(Half of) Blur’s guide to becoming a rock star
This year, Graham Coxon called Kanye West a “fucking idiot”, Damon Albarn described Adele’s 25 as “middle of the road”, Alex James heavily promoted cheese and Dave Rowntree continues to campaign against the death penalty.
Blur don’t really hold back.
The band’s documentary Blur: New World Towers, about the making of their latest album The Magic Whip, is in cinemas in December. It features the Britpop veterans (who mostly hate the word ‘Britpop’) talking about what it means to be Britpop veterans in 2015.
To mark the event, 50 per cent of Blur shared their opinions on modern music. It’s not quite a state of the nation address on the 21st Century’s lyrical landscape.
But Graham Coxon has advice on not eating fried rice and sausages before going on tour and avoiding insanity that should be heeded by all wannabe bands.
Oddly, Alex James leaves food out of the equation for once.
Before we went into the studio we were seriously facing the prospect of spending five days in a spa in a really cool hotel, laying around in bed and getting some peace and quiet for a change. Then the idea came up to go and sit in a tiny studio in Hong Kong.
It’s seen as cool to jam. Getting stoned, having a few beers and jamming for ages thinking it’s well cool. But listening back to them when they’re half an hour long, you can think, ‘That’s probably not going to be at all interesting’. That’s the thing about jamming. It’s often not that nice, it’s like the coal-face of music. It isn’t all happy jolly with us all giving each other winks. You’re really trying to travel somewhere and that takes a lot of effort and concentration. But I mustn’t grumble. It’s not a bad job really.
When we were in Hong Kong we had fried rice and sausages for breakfast – that’s just not a good thing to put in your stomach before setting off on a strange journey on the tube.
I like dynamics in music. A lot of producers don’t allow you to experiment with things like Pink Floyd having an organ playing four chords for half-an-hour these days because everyone is too worried about how it will sound on the radio.
Blur should go to Düsseldorf next time we go away for a while, because I quite like the food there.
What was fortunate about The Magic Whip is that the process chose us. It was five days of jamming in a studio that turned into something. It wasn’t anything that could have been planned. The process found us, and historically if we try to repeat a process that has worked before it falls flat. We could quite easily go away for five days again but it probably wouldn’t work because we’d see through it.
Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse
We were in Ireland for Electric Picnic and I think Sam Smith was on. We hadn’t played for a bit so we decided we’d be better running through a few things.
We were all nuts we all did crazy things. But because I’ve stood up and said, “Yeah, I made a mess of things”, I take the blame for anything that happens now, in the future or the past. Nobody else has said that they made a mess of it so it falls on me.
You watch other band documentaries and think, ‘That’s just like our band’. It doesn’t matter what music you’re playing. It’s bands, relationships, families. After so many years they’re always messy.
After Damon put the lyrics to My Terracotta Heart down I was listening to them and suddenly thought, ‘Oh hang on. That’s about me. And this. Shit’. My blood ran cold. But at the same time it’s very flattering. We’re not good communicators so in a way we learn a lot through the lyrics or what we play.
The madness comes out in other ways these days. It was alcohol-induced insanity before, now we’re just actually going mad. It’s a lot scarier if you’re not drinking and you’re still going mad.
You can do everything possible to make a show the best it can be, but you can’t stop the air moving in whatever direction the wind blows on that day.
The Magic Whip was a miracle baby really. One quick shag in Hong Kong and then 18 months later there it was.
We’ve all got these complicated lives now so every time we get back together there’s a ‘getting back in the water’ sense to it. Being disconnected from those lives in a strange environment meant that we were all really focused on the task in hand and the fact that we’d been playing shows that had been going well meant that we were at ease with each other.
When we started recording 13 with William Orbit he’d just finished working on Ray Of Light with Madonna, which was presumably in some incredibly spick and span studio in Hollywood. Damon had this awful studio with no air conditioning that stank of takeaways in Westbourne Grove. It was tiny. We were all crammed in there with William, who looked absolutely terrified. Then you start playing and you forget where you are.
There is a real magic to playing the old songs and seeing the power they have around the world, but we’re all quite forward looking people. We don’t want to live off the past so having great new music to play is great.
Fuck knows what happens next, but that seems to be our default setting. For a moment I knew what was happening with Blur – there was some shows. But now I’m back to not knowing what’s going to happen next, and that’s quite exciting.