Gorillaz | Sette – October 2020


Gorillaz. 1990s: the last time we were free

Damon Albarn recalls the golden years of Blur to tell the path that led him to the electronic music of the cartoon band. “Instead of getting depressed, we should invent new lives”

by Andrea Laffranchi

A symbol of the nineties with Blur. A musical traveler who has explored the African tradition. The mind and soul of Gorillaz, a virtual cartoon band playing electronic music. There are so many boxes in Damon Albarn’s mind. “When I do something electronic it goes into the Gorillaz box. When I do things with guitar or piano they can go there or to the other boxes ». The box for Blur, a band that represented Britpop and that Cool Britannia that made everything that came wrapped in Union Jack cool, is not closed. “It’s still there and it’s full of possibilities”. Now it’s time for Gorillaz to release Song Machine, Season 1. More than an album, it would be the seventh project created with illustrator Jamie Hewlett, a web-series that has seen one episode released every month since January. “The idea was to make music when I felt the need, without giving it a precise structure. Then it evolved into a series of episodes released once a month. And to close the season there’s this idea of ​​an album which, however, has a different tracklist order”.

– Another blow to the concept of an album that seems destined to disappear from the music scene?

– It’s something beautiful and less boring. People will know most of the songs so it will be a bit like releasing a greatest hits album. I don’t feel like concentrating on just one project for months. I did a lot of other things this year… Or was it last year? I don’t remember what year we are in anymore. But does it matter anyway?

– The title is Strange Timez, with z, strange times like the ones we are experiencing. Did distancing and quarantine influence your writing? There’s something dreamy about the lyrics, as if you were looking for an escape from reality…

– I spent the lockdown in the deepest countryside, near the sea. Feels strange to make music like that of Gorillaz in an environment that is the opposite of an urban reality. Perhaps this is why this melancholic sadness that inhabits my other works has also entered here.

– How strange are these times?

– It is the beginning of the deconstruction of capitalism. We can no longer keep up with our expectations. And instead of getting depressed about it and saying we want to go back to our old lives, we should invent new lives. It’s simple. It’s just a question of perspective.

– In one of the tracks (Strange Timez) there are references to beaches full of plastic…

– I’ve been talking about plastic for ten years. When we released Plastic Beach in 2010 it wasn’t that trendy. Then it became, but now people have forgotten it again. Now they all seem worried about using sanitizer on their hands and getting it into the pipes. Sooner or later we will have public sanitizer showers. It’s not good for health, not good for children who shouldn’t really wash their hands with it.

– So are you a Covid denier?

– No. It’s one of the many viruses that exist. Now is being targeted by everyone. However, I see parents cleaning everything with good intentions, but intentions wrapped in plastic. We should all fight against this to avoid creating, once again, problems in the future.

– How to get the Song Machine started?

– The original idea was this: to have someone come to the studio, but without letting them hear what others were doing. Maybe record all the musicians guided by one click, without any other music. And then put everything in the “machine” and see what would come out of it. In Season 2 I’d like to make a video to tell this story too.

– Speaking of songs and machines, are you interested in creating music with artificial intelligence?

– Not at all. Not only because I would end up unemployed, but because it’s impossible to compose without the touch of the human soul. Music is metaphysics. It’s an expression of the soul.

– The soul of a cartoon band? Or of Damon Albarn?

– Not only. There are a lot of people involved. I spend a lot of time making music, but then I develop it with other people. It happens, as with Elton John, that I have to do everything, but I like working with others because it simplifies my work.

– From a series like Stranger Things to the sounds of so much music today, we’re reliving the eighties. The nostalgia of the nineties that you experienced in the front row will arrive. How should they be remembered, what’s to keep and what’s to throw away?

– Compared to today, these have been overly optimistic years. The Internet was free… perhaps the last time we were free as human beings. As for the music, on the other hand, I’m not the one to judge.

– Guitars and rock were everywhere then. Today they disappeared from the charts…

– And they aren’t even far from the charts. It’s a shame. I’ve always liked the idea that kids get together, learn to play instruments, find their unique sound and embark on an adventure around the world. Then maybe the friendship won’t last, but that feeling is pure and sweet. I miss it.

– Features on the album range from Elton John and Robert Smith of The Cure to Skepta, and to lesser-known names in hip-hop. How do you keep them together?

– It was easy precisely because we weren’t thinking of making an album, but single songs. That is why it is so eclectic.

– In the video for Désolé, a song with Fatoumata Diawara, you’re sailing on Lake Como. Are you a fan of the lake of stars?

– I’ve discovered it because Fatou lives there. It struck me that it’s very deep. The idea of ​​depth inspired me to write a song for another project that I’m doing in Iceland. To shoot that video I came from Paris to Milan by train: a beautiful station, an exercise in nationalism and disappointment.

– In the lyrics of Pac-Man feat. Schoolboy Q one can hear the echoes of Black Lives Matter. Does racial tension exist in England too?

– We have similar problems, especially with the police, but there aren’t so many gunfights because the police aren’t armed here. Which then I never understood why people get excited about shootings in America when everyone is shooting with a gun. There is a simple solution, take them off, but people think they are losing something. The fact is, you’re no less sure if fewer guns are running. Rather. On the racial issue I try to put into practice what I say and I try to live in a world where there is no discrimination.

– Among the thousands of boxes in your head, is there also one with a Gorillaz film inside?

– There is a project. It will arrive on Netflix: one hour of pure fiction with music. We are now evaluating the first script.


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