Just to be clear, Gorillaz is an animated group. Really. The English band, with a "mutated hip-hop, trip-hop, dub sound" (according to Blur frontman Damon Albarn) share the same cartoon world as the Archies and the Chipmunks.
But unlike their animated musical brethren, Gorillaz have a very adult sound. Drawing on "help" from several of their three-dimensional peers (including Albarn, Dan the Automator, Tina Weymouth, and Ibrahim Ferrer), Gorillaz have created one of this year's most inviting records, melding accessible trip-hop beats with crafty pop hooks. And it's become an unlikely hit: The album's nestled in the U.S. Top 40 thanks to the bouncy Britpop meets hip-hop single "Clint Eastwood."
Proving they're more real than many human bands, Gorillaz will be hitting the road in the States this September. And while it will be the cartoon Gorillaz out in front of the stage on a screen, one never knows who might pop up to play behind the screen.
So, how is it being in an animated band?
Well, I'm still talking about how I formed the band, which in England I don't have to do anymore because people have gotten to the point where they see it animated on TV and take them for what they are. I still have ways to go in America. That's one of the most frustrating things about bands these days. They do an amazing thing, but then the whole weight of the celebrity and the money destroys it, and they can't come astray from a single hit. It becomes an isolated statement that goes unfinished. I think that is true of so many things in our culture these days; no one is given a chance to experiment.
But it's your previous success that enables you to do this kind of project.
Yeah, you're absolutely right. But I've had to really step a long way back. I've realized that I care more about making music than about being famous. In one way, this is the perfect vehicle for that, but, more importantly, it's just a fantastic invention to be a mode of something where, at some point, you're separated from your babies and they just go off.
What did you want to do with Gorillaz?
I wanted to make pop music again. With Blur, it's just become impossible because the ramifications of making a pop record with Blur were really unpleasant. I love pop music, and I felt like, with Blur, I wasn't fulfilling my potential.
Where did the concept for Gorillaz come from?
Well, it was an idea of [comic artist and Tank Girl creator] Jamie Hewlett and mine. He drew the band, and I made the record. Jaime and I lived together, thinking, "God, it would be so much fun to create something which ultimately would have a life of its own." We could concentrate on our art. And also, the fact that I wasn't ever going to appear in any video or be seen in any sense just freed me up completely.
What were you looking for in people that you collaborated with on the album?
I got in the spirit of just going wherever my imagination took me with the music. The people that I ended up collaborating with were on an equally random journey. Tina Weymouth just turned up one day in Jamaica, knocked on the door of the studio, and said, "I heard outside this music which caught my interest." And then, with Dan [the Automator], I've done a lot of stuff, so I just rang him up and he came over. Right at the end came [Cuban singer] Ibrahim Ferrer. I just felt, "It's a real long shot, but I'm going to try to see if he'd be interested in being in the cartoon." And it really has been like that from the beginning: If you like the concept, you work really well with the people who are involved. And it's because it's never meant to be; there's no emphasis on a celebrity. The people who work on Gorillaz are there because they love the idea and the idea of experimenting in the mainstream. You'll never see anyone who worked on the album; all you'll ever see is the band. The band can just go wherever it wants to -- they're not going to pull the shit that a lot of typical artists do when they're successful.
What have you gotten from this project that you can then take back to the next Blur record?
I want to make another Blur record, but then again, whether you'd ever be able to see Blur again -- whether I'll be prepared to step out of the shadows ever again -- I don't know, because I like it in the shadows. It's so much more fun to see stuff from the side of the stage, so to speak. Or be in the audience. I've never been in the audience; I could be in the audience with Gorillaz.
From a musical standpoint, how do you think this might influence the sound of Blur?
I haven't really listened to any guitar music for probably about three years. I love guitar music, but the kind of guitar music that I love comes from a different era really. I love blues guitar, I love folk guitar, I love sort of post-punk British guitar like Magazine, stuff like that. I don't really like rock guitar to be honest with you, and I don't like all the connotations of alternative rock. I think that's very bleak. It doesn't fit very comfortably with my outlook on the world, which is quite open-minded. I know for a fact that there's so much music out there, and I can't sleep easy just being in a good alternative indie band. I just can't do it . . . I've done my bit of touring, drugs, sex and rock & roll. I've done it and what was left at the end was a love for music and for experimentation with it.
So you don't miss touring?
No, not at all. I've got a kid now so I can't just go off for six months. She wouldn't recognize me if I did.
How old is your daughter?
What does she think of her dad being a cartoon?
When she watches the Gorillaz video on TV, she very casually says, "Daddy" [laughs].