The cartoon band - yes, the actual cartoons - spoke to NME's Mark Beaumont seventeen years after their first interview, about prison, their inner pain and Rick Astley. But would they remember him?
The experienced music hack can spot the Who You? smile a mile off. When you walk into a room to interview a band you last spoke to many years before, there’s a distant glaze in their eye, a squint of non-recognition or a faint furrow of the brow, as if they vaguely remember you slagging off their experimental industrial jazz third album in 2006. It’s tougher to spot, though, when you’re thrust into a room, told you have two minutes and the band in question – who aren’t even there – think they’re being Rick-rolled.
“You may not remember,” I tell an empty sofa, “but about fifteen years ago I did your first NME cover interview…”
“Rick Astley!” says 2D from Gorillaz.
To be fair, it’s the end of a long and exhausting day of press for Murdoc and 2D. For their first ever live video appearance, they earlier spent half an hour on the sofa with Radio 1’s MistaJam for an interview that was live-streamed on YouTube. Now I’m the last of a string of international journalists granted a couple of minutes each with the actual live-action cartoon pair – 2D the dopey, tortured thatch-addict and Murdoc the dictatorial zombie Keef, brought to life by the technical wizardry of Telekom Electronic Beats. Here’s the highlights of the MistaJam interview, taking in chatting up Grace Jones, the rough thatches of Nottingham and “beaming down” Danny Brown.
MistaJam: “Did you ever think you’d end up here?”
Murdoc: “You can’t really say, you know, but it’s been an incredible journey. These people have been in my wake for so many years I seem to have them as permanent companions, producing such beautiful music.”
2D: “I never had the choice at first, I was kidnapped by Murdoch…”
Murdoc: “That’s a bit strong.”
2D: “It was strong actually, you were quite strong.”
Mistajam: “Adopted or kidnapped?”
Murdoc: “No, you knob jockey!”
2D: “I think legally the word is kidnapped but Murdoch says adopted. His version of adopted is definitely not safe for children.”
MistaJam: “It’s been seven years since your last album, what have you been up to?”
Murdoc: “Well MistaJam, what happened, I got in a little bit of trouble over a breach of contract thing, I was hanging out on Plastic Beach and the record company banged me up! They banged me up, I did nine moon in a high security jail underneath Abbey Road studios, it was hell. Mind you, I got to know a few interesting people in there. The best bit of advice I got in there, and you’d do well to take this on board, when you get put down, get your nut down and do your bird.”
2D: “In prison, not in a veterinary way. I hope you don’t get put down.”
MistaJam: “How did it feel getting back in the studio?”
2D: “It was quite emotional for us. Fear was one of the biggest emotions and frustration. Emasculation, that’s another one.”
Murdoc: “We went everywhere to make [the album] though. The only place we didn’t actually go…”
2D: “Tooting, we didn’t go there.”
Murdoc: “We didn’t go to Spalding in Lincolnshire, but we did go to New Amsterdam, which is called New York now.”
MistaJam: “You’ve also got some amazing guests on the album. How did you go about rounding them up?”
2D: “A lot of them were taken against their will. There were blow-darts involved.”
Murdoc: “They were queuing up to be on it, let’s be honest, who wouldn’t be?”
2D: “They were throwing up as well.”
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Murdoc: “Some of them were throwing up. Grace Jones, mate, she’s a lovely lady. After we done our studio sessions we had a little chat about love, you see – not me and her, I’m not talking about that. Noooo! I’m not talking about thaaaaat!”
2D: “Are you trying to say that Grace Jones loves you?”
Murdoc: “Well, there was a twinkle in her eye.”
2D: “I think her eyes were actually crossed.”
Murdoc: “She was talking to me about if I want to find love I have to put my hook in deep into the ocean and pull out a big fish, and she said if she was in the ocean and I tried to pull her out, she’d drag me in.”
2D: “She’s a very flirtatious woman but I mean that in a very good way. She came up to me and I thought she was going to say something quite scary but she said ‘can you hold my coat for me?’ I had two cups of orange juice in my hands so I said ‘I can’t, look, I’ve got two cups of orange juice in my hand’ and she just started hitting me with her handbag.”
[Drummer Russell phones up the studio]
MistaJam: “Russell, talk to me about some of the guests on the album?”
Russel: “Danny Brown, I got to him through my spiritual spectrum, my sonic stalking, that’s how I got hold of him. Sometimes it go upright sideways and when I press the button I beam him down. We do our thing and I beam him back up. Actually a couple of them would get into the pod room and I’ve got a pick-up drone.”
MistaJam: “That’ll be a guest artist delivery service they’re advertising?”
Russel: “That’s a little sarcastic, Jam.”
MistaJam: “I love the relationship between technology and Gorillaz. How has this changed over the years?”
Murdoc: “Crisps have changed slightly.”
2D: “Crisps are totally different now to how they were.”
Murdoc: “They’re fatter now.”
2D: “More selection.”
MistaJam: [Taking viewer questions] “Moira from Poland asks ‘Murdoch, who’s your favourite writer?’”
Murdoc: “Bob Kerouac. He’s a distant relation of Jack, he wrote a book called By The Side Of The Road. Jack Kerouac wrote a wonderful book called On The Road, which is good, it’s good, I’ll give you that, but Bob Kerouac is better. This is literature that literally moves you when you read it, and also there’s lots of pictures. I love pictures. I’m mostly visual.”
MistaJam: “Lucy from Croatia asks ‘2D, what is a skill you’d like to learn?’”
2D: “One of the skills I’ve always wanted to hone is that of thatching. I’ve always wanted to do thatching like they do on old cottages because they vary from county to county.”
Murdoc: “Which one’s your favourite?”
2D: “I like the West Sussex thatch because it’s different… We’ve seen some very rough thatches in Nottingham actually, all over the place, all hanging out and all sorts in Nottingham, the thatch.”
So they’d covered thatching, inter-band kidnap and fishing for the love of Grace Jones – what else was there to ask them? Given my strict two minutes, I decided to probe deeper into Murdoc’s prison stories and finally try to get deep into the existential darkness lurking behind 2D’s black, traumatised eyes. Watch Gorillaz’ interview with NME’s own Rick Astley Who’s Let Himself Go below:
Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett Q&A
After Murdoc and 2D have slunk off to blow-dart more celebrity guests, Jamie Hewlett and Damon Albarn convene a small gathering of journalists on their sofa and quickly crack under questioning on how it’s all done.
“There’s two wonderful actors,” Hewlett reveals, “one of whom has been with us forever, Murdoc, played by Phil Cornwall.”
“2D’s played by Kevin Bishop,” Damon adds.
Jamie: “Who’s also a comedian and actor. They’re in the back room on a mirrored version of your set, on the worst looking Ikea furniture you’ve ever seen, in skin-tight scuba suits.”
Jamie: “With headgear and cameras picking up every one of their facial expressions and their body movement. They have a screen so they can see you. Funnily enough, we’ve been having technical difficulties for the last 24 hours and we thought it wasn’t going to happen and then suddenly some miracle happened literally as the cameras started to roll and everything was fine. There’s a station across the road so we think there was some kind of magnetic interference going on, so we asked if they could move St Pancras station and stop some trains for half an hour.”
So when we did that first Gorillaz NME cover interview, was this what you eventually envisaged?
“We had ideas of what we’d like to do in the future,” Jamie says, “but our ideas were always slightly ahead of what was available to us, but the technology is finally catching up.”
Damon: “It was a very simple principle, ‘we’re going to do everything through the frame of animation and where can we take that?’ Clearly this is one of the places we can take it to with an awful lot of help from an awful lot of friends.”
A question from the floor: when will they perform onstage?
“It’s not that far off,” Jamie dreams. “It’ll be hugely expensive but once it’s made you can just tour and do ten cities a night in ten countries a night so I guess it’d be worth spending the money. Am I talking bullshit? It can’t happen can it? Fantasy.”
“But, to be fair,” Damon interjects, “we originally had the idea that it would be great to get cartoons interacting with the real world in an almost parallel real-time way and today you have all witnessed this. It has taken us seventeen years to get to that point and I take absolutely no responsibility for any of it, but it just shows that Gorillaz is something that can take advantage of cutting edge stuff when it happens due to the DNA of what we created.”
Give it another few years and Damon and Jamie will be getting bills from hotels that Murdoc’s smashed up. And they still won’t remember the writers who gave them their first big break. It’s a shit business.