Blur | Magic Magazine – April 2015

Magic Revue Pop Moderne Magazine, from France. Thanks to for the scans.

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Chinese Puzzle

By Nicholas Plommée

But nothing on the horizon in 2013… nothing in 2014… Alex James begins to find the time long. Occasional songwriter, he plans meanwhile to release a record of classical music “light years ahead of what I was listening to when I was younger,” he admits. Before seeing him on stage in 2009, the eldest of his five children even thought that his father was a conductor. He is having fun, “rather it is my wife who does it. (laughs)We have five children all playing music. Two trumpeters, two clarinetists, and the youngest is four years old and is content to encourage us by torturing any piano. I love playing with my family.”

“Just before the New Year 2014 celebrations, I dared to listen to the sound of what I filmed with my little camera during the sessions in Hong Kong. I thought it was a shame to stop there. Three days later they called me to tell me that Graham finally, in agreement with Damon, is working on the material with Stephen Street!.” Without regret, bassist now likes to enjoy and get excited about it. “Even after the first concerts in 2009, there was no indication that this family meeting would not have a future. Fortunately, there were concerts at home during the Olympic Games in 2012, which triggered this tour in 2013 overseas with a new audience which was younger than we expected.”

Dave Rowntree, in his fiftieth year, calls it “a break from the stress of the Blur adventure for lack of Graham between 2003 and 2009” he references a frank conversation between the four of them, in private, to drive out bad vibes. And sighs as if he realized that the lost time is never really caught up. [Edit: Dave history as a DJ, lawyer].[Edit:  release of record]

How would you describe the state of Blur. which has never officially separated, since 2003?

DA: “(Pontificating as if to think about it). It is true that this represents more than a decade, the time to move from a state of childhood to that of young adults. And even more so, the last album we did as four goes back to the time before the Internet.”

GC: (He grimaces at the mention of the Internet) in truth all this time which has elapsed is a shock for us too.

The five days in the studio in Hong Kong between the concert of May 6 2013 and the next one in Jakarta on the 15th May, had they planned it or was it improvised between those two dates on the other side of the world?

DA: We were to have played in Tokyo but the planned concert did not take place for reasons out of our control. We therefore took this opportunity to use it in a studio in Hong Kong before we were going to Jakarta. I had a few demos of material on Garage Band. Then when we had started playing, the magic was there. We would loop a first piece, then a second, and so on for the five days in the studio. In addition to our concerts and rehearsals in 2009, 2012 and 2013, we had already recorded a 45 for Record Store Day, but it was the first time since13 we spent so much time as the four in the studio. It was a real test.

GC: After the Asian episode, we did concerts with Blur in Europe and South America then Japan in early 2014. But we still had not done anything with what we had recorded in Hong Kong. In September 2014, I finally asked Damon if he would let me try to finish what we started. He encouraged me so I went into the studio with Stephen Street, not to add guitars, but to make choices – remove here, add there, leaving space for each other. But the essential parts of The Magic Whip Hong Kong sessions, except for some bass, drums or keyboards, especially the voice of Damon.

DA: The recordings in Hong Kong could not be qualified as songs, it was end to end. We worked constantly, sometimes for two hours on the same piece trying to find the best structure. Nothing extraordinary in that, thus albums are born, or rather it is one of the usual ways in which they are born. The recording of The Magic Whip was not our habit, it just was different from the preceding ones. In fact, in the studio in Hong Kong, it rather felt like the days when we were recording in the small Matrix studio in London, our B-sides were from demos, never knowing where we were going. Except that the experience of The Magic Whip could never have succeeded in London. It would have been impossible to concentrate. We would return to record and raise too many expectations with no guarantee of results.

GC: As in my own story, I often have ups and downs (smiles) And after the concerts with Blur, rather than devote myself to a new solo record, I can’t stop thinking about these Blur sessions in Hong Kong. When I got the green light from Damon in September, I rented a studio in north London to work quietly with Stephen Street and a sound engineer. Stephen, who knows me, told me to do what I wanted. Great for the first month… And it’s true that I did not deprive myself of experimenting with what we had recorded in Asia, with a small side of Frankenstein. We did not think too much about reviving the beast, like a dragon that has escaped us and again spread terror!

Last year, Damon, during the interviews given for the release of Everyday Robots, you recalled these sessions in Hong Kong while calming the game on the release of a new attempt of the group.

DA: When you or your fellows asked me when I put out Everyday Robots, I did not say anything other than the truth. In spring 2014, Graham had not proposed to do it. He did that in September and then nobody asked me. So I have nothing hidden.

Think Tank is the favorite album of Blur for those who do not like Blur. It is in effect Gorillaz?

GC: Nobody loves me… That’s It. More seriously, I talk to a lot of fans of Blur and most like Think Tank. Obviously, the new record is like us, the rest of Blur, but we always seek to evolve as a group. So I hope that those who think they are in familiar territory with The Magic Whip will accept finding themselves in unfamiliar territory… less familiar as they listen.

DA: I’ve already said I was sorry about some songs on Think Tank. But I still like Battery in Your Leg, which is obvious.

GC: Battery in Your Leg, the only bit that I contributed on Think Tank, had been the first recording for the album. It was last as a goodbye. None of us knew then that the next album would come out after twelve years…

DA: (He laughs). Frankly, in my concerts with Gorillaz or in my name, I was asked: “What is your favorite album of Blur?” Moreover, in some of these concerts that would have considered as more mainstream, I allowed myself to play obscure songs by Blur (e.g. All Your Life, B side of Beetlebum), and the reactions were sometimes surprising. I’m not sure there is still really a distinction between my different projects. Even you Nicholas, after listening to The Magic Whip, you do not seem to know what looks like a Blur album. It is rather a good sign, I take it as a compliment! You recognize the characteristic features of Blur, and this is normal since it is always us, but it sounds like there unreleased songs of fifteen or twenty years – still happy…

Graham is an amazing artist, he and I are primarily musicians, it is our vocation of one and the other. But from my perspective, I mostly recorded this new album with my oldest friend. We knew enough to let nothing pass to another. There was no complacency. If we chose to come back with these pieces, it is because we feel worthy of Blur. No Machiavellian strategy there, just the pleasure as ever of playing music together.

Do you remember this cover of the two of you on British monthly Select in 1994 with the title “Mates” (“friends for life”)?

GC: (They laugh). Well sure, it’s still always true. We are just lucid enough to know it was there twenty one years ago. We cannot ignore the ravages of time.

DA: You’re right, male camaraderie was something great if does not become pathetic. Ditto for the image that people have of you, you can really spin your brain if you try to conform to it.

GC: It was good to be English and growing up in a certain type of culture, I would not eat only bangers and mash. It’s nice to be open to other cuisines, although I must admit that Damon Albarn is more than one step ahead of me in this area.

Time has passed since 13 and you are both fathers. Do your children play music?

DA: Yes, my daughter makes music, but not as much as I would like.

GC: What should I say! Yes, the older and the younger are interested in playing. It is a (vocation/calling?) for a musician to have children.

DA: A piece that my daughter Missy wrote was chosen to be recorded at her school. She refused because it was supposedly not cool to impose that on the others. She is not like me at that level, she refuses to do her interests in public (smiling). I was disgusted. At her age, I would have been so happy to record one of my songs to be clever compared to the other kids! I assume this aspect of my personality, it has done well for me so far.

GC: You surprise me, and I’d be very happy to take the opportunity to give a hand to the guy who wanted to impress them!


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