Upclose with Gorillaz
Depending on what you want to believe, Gorillaz is a virtual band comprising animated members 2D, Murdoc, Noodle and Russel. The success of their debut album even earned them a spot in the Guinness Book Of World Records as the Most Successful Virtual Band. But the flesh-and-blood brains and musical brawn behind the act are ex-Blur frontman Damon Albarn and “Tank Girl” creator, artist Jamie Hewlett. They talk to HK during a break from recording a single for the charity War Child.
HK Magazine: Tell us about the War Child single.
Damon Albarn: The idea is that you record it in a day and the album comes out very quickly. I thought recording it in Hong Kong would be more fun than recording it in London. I think it’s a fantastic city, although I haven’t seen anything of it because I’ve been recording since I got here. The track is called “Hong Kong” because it tells the whole story really. Then we’re going to spend two weeks in China. It’s research for a project that we might do involving French opera and circuses.
HK: You once traveled through Mongolia. What was that like?
DA: That was a train journey from Beijing to Ulan Bator. Northern China is an environmental disaster. Some things I saw from that train were very disturbing. The trees were dead and had plastic bags on them... and this was three or four hours on a train. It was just absolutely fucked. There are examples of that everywhere in the world, but it was quite shocking to see the extent of it.
HK: What were your impressions of Africa versus the Live 8 concert?
DA: I thought that was pretty shit. It was a missed opportunity because it didn’t really give any realistic impressions of Africa. It perpetuates the idea of the continent being ailing and pestilence-ridden. I think there’s a lot of corruption and an awful lot of poverty, but that’s only part of the story. It’s incredibly forward-looking and intuitive and creative and happy. In some ways it’s one of the most exciting and modern places on the planet. I’ve spent a lot of time in Lagos and Marrakech. I’ve just come back from South Africa, which is a crazy mixture of European and American culture and pure Africa.
HK: On the new album there’s a great track with actor Dennis Hopper. How did that come about?
DA: I bumped into him - literally. I told him about the idea of the “Happy Folk,” much loved by George Bush. It suggests some kind of happy, stable community with good values. Outsiders are the enemy. Hopper’s not a disappointment as a person. He’s fantastic and I’m looking forward to seeing him in November when we’re doing a week of gigs in Manchester, and getting all the guests to perform the album.
HK: How did it feel to have your record company (EMI) saying you and Coldplay were going to save them?
DA: I think it’s an accurate description. I don’t really enjoy being associated with Coldplay, to be honest. But it’s ridiculous.
HK: What happened to the Gorillaz film you were working on?
Jamie Hewlett: We spent a long time in meetings for three months and it was something we decided to pull at the last minute. Dreamworks was opening this whole new division, and we wrote a script that they thought was too dark. Then they talked about something that we didn’t like. We realized quite early on it wasn’t going to happen but we sat on it for a bit. We’d like to do it with English money and do it along the lines of “Yellow Submarine.” or do a rock & roll thing. After the first album was so successful we got all kinds of calls offering lots of money. We just decided not to do any of it.
DA: We were within hours of getting an offer from Terry Gilliam, which was interesting. The best way to do it is the way we’ve done it. We’re too old to be dazzled by Hollywood.
HK: You worked with Danger Mouse on your new album, who is quite influential, but who do you feel has changed the face of music in the new millennium?
JH: I’ve always liked Super Furry Animals. They’ve just put a new album out.
DA: Since September 11, I’ve been wondering where the music with a message is. It pisses me off because young bands should have a message - or at least an idea. Name me a young band since September 11 that has had a message. You can’t name one. They’ve got nice-sounding tunes, but they aren’t saying anything.
JH: The answer to your question is Gorillaz.