In Session: Gorillaz
We spoke to Noodle, 2D, Russel Hobbs and Murdoc
Unless you've been hiding under a rock or have zero clue about popular music, you'll be more than aware that Gorillaz are back and their new album 'Humanz' has now been unleashed around the world.
The four-piece animated band consisting of Noodle, 2D, Russell Hobbs and Murdoc first burst onto the scene and into our ears back in 2000 and they've made very sure they haven't left since. Tracks like 'Clint Eastwood' and '19-2000' from their self-titled debut album established them as an act that can seamlessly blend hip hop beats with electronic tendencies and rock sensibilities and they've only continued to evolve and innovate since.
'Demon Days' followed four years later and welcomed guest artists like De La Soul, DOOM, Neneh Cherry and Roots Manuva to the fold, with stand-out cuts coming in the form of 'Kids With Guns', 'Dirty Harry' and 'Feel Good Inc'.
In fact, just a quick glance through their booming discography reveals a wealth of tracks that typified the times they were released. Politically charged and damn right soulful, Gorillaz have always had their finger on the pulse and after a seven year wait since their last album 'Plastic Beach', they're back and they've got their sights aimed at a new generation.
There are a lot of names banded about when talking about Gorillaz. People like Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett keep cropping up, but to be honest, we were more interested in talking to the four members that have, in one form or another, been in Gorillaz since the start. We caught up with Noodle, 2D, Russell Hobbs and Murdoc to talk about the album process, the troubles and torment they've been through and what they envisage their new album meaning in today's times.
To accompany that, we've managed to secure a mix from Murdoc, one of the most controversial and outspoken stars in the world. His arrogant, often confrontational attitude has made him an icon for perhaps the wrong reasons but he's collected together his influences and compiled them into one, hour long session. Expect music from Aerosmith, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and much more.
Noodle, first of all, I want to say, it sounds like it’s been a really bumpy road to this point. I’ve been told you arrived from Japan to join the band in quite harrowing circumstances. In your own words, how did you join Gorillaz?
Fed-Ex. I was boxed-up and posted to London by my guardian in Japan. I was only 10 when I joined the band, despite England’s child labour laws. But it has been a good education. I’ve battled hell demons, killed zombies (when it was still cool), staged my own death and been replaced by a cyborg. A really cute one.
You were the brains behind getting the band’s second album ‘Demon Days’ off the ground. Is it true you travelled back to Japan to discover your roots. What did you find when you went back and why did you start the process of the LP?
I discovered I’d been raised in an ultra-secret super-soldier program. Which explains how fast I can chop radishes, and my thing for mini-guns. It also explains why some people think I’m cold. It’s not true, I just take a while to warm up to people. All those covert night ops meant no bedtime stories. But those skills saved my skin when I had to slay a horde of zombies that had moved into Kong Studios while we were away.
Murdoc has a weird relationship with the band to be honest, he orchestrated a lot of your pain. Do you like him and how do the rest of the band feel?
People are complicated. We’re all very different. Russel is really political, I read a lot of philosophy, 2D enjoys counting, and Murdoc is just a really terrible person. Do I like him? No. Do I want him dead? Only occasionally. So y’know, I think we’ve really turned a corner.
As the guitarist of the group, what riffs and sounds are you most proud of on ‘Humanz’. Would you say this is some of your best work yet?
I’m proud of everything we’ve done. Being in Gorillaz has shaped me into the woman you see today: a feminist-anarchist- avenging-angel- intellectual-soul- sister-of- mercy. Who also likes cute hamster butts (it’s a Japanese thing, Google it).
2D, You first met Murdoc when he hit you with his Vauxhall Corsa, is that true? What happened to your eyes and do you resent him for knocking you over with his car?
Actually it was a Vauxhall Astra. I could tell by the imprint the grill left on my face. But yeah it’s true. I ended up in a coma, so Murdoc used the ancient Yogic technique of repeated face-punching to wake me up. When my eyes opened, he told me he wanted me in his band. I wasn’t sure at first. So he ran me over again to convince me. It was clear he wouldn’t take no for an answer, and I couldn’t say no anyway ‘cos I was in another coma.
When I came to again, he broke the news – he’d created Gorillaz, and I was the frontman. The rest is history. No, I don’t resent him. The past is the past. Lots of horrible things have happened, but that’s all behind us now. I’m much more worried about all the horrible things that are ahead of us.
As the band’s singer and vocal presence, how do you think the band has progressed over the years. What’s been your favourite track?
Hard question. Have you got an easier one? E.g. maybe you’d like to know what my favourite kind of hat is? No. Okay then. Well, (it’s a sombrero) we’ve changed a lot. Musically, as well as people. Even Murdoc. Since he’s started drinking more he’s had less time to beat me up and torture me. So things are looking up. My favourite track, um, actually one from the new record – Andromeda. It takes you far away. Scotland, I think.
What have you been up to in-between the albums? You always seem to wait four or five years before releasing again but this time it was seven. I’ve heard it’s been a crazy ride?
So much has happened since Plastic Beach. First, we got attacked by pirates, then I got eaten by a big whale called Massive Dick. I spent a few months sloshing around Massive’s insides, then he died and I was marooned on a beach where I learnt lots of survival skills, like to how to run away from crabs (sideways). It turns out I wasn’t really marooned. I was on Guadeloupe, so I had a gap year and learned how to make friendship bracelets. Not long after that I hitched a ride back to England and joined the others in the studio.
What sort of hopes do you have for the new album? Is there a particular message you want to get across?
I don’t know. Please can I go to the toilet?
Russel, It’s safe to say that everyone in the band has had a pretty tough time but the music has been incredible. I’ve read that you had a breakdown after the first album but you were rescued by Ike Turner. What happened? Do you feel comfortable talking about it?
I wouldn’t call it a breakdown. Just needed some time to do a little thinking, and Ike offered me his spare room. Had the place decorated real nice. Magnolia. Very soothing.
Danger Mouse helped record ‘Demon Days’, how was it working with such an esteemed producer and does it ever faze you collaborating with such big names?
Listen, when you’ve spent years dealing with the galactic ego that is Murdoc Niccals, there’s no name on the planet that fazes you. Besides, we only work with folk we like, so we never had a problem. Danger Mouse was a true gent. Big respect.
After Plastic Beach, when Murdoc used your hip-hop machine for the beats, you ate some bad seafood right? And then you were captured against your will? What happened there? Were you annoyed at Murdoc?
Not just bad, toxic. I swallowed so much of that shit, I swelled to 60 times my target weight. Dark times, man. I washed up in NK and got put on display, caged in Pyongyang like a freakshow. Said I was the North Korean Godzilla or some shit. People were laughing. It was humiliating. But then I realised, this was probably the most entertainment these dudes had since someone drew a face on a turnip in 1997. So I found the positive, y’know?
Are you excited about the Demon Dayz Festival you’ve curated? It’s sold out already and people are fucking hyped. Any surprises in store?
Life is a like a merry-go- round, controlled by the man. But for night only, we are in control. Demons in dreamland, baby. It’s a funkstation stargate to a brave new world. Shit’s gonna blow your minds. So head to the sea and enter a new kind of utopia, a society of equals, everybody on the same page of the book we call living. Gorillaz, humans, one and all, singing truth to power. With a side of fish of ‘n’ chips. It’s gonna be beautiful.
Hi Murdoc, thanks for chatting to us, by the sound of things, it seems like you were pretty instrumental in getting the band together? How did it all begin and is it true you kidnapped the drummer Russel Hobbs? You also ran 2D over, right?
Course I was. Gorillaz is basically all me, but even a musical messiah of my magnitude had to accept I couldn’t play four instruments at once. So I kidnapped Russel from the record shop where he worked, ‘hired’ 2D with a crafty hit-and- run in my Vauxhall Astra, and took out an ad in the NME, which led to Noodle turning up in the mail. Game on.
You spent some time in jail in between the release of the band’s first album and ‘Demon Days’ and also after ‘Plastic Beach’ what happened there? It seems like you can be quite a destructive person towards the rest of the members.
Destructive? Listen mate, you clearly don’t understand art, do you. Art, yeah, is creating something out of nothing. Order out of chaos. Murdoc Niccals is that chaos. It’s what fuels us. So the next time you read a story about me punching a camel or getting slotted and hurling two dozen Viennetta off the top of St Paul’s Cathedral – that’s not destructive behaviour, it’s fucking ART.
You’ve always had quite a knack for getting huge guests involved with your records? How do you go about this and do you have a favourite?
Surveillance drone. I’ve got so much dirt on people you wouldn’t believe. Makes them very cooperative. Nah, only joking. I got on the blower to my showbiz friends, pulled in a few favours. It helps when you’re as famous as I am, and you’re offering people the chance to be on the record of the millennium. You’re not gonna say no, are you? And if you do, you’ve made a very dangerous enemy. I’m not gonna pick a favourite – what happens in the studio stays in the studio. Except the music, of course.
The new album seems pretty politically-charged, almost as if it’s reminiscent of the times we’re in. What was the thinking behind ‘Humanz’ as a record?
We wanted to make this record about NOW – this big festering bowl of shit soup we’ve landed ourselves in. If you think about Gorillaz or Demon Days, they are timeless works of art, like Shakespeare or Elvis. But Humanz is about us as a species, how we’re evolving into something new and very probably fucking awful. The record’s trying to capture that before it all vanishes in a puff of radioactive smoke.
You recorded the influences mix for us, which is very kind of you. Tell me a little bit about the mix, why you chose what you did and why you even agreed to do it?
Mate, I can’t remember what cereal I chose from my variety pack this morning. Talk to my manager.
Gorillaz will play at Demon Dayz Festival at Dreamland, Margate on June 10
Funster is Mixmag's Deputy Digital Editor, follow him on Twitter here
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02 Slaves - The Hunter
03 Chuck Berry - Roll Over Beethoven
04 Lydia Lunch - Spooky
05 Psychic TV - Just Like Arcadia
06 Grace Jones - Slave To The Rhythm
07 The Yardbirds - Heart Full of Soul
08 Elvis Costello - Watching the Detectives
09 Howlin’ Wolf - Smokestack Lightenin’
10 Aerosmith - Walk This Way
12 Mr Scruff - Blackpool Roll
13 The Animals - Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood
14 Shellac - Prayer To God
15 UB40 - Don’t Break My Heart
16 The Fall - Mountain Energy
17 Rollins Band - Ghostrider
18 Paranoid - Black Sabbath