Short French interview in GQ France. Thanks to “oohyehyeh” from Veikko Forum for the translation. The original article in french.
Blur: Our position doesn’t mean that we have the right to do anything
12 years since their last studio album, Blur get ready to release “The Magic Whip.” Damon Albarn and Graham Coxon tell GQ about the genesis of this unexpected record and the secrets of the longevity of one of the rare Britpop phenomena that is still active.
In a suite of a palace on rue la Paix at the end of February, Damon Albarn and Graham Coxon are sprawled on a sofa, tired from a long session with the Parisian press and with a round-trip Eurostar journey from London that day. A few days earlier, in a surprise conference streamed on their Facebook, they announced the release of an eighth album, twelve years after their last. Recorded in Hong Kong in the summer of 2013 during an Asian tour, as the band had a few days to kill as a result of the cancellation of a date in Japan, for a while the tracks seemed doomed to never see the light of day, without any stress, starting with Albarn himself (that is certainly what we are tempted to infer because of some interviews given by the singer). But last fall, Coxon started again with Stephen Street, past producer of the group. In a few days, the vocals were added and the case was closed. Among the unregulated ballads that make up the backbone of the disk, beautiful swerving electro and raging guitars try to obscure the ambient melancholy, as if the group had been contaminated by the poisonous neon lights of Kowloon. Unless this is an auto-immune disease: Damon says he thinks melancholy is an old hobby for the group when Coxon admits a pension for sentimentality. The two Britpop heroes, mature and in their forties, confide in GQ over a cup of tea and sofas. Rock’n’roll.
Why did the album take so long to make?
Damon: In fact, it wasn’t that long. It was even a fast record. Most of the stuff was recorded in five days. Graham worked another five days, I spent seven days recording the lyrics. That’s what? Seventeen days. That’s very fast. I think that if you can make such a rich album like this in seventeen days, you can do a hell of a job. After that, there actually was some time between the Hong Kong sessions and the release.
Graham: Blur has existed since the end of our adolescence. We’re kind of used to it.
Damon, you said the album might never see the light of day…
Damon: I didn’t think the album would be released, indeed. The only thing I remembered about the sessions was that we recorded lots of things, but that nothing resulted from it. There were songs that were twenty five minutes long, or longer. The prospect of having to go through all these tracks, digging into it, phew… It discouraged me. But Graham was happy to start.
Graham: I was starting, yes, but as long as I cold count on someone to do the sorting. Someone I trusted. Stephen Street was the man for the job because of our shared past. We’re friends. We can be absolutely frank and honest with each other. And we’ve known each other since we were young.
Was working with your old producer again a way to remember the good old days of Blur?
Damon: No, not at all. Like Graham said, Stephen has the patience to listen to the music and to know the dynamic of the group sufficiently well to say what’s good in a certain place or what doesn’t work somewhere else, and if everyone did his best.
Graham: What’s good with Steve is that he can set aside his own sensibility to give us a clear view of our recordings. And he’s the most trustworthy man I know.
But the record doesn’t sound like what you’ve done with him before…
Damon: No, but we didn’t record it with him. It was done in a small, claustrophobic studio on a lane in Kowloon. We were on tour. A date in Tokyo was cancelled and we had time to kill. We just brought another Steve, the engineer in my studio. And that’s it.
Were the songs already written, or were they improvised in the studio?
Damon: No song was really written, but I had parts of songs on Garageband, most of which are on the record. It’s pretty funny to think Blur ended up releasing a record full of Garageband.
Graham: It’s not uninteresting, Garageband, there was a lot of eccentricity in the built-in sounds.
Damon: Yes, I like it a lot too. Well, I create my own sounds, huh. I don’t use the prerecorded clips in the app.
How do you explain your longevity, which is unusual for groups of your generation?
Damon: Our drummer is a criminal lawyer. There aren’t any criminal lawyers who become drummers in rock bands as far as I know. But obviously it’s possibly to become a drummer criminal lawyer… Our bassist is a farmer, in a vague sense of the word though. Very vague, even. Meaning someone who’s definitely involved in the food industry. We’re in a group with so many different interests, different hobbies and occupations… Maybe that’s a reason. With early Blur, we had nothing else besides the group and therefore ourselves. That’s the magic of a young group. We had the chance to start at a time when it was still possible to pursue this fairly Romantic idea of rock where you can survive on crisps and chocolate bars.
Graham: Our status and longevity doesn’t mean we have the right to do anything. There’s pressure on us and on the release of a new album. The record company wouldn’t have released a bad album.
Is the pressure a motivation?
Damon: There hasn’t been very much pressure recently…
Graham: There’s been some. But what I mean is that when we got together in the studio, it was so spontaneous and accidental that pressure, real or not, didn’t matter. We were far from home.
Damon: Now, when someone asks me if there will be a new Blur or Gorillaz album I always answer no. No. It’s much simpler. It in no way determines the future. No pressure. And above all, if the album is eventually released, it was worth it.
The Magic Whip is a pretty sad record…
Damon: Sad? I never stop making sad records! It’s not very sad, I find.
Graham: Pessimistic is worse! I think it’s a matter of acceptance. It reflects the world and the times we live in are not necessarily brilliant. And the future is a funny thing.
Damon: Let’s say there’s an uncertainty in the record.
Graham: It’s melancholy in a way.
Damon: Yes. And melancholy is our tradition. That’s where we came from. We can’t get rid of it like that. Even if it was a rave record at 135 BPM, it would always sound melancholy. It always depresses people!
Graham: There’s a sort of romanticism in it, or sentimentality. We’ve reached an age where we mock people for sounding sentimental. We’re not uncomfortable with that.
There’s the song There Are Too Many of Us, which isn’t exactly a joyous hymn…
Damon: I was in Sydney when the hostages were taken (end of December 2014). I could almost follow the events where they were going on from my hotel room. The airspace was closed. The door too. And there was a kind of sad and confused guy holding people for no reason. But it wasn’t a planned attack on Australia, like it was presented. It was just a lonely and broken man. The media distortion of these events terrifies me. It happens all the time. Maybe there are too many distortions of reality for us to understand it. “There Are Too Many of Us” talks about that feeling of confusion, I think. And our secret fantasy of immortality without regard to subsequent generations. For our children… it’s a lot for a song, right? Then, the song has a sort of military atmosphere. It can have a big impact on stage. And that’s really what it’s about: creating a world on stage unlike anything we’ve done before. That’s what makes being in a band exciting. Graham’s guitar can really explode at any time.
Is the acceptance Graham mentions also about your age?
Graham: Maybe. But acceptance doesn’t have anything to do with giving up. It’s more a kind of serenity regarding the passage of time.
2015 marks twenty years since the benchmark year of Britpop, do you think about that?
Damon: No, not really. It’s been a long time. We were there, that’s for sure. And we’ve definitely thought of certain moments. After that, we have to know how to live in this time. Enjoy every moment without succumbing to nostalgia.