Blur were one of the most popular bands of the Nineties — everywhere except here in America, where most mainstream listeners know them as the “woo-hoo!” guys thanks to their lone U.S. hit, 1997’s “Song 2.” But their stateside reputation has grown over the years since their 2003 split, and next week, Blur (who returned with a strong new album, The Magic Whip, last spring) will play their biggest American non-festival gigs ever, at L.A.’s Hollywood Bowl and New York’s Madison Square Garden. Frontman Damon Albarn called from his London home to talk about why he both loves and hates getting back together with his old bandmates; his plans for a new album with his most successful non-Blur project, Gorillaz; and more. “I’m on my sofa, and I’ve just put dinner on for my family,” he says. “Hopefully, it will cook while we’re talking, and my multitasking genius will transcend this Tuesday evening.”
2015 marks the 20th anniversary of the Battle of Brit Pop, when Blur and Oasis were archrivals. Do you think all that competition was good for the music?
It was definitely a lot of fun. We used the ghost of the Sixties to cover the skeleton of the modern age. It was a strange morphing, an interesting prototype time. Tabloid and celebrity are the things that drive things. But a lot of the music from then has got a real atmosphere to it. Lyrically, I don’t think people write stuff like that anymore.
You and Noel Gallagher have squashed the beef, right? Do you hang out much?
Yeah, occasionally. I always enjoy his company. He’s hilarious.
Do you listen to much new pop music? What’s the last great record you heard?
I love [French-Cuban R&B duo] Ibeyi. I like lots of stuff, but I can’t think of the names.
OK. Just to throw a name out there — what do you think of Kanye West?
I think he’s pretty unique.
How about Taylor Swift?
Remarkable, but not unique. Anyone else? We can keep going.
He’s not as consistent as he could be.
Really interesting, and sometimes exhilarating.
Well, she’s on the cover of NME, so she must be cool.
Your Alice in Wonderland musical, Wonder.land, is opening in London soon. What drew you to that material?
Alice in Wonderland terrified me as a kid. I was very disturbed by the Duchess in particular. She figured in my nightmares.
I read that the musical is meant as a commentary on the Internet. Is that right?
Yeah, a little bit. More importantly, it’s about identity. It’s very easy to have multiple identities, to be sort of passively schizophrenic all the time, because of social media. But it’s a lot more fun than that.
Are you looking forward to playing Madison Square Garden with Blur?
Is anyone going to come see it? I wonder. Will anyone bother?
Well, that’s one person, and I know a couple of other people who are coming too. So we’re looking at three, at least. But, yes, I’m excited. I’ve always felt that we deserve at least one reasonably sized gig in New York. It’s something we dreamed about back in the early days — you’d hear of someone playing there and think, “Christ, that’d be something!” But we never did it.