Blur leader breaks down influences on haunting, personal 12-track album
“It was very cathartic,” Damon Albarn says of his solo album Everyday Robots, slated for release on April 29th. Away from his various bands, including Blur and Gorillaz, Albarn cut 12 tracks that explore a range of his influences, from early childhood to the pitfalls of modern technology. It’s a haunting, hypnotic collection of songs, floating through the ether of memory. Albarn called us from his London studio to talk about it.
Does it feel different doing a solo album?
It’s got my name on it and I wrote the songs, but Richard Russell [producer and head of XL Recordings] was a fantastic editor and did a lot of the atmospheric stuff, so in a sense it’s not entirely my record. It is my narrative, and my voice and my songs.
I started off giving Richard a lot of songs, 60 or 60-plus — he had the editorship. Hence a song like “Mr. Tembo,” which I never would have considered recording, because I put that in my “songs I write for other things,” like for kids’ birthdays, or in this case, it was for a baby elephant I met in a place called Mkomazi, in Tanzania. It was recently orphaned and walked onto this aerodrome; the people I know took it in and called it Mr. Tembo. I was there, and I met this little elephant, and he was very sweet. I sang it to him. It was recorded on a phone, and in a light-hearted moment, I put it on a list for Richard. He said, “I’d really like you to try that,” so I did.
Did the elephant seem appreciative?
To be honest to you, when I sang it to the elephant, it shat itself. Because it was on milk, it was white elephant baby poo, if you can imagine that. It’s quite something at close vicinity.
Who else appears on the album?
Natasha Khan of Bat for Lashes sings a ghostly echo of my voice on the song “Selfish Giant.” And Brian Eno sings a verse on the last song. He’s a neighbor: I used to go to a health club that he goes to as well, but he always did much more interesting things than I did. I’d be on a mind-numbing running machine, and he took water aerobics classes. He was very Eno about it.
Back in Leytonstone, there was a Pentecostal Church at the end of my road that belonged to the city mission. I remember standing outside with my bicycle listening to the singing, but never being able to find an entry point. But it was a very strong childhood memory that I’ve carried with me. I got in contact with that church, and they’ve still got a small choir, so they very kindly agreed to sing on the record a bit.
When you go back to one of your older songs, are you still the same guy?
I don’t know. Obviously, I’ve matured, because I’m a lot older. It’s funny. I was playing in Japan — what day is it now? — on Tuesday, I played at the Budokan with Blur. There’s one song called “To the End,” and it’s the end of that period, and it’s the last gig we were planning to do together for the foreseeable future. I was singing this song that I wrote 20-odd years ago, with a sense of my own situation at the time, but also a slightly cinematic third-person feel to it. Then, singing it on Tuesday night, it felt like I was singing about what was taking place that evening. I got quite carried away with the moment. I was standing there in front of God knows how many people, arms aloft in the moment of rapture. And typically, as soon as that happened, I forgot a verse. It’s a nice grounding experience: Never get too carried away with yourself.
What do you have planned for this year?
Well, I’m going to be promoting this record, I suppose, in one form or another. I don’t know how that will completely manifest itself, but I’m looking forward to that. Some more theater-based work, maybe a film score, something like that. I’ll be quite busy, anyway. I work from 10 in the morning to 5:30 or 6, five days a week. I don’t really think about it — I just get on with it. I do have holidays and weekends.