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Under A Hail Of Plastic Bullets

2010-03-30 09:04
Murdoc and his Rogue's Gallery

Your last public performance as a band was in April 2006 with the Demon Days live shows in NYC - how do you feel now, looking back on those shows - surely very proud? 
The Demon Days shows? Far out. Wonderful. A five night run at New York’s legendary Harlem Apollo, stomping ground of every great from James Brown to Richard Pryor and beyond. Couldn’t have been a better setting for us. We had all the guests from the Demon Days album there, including the likes of De La Soul… Ike Turner, Dennis Hopper… we put all that lot with some animations, pre-recorded appearances, an explosive live band… A phantasmagoria of sounds, colours and assaults on the senses…. Even without my usual self-administered trinkets and tinctures I would’ve have found that experience quite er…'psychedelic'. So yeah, very proud. We brought the houses down….We should play there more often….

But then the band went their separate ways - did you instigate that?
Well, I instigated my own disappearance, certainly. I didn’t really care what the others got up to. After the show I stayed round long enough to goose some of the guests, throw down a couple of rums and then made a swirling disappearance off into the ether. POW!

Once the door slammed shut on Gorillaz that evening, for me that was it. I was sick of the sight and smell of the whole band. I just want to have a long "Lost Weekend"…and somehow I managed to string it out for about three years…..It's amazing what kind of fun you can get up to with a Coutts credit card and a big bottle of Absinthe…..

I think I just wanted to purge my soul of all things Gorillaz. The Demon Days album had been a long haul for all of us. I mean no other band really has to experience the kind of mind-numbing antics we go through. Possessions, assassination attempts, Grim Reapers, Madonna collaborations, floating islands, Black Clouds…that idiot 2D. I mean the last time I saw Noodle she was being shot by helicopters at as she parachuted off the floating island in the El Manana video…KaBoooM!! The whole thing just crashed into the ground and exploded. Haven’t seen her since. Still… Great video….

And Russel… As you know, he had his big, bad breakdown… seeing demons shooting out of the speakers. He was working on his solo album, just after the first Gorillaz record, a kind of hip-hop version of Pet Sounds but it just turned into his version of ‘Smile’. It sent him over the edge. His mind just turned to jelly. Sickly gloop oozing out the speakers, cherry stones vomiting out of the bass bins. Sent him krackers. He ended up living in Ike Turner's 'basement'. Which I thought was a euphemism for something else, until Ike Turner turned up to play on Demon Days.… So Russel, yeah, we only just managed to put him back together for the last album. I was in no hurry to hang around with him much more, once we’d done those Apollo shows.

And 2D… well, I don’t know or care what he got up to. He probably went back to his Dad's fairground in Eastbourne to work on the arcades…OH NO. Hang on. Tell a lie… I remember operating on him at Kong Studios. I chloroformed him and then stole all his organs. Hah hah hah…. I think it made him quite ill. Still he’s a great singer, lovely voice box. That’s why I got him back in on the new record…

But where were we…? Oh yeah…

After the Apollo shows… Gorillaz-wise, that was it. There was talk of making a movie or something. But that’s all it usually is. Just talk. Some people seem to make a career out of dining out. In fact the only way to keep things moving in some parts of that world is to make sure nothing gets finished. It’s like war really -just keep everything ticking along with no conclusions. I’d had enough too. I thought I’d scoop up my coppers, put on my ermine and go party. 

We hear that various 'business deals' then didn't really work out well for you, leading to you putting Kong Studios up for sale in Nov 2007 - did you get any serious offers for the studio? 
No, not serious offers. A couple of crank calls… some quacking noises down the phone and a few… er… delinquent enquiries from the more medicated part of our audience, but nothing more….

I had to sell the place. I loved Kong Studios, really, it was a fantastic hangout. It was the Gorillaz original HQ, the birthplace of my fantastic band. We all used to live there, me, Russel, Noodle… 2D. But I had to get rid of it….People were hunting me down, I’d just come back from a long trip to the demonic Underworld, about 6 months long. I only came back to pick up a can of mace. When I got back to Kong Studios I found the place collapsing, full of zombies, just a mess. It looked like Dawn of The Dead.

And I knew that all those other people we’re still looking for me, the underworld entities and the pirates, The Black Clouds, and the deranged fans turning up with the paternity suits and stuff… I had to move on from Kong. So I though I’d sell it…You’d think something like that would fly of the shelf. A gigantic disused haunted studio in the middle of nowhere? What’s not to love? I even put it on sale through the property website. But nothing. So I went about getting rid of it a different way…( evil laugh)

But these 'various business deals' you mentioned. Let’s just clear that up a bit shall we… I'll tell you what happened. After Gorillaz split, I’d partied my way round the world, ruffling feathers and spilling drinks around the globe… But then the money kind of dried up. The Demon Days stuff had been expensive, and I’d invested in all these other things, stupid mobile phone companies, and get rich quick pyramid schemes… I bought a load of pyramids in Giza over in Egypt, but it turned out the guy who sold them to me - Bernie Madoff - was a crook, and the contracts weren’t worth the parchment they were written on….

I was broke. I needed to get some new funds coming in… So I tried my hand at various tricks and trades… And one of them was amateur arms dealing. That’s good fun! I bought a copy of 'As Used On The Famous Nelson Mandela' by Mark Thomas in a second hand bookshop. Great book. It shows you how very easy it is to push different weapons round the globe, by buying up old stock as countries upgrade, repainting them, relisting them and selling them on at a profit to other groups.

As long as the paperwork is done, should all be cool, right? It's basically what Governments do anyway. The British arms industry is the second biggest in the world. We’ll sell arms to anyone. Same all over. Every time any big country needs a weapons upgrade they just flog the old lot in a garage sale. I was just working as an independent trader.

The way I see it is, y'know, I knew they were duds. They were all damaged goods. They'd never work, so I was just trying to make a fast buck… As far as I can see I was doing something for er…'world peace' by selling on weapons that wouldn't work. I just happened to make a bit of cash in the process.

That did backfire though. I ran into to some er…'dissatisfied customers'. In particular an underground network group of pirates called "The Black Clouds", the ones I mentioned before. They’ve been after me since they appeared uninvited in that El Manana video. It was them in the helicopters, that turned up and shot the island down…

I smoothed it over with them at the time with promises of cheap weaponry, but after I stiffed them with the dud scuds, the blood between us turned very bad…

(Murdoc pauses)

But, yeah, the Bernie Madoff thing was a mistake for sure. I thought what with the economy fluctuating so chaotically, surely your money’s safe in pyramids? Apparently not. Still, I like to feel a little bit of my heart is entombed forever somewhere in Egypt. Next to Tutankhamen.

July 25th 2008 - a significant date Murdoc? Kong Studios burnt to the to enlighten us on what happened there then.....? 
Oh…the 25th July 2008. That was the date of the Monkey King Opera at The Royal opera House… I remember it well. I would. It was the date I burnt Kong Studios down and then went to the Opera as an alibi!

I went along dressed to the nines, in a silky Victorian cape & silver-topped cane, and just guffawed loudly throughout the performance. I even started kicking the chair in front of me with my big Cuban heeled boots. I just want to draw attention to myself really, LOUD, make nice and sure everyone got a good look at me… Putting me far away from the scene of the crime… Arson doesn’t look good on the CV really.

As I said, I’d put the place up for sale, and to be honest Kong Studios is a piece of rock n’ roll history. National Heritage. It should be covered in blue plaques. But no-one was biting so WHHOOOOSSHH!!! I just torched the place. I blamed it on some local kids. I pocketed the cash and they all went to jail… (starts laughing) Which is funny really. I think they’re all still inside.

Sometimes you’ve just got to burn the past to make a new future. Out the ashes of Kong Studios, Plastic Beach rose like a big dirty swan. So that’s good.

So with the money from the insurance you can pay off some of your creditors, but you choose not to - correct?
Correct. Paying your debts off would be a tedious way to spend your illegally gotten gains. That’s not fun is it? No, I spent my dosh on building a big recording studio on a stinking mass of floating Plastic in the middle of nowhere… I mean, it’s what you should do with your cash though, isn’t it? Big extravagant wastes of time…

You therefore now need two things - to get away from certain people and find a location for a new studio. What did you do next?
Yeah. I needed somewhere isolated. Really hidden. Somewhere not even Google could find me. I’d created a trail of destruction, a huge mess… As I said, The Black Clouds were on my tail. They were cheesed off about all the dud weapons and useless shooters I stiffed them with. None of the weapons worked. But they must have got their hands on a new batch because the next thing I know is that they’ve tracked me down. Bullets everywhere. Shooting out my windows, chucking mustard gas into my hotel room… going through my mail… I had to split.

So I needed somewhere, SOMETHING, unique….

So I hauled one of the helicopters from the ‘Feelgood Inc’ video, out of storage and fired it up. GNNNNGNNNNGGGG!!! I just scouted the globe, zipping around all over the place. Everywhere… Arctic tundra, Amazon jungle, down the back of the sofa… I searched on maps, visited secret locations, until finally I found it… I knew I’d struck gold. The perfect Plastic palace. 'Point Nemo' – No Man's Land! The place furthest from any other landmass on the planet. No one would dream of looking for me there…You can really make as much noise as you want…

It was just a giant piece of rotten plastic in the middle of nowhere. The funny thing was it that it looked idyllic from far away… through the binoculars… a floating paradise! But once you got closer you could see it was just landfill… grease, garbage, destruction and rusty old pipes and dumped bits of plastic.

That didn’t bother me though. I painted the whole thing bright pink and got on with it… My own plastic beach… TA DA!!!

I was home again… I always make a lot of noise, where ever I am, and also I wanted somewhere I could bring girls and guests and make a big ol’ racket. Crank the stereo up to 2000!

The first thing I did was build a big ‘Tracey Island’ type playboy mansion, right on top of this Plastic Beach. Just a towering monstrous building. It houses everything from my new HQ to my state-of-the-art recording studio.. It’s got everything from lavish boudoirs to glass bottomed- basement rooms, secret rooms, lighthouse towers… It makes Peter Gabriel’s ‘Real World’ studio look well… Really Rubbish! Plastic Beach is… Fantastiche!

But y'know. It’s not like these people, the guys that were after me, just disappeared into the sunset. They've tracked me down on Plastic Beach already. I’ve been shot at loads out there. One of them put a hole in my island the other day. In fact that's how our single 'Stylo' got leaked. Siphoned out of my island by some filthy Russian pirates. I’ll get ‘em back though… Don’t you worry… I’m good at stuff like that.

Did you start demo'ing as soon as you had assembled the studio on Plastic Beach?
Murdoc: No. Not really. When I first got there I just wandered up and down kicking the landscape. Playing with the echoes and marvelling at the enormity of the universe. You wouldn’t believe the view of the stars from out there…just amazing. Anyway I didn’t need a studio at first. Initially, I just started twanging away on Logic really, alone. Me, my bass and crate of rum, sat on the beach just warbling along to my spongey dub rhythms and recording straight into my laptop.

Happy days! No expectations, just seeing what glory dribbled out of the fret-board. Then some of it started making sense, unfortunately. Over the weeks, the months, the melodies came into focus and the songs demanded to be …finessed and defined. Yah Yah! Like errant children, wild and untamed, full of potential but with nappies full of excrement. Then bit-by-bit I built this ‘state-of-my-arse’ recording palace on the island, to cater for the whims of these tunes, and somewhere foxy to ship other collaborators out to. To Gorilla-rize up the snazzy tunes, and construct this towering mournful behemoth that sits in your CD slot today.

But I love the beauty of those early etchings. Staring into the vast, open chasms of the nocturnal universe, a skyful of dust and a gentle tune emanating from me and my minuscule soul. Mmmmmm… When you’re in that state, everything seems all ….isolated and correct.

(The warm smile on Murdoc's face blackens into a frown)

And it’s like a concrete, light smashing hammer when you have to return to the realities of salesmanship and cram these delicate eulogies into the traps and get them to race, mongrel style, against the remedial emissions of some farcical vocoded hop-hip claptrap! PROMOTION! RACING AGAINST WHAT? Another sad-sack record company pitting their money on an overly groomed, e-numbered show-pony, in attempt to bludgeon their audience into a submission… I mean… it’s more important to have nice shiny hair than a decent tune these days!!! It makes me mad!!

SFX (Chairs and tables going over, room being smashed…)

January 2009 - you turn up unannounced on a live national radio station in the UK with collaborator Damon Albarn and play three new demo's on-air. In hindsight was this a clever idea or not?
Murdoc: Well… er… some of it was and some of it wasn’t. I spent a fair bit of time just mucking about that day. I’d brought one of those old bulb horns with me, that sound like this (horn effect) and I was parping it over someone else’s music. A bit juvenile I grant you but basically I guess not too dissimilar to what someone like Mark Ronson does…. It was just my version of his remixes… Take someone else’s music and then parp some horns over it…

But it was a great chance to play some of the demos. I unveiled three tracks. Tracks in progress…'Stylo', 'Electric Shock' and 'Broken'…They seemed to go down well. Apparently their switchboard exploded…Why did I do it? I did it for a number of reasons. I wanted to test the water…see who was listening….see if the fans were still out there for us and also….And …..also…….

Look. There was a coded signal in there. I needed to let someone know that I was ready to make the shift over to Plastic Beach. The Big Push. Playing those tracks was the signal. The hidden code…That I was at the radio station and that my man, my contact needed to meet me outside.

But yeah, backfired a bit because as soon as I left the studio a hail of bullets tore up the inside of my car. These other guys knew where I was at so. All hell brought loose… And, right, it was also what lead the Child Support Agency to track me down. They wanted me to pay up all this money to this band The Horrors…

So yeah, playing those demos just unleashed a tidal wave of attention. Good and bad…

Next Page: Murdoch talks about Getting the Gorillaz back together

Gorillaz front man Murdoch chats about break-ups, make-ups, raging against the postmodern pop machine, their new CD, 'Plastic Beach' and more in this epic, three part stream of con-shizness rhapsody.
Read more on:    interview
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