Damon Albarn has revealed that after Gorillaz’ divisive Glastonbury headline set in 2010, Kate Bush phoned to tell him it was “one of the best shows she’d ever seen”.
Last night (February 23), Albarn and visual artist Jamie Hewlett sat down for a Q+A session with comedian Alan Carr for Banquet Records, attended by NME.
Taking to the stage at former-cinema-turned-nightclub Pryzm in Kingston, Albarn explained that “Glastonbury was very memorable because it was so different to any other performance that had been before us”.
“We wanted to just be, and not do the normal schtick of ‘hello Glastonbury, how are you all feeling?’ We wanted to just do our thing,” he continued.
Gorillaz were last-minute replacements for U2 who had to postpone their appearance after Bono injured his back. Albarn returned to the iconic festival with Gorillaz one year after topping the bill with Blur.
“I realised halfway through the Gorillaz set that the audience had no idea who some of the guests that we were bring onstage were, because I wasn’t introducing them,” he said of the set that included the likes of Bobby Womack, Bootie Brown, De La Soul, Lou Reed, Happy Mondays‘ Shaun Ryder, The Fall‘s Mark E. Smith and Snoop Dogg.
“The next morning a lot of terrible reviews came through. I did get a phone call from Kate Bush who said it was one of the best shows she’d ever seen. That was an amazing thing and I really needed it at that moment because I was feeling particularly vulnerable.”
Albarn went on to call Bush the “holy grail” for a Gorillaz collaboration. “I have fantasised about singing at the piano with her several times,” he revealed. “I remember when I first met her, it was back in 1992 and when I was introduced to her, I just got down on my knees.”
Hewlett then revealed that he believes that their Glasto performance was so divisive because of the political nature of third album ‘Plastic Beach’. “It talks about the damage we’re doing to the planet,” he said. “I made videos that were pretty heavy to watch, including one about whaling. People don’t want to watch that at 10.30pm at Glastonbury.”
Elsewhere during the event, the Gorillaz masterminds spoke about the inspirations behind new album ‘Cracker Album’, which sees the virtual band head to Los Angeles and get involved with The Forever Cult.
“In American slang, a Cracker is a crazy white person,” said Albarn. “It’s derogatory slang. Cracker Island is a place where all the Anglo-Saxon traits that maybe I wouldn’t want to embody myself, they all hang out. Cracker Island is a place where ideas like QAnon exist. They’d only listen to Fox News on Cracker Island.”
Confirming that Cracker Island was inpired by LA, Hewlett continued: “We had the idea for the band to become a cult, because after Trump, it felt like a lot of cults were popping up. People are desperate for misinformation because they’re scared of the truth.”
“Social media is a relentless series of cults,” added Albarn. Later he explained that while the album isn’t “obviously autobiographical”, it is “impossible not to sing about your own life” with Gorillaz helping him to “reconcile his own experiences”.
Damon and Jamie of Gorillaz in conversation with Alan Carr just a few hours before the release of Cracker Island pic.twitter.com/iYGN3HyXVU
— Banquet Records (@BanquetRecords) February 23, 2023
Hewlett went on to say that the idea for ‘Cracker Island’ was “better” than the idea they had for their recently-scrapped Netflix film. “I don’t think it’s the best album we’ve ever made though. That makes it sound like for the past 20 years, we’ve been dragging our feet. It’s another good album,” he added.
Hewlett’s favourite song on ‘Cracker Island’ is ‘Oil’, which features vocals from Stevie Nicks. “The more you listen to it, the more beautiful it becomes. The voice of Stevie Nicks is fucking beautiful,” he told the crowd.
“I still haven’t really got my head around that song.” Albarn added. He then admitted that surprisingly, it wasn’t a long process to get the Fleetwood Mac singer onboard.
“I was working with [super-producer] Greg Kurstin, who happened to know her,” Albarn explained. “In my mind, Julian Casablancas from The Strokes was the person I was going to ask to do that song but Greg said, ‘Can I just try Stevie?’ ‘Well, of course’.
“I didn’t think for one second she’d want to do it, because it’s a weird song. The lyrics start with ‘interlocking clusterbombs’ which isn’t necessarily the first thing you share with somebody but she got what the song was inferring. It’s about man, it’s about war but she loved it. We were very lucky to get her involved.”
Speaking about the experience last year, Nicks said: “I can’t wait till it comes out because I’m so proud of it. I was an honorary Heartbreaker. I was an honorary Foo Fighter. And now, I’m an honorary Gorilla. I’m so happy.”
Responding to a question from the audience, Albarn revealed that his dream collaborations would be with John Lennon or Ian Dury. “Weirdly, my dad taught him at a North East London polytechnic when he was studying art,” he revealed.
Hewlett meanwhile shared his experience of working with Lou Reed, who features on ‘Plastic Beach’ cut ‘Some Kind Of Nature’.
“When Lou came to the studio, we were in New York and it was me, Damon and [producer], Remi Kabaka Jr.. Lou walked in, Damon said hi, went to introduce me but Lou said ‘no. You fuck off and you fuck off’. So Remi and I fucked off and went shopping, leaving Damon alone with Lou.” It apparently took six months and a guest appearance at a couple of Gorillaz shows for Reed to start being nice to Hewlett.
The pair then reflected on their 20-year career. The idea for Gorillaz first came about when the pair were living together in London and they said “we’d do one album” because a virtual band was a cool idea.
It was only after the success of the first album that Albarn and Hewlett said “let’s do another one, but let’s make it better.”
“There was a challenge,” explained Hewlett. “Each time we do it, there needs to be a reason. We don’t want to just repeat ourselves and do the same thing. That means we experiment, we try things out…it doesn’t always work but the drive is to make something new and enjoy it.”
He continued: “I see Damon when he’s making a song in the studio, and he’s like a kid in a sweet shop. He’s so fucking excited. The moment it’s finished though, he doesn’t give a shit. I’m the same when I draw. I’m always more excited about what’s next. That’s how you move forward, by not dwelling on something you did 20 years ago.”
Speaking about the future of Gorillaz, Albarn revealed “we always thought we’d pass it onto other people to do what they want with it,” but that’s not happening anytime soon. The pair are already planning the next Gorillaz album.
“We’re already talking about the next thing, but I can’t tell you about it. We were talking about it earlier tonight,” said Hewlett. “We’ve got a really good idea,” teased Albarn.
‘Cracker Island’ by Gorillaz is out now.