Damon Albarn: “To be a songwriter you have to be an outsider”

Pete Mitchell delves into the twenty five years that's gone into Damon Albarn's first solo album

It has taken the prolific Damon Albarn twenty five years to write and record his first solo album.


Everyday Robots, out this Monday, got underway at the suggestion of XL label boss and friend Richard Russell. The two had worked together on the exquisite ‘The Bravest Man’ in the Universe, soul legend Bobby Womack’s first proper solo recording in decades, which was released in 2012 to critical acclaim and recorded at Damon’s West London studio. He is one of the people behind the worldwide success of Adele, who was signed to his extraordinary label. Albarn’s new release takes us on a personal journey, stopping at various points in his childhood and point’s in-between. It’s a very honest and introspective offering. I have encountered Damon on various occasions over the years and on one interview, to talk about ‘13’ Blur’s much underrated 1999 long player, he and drummer Dave Rowntree gave me a bit of a hard time. Perhaps he was having one of those days, or maybe I was. Maybe we all were.

I have huge respect for Damon, he was the smart cerebral end of Britpop and has continued to push the musical boundaries, always extending himself further than most of his peers. Putting Blur to one, his projects have included the virtual band Gorillaz. The ‘Plastic Beach’ album is a particular high point, The Good, the Bad and the Queen, another of his great collaborative works from 2007, featuring Paul Simonon and produced by Danger Mouse. It is another high watermark in British music. So I was off to Damon’s rather impressive studio to discuss his current work. The studio, where all of his music is recorded, is full of analogue equipment and classic keyboards, along with a vast array of weird and wonderful puppets of himself. No he’s not that narcissistic, they are to feature in a new video, however they do look like Thunderbird puppets which I like. This could be Tracy Island.

Damon is suited and booted and looking and sounding incredibly relaxed, which must be a indication of how confident he is with his new record. There are no visible signs of trepidation.

“Ive put a lot of work into this record. It’s a very honest record and I’m genuinely very proud of it and very excited about it coming out” he explains. He goes on to talk about how Richard Russell inspired him to go out and make this record saying, He came in one day with an idea. He suggested that he should produce me. Now that doesn’t seem strange at all but we are co-producers, that’s how we established our working relationship, so it got me thinking. If I was ever going to do it, then he was the perfect person to embark on that journey. He is not only someone that I respect, he is a person who can give it to you straight. To make a record like this, you need one hundred percent honesty from someone. There are a lot of things on this record that are quite raw and if it had not been for Richard, some of those things would not have featured, they would have been put away”.

Damon has had many guises over the years, all different and complimentary, so how does one begin to make a record that takes you to the core of one’s self? “It’s a dislocated record and that is a position I like to sing from. That ambiguity. To be a songwriter, you have to be an outsider. Believe me, just because I’ve made a lot of records, it didn’t make my first solo record any easier. I’ve put it off for so long because it’s such a difficult thing to do, because I don’t think you can truly call something a solo record, unless it is a hundred percent honest and truthful.”

Musically this album starts in the seventies, at a pivotal moment in the life of a young Damon Albarn. “The record starts in 1976 in a heat wave with me running around in my swimming trunks on the Hollow Ponds, which is this place in East London with filled in gravel pits that are full of water with ducks, swans and geese swimming around in. I think it was a very significant moment. You had the beginning of punk and you had this huge great metaphoric picnic of multi cultural London and that transformation is the very beginning of the modern Britain which we live in today. That sense of time and place became the starting point of this album.”

Everyday Robots is released this Monday and you can hear Pete Mitchell talking to Damon Albarn this Saturday at 10pm on Absolute Radio