I’m totally overrated.
With Blur and Gorillaz, Damon Albarn played at the top of the charts, with world music and opera, he convinced even the most skeptical critics. Now the 46-year-old musician released “Everyday Robots”, his first solo album. A conversation about his childhood, love songs and ambition.
During a visit to Damon Albarn’s studio in west London you can already see on the interior that here an energetic artist lives: hanging on the wall the map of Mali, on the shelf an instrument built from an oil can, and the coffee table shows an excerpt of the route of London Underground.
Damon, here is where the magic happen?
Sometimes. On a good day.
Down at the entrance there is a bookcase where the last three books are about occult philosophy, have you actually read them?
Yes, I have. When I compromised to make my opera, Dr Dee, two years ago, I read them. Otherwise I would have not known what the protagonist was speaking about. John Dee was a medical and scientific advisor to Elizabeth I. He had the occult attached. But it also interests me.
I always felt that I am more spiritual rather than religious and I love Nordic mythology. I travel to Africa very often, and you can’t avoid to inmerse yourself in this spiritual world. It is there, in the DNA of music, there is music for life, music for love, and music for death. I like that. I’m not a Satanist! (Laughs) But I also have no problem with the idea of Satan. The dark side is there.
Do you feel you are in the dark side?
No, I’m not a Goth. (Laughs) More than anything, I’m a Viking.
How does this express itself?
If I look at my songs, it always comes with me a certain melancholy, related with ancient historical ideas. This may be religion, faith or rituals. The first line of the opening song, Everyday Robots, it says: “We are everyday robots on our phones / In the process of getting home / Looking like standing stones / Out there on our own.” I think this is a good example of the way I associate the old with the new.
The first three songs on the album seem to be a commentary about how we communicate on society.
True, Hostiles is an interesting song because I’m talking about the characters from violent computer games. It’s crazy that people spend many hours, just trying to kill. Those games affect a very dark part of the human psyche related with instincts.
Will Blur make a new album?
No, not at the moment. The reunion gigs in Hyde Park were unbelievably great – perhaps the best concert experiences of my life. But it is time to let the Fred Perrys hanging on in the cupboard for a while.
“Everyday Robots” is a solo album, but there are guests as Brian Eno and Natasha Khan from Bat For Lashes on it.
There are just a few and are local musicians. Brian Eno, for example, is my neighbor. I thought it was a good idea to do it with him. He sung on Heavy seas of love, what he so rarely does.
You can hear on the record things you have done before with your other projects – the melancholy of some blur songs, the beats from Gorillaz, world music-influences from your travels to Africa.
It is the same painter with a different palette of colors, if you like. In the past, there wasn’t just one Damon, there were four or six… And now there are even seven. One more!
What exactly can you add to this time, that wasn’t possible before?
I sing a lot about my personal experiences. It is a very tender, reflective thing. I dug deep into my past, at locations that draw a lot of very emotional echoes on me; I went back to the places where I grew up.
There are three places where I’ve lived. It starts in Leytonstone in east London, where I lived as a child on an old house until I was nine years old. The second place was a small village called Aldham in Colchester, Essex. And the third is still West London.
And these places have influenced you?
Yes, especially the first one. I grew up in the multicultural London of the 70’s. The smells that came from the kitchen, the people with whom I was to school, and the music that came out of the church, made this place special. Leytonstone was for me the window into other cultures. In the small town in Colchester it was quite different. There I felt like an outsider. Everything was so conservative. But this place had something absolutely English. Colchester and the multicultural London are probably my major influences.
There are some love songs on the album. You dedicate this your long-term girlfriend, the artist Suzi Winstanley?
Ok, as in every serious relationship, there is joy, optimism, but there is also pain and regret. All can be found in the songs. Write about love is always difficult – because automatically puts you on the shot line, it reveals a lot.
Your development is impressive. Back then you were a britpop-poster-boy and now you’re celebrated by the critics as a gifted musician.
That’s a good feeling. It’s nice to be liked. But perhaps all this was accidental.
You’re so clever, how to accept what people say?
(Laughs loudly) I’m definitely not! I’m totally overrated. In everything I do I got the same feeling: “oh god, I could have done it so much better”. And that’s what makes it pretty.
The Gallagher brothers are stuck in their genre while you are constantly trying new things. Do you feel proud when you look over these two?
No, Noel is a very funny guy, I really respect him. Regarding his music, he is a more popular songwriter; some of his songs are very accessible and direct. My stuff is a bit more melancholy and cosmopolitan. But I do not think this is better. Music means different things to many different people. There are people who don’t care about my music at all, and they love Noel’s music. Do you want me to tell them that they are wrong? They aren’t. That is their experience with his music. And it’s what songwriters keep trying to do: create a magical moment, a connection between the transmitter and receiver.