Short interview to Damon in Vanity Fair Italy, May issue, 2015. Thanks to Holly Golightly for the translation. Original interview.
I Got My Brother Back
Words by Ferdinando Cutugno
Sunday Morning, Milan: Damon Albarn is waiting for me in a secluded hotel room overlooking a still quiet Central Station. He looks like he didn’t sleep much and not yet ready for his day that starts with meetings with the press (not exactly his favourite category of human beings) and ends with a performance on TV.
If you wanna talk to him, even when sleepy, you have to be ready for digressions, for the way he alternates laconic sentences and long tales of his travels, suddenly interrupted to talk about shoes, football and his latest interest: Persian food. Nobody can really lead a conversation , with Damon Albarn.
His career as well had quite an irregular trend: after the 90s all about Blur, the Britpop, the war with Oasis, he then traveled the world, played in Africa, created several other bands (Gorillaz, The Good The Bad And The Queen…), wrote musicals, operas, and soundtracks. Eventually, it was time to go back home, with Blur. It all started with reconciliation with guitarist and childhood friend Graham Coxon. Then there were a couple of singles, the Glastonbury show (when he got so emotional he cried on stage), a world tour and finally a new album, The Magic Whip, almost born by chance, during some time off from the tour, in Hong Kong.
Some bands reunite for the money, some others to get an adrenaline rush back. What about you?
Personally, I did it to have my old friends back. To wake up in this hotel room, take the elevator and have breakfast at same table as Graham. To me this is more precious than all the money in the world. We’re like brothers again, just like when we were kids. Those years without talking to each other were terrible.
Did you miss it?
I missed being Blur frontman, but at the same time I didn’t. I was busy with the rest of my life. Being in this band is a great privilege. But I also like not being with Blur. To journalists it’s much easier when you’re just one thing, “Blur singer”, but this is never the case.
You said you’d be back with Blur only if you found a way to combine the band and your family. Did you manage to do that?
It was easy. My daughter Missy is a teenager. Just like any teenagers she has sudden and unpredictable mood swings. But it’s not as difficult as looking after a child. She needs less time with his dad and more time with his friends. I wish she still depended on me, but she doesn’t. She misses me, only in a different way.
What if she formed a band too?
She likes music, she already writes some songs. There’s a beautiful one, it has an interesting structure… But I don’t want to talk about it, if she knew I am doing so… But it makes me so happy to hear her singing her own music, it’s something that touches me deep inside.
Damon, you’ve always been very active, politically…
Yes, but it was just one element in my world. I wouldn’t say I’m an activist.
Exactly, you never were the typical “celebrity activist”, a Bono Vox.
Because that’s bullshit. I hate how some people talk politics without even taking their shades off. If you do, you shouldn’t hide behind anything. Or it’s just hard to understand: are you self-promoting or you’re genuinely trying to help someone? It’s a thin line. I believe in actions, they’re much louder than words.
You experienced Africa in a different way, as a musician.
Other than being home with my family, nothing makes me as happy as wandering Africa like a perfect stranger. I love the lack of inhibitions, the bond with the earth, pagan in a natural way, not stereotyped with nose piercings and ritual sacrifices. In Africa I remember my deepest nature is made of music, nothing else.
The Magic Whip is son of Asia instead. There’s a song, Pyongyang, inspired to North Korea.
Long story. I was working on a musical about Alice in Wonderland and I wondered: where shall I start from? From the only place possible: the rabbit hole. I’ve been down many different rabbit holes, when I was a teenager and used acids. But now I wanted to get there in a non-lysergic way.
So you went to Pyongyang.
Exactly. It’s a place where everybody’s under a spell. The city is just like ours, but it’s empty, quiet, dark at night. There’s a bizarre, terrifying beauty. Everybody must be the voice of the regime, no one can be their own. And then there’s The Kim Mausoleum. As big as Versailles, a massive queue to take a golden elevator, you get to the top floor, it’s like being in a space hoover, and at the end the Kims in their coffins, and you have to bow. Right, try imagine how it would be to take an acid there.
You’re about to be on Italian TV instead.
I haven’t yet come to terms with this whole rewatching myself on TV, it feels awkward. Tonight it will definitely be better, but last time I was on TV here in Italy (still on Che Tempo Che Fa) I felt like “Elton John at the piano”, not exactly how I like people to see me. Let’s just say on your TV music never really matters, it’s just entertainment.
To conclude, there’s rumours you might go on stage with Oasis.
That wouldn’t be a problem. Noel and I are friends now, and we were never really enemies. We just happened to play in rival bands that, together, boosted a country that really needed it.