Blur | Rock & Folk – May 2015

Rock & Folk – Issue 573, May 2015
Thanks for the translation to Legless Owl from the Veikko’s forum.

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By Par Eric Daham

What’s your side of the story? 

When my solo album ‘Everyday robots’ was released, a lot of concerts promoters solicited us and that’s how we found ourselves in Djakarta and Hong-Kong where we had never played before. We started with a couple of ideas I had on my laptop and we ended up with 20 minutes of improvisations. I was really happy that Graham decided to give them a second listen eighteen months later and suggested to make a record out of them with the help of Stephen Street. When I heard the result of their work, I was really excited as I could hardly recall what we had recorded. It was like listening to someone else’s album, with an objective ear. On the one hand, I was like ‘Fuck, where are we going with all this?’ because I am currently writing a new musical coproduced by the théâtre du Châtelet, an internet era variation of Alice in Wonderland. On the other hand, what I was listening to was terribly exciting.

You said at Mode’s gig that that new record had really been influenced by the city of Hong-Kong, which means…
I had already explored Chinese music with ‘Monkey, Journey to the West’ which was presented at Châtelet, and I think I understand Chinese music a little better now. I love its melancholy, just like I love the melancholy of Korean popular music which, strangely enough, shares some similarities with 19th century European romantic music.

Your vocal performance in ‘Pyongyang’ was really touching… 
I’m not a very confident vocalist and I’m at the limits of my vocal range in that song, but Stephen Street insisted that I sang my heart out. That song alludes to my visit of the mausoleum that overlooks the city. I tried to imagine the day North Korea finally comes out its isolation, in a non-violent way, I hope.

That song, despite its tragic subject, is incredibly romantic, in the same way that ‘There are too many of us’ is deeply human despite its serious theme…
I’d really love to sing it in French. You know, just like we recorded ‘To the end’ in French with Françoise Hardy.

You had invited us to that recording in London, and it had been particularly laborious… 

No, that’s clumsy and that wouldn’t stick to the level of prosody. You should sing ‘Nous sommes trop nombreux…’
Ah, I really love French song! Actually, my new musical has been deeply influenced by French song.

Really? Who are your favourite singers then?
Edith Piaf, of course, but I also love Jacques Brel.

You do know he is Belgian, don’t you? What about Léo Ferré? Do you know about him? 

Not at all.

You should listen to ‘La solitude’, ‘Avec le temps’ or ‘On s’aimera’. He was an anarchist who mixed classical musical culture and symbolist poetry. He wanted to work with Hendrix and yet he had recorded in New-York with John Mclaughlin, Billy Cobham and Miroslav Vitous from Weather Report… Talking about dead singers [Léo Ferré died in 1993 and in French, “chanteurs disparus” means “dead singers” but “disparu” also means “missing”, “vanished”…], did you think Blur would last 25 years? 
Oh no. Certainly not.

That longevity takes you away from the Beatles and brings you closer to the Rolling Stones. Are you pleased about that?
No, that horrifies me.

Why do you say that? A lot of people would be proud to be compared to the Rolling Stones… 
If you say so…

Talking about that, you should take inspiration from Mick Jagger’s stage performances and dance a little bit more…
I am not that extrovert… but I’m going to train, I promise!

Considering you’ve also made a name for yourself with Gorillaz, your opera projects and your solo album, do you find it humiliating or maybe regressive to get back to Blur? 
No, I wouldn’t put it that way, it’s just that within Blur, I’m just the singer…

What? You compose, write lyrics, play guitar and keyboards either in studio or live, and you even throw water on the audience in the front rows… 
Oh, I find that funny, that’s just like children having fun spraying each other when summer comes…

What about ‘My terracotta heart’? We do hope it’s not a disguised advert for Guerlain… [There is a Guerlain perfume called Terracotta and some make-up products]
No! This is a way to evoke my fragile heart…

That was a joke… But we are quite surprised to know you have a heart made of terracotta that can break easily…
Isn’t yours just the same? Well, let’s say I’m trying to revitalise the vocabulary to write the one hundred thousandth love song of history…

Is ‘I broadcast’ a criticism of Facebook civilisation, of those people who feel obliged to let us know whenever they go pee? 
Not even that, because with smartphones and geolocation, everyone knows where you are and what you are doing anyway…

Excuse our outspokenness, but your solo album ‘Everyday robots’ is musically really poor. Don’t you like orchestration and harmony? 
That is a very simple album, indeed. I’d produced Bobby Womack’s album just before. I was on piano, and as a result I decided to stay on piano for my own album…

Oh, so you tried to redo Lennon’s first album… 
That would have been a dream to get anywhere near that…

Is he your hero? If so, why?
He’s such an emotional singer and his melodies are so powerful, not to mention his lyrics which are extremely pertinent… My other hero is David Bowie, so amazing during many years. He inspired me a lot and I often think of him while singing on stage…

You and Thom Yorke are the only two artists to come close to Bowie these days, that poetry of dereliction, that lyricism a little bit ‘unheimlich’ [in German in the text, I think that means ‘eerie’ or something like that], both familiar and threatening… But don’t you have other heroes?
Yes, of course. I love working with Tony Allen. Bobby Womack has also really inspired me and among the youngsters, I really like Kendrick Lamar.

His first album was excellent and ‘Drank’ was most probably the best rap song of the last decade… What do you think of his new album? 
Oh, I love it… He’s a fantastic guy, original, intelligent… I like what he says about the condition of black people in the America of 2015.

What makes it different from the America of Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder?
There is less beauty in today’s music, but more honesty.

Less beauty? That’s an understatement! Don’t you think the best rapper of history remains a minnow regarding music if you compare him to Stevie Wonder? 
Yes, I can’t see who could compete against Stevie Wonder. We all feel pathetic in comparison with such a giant. Only Prince comes close to him…

As you say, he only ‘comes close’… because he hasn’t composed anything as tremendous as ‘Overjoyed’… Anyway, you come close to David Bowie, that’s not bad… By the way, when we tell you Blur’s new album is beautiful, doesn’t that make you feel like reenlisting for 25 more years?
Absolutely not.

Why? 
I want to record Gorillaz’s new album.

Sorry but we never quite appreciated the value of this band… 
Neither did I… [There I don’t even understand the French sentence ‘le prochain fera sans doute plus sens…’, it doesn’t make any sense, unless ‘sens’ would stand for ‘sensation’, in that case it would be: ] but wait and see, the next album is probably going to cause a sensation…

What is the concept behind Gorillaz? Collaborating with people? 
Yes, working with older musicians like Ike Turner, Bobby Womack and Dennis Hopper, renew the perspective… Admittedly, when I see Paul McCartney collaborating with Kanye West, I tell myself that my innovative ideas have now fallen into public domain…

After Morocco and Africa exuding from ‘Think Tank’ and South-East Asia influencing ‘Magic Whip’, we wonder what to expect from the next opus… 
India. That’s my dream. Would you believe that I was supposed to go there at the end of the week but due to a stupid passport problem, I ended up spending my holidays in England, stuck in Hampshire. And that’s how you move from sublime to ridiculous.

Well, there is a certain greatness in the English countryside… 
It is true that I love my seafront house in Cornwall but I’m currently having some work done there… Maybe that’s the last way to be radical, refusing tourism, spending holidays in your own country…

It’s only postponed, not cancelled… 
Yes. I’d like to explore Russia and Central Asia too. I still have so many things to discover, I hope I’ll have enough time to.

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