Having seen off a media backlash and a substance problem, Damon Albarn, the likely lad of London music tells us about being an ‘average’ 46-year-old rock star.
It’s 10am at a rehearsal studio in north London and Damon Albarn is hanging on for dear life. This stadium-rousing frontman and generational poster boy is a gibbering rag doll of a man when I approach him. The only thing sharp about him is his suit, matched by sunglasses to cover bloodshot eyes. ‘I’m going to be a nightmare today’ is his early forecast. It’s hardly a scoop to find a rock star feeling under the weather. What is surprising, however, is the honesty that follows. After two decades as a guarded British cultural icon, Damon Albarn may finally be opening up.
What made you choose this point in your career to release your first solo album?
‘The blunt answer is that Richard Russell [producer and owner of London’s XL Records] asked me to make it. We agreed from the start that it would be a really melancholic and introspective album. It’s an egocentric project, in the true meaning of the word.’
Are you egocentric? It must be hard not to be if people are so attracted to you.
‘Complicated. It’s just complicated. I don’t do what I do by accident, I do it by necessity. Being an attractive person is something you can’t possibly be conscious of. It’s either there or not there. I talk about it on the record.’
Much of Everyday Robots seems inspired by the pervasive influence of the internet, but you don’t do social media. Where are you getting all this material from exactly?
‘When I watch my daughter on Snapchat, almost every single syllable is accompanied by her sending a facial expression. Is it not getting to a somewhat manic level? I’m not in fear of this stuff, for the record. I’m really interested in it. I just enjoy looking someone in the eye more.’
What’s it like living with a teenage daughter?
‘Life is very different in my home. My status is extremely different. I’m not taken very seriously, in a good way. I walk around in my pants, which my daughter finds highly embarrassing. I’m just a normal, down-to-earth dad.’
What else do you do that embarrasses her?
‘I do this really annoying thing when I’m watching telly where I’ll sit there trying to pull out a hair from my beard. She finds that very annoying. I don’t blow my nose when it’s running. I eat with my mouth open: I’ve got as many bad habits as anyone else. I also do loads of funny voices and characters that all the kids in my family have grown up with. It’s a side of me that’s never been very public. The older ones would be mortified if I transformed into a character now.’
You still live in London, one of the most ethnically diverse places in the world. How does it make you feel when David Cameron says that ‘multiculturalism has failed’?
‘London has an ever-changing history. It’s a tapestry that is unfolding endlessly. Of course he’d say that, because it was a Labour conceit. It sounds like nonsense to me. I don’t care what he thinks, to be honest with you.’
Any other dark secrets you’re prepared to share with us?
‘I’m actually really passionate about puppets. I had these puppets made of me when I was in Jakarta. I originally wanted to use them in a video for a song on the album, Hollow Ponds, which has a strong dateline of me growing up. So now I’ve got these ten puppets of me at home – and one of Barack Obama. I may turn it into a puppet show for kids. I love puppets. Punch and Judy, shadow puppets… I’ve always said to myself that when my hair falls out, I’ll start doing puppet theatre.’
Do you worry about your hair falling out?
‘No. I really don’t. I used to, when I was younger and vainer. But now, I can’t wait. I’ll be able to stop doing this stuff!’
Are you still feeling emotional?
‘Well I spend about half of my life emoting in one way or another. Thankfully I have a job where I can get away with it.’
Everyday Robots is available now on iTunes.