Standing centerstage at Red Rocks Amphitheater in Morrison, Colorado, Gorillaz frontman Damon Albarn is backed by a massive screen buzzing with wild visuals. Murdoc, Noodle, 2D and Russel—the four characters that make up the British cartoon band—bounce along to music from the Gorillaz’ extensive catalog, including their newest album, Humanz. Before he was selling out legacy venues with Gorillaz, Albarn fronted Blur, which was an indie-rock phenomenon all its own. Albarn and Gorillaz’s cocreator Jamie Hewlett never imagined they’d still be here 16 years after Gorillaz self-titled debut. Albarn had some time to talk hip-hop, his fear of robots and what makes him a “dystopian melancholic.” —Kyle Eustice
I understand you grew up playing piano.
I’m a piano player at heart. I’m at my happiest when I’m singing and playing the piano, but in the early days of Blur, I had to switch very quickly to writing on the guitar because lush elaborate piano chords in an indie band are not really ideal.
Right—unless you’re trying to be Coldplay.
That’s not one of my aspirations.
Where did your interest in hip-hop come from?
I think it’s just living in West London and that’s what all my friends were into. They weren’t into indie music at all. When I met Suzi, she didn’t even know who I was. She’d spent the ‘90s abroad and was totally into hip-hop. There was a lot more of that in my environment at that time.
When I was in London, I remember seeing all these guys with mohawks and purple hair. It was this punk thing. It was fascinating but I always think of punk rock when I think of London.
Two-tone, as well. That’s kind of the connection to the Gorillaz — that’s kind of how I blossomed into the person I am now is through my real empathy with two-tone while I was growing up. Living in Essex, which is a very, very white county, the fact that The Specials was on Top of the Pops was incredibly inspiring. I was optimistic.
In an interview with Jesus and Mary Chain, Jim Reid was telling me it was like a dream to be on Top of the Pops.
It really was.
Were you on the show?
I was on Top of the Pops a lot in the ’90s.
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