The Big Read – Gorillaz: “Murdoc leaving has been like a massive meteor strike, but instead of wiping out all life, it just blew up one really annoying dinosaur”

After decades at the top, Gorillaz have just released their first album without errant bassist Murdoc. And it’s had quite the effect on frontman/ape 2D, finds Dan Stubbs.

It’s 20 years since Gorillaz first exploded onto to the scene, and – hey – don’t they look good for it!

But all is not hunky dory in Gorillaz camp: since the release of last year’s ‘Humanz’, Murdoc, the band’s bassist, was banged up in Wormwood Scrubs for a crime he claims he didn’t commit.

That gave 2D, (singer, voice suspiciously like Damon Albarn’s), an opportunity to take back full creative control of the group. So while a petition to free Murdoc gains momentum, 2D has pushed out ‘The Now Now’, the Gorillaz’s sixth album, a summery cocktail of soulful jams and breezy bops that we bestowed four stars upon in our review.

After the apocalyptic house party vibes of ‘Humanz’, their latest record couldn’t be a more different beast, helmed by Damo… we mean, 2D, with sparing guests: Snoop Dogg, George Benson and US house pioneer Jamie Principle. And that’s just how 2D likes it.

We invited 2D to the NME dungeon to talk about all things Gorillaz.

Gorillaz NME
Photo credit: Jenn Five/NME/Gorillaz

“I’m not a Gallagher, or an Albarn, or a Doggy-Dog. I’m a Dee. I mean, 2D.
I’ve got my own music and my own message now” – 2D

Hi 2D. With Murdoc out of the picture, you’re the leader of the band. How are you settling into the new role?

2D: “Hey NME. Really well, thanks. As they say, some people are born great, and some have greatness thrust inside them. I’m the second one. I certainly wasn’t a born leader, as at that time I was a baby and no one really took me seriously. But I’ve grown up a lot lately, and people are starting to listen. I’ve done a wikiHow on how to be a leader, and would describe my leadership style as a cross between Ghandi and Marge Simpson.”

What’s been the impact on the band? Is everyone upset about Murdoc being away?

2D: “It’s been like a massive meteor strike, but instead of the meteor wiping out all life, it just blew up one really annoying dinosaur (that is a metaphor, by the way, guys. Just thought I’d clarify. OK, I’ll get back to my answer now). And in its place we have our replacement bass player, Ace. He’s cool and really respects me. Like this morning, I said, ‘Yo yo yo! S’up Ace?’ and instead of insulting me or pulling my trousers down, he said, ‘Please can you get out of my way.’ You see? Note the ‘please’. So no, I don’t think anyone is upset, except maybe Yakob, the guy who runs the off-licence on the corner. He’s ruined.”

Do you think you’re a natural frontman? Which iconic lead singers of the past do you take inspiration from?

2D: “I wasn’t always. They used to have to push me onstage with a long stick, or lure me out with a Crème Egg dangling from the ceiling. Now I don’t need either, although I still like Crème Eggs. It’s my fans that get me out there now. My 2Disciples. I hear their call and I go to them, like Batman when he hears a scream for help. Sorry, I’ve forgotten the rest of your question as I’m now just thinking about Batman.”

If the last album was an end-of-the-world party, how would you describe The Now Now?

2D: “It’s really hard to describe music with words. That’s why we make music, to fill in the gaps between the words. It’s a lot like colouring-in; the words are the lines, and the music is the colouring pens. But what is the picture, you ask? It’s kind of a space rocket, with two round thrusters at the bottom, and a cone-shaped tip where the astronauts sit, with a little hole at the very top so they can get in and out.”

Some people are saying ‘The Now Now’ is basically your ‘solo’ album. How do the rest of the band feel about that? And do you care?

2D: “Han Solo has always been a massive inspiration to me, and I guess he’s somewhere in all my music, but I wouldn’t say this album is only about him. Although both share themes of loneliness and isolation about a lone traveller drifting through the galaxy without a home. So actually, I guess this is my Solo album. Cool!”

Er, you kind of missed the point there. If the rest of the band were to describe you in three words, what would those words be?

2D: “Not sure, maybe… Oh, dammit, that’s three. I always mess that question up.”

Gorillaz NME
Photo credit: Press

A few questions for Russel now. Russel, who’s on your wishlist of legends to work with?

Russel: “Joan Armatrading. John Shuttelworth. Next question.”

OK… what about new artists?

Russel: “I’d like to nominate two – Rosalia Vila and Rex Orange County.”

What did you make of Kanye’s four new albums?

Russel: “They’re OK. Better than these questions, anyway.”

2D: “Sorry about Russ. He’s having one of his migraines. I’ll take it from here. In answer to your question, what did you make of Kanye’s four albums – I made a square.”

Your 2010 album ‘Plastic Beach’ was weirdly prescient: plastic in the ocean is THE big ecological talking point of our day. Did you pre-empt that? What can we do to solve the problem?

2D: “I wouldn’t use the word ‘prescient’ because I don’t know what it means. What I would say is sometimes we can miss a problem right under our feet. I mean, I’d been on the island two weeks before I realised it was made entirely of plastic trash. Maybe ‘cos my eyes are bad. I only realised the true scale of the problem when I learned the tragic truth about my pet sea cucumber, Peter. As Russel read the words ‘Vibro-Max 2000’ from the side, I fell to the ground, heartbroken. Suddenly I felt the full horror of man’s impact on nature. Plus I had also lost a good friend. But yeah, to solve the problem, we could start by each giving up one plastic thing that we love. I pledge to give up curly straws. Or in fact all plastic straws – but that’s more than one thing.”

Did David Attenborough use you as a consultant for Blue Planet II?

2D: “No. Which is a real shame ‘cos I thought he was brilliant in Jurassic Park.”

What’s the weirdest thing you saw washed up on Plastic Beach?

2D: “Cher.”

Gorillaz NME
Photo credit: Jenn Five/NME/Gorillaz

“What do I talk about with Snoop Dogg? Well, just normal stuff really. Like, I tell him my favourite sandwich filling (cheese and pineapple) and he tells me one of the ways he could have me killed”– 2D

‘The Now Now’ is a quicker follow-up than we’ve ever had with a Gorillaz release before. Why is that?

2D: “Normally after a big release you feel empty for a long time. But this time I filled up again quickly, like a toilet cistern but sometimes it’s time to smash the cistern. And that’s what I’m all about now, making change happen, and speaking truth. Smashing the cistern. I might get that slogan printed on a hat.”

You debuted the album live in Japan. Why there?

2D: “I did, yeah, because Japan is a special place for Gorillaz. It’s cool and the fans get us and like our style. They love dressing up as Noodle. I even saw a few 2D cosplayers in mom jeans and black eye shadow.”

Snoop’s on it. What do you and Snoop talk about between takes?

2D: “Well, just normal stuff really. Like, I tell him my favourite sandwich filling (cheese and pineapple) and he tells me one of the ways he could have me killed. We’ve got quite a lot in common actually. He’s from California, I’m from Crawley. Both places begin with the letter ‘C’.”

There’s a ‘Free Murdoc’ campaign running online, but some people are saying you’re secretly happier with him in chokey. What’s your response to that?

2D: “Where is chokey? Is it near Basingstoke? I’m not really sure what you’re on about. I did hear something about a campaign but I think that was to make Toblerones back the way they were. It’s a real outrage, putting bigger gaps between the triangles to save money on chocolate. This is one of the things on my agenda. Make Toblerone Great Again.”

Gorillaz NME
Photo credit: Press

“How do we solve the problem of plastic in the ocean? We could start by each giving up one plastic thing that we love. I pledge to give up curly straws. Or in fact all plastic straws – but that’s more than one thing”– 2D

Why did Russel trip you up in the ‘Humility’ video?

2D: “You’d have to ask Russel. I actually don’t know. Maybe he was high fiving me with his foot? Maybe he was trying to warn me about a snake or a banana skin? You’d have to ask him.”

Not saying you had anything to do with it, but have you ever had any contact with El Mierda, the Mexican gangster who got Murdoc banged up?

2D: “I don’t mix with criminals. Well, not at the moment, anyway, ‘cos Murdoc’s in prison. I don’t know who this El Mierda is, either, but he might have contacted me on Facebook Messenger. A lot of people add me and I feel rude if I don’t send them a personal reply. I’ve got 256347 unread messages, actually, so it would be good to wrap this up soon, my people are waiting for me.”

If you were a Gallagher brother, which one would you be?

2D: “I’d probably say Ian Gallagher. But I think what I really want to say is that I’m not a Gallagher, or an Albarn, or a Doggy-Dog. I’m a Dee. I mean, 2D. I’ve got my own music and my own message now. Russ reckons I’ve got something to say, and I should just say it. So I will. Umm… Can’t think of anything when I’m put on the spot. What’s the next question?”

2018 is your 20th anniversary as a band. How do you still look so youthful?

2D: “Do we? Thanks very much, you’re really kind. I haven’t looked in the mirror for ages, actually. Murdoc had them all taken down from our house ‘cos he said they were wankers and not able to truly reflect his genius or beauty. But yeah, maybe it’s cos we’ve got this brilliant stylist and wardrobe guy called Jamie. Also, Noodle gets some really good moisturisers flown in from Japan.”

Do you have any special plans to mark the occasion?

2D: “I haven’t really made any plans yet, but seeing as I’m the leader of Gorillaz now, I’ll treat the band to dinner at the finest restaurant in London. Aberdeen Angus Steakhouse. Personally, due to my environmental concerns I won’t eat beef, so I’ll order the chicken nuggets, medium rare. Then I’ll say a few words to the band, like ‘hello’ and ‘thanks’ and ‘that’s all I’ve got to say’.”

The town you grew up in, Crawley, voted to leave the EU. What are your feelings on Brexit?

2D: “Crawley is the doorway to England ‘cos of Gatwick airport, so I think we should be welcoming people into our home, not showing them the door (Gatwick). But maybe you’re asking the wrong question. The real answer to the question you didn’t ask is follow your dreams. And then unfollow them if it all goes wrong. Times are changing. All the time. Now becomes then in the blink of an eye. That’s why we called the album ‘The Now Now’ and not the ‘The Now Then’. ‘Cos things need to change right now. Je suis 2D. Thanks very much.”

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