As the virtual-band superstars prepare to release their fifth studio album, Humanz, the group’s co-mastermind Damon Albarn, 49, discusses the challenges of holograms, guest wrangling, and drinking on the job.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: In 2012, you said Gorillaz might be done. What changed?
DAMON ALBARN: Oh, we think that every time. [Laughs] Jamie [Hewlett] fell in love with a French girl and moved to Paris, and I was terribly hurt I’d lost my friend. It’s like a marriage, these creative partnerships. But luckily, our kids have grown up together, so we didn’t lose contact completely. And we just sort of found all the bits of the porcelain vase we’d smashed on the floor and stuck it all back together.
You’re known for recruiting eclectic guests, but Humanz has more female artists than usual: Carly Simon, Mavis Staples, Grace Jones…
I wanted it to be more balanced. Because if we were going to call the record Humanz, I had to. On the last record, we had people like Bobby Womack and Ibrahim Ferrer and Ike Turner who, musically, are patriarchs. I wanted to work with some matriarchs.
Give me a Grace Jones story.
Locating Grace is the beginning of the challenge. Pinning down a day she could come to the studio took about four months, with lots of false alarms: “Grace is coming! No, she’s not.” But she truly does have magic in her soul. She’s really naughty but really lovely.
When you’re collaborating with so many artists, are you a host? A ringmaster? A wrangler?
In a way, you could call me the architect. I’m pretty clear about what I want, but after that, it’s completely up to them how they interpret it, as long as I get the stuff within my bigger narrative. I love being surprised by the direction people take. I suppose the one thing I do know is when it’s not right.
I hope you still hold on to those.
The darkest, greatest thing in my vault is a 4 a.m. duet between myself and Erykah Badu. I’m out-of-tune drunk, and I wrecked it.
Will you be sending your hologram alter egos out on tour?
I wish. The technology is still not there, and it’s a ways off. At some point I’d like to pass on Gorillaz to another generation. The cartoons can go on forever, and the concept of music-making is just collaboration, really. And obviously, I’ll make sure I’ve got a fantastic hologram.
Humanz arrives Friday, April 28.