Damon Albarn joins Elton John for this week’s episode of Rocket Hour on Apple Music 1 to coincide with the release of the new Gorillaz album, 'Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez’.
In the wide-ranging chat with Elton, Damon talks about when he started work on the album, how he played piano like Elton when he first started writing songs with Blur, his niece playing trumpet on the Gorillaz track 'Strange Timez’, how a Rod Stewart song inspired him to work in music, and how Nigerian musician Tony Allen changed his life. Elton also reveals that he thinks Damon is the “most interesting British musician” and he doesn’t think there’s any other British composer that’s made music like him.
Elton on Damon being the “most interesting British musician"
I have to tell the people at home why I love you so much, and don’t get embarrassed, it’s because out of Blur came Gorillaz, came The Good, the Bad & the Queen, came Monkey, which was an opera way way back, and as an artist and composer I’ve always loved the fact that you did things that you loved and you explored different music and you went for it. I don’t think there’s any other British composer that’s ever done that quite like you … I have to hand it to you, you are for me the most interesting British musician because you’re always going off and doing something and throwing everything behind it … it’s incredible that you’ve gone from one of the most successful bands of all time, and by the way the last Blur album was a masterpiece as far as I’m concerned, and it’s the joy of playing with wonderful musicians that you seem to love, and I really admire that.
Damon on the start of Blur and playing piano like Elton
Elton: I tend to go, as a piano player, all over the shop with chord sequences and stuff.
Damon: I started off at just the beginning of Blur, I couldn’t play the guitar, I only played the piano. My songs were, as you say, quite sort of all over the place, and I sort of had to stop playing the piano for a while because I just kept writing songs like Elton John and I had to write something else.
Damon on Rod Stewart’s version of ‘The First Cut is the Deepest’ inspiring him to write
When I started thinking that maybe that’s what I wanted to do was write songs, that was one of those songs. I remember one particular journey where I walked from my village into Colchester, which was like a six mile walk, and I had it on cassette and I must have listened to it like 40 times on that journey … That sort of obsession was how I deviated from classical music … You have to have that kind of obsessive nature if you’re going to learn to do things.
Damon on his 9-year-old niece’s trumpet playing on Gorillaz’s 'Strange Timez' featuring Robert Smith
All I sent him was a drum beat and not really much chordal information, but this mad freestyle trumpet solo from my niece who was in lockdown. She’s only nine! She’s absolutely brilliant, I let her go nuts on it, she’s got two or three notes, but boy does she play. And he loved it, and I thought isn’t that wonderful my 9-year-old niece and Robert Smith making tunes together, it’s lovely.
Damon on when he started working on the new Gorillaz album
Well it started last October. I just want to make music when I feel like it as opposed to sort of dedicating two or three months to making a record, and that’s pretty much how I did it. And then it just got to May last year, I mean May this year, I was going back in time actually just like Boris’ new slogan ‘Build, Back, Better’. Get yourself a time machine and meticulously rebuild the past.
Damon on musician Tony Allen changing his life
I obviously wanted to mention Tony because he sadly passed this year, he really was truly one of my best best friends and I learnt so much, such a beautiful human being, from him … he changed my life really when I met him, he profoundly changed my life.