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Meet Iain Thomas, the 36-year-old South African poet who is famous all over the world except in SA

Under a Hail of Plastic Bullets Pt.2

2010-03-30 09:17

So with everyone now back on your trail it's time to go back into hiding. Was this the time that you finally realised you could solve all your problems by putting Gorillaz back together again?
Yeah… ish. Well. Y’know…. Gorillaz is my band. I don’t really have to 'put it back together'. I am Gorillaz. Like the chick with the red "Tin Tin" hairdo is La Roux… But y’know, yeah I thought it was time to release another one of my "long-playing emissions"...

See when Gorillaz is up and running everything’s sweet and dandy. I'm bulletproof. It just gives me everything I need. I can pay off the debtors, make swanky videos, and swan around the globe like I own the place, all the while playing my dirty thick black bass over some fantastic music. Mmmmmm…

It makes all my rubbish seem justified. My rudeness gets put down to entertainment. In fact people even pay for it!

On top of this, with the name Gorillaz, I get to invite an incredible set of people in on the gig too. Real legends! Mos Def… Bobby Womack… Dennis Hopper… Snoop Dogg… Ike… They’ve all dropped a unique slice of themselves into the Gorillaz pot… making it the vast sprawling family of fun you see today….

So bit by bit, demo by demo, I started carving out the Plastic Beach record. When I had the foundations nice and solid, and sonically knew which way I was pointing the ship, I thought "it's time to get some entertainers on board", y'know… start to colour this picture in a bit more…

You are on Plastic Beach though, in the middle of nowhere - how on earth do you get the collaborators you want on the album to record with you?
Various methods. One way is you can phone them up and ask them. You’ve got to remember that the Gorillaz name goes a long way now, and some people will just agree on the back of that. For many people a Gorillaz collaboration is like a ticket to Disneyland. It’s a day off, they can get to take part in this surreal little ghostly theme park that seems to sail round the world with me, Murdoc Niccals, at the helm… Not many people refuse an invitation.

So, for many of these cohorts, I sent out a whole load of 'Golden Tickets'; specially coded sparkly invites with our secret Plastic Beach location embossed on them. It had the map details, dress code, and the meeting place watermarked on to them, so the guests would know what was up. I sent copters out to pick them up one by one and fly them out. All like ‘top secret’ styleeee. Bit like Fantasy Island.

But it wasn’t all plain sailing. A couple of them refused so I had use another method of coercion. Well, chloroform and Rohypnol really. But as long as got what I needed I was fine. So who’s on the rack this time? Uhmmm… Lou Reed, Mos Def, Bobby Womack, Una Stubbs, Spin Ballback, Bashy and Kano, Little Dragon, Mark E. Smith, some exotic orchestras, bazooka players…. “Angel Trumpets and Devil Trombones…."

I mean, to be honest I treat my record collection like a catalogue now. Or a menu. I’ll have the number 58, the "Snoopy Doggy Dogg" with a little dollop of Lou Reed on the side. Actually, no, I’ll start with The Horrors then finish off with a big Bobby Womack … I mean, it’s like that for us these days. As soon as I’ve mastered my little ‘DNA re-animation machine’, I’m going to start going through the back catalogue of all music’s history. I’ll be bringing back everyone from Otis Redding to Marvin Gaye, and each great legend in between…. I mean, I brought back Noodle, so who knows what I can do… I might even get a couple of 16th Century lute players on board… go all pastoral, like.

Late Jan 2009, you start recording the album on Plastic Beach. Is it true you started with UK band The Horrors, and that that session totally inspired you to make an album that eclipses everything you have done before?
Murdoc: Mmmm… Yeah well after the Zane Lowe thing I was contacted by the Child Support Agency. They track down wayward daddies, right? They wanted to talk to me about this group, of … er… goth kids. “The Horrors.”. Turns out, DNA tests and everything, that I’m their dad. Their biological father! 5 separate kids from 5 different mothers, who’d have thunk it? 3 of them I can’t even remember…

But the fact that they all grew up and met each other and formed a band, and it’s actually good… well… What are the chances? Anyway. They said I owed them about £500,000 each in unpaid Child Support… Maintenance. Then it hit me like an anvil on the top of my pretty black-haired bonce… I know what I’ll do! I’ll stick them on the record. I’ll say I’m making a new Gorillaz album and say that, forget the 500 grand each, they can be on my new album…

So I sent them out a golden ticket each, and shipped the little buggers out to the island…There they were. The very first guests to be invited over to record on Plastic Beach.

Surprisingly the track turned out to be a monster. A whale of a tune. "Leviathan!" and, instead of filing it in the bin, I kept it. Actually that track, was the inspiration, the spring board for the whole new album. The combination of that track, some Arabic orchestra music I had pilfered and the tracks I stole from Damon’s Carousel project gave me three strong separate flavours… angles to come from. I had my Bermuda Triangle. My plastic beach vision. I would make a world wide album from the Plastic Beach location, something that took us right round the globe.

I was so full of excitement, my body was vibrating… just humming. MMMGGGGGGNNNNHGGGG!!! Might have just been the rum though….

Anyway, The Horrors stuck around for a few weeks before I had them boxed up and freighted back to Blighty… Lovely boys.

What happened to The Horrors track then? Will it see the light of day in the future? 
No….I think the Horrors track will only come out at night. Mwhah Mwhah Mwhahh! But really, yeah, I’d like to think so. I think it’s a great tune. Like a great big monstrous whale hurtling round the bay, a sonic torpedo. Unleash the sonar Whale!!!

And I’ve already shot the video in the graveyards and cemeteries of Kensal Rise… With me floating around in the background in some stupid cape. I look like Nosferatu!….So hopefully the track will wash up on Plastic Beach at some point. Maybe on a B-sides or a C-sides album… Plastic Beach? C-sides? Did you see what I did there….No? Let’s move on. 

Before we start talking about the tracks that have made the album, we need to talk about the rest of Gorillaz and how you got the band back together. Can we start with Noodle as after all, she has been reported as missing since the El Manana video....
Yeah …yeah. I couldn’t seem to track her down…. I’m still not sure where she is… at the moment…So yeah, it was around maybe May 2007, I came round to thinking it would be time to assemble some new Gorillaz stuff. My pockets were empty, my liver enflamed but my head and my heart were full of grand schemes and intricate visions of a whole new Gorillaz assault. You listen to the charts and they’re still full of rubbish.

Seriously if I hear one more vocoder I'm going to have go round every single studio in the world with a hammer, and individually smash every plug-in with that software on it…

Whatever we put into effect on the first two Gorillaz records still hasn’t been matched. You’d think people would have seen how we operated and done something more imaginative with their moment. But no, it’s still the same old shit.

So, yeah, I realised I had to put Gorillaz back together. It’s seemed right. And the only possible way out of the situation, with all these pirates and demons and people trying to squeeze my lute. When Gorillaz are up and running, I’m bulletproof, so to speak. So I had to go get Noodle back. I thought.

I mean, when I first started thinking about putting this all back together, y'know, I wanted to start with Noodle…Noodle was my greatest asset, she’s an outstanding guitarist, looks great and a brilliant songwriter. Noodle wrote most of Demon Days, y’know. I would’ve done it myself but I was in jail over in Mexico. I was innocent, of course, but it meant she had to do a lot of the last record herself. Until I turned up to fix it, and finish it off….

Anyway Noodle, …I went back to the place that’d I last seen her, back in 2006. The scene of the El Manana video. The crash site. Where the floating island had been shot down, crashing to earth, in a ball of bullets and fire… However, there was nothing left other than the burnt-out remains of that Floating Island.

I did what I could. I scraped up some of Noodle’s DNA samples from the wreckage. Stuck it in a jar, just in case… You never know when something like that’s gonna come in useful…

And then I er… went back to Kong Studios, to see if there was any clues there or not….

When I got there Kong was a mess, a real bomb site, even by my standards. The place had been looted and various threats smeared on the wall in red paint or tomato sauce or something…. One of them said. "See you in Hell" and a red arrow pointing down. There were various threats sprayed all over the place. It looked like the members of the Manson gang had had one of their infamous sleepovers….

I didn't know Noodle was involved until I heard that radio signal, coming out the radio in the basement in Kong. And even then it took a while for me to twig. And then I kind of realised what happened… that maybe some of these Underworld goons had taken her…. so….

See Gorillaz have always had ties in with the Underworld. Spirit-possessions, and all that kind of stuff. I mean Del, The Ghost Rapper was the guest on our first big hit Clint Eastwood. So we’ve always been down with ghosts.

I’d struck a pretty tight deal with certain entities to get Gorillaz up the charts in the first place… A very er..Faustian pact… Mephistopheles and all that… I mean my very bass “El Diablo’ is hand crafted by the Lord of Darkness, Beelzebub himself. I mean you must remember I was born in a demonic nuthouse named “Balphagor Asylum” in the first place….

But once Gorillaz were big, The Big Man, Mr. B, he wanted his cut of the goods… Y’know? It’s funny. It doesn’t matter who or what you are everyone wants to be in a band. Especially Gorillaz.

But basically, y’know, royalties take time to come in… and I guess I didn’t pay my dues to those concerned on time.

And that wasn’t it… Erm…well……kind of turns out that some of those bombs, those weapons I'd been flogging were for some underworld entity….some devil by the name of "Malthus" or something. A demon of weaponry and underworld armourer. Although it might have been "Sabnock", actually. Whatever. I’m no good with names. It was some devil who’s into guns and stuff.

Turns out that some of the weapons I had sourced were for one of those two…He was pissed with me when the bombs didn’t really work. That’s when he sent those demon flunkies to come get me. At Kong, They found their way through Russel and his spirit-channelling abilities…He’s just an open porthole for that kind of stuff. Always has been.

But I wasn’t there so they grabbed Noodle instead. Turns out she got dragged off to some Underworld, "Hades"-type place, So I had to go looking for her….So it was up to me I guess to at least try and track her down…..downstairs so to speak.

After that y’know, I had to follow a different kind of trail…. (pause) And Go To Hell…

How to get to there? Number of methods…Stick on ‘Straight to Hell’ by the Clash, rub a little juniper on the temples, fast for 7 days… a few circles of salt….and some candles….using….well…Look…. It’s not like you just tootle off down some corridor. How you get there is a…long and complicated process that involves lobbing certain aspects of your psyche out into the abyss. But it’s a very real state. How ‘real’ others would consider that journey I don’t know. But if someone pokes you in your ‘third eye’ it still stings. (sniggers) And if someone stamps on your soul, stuffs it in a bottle and labels it "Murdoc Niccals: Do Not Open Until Hell Freezes Over" you’re still done for …

I just looked up demon summoning in my spell book, a 15th century magical grimoire entitled "Pseudomonarchia Deamonum", opened up a portal and kind of tottered my way downstairs….

Anyway, I couldn’t find her. I spent six months or the equivalent there. But I couldn’t get hold of her. Maybe she found a way out of that one herself…

Still I had a Gorillaz album to make, and I needed guitarist, so I just pulled out that jar of ‘Noodle DNA’ and got to work building a cyborg version of her. I knew that’d come in handy!!!

When I got over to Plastic Beach I employed the services of a couple of top-notch genetic scientists, had them flown over, and guys from the ‘android robotic’ world and built a cyborg Noodle… It ain’t the real Noodle but it’s close enough for Jazz….

Also right, because I’m being shot at by all the various bastards, I made sure this one was armed to the teeth… She’s my own personal gunslinging, guitar playing bodyguard…..She can shoot bullets right out of her mouth y’know!!

What other band can stake claim to something like that?

Cyborg Noodle.....? what happens then if the real Noodle ever re-surfaced? 
Ooooh….Now there’s a plot twist I haven’t seen coming. What’s the chances of that? Look. If Noodle’s alive it’d be great to see her back….In fact I could probably stick them together and have two Japanese female guitarists. Twins… One either side of the stage…

That’d be incredible….

But I've got a funny feeling that I haven’t heard the last from the real Noodle. The cyborg Noodle said her first words the other day….“Noodle!”, bless her metal socks. Just like the real thing… And I didn’t program any of that in so… as this cyborg version shares DNA with the real one, maybe they’re connected… maybe there’s some kind of organic, ‘psychic’ link between the two… Maybe the real Noodle can even ‘home in’ on this one, like some genetic tracking device….COME TO MUMMMY!!!! Who knows how this’ll pan out..!?

On to Russel then - how did you get hold of him?
Murdoc: I don’t think I have managed to get hold of him. He’s way too big….Ha ha ha ha ha….

I did kind of make an effort to track Russ down, but y’know…I only just managed to put him back together for the last album. His psyche’s very weak, very fragile…. You’ve got to understand that he’s been through a lot. Del, his best friend was shot dead in front of him, when he was still a teen. Del's spirit immediately took up residence in Russel’s body, and chose to manifest itself as a Ghostly Ghost Rapper. You heard him on "Clint Eastwood" and "Rock The House" back in the day, as I said.

But I just ended up programming the drums myself….Well…”nudge, nudge” “wink wink”….I actually did use a fair amount of Russel’s drum takes and programmes, bits and pieces of his that I’ve recorded over the years.… Some of it’s even from his solo album that never got finished. Great stuff…Now that would had been an exceptional album, probably would’ve launched his solo career…..but now it’s a Gorillaz record! So boo hoo for him.

Russel’s a dude, man. He took my band up a whole new level… But drummers… ten a penny… You can always find a drummer… You can hear them a mile off. If you’ve ever miked up a drum kit you’ll know how tedious it is.

Even if you’re Clyde Stubblefield all anyone else hears is… Bish! Bosh! Bash! Thud! Crash! It sounds like someone putting up a shed.

Anyway what Russel really brought was a whole range of hip-hop, soul, dub and classical stuff. Me and 2D, we’re into music but he was a musician. Incredible. Something way out of our league. Initially that was great. He turned me onto Schoolly D, Eric B and Rakim, Grandmaster Flash, DC Basehead, The Last Poets, Gil Scot Heron, loads of stuff. The Congos, Neu, Zapp, Morricone… I also got Holst, Hermann, Debussy, Messiaen… fantastic, glorious stuff, really rich. But I’ve soaked that up now. But all he’s come up with in the last couple of years is some old Wu Tang B-Side. So why do I need the rest of it? Ditch it. I can do what I need with Pro-Tools… and my tinnitus has cleared up too, funnily enough.

No, seriously. I just didn’t need Russel. Or Noodle. Not the original Noodle. I just built another. But y’know I’ve noticed this mysterious brown dome, way, way off in the distance…but it seems to be inching closer and closer to the island…. Still, probably nothing eh? The chances of that dome turning out to be Russel’s big bald head is ridiculous… isn’t it? So yeah, drummers? Who needs ‘em?

Seems slightly harsh- hope that doesn't comeback to haunt finally 2-D?
Murdoc: 2D? Good grief. He’s harder to shift than herpes…. Y’know, whatever you think of him, his voice is an integral part of Gorillaz. You can get away with ditching lots of aspects of a band, skipping parts, put it down to ‘experimentation’: but you can’t switch the singer. Very few bands get away with that. Perhaps New Order… Maybe.

I’d pretty well done what I needed to, on Plastic Beach… but it was still missing that magic vocal touch. So it was time to bring in the larynx. The voice. I tracked 2D down to this flat he was renting…

No.1 Buckingham Place Road, London. It was the same place Patrick McGoohan’s character rented in Danger Man. Danger Man was the series before The Prisoner, that one in which he gets kidnapped and taken to a mysterious island village location. 2D was kind of asking for it by renting that place…. strange boy that he is….

Anyway, 2D had been renting the place for a while, over the summer of 2009, when I tracked him down. I realised I needed those vocals, that "melancholic soul", for the album. 2D refused. He wanted no part of a third Gorillaz campaign. Pffft!! As if he’s got a choice.

So I just copied the beginning, the opening sequence of The Prisoner! Gassed him out cold. Shipped him over to Plastic Beach and installed him in the room downstairs….

I used this wonderful thick turquoise 'valium gas'. Could knock out an elephant that stuff. I got it on eBay. Very effective….

I knew 2D has a crippling fear of whales - cetaphobia it's called - he can’t stand them. So I installed 2d in the glass-bottomed room in a sub-sea level of Plastic Beach with the whales on patrol. Just for safe keeping… Which is a bit mean. But that is how I roll!

I got the job done. Got his vocals on the tracks and it sounds incredible, a glorious performance… 'Career High'...'Purple patch'. He should be happy, grateful that I bothered to drag him over. Might have stung a bit. But I almost had him replaced with Englebert Humperdink, so he's lucky he's on there… Shall we hear a little of the record now…my throats getting very dry……

Previous page: Murdoc raps about
raging against the postmodern pop machine and more
Next page: A track by track guide to the new album,Plastic Beach

Gorillaz front man Murdoch chats about getting the Gorillaz back together in the second part of this epic, stream of con-shizness interview.
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