Damon Albarn talks Gorillaz's Cracker Island album: “I’m a useless human being, but I’m OK at making music”
2 March 2023, 20:12 | Updated: 3 March 2023, 10:33
The Gorillaz co-founder spoke to Radio X about everything from the band's Cracker Island album to who's next on his wish-list for a collab.
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Cracker Island is the latest studio effort to be released by the virtual band and - with collaborators in Stevie Nicks, Thundercat, Bad Bunny, Beck and Tame Impala - it's easy to see why the record is on course to score a UK number one.
Despite this, Albarn isn't particularly fussed about the chances of the animated outfit's eighth record hitting the top of the album charts: "I wouldn't say I'm ambivalent about it, but it's just a number isn't it?"
"I don't think being number one proves your creative path is intact at all," he added wryly. "There's been a lot of bad number one albums, let's be honest..."
Gorillaz - New Gold ft Tame Impala & Bootie Brown (Visualiser with Kevin Parker)
Albarn is however as creatively free as he can be and he credits part of this freedom with not owning a smartphone.
“I’ve always valued my creative freedom above monetary gain," he asserted. “I don’t have a phone. A lot of autonomy comes out of not having a phone."
Though it means contacting artists for collaborations might be a little trickier, Albarn admits that he's never been particularly good at holding onto technology since his early Blur days and luckily he has a team helping him achieve life-admin while he focuses on music.
Explaining his unique situation of finding fame so young and how it meant he wasn't so great at adulting, he revealed: "I was made to get a pension at 20. Everything like that got taken out of my hands from a very early age, so I don't really know how to do anything even if I had to."
He added: "I just have to keep on producing music, because it's the only way I'd stay afloat."
Asked about how he came up with the image of the cracked screen world, he revealed it was inspired by him never managing to keep his iPad in one piece.
Despite reaching fame in the Britpop era before the advent of mobile phones, Albarn revealed that when they did arrive on the scene, he would lose them at an alarming rate.
"It started out in the 90s," he recalled. "The first thing I was responsible for was a key. Keys and a credit card and I was hopeless at that and then the phones came.
"I made a nightmare of that to the point where they would buy boxes of burner phones for me. I'm a useless human being, but I'm OK at making music".
Despite his aversion to modern methods of communication, the musician has been able to work with some of the most exciting emerging acts of the time as well as the biggest names in music. One of which just happens to be Fleetwood Mac legend Stevie Nicks, who appears on Gorillaz's Oil track.
"I never imagined that," he gushed about the collab. However, it was a song he'd originally intended for The Strokes' Julian Casablancas.
"Sometimes people's voices come into my head," he revealed. "On that occasion he was the first voice that came into my head when I'd written it."
But A-list producer Greg Kurstin convinced him to get Nicks on the track and the rest, as they say, is history.
"It was not anything to do with me," he admitted. "That was just good fortune on my behalf, but she got to hear it and she loved it and now I've got a tune with Stevie Nicks, which is not something I ever imagined would happen."
Does he have anything else in mind for Casablancas, though? "Maybe," he told Dan O'Connell. "But I really did think that tune was the one for him."
Gorillaz - Cracker Island ft. Thundercat (Official Video)
When it comes to previous collaborators, not many artists could have been less likely to work with the star 30 years ago than his former Britpop rival Noel Gallagher. The pair have worked together on the band's previous track, We Got The Power featuring Jehnny Beth, and the former Oasis frontman has even joined Gorillaz on stage.
After hearing that the Manchester rocker would be happy to "sprinkle some Northern magic" on another Gorillaz track, the Blur frontman said: “I love Noel”.
But he's got his sights set even higher...
Albarn said in a recent interview that Kate Bush was "Holy Grail" when it comes to collaborations and he doubled down on his statement, telling Radio X: "She really is. The weird thing is she’s, kinda my neighbour in Devon.”
Though the 54-year-old rocker has considered Running Up That Hill to work with her, he's probably been closer to working with global superstar Billie Eilish.
The 21-year-old sensation, who became the youngest solo artist to headline Glastonbury, has apparently shared lunches with the Britpop legend and Albarn said: “They’ve been a couple of occasions where we nearly got it together”. Eilish for album number nine perhaps?
It might be genius, talent or plain luck that could lead to the breadth of artists willing to work on a Gorillaz project, but Albarn believes the secret lies in being "open" and not "precious".
He revealed: “If you allow yourself to be open to anything and don’t be precious about it, you can be a great collaborator”.
Gorillaz - Cracker Island is out now.
Visit gorilaz.com to buy the album on all formats.