Animation Terrorists - NME cover article 17 March 2001
The first Gorillaz Interview!
Kicking out the bland, cooking up the alternative. The future is coming on and, say Gorillaz, it belongs to them
The courier carries the package into the reception at arm’s length. Sweating profusely, he place it tentatively on the receptionist’s desk, whimpers “sign here” and runs screaming from the building. The parcel bucks wildly, rocks violently on its edges. From inside comes a muffled “Kon-nichi-wa, NOODLE!”, and suddenly two small, Japanese, completely flat legs karate-kick through each side. Two completely flat arms punch out of the bubble wrap and a completely flat Japanese girl’s head pops out of the top. With a gurgled cry of ‘Sayonara! NOODLE!”, Noodle, the youngest and coolest android guitarist in rock, jumps down from the reception desk, waddles quickly to the nearest lift and pushes the button for the 25th floor. In the NME office all cartoon-freaked bastard hell has broke loose. 2D, the black-eyed, blue-haired pretty boy singer is spray painting ‘ZOMBIE HOP HOP’ and ‘CHRIS MARTIN SUCKS FURRY COCK’ across the office stereo. Russel, the hulking NYC hardman drummer., rummages through drawers stealing any CDs by the Wu-Tang Clan and Shakin’ Stevens. Meanwhile Murdoc, the scrag faced, green-toothed, Beezlebub-worshipping bassist with the halitosis like a badger’s scrotum, has taken over the editor’s office and is offering all female staff “some satanic slap ‘n’ tickle in me Winnebago”. Suddenly he spies a copy of NME’s ‘Popstars’ issue, howls with demonic rage and eats it.
“I think this is a perfect example of how fucking diabolical it’s getting.” He slavers. “Where you have to have a programme where you pick your own pop stars. What the fuck is going on?” So says the warped and wicked Svengali behind Gorillaz, animation wiv additood, a vibrant alternative to boring old Realbloke Rock, the first ever cartoon band to call Bob The Builder a “cunt” and back it up with baseball bats. They’re the Technicolor Pop Blitzkreig behind the stupendous ragga-western drug ditty ‘Clint Eastwood’ and they’re here to infiltrate NME like a cartoon foot and mouth disease. See them go, spreading like wildfire between the pages, trampling in the faces of Terris, until they reach the cover where they set fire to toilet rolls and shove them under Daft Punk’s helmets. They may be two-dimensional, but Gorillaz are way more real than the shallow plastic edifices of most pop stars. With the shadowy figures of Blur’s Damon Albarn, hip-hop producer Dan The Automator and Tank Girl creator Jamie Hewlett lingering in the background they have come to drag the concept of band manufacture into the next dimension.
“This isn’t getting a bunch of 17-year-olds with pretty faces who can do backflips with big tits and making a record for them,” Murdoc sneers, pulling a dart from his pocket and throwing it at a picture of Fatboy Slim on the wall, missing and hitting 2D in the head instead. “We’ve got a bit more integrity than that”. “I guess it’s a bit like Eminem,” 2D muses, pulling the dart from his temple, “in that we’re reflecting what’s out there anyway. I just think we’re doing it in a much more intelligent way than he could dream of doing it.” And with that, Murdoc swings his feet onto the editor’s desk, loses his balance and falls backwards into a filing cabinet, causing a shower of objects, including three bowling balls, a cricket bat and a large anvil to fall onto his head. Three black ravens start circling his cranium. “Wanker,” scorns 2D. “Pair of assholes,” tuts Russel. “NOODLE!” shouts Noodle.
Who let the Gorillaz out!?! Several freaks of fantastical fate, it transpires. While on a routine ram-raiding mission with his gang of scuzzball twat-mates two years ago, Murdoc pile-drove into the window of Uncle Norm’s Organ Emporium in Crawley, where 2D was working part-time. Russel was next on board, fresh from New York where he’d been possessed by the spirit of Del That Funkee Homosapien when Russel was the only survivor of a random and savage drive-by. Sheesh, Rus, you must have felt lucky not to get rubbed out. Russel: “….” Sorry. That was in bad taste. The day that their advert for a guitarist appeared in NME, a FedEx parcel arrived on Murdoc’s doorstep, ten-year-old Tamagotchi axe-toddler Noodle leapt out, having posted herself from Osaka, and Gorillaz were go! Their first gig at the legendary Camden Brownhouse started a shotgun-fuelled riot. But most contentious of all are the foggy rumours surrounding the involvement of sometime Gorillaz collaborators Damon, Dan and Jamie. The band claim that they discovered the trio sleeping rough in Leicester Square. But whispers abound that Gorillaz are simply leeching off their famous mates’ credibility. 2D shrugs. “Well it’s nice of you to say that they have any credibility in the first place.” “When you’re old farts like them,” adds Murdoc, “completely out of ideas, you need to attach yourselves to some young talent.” Too right, I mean that last Blur album… pffffftt, bloody hell, eh> 2D: “Well you might well have a point there…” You must’ve thought Damon had gone completely bleedin’ barmy” Going walkabout round Mali, singing nonsense lyrics on the last single… 2D smirks. “As they said in NME, how dare he think he can get away with it!? We thought he was easy fodder, a man who’d lost his way.” Have you saved their careers? Murdoc: “We’ve saved Jamie’s. He was washed up. He was doing illustrations for J17 magazine! We’ve given them something interesting to get their teeth into and something to get out of bed for.”
Hmmmm, one senses that there may be a flipside to this argument… “That story’s a load of bollocks,” says Damon emphatically, clad in baseball cap and chunky B-boy glitter in a west London studio the following day. “They came to us at a party. Me and Jamie used to live together for a while and Murdoc and 2D turned up at a party where we had Sporty Spice, Baby Spice, Pavement, a couple of members of Radiohead, Madonna. No, Madonns wasn’t there, but Kate Moss was there, Marianne Faithful, Keith Allen…” “The funny thing was,” says Jamie Hewlett, “the following night, Damon got photographed getting some eggs, yet all fucking night the front door was open and not a single fucking journo came upstairs with a camera.” Midway through recording his “Mali record”, Damon seems enthused and rejuvenated by his involvement with Gorillaz. He praises 2D’s simple yet profoundly impressionistic lyrics and practically speaks in tongues about the band’s forthcoming London gig (at King’s Cross Scala on March 22) claiming “it all goes into the realms of metaphysics and what is real. I won’t be there, though. I’ll be abroad. I’m going to Mongolia that week to hang out with a shaman there.” Righty-o. “But because there isn’t a human face to it,” Damon continues, “it’s the abstraction which I think is groundbreaking. Hopefully we’ll inspire people to have no boundaries. It’s liberating. The whole idea of them being animated is that they can go anywhere. The only thing it’s limited by is out imagination.” Gorillaz eponymous debut album is a kind of Frankenstein’s Furby of a record: awash with dark, apocalyptic hip-hop atmosphere and undead reggae grooves, but clashed through with an innocent streak of kindergarten pop. It’s Deltron 3030 playing conkers with ‘13’, it’s Beck punching The Clash outside a pub on Sesame Street and it’s groundbreaking indeed, not least for its rampant eclecticism. “Coldplay are very conservative,” says Damon. “If what sets itself up as the alternative could get any more conservative than Travis, it just has. It’s melodic and it’s memorable but for all the wrong reaons. This whole stance that ‘we’re only in it for the music’ how many times does that C86 ethos have to get churned out?” Plus the whole Gorillaz concept is a marketing department’s we dream. In an age when image manipulation has become as precise a science as nuclear fusion, real people with real human drug addictions, skin complaints and ballooning egos simply aren’t considered flawless enough to be pop stars. And real rock musicians are boring, ugly, self-obsessed, have shit hair and stink constantly of stale plectrum. So what could be better than a ready-baked bunch of freakoid mutant meta-pop stars with psycho-rebel personalities that make Oasis look like the Tweenies? “ I think being in a famous pop band, many years down the line,” says Jamie, cryptically, “will start to restrict you from doing the sort of stuff you want to do because you’ve got to fit into some sort of mould that’s been created for you and if you’re a creative person that stops you from creating. Working with an animated band is the ideal opportunity to let go and do what you’re good at.” Really though, Damon, this is just an excuse to get out of doing photo shoots, isn’t it? Involuntarily, Damon gives a sly, knowing grin. “Yes.” The thing about speed is, Murdoc jabbers, flakes dripping from each nostril, “if you end up being the sort of person who gets into doing cocaine when you go to parties and then you go back to doing speed, you end up saying ‘Give us eighty quid’s worth’ and you get a dirty great sugar bag full…” Shit shovelling time. We already know about Murdoc’s chronic speed habit that kept him almost permanently blind throughout the ‘90s and his sexual desperation which will see him lunge at anything that once had a pulse in the early hours. The there are those scurrilous rumours about 2D waking up after the Brits win bed with the three girls from Captain Caveman. 2D sneers. “They were just after the publicity.” We recently interviewed Bob The Builder and he said of Gorillaz, “The drummer is a nice bloke, the little Asian one I haven’t met but I hear she’s alright. But that singer and that bassist, I hope they catch mildew because I fucking hate them two.” Why would he say such a thing? 2D: “That’s Noel The Builder, isn’t it?” Murdoc: “ I think I probably shagged his girlfriend or something. Betty the Builder.” 2D: “it’s all there, mate! You wanna read it, you can! I tell you what happened, right. I shagged Noel The Builder’s brother’s girlfriend.” Murdoc: “He’s a cunt anyway. We’re outta here.” And with that, Murdoc kick starts a blood-red, completely flat Harley Davidson, Russel, Noodle and 2D leap on the back and they ride it straight through the 25th floor window. The bike vrooms for a few feet, then splutters dead. The band hang in the air for a few seconds, confused, until Murdoc peers downwards, cries “MOTHER FUCKAAAAAAARRRRSSSS!” and they plummet out of sight. When Gorillaz hit the ground, Gorillaz *bounce*