You can listen to the interview online or even download it as an mp3, from the Triple J site here:- Part 1 | Part 2.
You can also read a transcript of the interview by clicking 'Read More' below.
This is only Damon's second interview about Plastic Beach, the previous one being the one with Paul Morley that was published at the end of last year ( read it on G-U here), as he has shunned the media in Phase 3 even more than in Phases 1 or 2, so far.
Full interview transcript.
The Doctor (TD): Damon.
Damon Albarn (DA): Hi.
TD: Hello, it's Lindsay here from Triple J.
TD: It's the morning in the UK, what are you up to?
DA: Well I'm rehearsing it at the other end of London. I normally go on my bicycle from my house, but I had quite a late night last night, because we were celebrating a bit, so I got a cab, and I just had an hour-long cab conversation which anyone who's been to London knows are part of our capital's charm. In inverted commas [laughs]
TD: What were the topics then?
DA: We started with football. That's how it all gets going, really.
TD: Fairly safe territory.
DA: Then we went to golfing holidays though I've no interest in golf, but he wanted to tell me about golfing holidays.
TD: Did you have to pretend to be into golf because you knew you had 40 minutes left of the trip?
DA: Well, no, sometimes it's an easy conversation. Golf in Turkey and from there on to another favourite subject for cabbies, their vehicles, and that's how we finished it off. But, you know, it's been a lovely morning. It kind of, it feels like Spring here. So it's fine.
TD: Would that be because it's Spring there?
DA: Well it's about to happen. Spring's just about to happen, so it's started, kinda, it's the warmest day for a while. And we've had a proper winter this year.
TD: It's been freezing.
DA: It's been nice, but you really appreciate it, because it gets dark here.
TD: At about 3:30 in the afternoon.
DA: so when it starts to lighten up, it's really, it's great.
TD: So what a perfect day to go into the rehearsal studios and close the doors.
DA: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. But I've done that all my life so I'm kind of used to it. It's all I Know. It's all I know.
TD: Yeah. So you see a nice day and immediately run to the nearest rehearsal studio, locking the door behind you!
TD: So I imagine you've got a lot to rehearse for because if the tweets from Murdoc from Gorillaz are anything to believe, he tweeted 'My Plastic Beach masterpiece just shot into the US chart at #2'. And Australia #1! So that was what the celebrations were for last night?
DA: Well, er, it's done well. It's done well, it's done well... it's pretty much 1 or 2 everywhere around the world so that's... you know... I don't know if it means as much as it used to, when I was a kid, if I'd have had a record as successful as this, I think my head would have exploded, do you know what I mean? But I kind of, in between being a dad, doing the washing up, cab journeys, chelsea going out of the Champion's League.
TD: you're telling me during the football and golf and vehicle conversation you didn't mention 'you know I'm actually #1, so..."
DA: No no no, I mean.. I don't even.. I'm lucky if I get through a journey and I don't get recognised, do you know what I mean? so it's a mild state of bliss when nobody asks me what I do.
TD: And today Sir, are we going to Plastic Beach by any chance?
DA: Well, you can if you want. It's closer to you than it is to me.
TD: Is it really?
TD: have you worked out a geographical location where the Gorillaz are at the moment?
DA: Well we've worked out a geographical conceit.
DA: And it's in the Pacific.
TD: Okay. So this is where Gorillaz are and they're tweeting from at the moment.
DA: Well yeah. They are. You know I have nothing to do with them.
TD: I realise. Well, you seem to keep popping up on their albums, and you seem to...
DA: Well. I make their records and then they go and, er, they're kind of, sort of, er... they're very much a manufactured band.
TD Yes exactly
DA: They're entirely there.
TD: You are the Simon Cowell of the Gorillaz
DA: Yes, I am. No no no no no no no no I'm not saying that. I didn't say 'I am'.
TD: No you didn't, it's okay.
DA: you said that [laughs]
TD: Yes I did, I'm putting on a great Damon Albarn voice. [laughs]. So why are Gorillaz, these people you have nothing to do with, in this Plastic World? Why is it a Plastic Beach?
DA: [pause. breathes out] What, are you asking them or are you asking me?
TD: Well you seem to know a lot about it.
DA: Well as I say I have nothing to do with them. Whatsoever. I mean I try and make decent records. The whole Gorillaz thing is not about me hiding away or trying to be.. sort of... some kind of Wizard of Oz... thing. It's not like that at all, I genunely love making the records, I love the process of... as they develop things come to mind like when I got the groove Stylo together, I just thought wouldnt it be amazing to get someone like Bobby Womack, who I've always been a massive fan of, to sing over that kind, sort of, quite cold electro beat because I'd never heard that kind of voice over that kind of thing. So it's very much an experiment and some of it works and some of it doesn't. I had like 80 tunes... by the time... by the end of last year when I really started cutting it all down, I had 80 tunes which I was considering for Plastic Beach. And the reason why it's called Plastic Beach is very simple. I was just walking on this beautiful little beach near my country residence down in Devon and I just noticed there were thousands of very small bits of plastic in the stones and in the sand and it kind of looked very beautiful and I felt that plastic although it's a man-made thing, it's quite a natural thing and we kind of have this weird idea that it's man-made and not from nature but actually if we made it, it must be part of nature's course, do you know what I mean? And I suppose it was just like two words that you wouldn't put together, and yes there is definitely a sort of emotional response to the pollution that we keep... that increases every day and I mean, I went to quite a few landfill sites to record seagulls and stuff when I was making the record, and it's quite overwhelming when you sort of confront how we get rid of our waste. These are like cities. And we supply them daily.
TD: Well there are ships full of rubbish, it's amazing. I've seen them in the Hudson river in New York.
DA: Yeah. It's just extraordinary. So there's an element of that but it's also, a lot of the records is about sitting on a beach, and staring at the stars, and the sea, being quite sort of, reflective, you know, it's not all about waste disposal. [laughs]
TD: No, of course not! I'd not have suggested that at all. But you have said, you did say, in the doco, in Bananaz, that the one thing you learnt from Britpop is that it's very difficult in the UK to be experimental, and now with your association with Gorillaz, experimental is the top of the menu.
DA: Well that's why I like it. and you know, by having the cartoons, you know for a lot of people that's what they're into, they don't even know that I make the records, and that's great, because they get a very different take on the whole thing, they see it through the eyes of the cartoons, and I think that's really interesting but I'm not going to pretend that the... do you know what I mean?...
DA: ... Jamie's part of it. But that's how we collaborate. You know, he goes off on tangents that I would never entertain, and Murdoc and his twitters, they all come from a guy called Cass Browne, I'm going to name and shame him there, because I don't know why I always have to take the shit, but he actually writes it. He writes the whole thing, he's a very close friend of both of ours, and you know, he's one of the Gorillaz and I don't know, it just allows us to do what we like and sometimes we get it right, and sometimes we get it hideously wrong. It's important to be able to keep trying things I think.
TD: Yeah. And the success of this album has proven, at least in a very chart-based sense that people seem to agree with you and...
DA: Well you know it's great, it's very exciting because we've only... in a way, Stylo was not really the kind of obvious single to take off the record. We just sort of thought it was a good starting point. But I don't know, I think it's a record you can listen to time and time again and it gets better. Well I hope so.
TD: Well I'm not even planning on playing Stylo at all during this interview. In fact the song I want to play right now, and what I mean by that is play it in later when we run this interview...
DA: Yeah, I know how it works mate.
TD: [laughs] It's Welcome To Plastic Beach with Snoop Dogg, and it's a great tune, and once we have a listen to it I want to have a talk about the idea of using these amazing guests that you've managed to garner for this album, more as instruments rather than as cameos...
DA: Well I'll tell you the ones I didn't manage to get, which is kind of more interesting.
TD: On Triple J Welcome To Plastic Beach by Gorillaz off Plastic Beach and Damon Albarn is on the phone from the UK. Alright, so you got Snoop Dogg on that track and it's an amazing tune. So who else, who did you not get?
DA: Who did I not get, well...
TD: ... that's kind of a big question isn't it...
DA: Well if we're going to use the sea analogy and netting, and trawling and fishing, the ones that got away [laughs] well the first one... and actually I haven't, I didn't put the song on the record as a result but I wrote this really big, epic kind of string ballad and I thought Engelbert Humperdink would be fantastic on it. Well he got the tune and we thought he was going to do it, and you know sometimes people just.. they either don't get it, or they.. you know, what I've learnt kind of making these records is that you've very much got to sort of just let people make their own mind up about what it is that you are doing, you know. And I think in the end he... it just didn't work out because he only comes to England like once a year and that's fair enough, he didn't want to be faffing around in the studio with somebody he wasn't entirely.. well you know. So that didn't work out, but the one we really, I really thought was going to happen, and literally the guy was about to start recording and then he backed out, was Barry Gibb.
TD: Ah, and he's an Australian as well.
DA: He was going to sing the Overload part on Stylo, and then he was doing it, and then he wasn't doing it, then he was doing it again, and then he literally was going into the studio. And I even remember the day, it was a Tuesday, in his studio in Miami and then he got to the studio and he decided he had an earache. And that was the end of that.
TD: Ah. And that was the end of any Bee Gee on the Gorillaz...
DA: Yes. That was it.
TD: So there was almost an Australian on the Gorillaz album
DA: [laughs] I know...
TD: Wow, I'm sorry, on behalf of Australia [laughs]
DA: Well, you know, you just... you win some you lose some you know.
DA: I think it just would have been fun, and it would have sounded great, you know.
TD: Speaking of fun, was Lou Reed fun to work with? He's notorious for not getting along with anyone.
DA: Fun? Well in what sense? What kind of fun...
TD: .. well how were you in the studio?..
DA: what, sort of, like your surprise 5th birthday party?
TD: I don't remember my 5th birthday party. Well, that's one scale of fun.
DA: Not in that sense, no.
TD: Being able to tell your mates you had Lou Reed singing on a Gorillaz album?
DA: I got on fine with him. But he's just, you know, he's just, he's Lou Reed. What else can I say.
TD: Not in the studio but on the phone from the UK, Damon Albarn talking about the Gorillaz album, Plastic Beach, and I should confess at this stage ten maybe fifteen years ago I actually lined up overnight to buy tickets to a Blur gig in Sydney.
DA: You know what, you know what? It's about time I came back over there really. It's been a long time.
TD: Damn straight. Was that the last time you've been to Australia? It was like 97 I think.
DA: Yeah the only one time I've been to Australia was 15 years ago. Has it changed?
TD: Ah, no. Not really.
DA: Not really. oh, okay.
TD: There's more people.
DA: More people? That's the same everywhere.
TD: Yeah, so I guess the scale of things has changed but that's about it.
DA: Can you still get fish n chips?
TD: You can certainly get fish n chips if that's what you desire.
DA: There's still that kind of faint echo of 1950s England.
TD: Old Blighty is running very strong in Australia... no, we're a very multicultural nation as I'm sure you...
DA: Yeah of course but that was nice, it was nice to feel that you know...
TD: You can get a floater, if you'd like. Pie and peas, that kind of thing. Chips and egg, that kind of thing, that's all 1950s England, isn't it, I imagine?
DA: Right, yeah. Absolutely. Well I suppose we've got an excuse now to come over, if we're doing alright.
TD: Yeah you're damn right you're do! Exactly! But you didn't go to Australia...
DA: Well you know what, I'll speak to the people who make these things happen.
TD: That would be wonderful. You know what, I don't eat fish but I'll buy you some fish n chips if you come over here.
DA: [laughs] Okay.
TD: Awesome. Well why don't we talk about the Lebanese National Orchestra for Oriental Arabic Music.
TD: Now were they used because you wanted one of the longest named orchestras in the world?
DA: Well no, I'm a bit confused a bit by this, that they're called the Lebanese... because they're not, they're from Syria. From Damascus.
TD: That's not Lebannon at all.
DA: No. Well it's very close. And actually it's quite amazing. A brilliant part of the world and you know, perceived as being very mixed up and, you know, there's a lot of land issues in that part of the world, to say the least [laughs]. But the people, on both sides, whether they're Israeli or Syrian or Lebanese or... lovely people. Really amazing countries.
TD: And also really amazing music. We're talking to Damon Albarn. What lead you to explore such non-Western influences? Because when some people talk about their influences they'll talk about The Beatles or some old Blues guy that you don't think you've every heard of or whatever, but you know, the amount of...
DA: Well... I've always been very lucky, my parents kind of introduced me to Arabic and Indian and African music as a kid so I grew up as much with those sort of flavours as I did with Western Pop.
TD: Yeah right, so it's always been something you sought out?
DA: Yeah and you know, I've had the opportunity to be very lucky, to go Africa a lot, and the Middle East recently, and I love it, you know, I can go to these places and I can hook up with fantastic musicians and nobody knows who I am, which is great, and, you know, it's kind of the best of both worlds really, for me... and I just think there's so much outside of the Western bubble that is positive and exciting and inspirational, that in a way, I suppose, after ten or so intense years of travelling through touring and going to the same cities etc, and the same hotels I kind of sort of went the opposite way and just went to all the places where you can't tour.
TD: And it's also great, when you are going to all these places, to not be that standard kind of Western style tourist or band where you inflict your culture, your music, on those people, and just get in there and check it out yourself.
DA: That can be good as well, I'm all for cultural exchange because, you know, it's interesting, I'm all for cultural exchange, I think that's how these things develop...
TD: Unless it's a Chinese Opera class singing songs from Chicago the musical [laughs]
DA: Oh yeah, I forgot about the Far East, now that's an interesting place as well, but you know much more about that, being from Australia, than.. you know, you're much more sort of part of...
TD: The Asia-Pacific rim.
DA: Yeah exactly.
TD: Yeah. We're talking to Damon Albarn. You said earlier that Stylo wasn't meant to be the first single and stuff,..
DA: Well no no no no, it wasn't that... I've kind of got a real [coughs loudly]
TD: That's the last time I... he's turned into Stephen Fry.. [laughs]
DA: I'm alright. I slightly exaggerated that.
TD: I just wanted to know which song out of the 80 is [the first single]. I'm about to play On Melancholy Hill, which I think is brilliant and it has no guests, besides yourself and the Gorillaz in the studio.
DA: ... yeah. well the thing is, the thing is, I make it up as I go along. Making these records. And this one in particular was particularly sprawling. And I don't know if I got it the right length or whatever, maybe it's a bit too long, I don't know. As a record. I just took, I took the bits that were the most sort of.. focused. Of all the stuff I wrote for it, and I really wanted to make a Pop record, but one that... the structures of the songs didn't fall into, kind of, you know, the more familiar structures. That's what I was trying to do, I was trying to write songs that were slightly different but still worked somehow in a kind of, well, Pop way.
TD: Mhm. Well, once again, you know, so...
DA: Well it doesn't necessarily mean it's any good.
TD: Well I think there has been precedents set in the past that would prove that. Let's have a listen to 'On Melancholy Hill' off Plastic Beach. Gorillaz. Damon's on the line. I guess after this track we're going to have to talk about the live show that's coming up and maybe a bit of a mentionof Blur.
[plays on Melancholy Hill]
TD: You are hanging out in the studio now, you're rehearsing,..
DA: I'm just about to go and rehearse, yeah.
TD: Is this the band that will be taking Gorillaz to Coachella, and around the UK?
TD: So you have half of The Clash inside that door?
DA: I certainly do [laughs]
TD: Oh shit, that is mad, I mean, of course, Paul Simonon was on The Good, The Bad & The Queen, but you've got Mick Jones and Paul, in that room, in the Gorillaz.
DA: Yep. Which is great, they're actually starting... you know, they've kept playing but they haven't played together since The Clash split up.
TD: I've been following Mick since a while. I didn't even know about The Clash when I was growing up. I found out through Big Audio Dynamite.
DA: I love that. Big Audio Dynamite. That's kind of one of the blueprints for Gorillaz, really. That and Massive Attack. Just those bands that just weren't the kind of standard band, you know, and I've always just kind of been drawn to them, and I've always just found their music kind of fascinating.
TD: Well Massive Attack were just in Australia this week, we had Grant and Rob on the show.
DA: Oh they've been in, have they?
TD: Yeah they were alright, they mentioned that you were in and out, in the studio, on their last album, you were efficient.
DA: Yeah I was definitely in and out quite a bit on this last record.
TD: [laughs] It's great. They put on a mad live show and I got to meet Marina [sic] Topley-Bird out the back and stuff, so...
DA: Yeah. She's just recorded an album in my studio, three weeks, four weeks ago, which is sounding really good.
DA: Because she's kind of done, I felt, some of her records in the past have been slightly over-produced so we just sort of, we decided to do it with just her, virtually on her own.
TD: With that little guitar she plays?
DA: Yeah. So you can just hear her voice, because she's got the most beautiful voice, so, it's turned out really well, the record.
TD: Oh great. When's that going to see the light of day, the record?
DA: Soon, I would have thought, soon.
TD: Cool. That's great. Marina [sic] Topley-Bird, in the studio. And behind that door you've got half of The Clash, and you've got a Verve [sic], and you've got various other people in the studio...
DA: No, We haven't got a Verve at the moment. He's coming back. But we have a young lad called Jeff, who, funnily enough is also in Liam's new band.
TD: Liam from Oasis?
TD: What are they called, sorry?
DA: I don't know if they've got a name yet. But I just thought that was kind of funny.
TD: Yeah! There you go. Well, if this was like 15 years ago NME would be going crazy over about it, I'd imagine.
DA: Yeah [laughs]
TD: Right, so, and how does it sound? This new album is so, uhm, I guess, guest-heavy, and it's a really rich sounding record, how does it sound in the studio?
DA: It sounds good, because we've got Paul Simonon playing bass, and a lot of the basslines, once they're played on his bass they sound really heavy.
TD: Well I saw you playing a lot of them for the other album, for Demon Days, on Bananaz
DA: Well yeah, I pretty much play most of the stuff on the records when I'm in the studio because that's the way I work, I'm just sort of on my own in the studio all the time.
TD: And then youn just get the bass player from The Clash to play them live? [laughs]
TD: It's just, I'm just..
DA: Well on this album, Paul plays a couple of basslines, on the record. You can hear the ones, really, that he plays. But those electro basslines are what I meant, translated to bass. We've been rehearsing for 3 weeks, 3-4 weeks, and they're really tight now, and it's starting to really actually make sense. Put it this way. It's a real band, it looks like a real band, and it's got that kind of energy. It's exciting.
TD: And have you and Jamie worked out what's going to happen visually?
DA: Well that was one of the reasons we were out last night but it turned out to be a drinking session, because we were supposed to be talking about that.
TD: Trying to find cheaper ways to use holograms, or something?
DA: Holograms. Holograms are er... yeah. We have used holograms in the past. But to really successfully put a hologram on a stage, you either need so much smoke that you can't see anyth.ing else, or you use this very antiquated method where you stretch a piece of very fine transparent film across the stage, and you project onto that, with smoke as well behind it, and it creates a holographic image. But you can't have any bass, because as soon as you have any bass the film starts rattling, and the image just disappears. Which is what happened to us at the Grammys, when we opened the Grammys and had Madonna as a hologram with us... we opened up the Grammys, with everyone, including Bono's stetson right in front of me so I can't see a fucking thing. Which was amazing... you think: you're not one of the biggest lads on earth... you still managed to obscure my view with hat.
TD: with his hat [laughs]
DA: Yeah with his hat, bless him. But no no, that's what the point was, we started very excited, big moment for us, but it was really quiet. So this huge great arena, is really really quiet. It looks great on television, but for the people there, you can hardly hear it. And then she walks over to the other side of the stage and the most almighty bass comes out from her song, and you know, the place goes mental. So this time we are going out with all guns blazing and the best bass sound on earth... for my money. [laughs]
TD: [laughs] I don't doubt that. Well we'll see because you're going to be playing Coachella and those UK shows and hopefully coming to Australia at some stage.
DA: I'd love to come to Australia again. I think it's long overdue a visit.
TD: So after Blur reuniting last year, the full original band, is Blur going to be doing anything else?
DA: No. I mean I did that very much, last year, because I felt we'd left on a really sour note and I didn't really think that was fair for everyone. I thought, we're bigger than that, and so let's just finish this on a really note. Positive note, you know, go out on the top of our game really. So that was it, that was the end. That Glastonbury, if I ever do a gig that's comparable to that Glastonbury gig I will consider myself truly blessed because to have experienced that once is very special.
TD: I would imagine that you would spend a lot of your spare time, if you do have any spare time, looking back and feeling blessed because looking back, you've got members of The Clash in your band, you've played with people like Marina [sic] Topley-Bird, Lou Reed, Snoop Dogg, made an opera, you know, the Gorillaz #1 all over the place, uhm, what is there left for Damon Albarn to do?
DA: [pause] Oh my God. Probably...
TD: ... just a small question [laughs]...
DA: ... probably, you know, put my socks away or ... you know.
TD: So in all this time, in 20 odd years, you still haven't put your socks away.
DA: Change my pants regularly. You know. All those kind of really basic things. Learn how to make a proper souffle. You know, lots of stuff. Lots of stuff.
TD: That's good. So you've set yourself some goals, at least.
DA: Yeah. I think the secret to happiness is to never feel that you've achieved anything.
TD: That's good! So you always striving, or at least, a little bit disappointed...
DA: Always. Yeah, I think disappointment is very underrated.
TD: [laughs] I... if you find time to be disappointed then I'll have to agree.
TD: Damon Albarn, thank you so much for having a chat to Triple J.
DA: My pleasure.
TD: So I guess we're going to finish with a tune. I was going to play a Blur song, since it's been a little while. And this is so stupid, there's a song, and it's song with a four-part guitar riff, I don't even know why I'm trying to explain this to you, that Graham plays, and it ends with this crazy delay sound, and I can't remember the name of the song, the video clip you're all in this weird playground thing kind of, and there's a little drum machine intro, and a drum machine in the video...
DA: Oh.. do you know what, I'm finding, it's a bit embarrassing that video, I kind of lost it for a minute. But eh. It was the 90s.
TD: It was a damn good song... and what was the name of the song?
DA: It's called 'On Your Own'. But you know what, that's kind of like, one of the first ever, Gorillaz tunes, if you want to look at how things sort of developed. I mean that was definitely a moment where I thought I quite like doing this, doing it this way as well.
TD: So that means it's a piece of subconscious and unconscious synchronicity.
DA: I definitely ripped off Blur with Gorillaz. If Blur want to sue me, no problem.
TD: [laughs] You're going to have to sue yourself and make off pretty good I imagine.
TD: Damon Albarn. Well here is Blur with 'On Your Own'. Thanks for chatting to us and hopefully we'll see you in Australia very soon.
DA: I've got a feeling we'll be coming over at some point.
[On Your Own plays]