Damon Albarn ready for a big crowd bath
At the end of the cell waves, it is a Damon Albarn of excellent mood that we join, still impressed of the performance of his band, in Toronto, July 10: “it was epic, one of the best gigs I ever have given”.
This confirms his wish to put Gorillaz back on track after a seven-year hiatus. Disputes with Hewlett had led the two men to take a break. Then, finally, they came closer and decided to dive into Humanz, a festive album, but encamped in a dark epoch, politically. As is the case with each of the group’s albums, Albarn has shaped it with an impressive list of guests including Vince Staples, De La Soul, Grace Jones, Mavis Staples, Popcaan, Benjamin Clementine and Jean- Michel Jarre. A portion of the artists accompanies Albarn on tour, including in Quebec, but on this, Albarn himself has trouble knowing who will be with him, so many evenings follow each other and are not alike …
It surprises you how much Gorillaz, despite its experimental or daring side has joined and continues to reach so many people?
I am particularly pleased. It will be a very large audience in Quebec City and it will be a real test for me to see if I can communicate all this to such an imposing crowd. I played in front of big crowds before, but it will be the biggest for us to date. I hope we will be up to it. We have succeeded great musicians like the Who – it’s an honor because they inspired me greatly when I was a child – and Kendrick [Lamar], which is certainly the hottest thing on the planet. But we’ll be ready!
This first visit to Quebec City is all the more expected because at some point it was over for Gorillaz. What brought you back, beyond the fact that you were reconciled with Jamie Hewlett?
I wanted to make another album, with other young singers and musicians and I wanted it to be a bit more up tempo. Do you understand what I mean? Not to be too serious at my age [he’s 49], be a little frivolous!
Originally, the characters in Gorillaz played such an important role, that you played behind a screen to let them all the space. For this tour, you are more at the forefront. Is it related to the theme of the new album, Humanz?
It is true that the album is named Humanz, but it is more or less a debate, because it is a comic strip group. At the same time, this formation is not fixed, it can be transformed in any way at any time. And this time, I wanted to have a funky band and it’s probably the most funky band I’ve had.
When you started working on Humanz, you wanted to be connected to what would happen when the album appeared. You then asked your collaborators to imagine a universe with Trump in power before he was even elected …
Yes, and that’s what it is now. The idea was to imagine a world that had changed, where the perspective would be different. We’re in now.
Are you frightened of that?
No, because I think the opposite happens. It’s a rewarding experience, in fact, it’s not a depressing concert!
That said, you have erased the names of the politicians in the songs of the album. Is it because you did not want Humanz to be dated or frozen in time?
Yes, certainly. There is nothing amusing about politicians. They are not fun, it’s not party – right now at the very least. It’s damn depressing. You have Trudeau, you are well, you are in a much better position than we [in the United Kingdom] …
One of Gorillaz’s distinctive traits is of course the amount of guests who gravitate to each album and show. You do not pay them, however, for them to record with you. Does it make you more difficult?
I pay them in the sense that they have the copyright with me on the songs, so these are their songs too. But I do not pay people to play with me. Why would I want to do that? Or they want to play with me or they do not want to. And if they do not want to, it’s not a problem, someone else will want to. I do not ask money to others to play with them. I believe that is the civilized way of doing it: for the sake of music in the first place. And then, if it works, everyone smiles!
Were you refused because of that?
Certainly! But I will not give names publicly …
We Got The Power is a special piece, especially because you end up with Noel Gallagher, who has already been your rival, at the time you were in Blur and him in Oasis. How did that happen?
We are friends now and he wanted to be on a Gorillaz album. I felt it was the only room that would be appropriate for him, and then I invited D.R.A.M. And finally Jehnny Beth (The Savages) and put her “soupçon” you know, it’s about people, about humans and when you play it in a show, it’s really good for the crowd, who participate. It is a simple message “on a le pouvoir de s’aimer”
In the middle of the festive songs is the beautiful Busted and Blue, which brings another tint to this dark celebration, as much on the album as in spectacle and which deals with the links between the human and the technology.
Yes, I do a little crooning! I like this. This is the moment when I sing a simple song, without being surrounded by anything else. It’s a good time to breathe and to catch my breath. […] It’s a song where you calm down. In fact, it’s the song after the party, or the day after the day after! A very dark day!
Some guests follow you from one concert to another. Do you ask them to save time for the concerts, from the moment you collaborate in the studio?
No, no, I never do that. If they are available on tours and if they want to come, they are there!
So it involves a lot of organization and flexibility so that magic works every time …
Yes, but it’s better this way, otherwise it gets annoying after a while. I like it better.
Humanz’s plays occupy an important place in this concert, but other titles of Gorillaz are also there. Which form take the oldest songs?
I believe [they have continued to evolve] with the new training. The DNA of each group is what gives them a unique character. It’s probably more funky right now, but I’d say that every song is as good, if not better, in several better cases [than they were originally] so it’s good.
You have already said that one day you could pass the torch of Gorillaz to younger musicians and visual artists …
Yes, that would be good.
But how can you be sure your baby will continue to grow as you wish?
I think we should give clear instructions. A manual, I suppose, at a given moment! Ha! Ha!
The Good, The Bad & The Queen with Tony Visconti
Along with Gorillaz, where he creates more from his iPad, Damon Albarn continues to be active with The Good, The Bad & The Queen, a quartet with a more classical approach to writing, where he evolves with Former Clash Paul Simonon, ex-Verve -Simon Tong and drummer Tony Allen. “I do not really distinguish between how to do it on one side or the other,” says Albarn. I like both, I am very flexible in this sense. The supergroup will enter the studio in early September with director Tony Visconti, who is known for his work with David Bowie, among others.
A new project in Paris
Damon Albarn likes to vary the pleasures and to keep himself occupied. He reveals he is working on a project for the theater of the Chatelet in Paris, “a trick really interesting,” he enthuses, without giving too much detail and would be for 2019. Albarn had already presented the pop opera Monkey , Journey to the West (2007), as well as wonder.land (2016), a new-style musical inspired by Alice in Wonderland.