, slow worms, toads, frogs, newts, all kinds of roadents, all kinds of squirrels, a massive amount of squirrels, a massive amount of foxes, and obviously, seagulls. Seagulls that they’ve tracked, that come from as far as away as Russia. This is part of the new ecology. And for the first time I saw the world in a new way. I’ve always felt, I’m trying to get across on this new record, the idea that plastic, we see it as being against nature but it’s come out of nature. We didn’t create plastic, nature created plastic. And just seeing the snakes like living in the warmth of decomposing plastic bags. They like it. It was a strange kind of optimism that I felt… but trying to get that into pop music is a challenge, anyway. But important. The two things that I’m really passionate about, obviously, are the effects of our waste, and the healing properties of Africa.
PM: So just to go back to the highlights. So fatherhood and Africa so far.
DA: Fatherhood and Africa, and I’ve just sort of grown up. I started off in a very bad state.
PM: And who have been your favourite pop stars of the Noughties?
DA: Dizzee Rascal, fantastic. I found myself really get that old pop buzz going off that La Roux song, Going In For The Kill, I just thought that was what pop music was like when I was a kid, it was brilliant, it was like that. Loads of great Hip Hop and Pop thrills. I thought Buena Vista Social Club was an amazing moment in time, unfortunately they’re virtually all dead now. That was amazing pop in the sense that it worked and became very popular and was incredibly expressive. But it was men with five, six years, literally, left. And that was the one and only gig of my life – and I think it happened in 2000, so right in the beginning where I saw them in the Park and I cried from the beginning to the end of the show, just floods of tears. That’s never happened to me before or after. Meeting people like Tony Allen. Becoming friends with people like Tony Allen and Paul Simonon. Just all those people I’ve met. From Dennis Hopper to Ibrahim Ferrer. He had a massive effect on me, I still think about him every time I have a drink, because when we did the thing we shared a bottle of whiskey at my old studio and it was the day my grandma died as well, actually. It was a very emotional day but… meeting people like De La Soul. And I suppose just latter [sic], realising that it was possible to write longform stuff, going to China, a massive influence on me, just getting out of the Christian-Islamic-Judaism Philosophic [sic] mindset, and getting into the Buddhist, and the Hindu, and Zen, Confucius, all of that, brilliant.
PM: In a way, one of the patterns I would have detected in the Noughties was a shattering of values almost,
DA: … an obliteration…
PM: Yeah, an obliteration. So it’s very hard to explain the importance of values, and why pop music was one of those great things that happened in a commercial setting, that still held true to value, and how there could be Dylan, and there could be Anita Harris or whatever, but there was Dylan. Now it’s almost as if the two… so Cheryl Cole can be put a record and it’s almost like that’s a Gang of Four album, or something, which is ridiculous. And you’re not saying people shouldn’t have fun. So it’s a very difficult area to be in, isn’t it.
DA: I think maybe, in the past, if Rock musicians had been able to have a bit more fun, we wouldn’t be in this situation.Essentially they were all very fun people but the way they came across, the way the NME wrote about music was not the way to write about it… I don’t know.
PM: It’s probably a bad example, Gang of Four. But I was trying to say, to talk about X Factor who just enjoy it with their kids if you like, you know, as a game show, and you’re getting paranoid about its ultimate influence on…
DA: Because of the value of music… we instinctively know it’s ritual, it’s so anyone who’s got any understanding of that whether cognisant of it or not, feels that anxiety because it’s like this can’t be the right ritual. And a place like the NME in the old days, not now, I wouldn’t read it now…
PM: What do you mean by the old days?
DA: [in a funny voice] The good old days! You know the old days! Long ago, it was so aware of the value of the ritual and how important it was. I just don’t know we manage to get so many magazines saying absolutely nothing. How did that happen?
PM: I guess the different thing that happened in the Noughties in a way was the different way that music was made available to people. And the fact that the internet means that everybody can get up and have a say…
DA: But I’m as much responsible for it as anyone else. Because in the nineties when we were all getting famous and breaking the old pop mould , the stagnation of the late eighties and those horrible drums and Phil Collins and all of that, and it was exciting, we were like trying to get on as many covers as possible. There weren’t enough covers to get on at the time! And everyone went ‘we need more, more!’
PM: What kind of impact has that one form of disintegration of music had on you, and the way that the internet has changed everything? Because on the one hand we’re still talking about music in the same way. But on the other hand the landscape of it has totally changed in the Noughties, in the way people use music on their phones, and they download it, and they approach it in a totally different way. But they’re still approaching the kind of music that’s still rooted in the vinyl-era mentality, aren’t they?
DA: God knows. God knows what it’s going to be like putting out a [record]… I mean the world’s changed since I last put out… Demon Days was 2005, one of the last massive selling albums. Probably literally one of the last ones. And there are still a few massive selling records, but at what price, you know? I don’t know, maybe we can do it again. Maybe we will be the exception to the rule and we’ll still be able to have the global success and still be really… you know… but why is Jay-Z with Chris Martin and U2 now? Why are they ubiquitous when you put the names together? That’s desperate on both sides, isn’t it? Two sets of people who blatantly don’t know each other’s culture. But I’m optimistic. Especially today, you’ve got me on a roll. A really up day! I feel like it’s worth… there’s nothing else to do but get up there and give 100% more than you were yesterday, and just keep trying to do that. Somedays you’ll fail miserably, but just don’t give in.
On Blur, the reunion, being a frontman once more
That was really strange… It was a very disciplined time. I stopped drinking entirely. I dropped making this new Gorillaz record, which had been all consuming, for three months, which was really difficult at the time. Bit by bit we got back to the level where we had been in our prime. Where it was stadiums and everybody singing and very euphoric. And then after the last gig in Scotland I got on the train and left it all behind. That’s it, I haven’t thought about it since. For me, it was so nice to do that again and to know that I had left on a good note with Graham, Alex and Dave, but I didn’t come off stage thinking, “I’m a rock star!” at all. I really didn’t. It was really strange. I loved every second of it and I felt the songs had lasted and there had – kind of, in a way – been a vision of Britain as it is now… but then when it had finished it was like, we’ve all got to get on with our lives now. It was like a really nice holiday and a really nice treat and a great honour to experience. You can’t underestimate the feeling of a 100,000 people at Glastonbury just singing every word back to you… it’s an incredible feeling… it’s unbelievable …
On which of his projects/combos/trips/line-ups he likes the best
I fall in love with them all at the time. They are all the same thing, really.
On facing up to summing up the Noughties on the same day he has to visit the dentist
Well, erm, rock music hasn’t really fared very well, there hasn’t been a lot of new ideas about what rock music is, unless I missed it. Urban music has become mainstream and traditional ideas of pop have become so saccharine and so simple … you know, er, manipulated by a very small group of people, mentioning no names, that it is very difficult to enjoy …
On supplying an alternative to those who debase pop
That is why I do Gorillaz records, and it’s why I’m making this one the most pop record I’ve ever made in many ways, but with all my experience to try and at least present something that has got depth. I think pop music is a great place to get new ideas across … The only danger is knowing when you are doing good work, how many people might be affected by it … and you try not to become too knowing, which is really hard to avoid. When I did the first Gorillaz records I allowed my original guide vocals to stay, to say, “Hey, it don’t mean much, they don’t say much,” but this time I thought, “Fuck it, I might not say things totally successfully, but I’ve got to get clear again.”
On modern celebrity
I have no interest in engaging with it, because it doesn’t mean anything any more. There was a time I suppose when being a pop star was quite an otherworldly thing. Did I feel like a pop star when we went on stage at Hyde Park and Glastonbury? Well, the applause was kind of, sort of, connected to it, but I just felt like myself, a father who is passionate about music.
On two things he is really passionate about
The effects of our waste and the healing properties of Africa …
On his arrival in/on/through/beyond Africa
I had a black girlfriend when I was five and, first of all, I lived in a very mixed area with Jamaicans, Pakistanis and Brazilians. Then moving to Essex where it was white and feeling very foreign, in a way, in my own country, and then slowly getting closer and closer to black music, and then actually going to Africa and having a fantastic experience, being yourself and feeling music and having no intellectual responsibilities … Getting into it, not having to understand the words, just feeling the rhythms … If you are saying what was different for me in the Noughties, I addressed that thing that had always been part of me and I had carried from a very young age.
On repeating himself
I would like to do another Good, the Bad and the Queen actually, if we get the chance, because we’re still really good friends but it’s a case of I always had to go back and do the Blur thing at some point and after four years or whatever I’ve started another Gorillaz thing so it’s just a case of not having the time to do it all …
On his arrogance
I had that reputation very badly, but hopefully it’s much less now, although you can’t totally lose those traits. But as my grandad always said, the proof is not in the pudding, it’s in the eating … I said it early on – don’t judge me now … judge me later. It’s true of everyone …
On facing up to thinking of the decade’s highlights
Many highlights: being a father, number one, discovering Africa, having the chance to hang out in the most sublime ancient places. Pop highlights: Dizzee Rascal – fantastic. I found myself really getting that old pop buzz off that La Roux song In For the Kill – that was what pop was like when I was a kid. Loads of great hip-hop/pop thrills. Meeting people. I became friends with Tony Allen and Paul Simonon… just all those people I met, from Dennis Hopper to Ibrahim Ferrer… I think about him every time I have a drink because we shared a bottle of whisky at my old studio; it was the day my grandma died, a very emotional day. Meeting De La Soul. Just feeling very comfortable with all sorts of people in all sorts of circumstances and not feeling awkward. And realising that it was possible to write long-form stuff.
On summing up what keeps motivating him
I want to be a better person in every aspect. I really don’t feel I’ve in anyway fulfilled my potential in every area of my life. But I’m optimistic. You got me on a really up day – there is nothing else to do but give a 100% more than you did the day before… and just don’t give in.
On final thoughts about the Noughties
I’ve grown up. I started the decade in a pretty bad state. I’m a lot better now. Less vain. Less selfish. My memory’s going though.