Twenty years on from the laddish listlessness of Park Life, the voice behind Blur is talking to GQ about a very different sort of album. This week Damon Albarn unveils Everyday Robots, his extraordinary debut solo LP that, musically-speaking, follows in the footsteps of his work with Gorillaz, The Good, the Bad & the Queen and Rocket Juice & the Moon, as well as his eccentric English opera Dr Dee. Produced with the help of fellow polymath Richard Russell, it’s startling and sorrowful in equal measure. To mark the release Albarn discusses visiting strange lands and experimenting with even stranger sounds….
GQ: You initially presented 60 songs to Richard Russell as ideas for the album. What was the oddest track that didn’t make it onto the record?
Damon Albarn: Good question. There would have been a lot of variety to start off with. It’s not compartmentalised - it’s a seething mass. There would be stuff that had probably never manifested itself in a lot of different places - from stuff that didn’t make into Dr Dee, stuff that didn’t make it onto Gorillaz. There would have been stuff that never really made it anywhere! There would have been a lot of kind-of failures on there. Generally I selected stuff that either had a mood about it that I liked or had a central lyrical fragment that I was interested in. Would there have been odder stuff than a song about an elephant [“Mr Tembo”]? Yes there would have been.
You and Richard also considered some terrible band names. What was the worst?
Well there was one - which for a week or so we considered to be our name. It was “Pagan Jew”. Being that he’s Jewish and I’m nominally a pagan. But then we looked online and ended up with an aphrodisiac spray made in somewhere like Bedfordshire called “Pagan Dew” (with a “d” obviously). At the end of the day, it was a silly idea and we never used it. But for the sake of illustrating that it was part of the process, I’ve been happy to give you that.
It’s important to have these things on record.
Or not. I think as a result of that ridiculous name Richard came in the next day and said “I don’t really want to be in a band with you. Nothing personal. I’d like to produce you.” And that’s how we ended up making this record.
You collaborate with Brian Eno on “Heavy Seas” and it turns out you share a gym - anything else you have in common?
We like choral singing. Subsequently he’s been to Bamako and Mali with me. Brian is a sweetheart, he really is. He is one of those guys who is so himself that whatever environment he is in, he gives it an “Eno-ness”. It’s hard to explain. His small talk is always fascinating. There’s always some point to it.
Which question are you bored of answering already?
In essence you’re answering the same questions always aren’t you? It’s just I suppose the entry points that differ. Yours was a good entry point!
You recently visited Pyongyang. What did you make of Dennis Rodman going there?
Man, that was strange. When you decide to do something like that, it’s not something you can do on a whim. You have to go through a process, you have to be given permission - it’s not just ‘I’m getting on a plane.” When you go there I can best describe it as a magical kingdom in the sense that everyone is under a spell. The statues and the edifices are absolutely everywhere - everywhere you go you’re reminded of the Kim family. They are truly omnipresent. But the only real evidence of their elite existence is when you occasionally in the corner of your eye see a couple of blacked out Range Rovers speeding through an empty street. But apart from that North Korea is full of normal people just existing under this mad spell.
It is extraordinary but [Rodman’s] presence, to the average North Korean, they would have no idea [about him]. I’m just fascinated to see from their perspective how he was presented. Him being American is the most challenging thing to the ideology. And the fact that he’s black, he’s tattooed and he’s got piercings. It made him almost like the last person on earth you would imagine who would get an audience in North Korea. When I was there I saw in the English language paper that there had been a visit from basketball players, but there were no pictures of anything. I just wonder whether it was advertised there at all. Maybe they don’t really know that it happened. Maybe it’s a wind-up to America. In a way he’s been totally used as a puppet. So it’s a bit sad really.
We can’t wait to hear the music that will come out of that trip.
It’s coming, but not for a while. It is a fascinating place. Honestly, although you’re acutely aware you’re only being given one image when you’re out there and there are multiple stories in every street that you’re not allowed to see, I felt that the people that I interacted with were really nice genuine human beings. Apart from the [regime] bullshit.
Where is the strangest place you’ve heard a Damon Albarn track?
They did have “Song 2” on the karaoke in North Korea. They also had “Anarchy In The UK” which I found quite extraordinary. People were singing it (i.e. us).
You and Richard worked on the Bobby Womack record. What’s a story of his you particularly remember?
His close shaves with death over the years are quite extraordinary. He was sitting with Janis Joplin and he just decided that he didn’t want to spend the night getting off his head with her. He left and she was dead the next morning because she scored some dodgy heroin. That’s pretty close. He’s done that so many times. Its always a joy to see him - we do have a good relationship. There is something about his voice which does something very specific to me that very few other voices do. I consider the fact that I’ve had the privilege to sit in the studio and help write songs with him as a highlight.
Your apology to Giorgio Armani for a drunken rant is one of the all time greatest GQ Men Of The Year moments. Anything further you’d like to say?
Oh my God! I needed to apologise. I’ll leave it at that.
Can you recommend a good book?
The Blind Owl by Sadeg Heavat, an Iranian writer. Really fantastic story. That’s the thing that’s excited me the most. It’s so very mad. The imagination of the man is very strange but very compelling.
Who is on your wishlist for your next Gorillaz record and are you up for suggestions?
I am definitely up for suggestions…
Rick Ross and St Vincent would be mine.
Both seem perfectly realistic! Together I hope? [laughs] I’m trying to get my head around that - would it be a Rick Ross love ballad to her? Or the opposite?
The opposite, I think. It’ll either be that or a discussion of feminist theory.
OK. Well I think I’ll leave it with that being the next challenge then.
You recently said people have started quoting lyrics to you, including “It’s not about those joggers who go round and round” when you’re out running…
I couldn’t believe that the first time. I think what it proves in life is that really you will always get found out. When I wrote that I was a 23-year-old oik who looked at those people with a certain distain. When it came back to me I was a neurotic 45-year-old man who was jogging for dear life.
Which band would you like to see reform?
I’d love to see The Smiths reform. It just seems impossible that they would but that would be fantastic to see Morrissey and Johnny Marr.
If they could just put aside their differences…
At the end of the day, it’s really not that difficult to do that. But you’d be surprised how difficult it is. In the scheme of things it really doesn’t matter does it? But it does, as well.
Did you enjoy Morrissey’s book?
I bought it for several people but I haven’t read it. I’m not really a big, “people’s lives” reader. Mind you I did enjoy Tyson’s book Undisputed Truth. That was a special book. It’s beyond just a story isn’t it?
As a Chelsea fan, what do you make of Jose Mourinho’s season?
He’s doing great considering we don’t really have a striker. Our defence is quite clearly the best in the league and you need that. What does he bring to the team? Well, he’s just brilliant. He brings the adoration of the Chelsea faithful. We worship him. We love him.
What’s the best thing you can cook?
Aki and swordfish is still something I enjoy cooking. My life hasn’t been changed by the endless Masterchef programmes. I still like basic, honest food, but I like it from all around the world.
What musical trend needs to die out?
Being a songwriter I will always argue that it’s important to write good songs. The trend where sonics are more important than actual lyrics? That makes me sound really old fashioned. I just wish more people spent a bit more time on lyrics really.
Is there a lyric you regret?
There are many which are a bit ripe. But I’ll just let them lie. There are ones that are so ridiculous I like them because they are so ridiculous. I think rhyming “Balzac” with “Prozac” would be one of those.
It is very stupid though.
When Damon Albarn was nine, he persuaded his parents, who were in the process of moving house from Leytonstone in east London to rural Essex, to let him travel to Istanbul with a family friend. “I found myself on my own a lot and every day I wandered around the city just trying to take everything in,” he says. “I went into mosques to watch people praying and sat in rug shops in the souks drinking tea and chatting. It was quite bizarre when I come to think of it, but I was too mesmerised by the sights and the sounds and the smells of the place to be scared in any way.”
Although he knew that he would be going back to a new life in the village of Aldham near Colchester, Albarn says his nine-year-old self was utterly unprepared for the sense of dislocation he subsequently felt there. “The reality was that everything had changed in my life. I came back into this extremely Anglo-Saxon, grey, conservative world where there was no understanding of the other world I had left behind just 60 miles down the road. So, that was definitely the moment I became a bit other, an outsider.”
Bullied at his new primary school and feeling cut off from the multi-cultural thrust of Leytonstone, Albarn read Herman Hesse and “various books on Buddhism”. He also sought solace in the countryside near his new home, where he explored the woods in search of “interesting trees where I could make little shrines”. Throughout his early teenage years, until he met future Blur guitarist, Graham Coxon, at Stanway comprehensive in Colchester in the mid-1980s, Albarn was a city kid adrift in the Essex countryside.
"I definitely delved into that period in my childhood for the new album," he says. "I honestly think it’s what set me up to be the person I am now. It’s me saying ‘This is where I came from and how I got to be who I am’."
The record in question is his first solo album, Everyday Robots. It is, by and large, a melancholy, daydreamy affair that makes often oblique connections between his life then and our digitally connected, but increasingly atomised lives now. “We are everyday robots on our phones…” sings Albarn plaintively on the title track, “Looking like standing stones, out there on our own.” That sentiment is echoed in different ways on tracks including Lonely, Press Play and Hostiles, which was written after spending last Christmas at his mother-in-law’s house “spending hours on the sofa playing The Dark Knight video game with my daughter, just zapping these endless characters with no real humanity”. (Albarn lives with the artist Suzi Winstanley, who makes paintings of animals in the wild. Their teenage daughter, Missy, was named after the hip-hop artist Missy Elliott.) But it is on two autobiographical songs, Hollow Ponds and You and Me, that Albarn delves deepest into the past.
On the former, he evokes times and places from his childhood, beginning at the Hollow Ponds, a man-made lake near his home on Fillebrook Road, Leytonstone, where local kids congregated to swim in the great heatwave of 1976. “Some days, it felt like all of multicultural London was there and I was part of it,” he says, sounding wistful. “Up until this record and the recent Culture Show film [in which he wandered around Leytonstone revisiting his early haunts], I don’t think most people knew I even came from east London. They had this image of me as this middle-class kid from Colchester with a mockney accent. But I grew up in 70s London and it was an incredibly interesting, vibrant place. It formed me in a far more profound way than I ever realised until I tried to articulate it.”
We are sitting in the upstairs living room of Albarn’s extensive rehearsal-cum-recording studio in west London overlooking the Westway, sipping an invigorating healthy drink that he has just concocted by pushing carrots, beetroots, apples and ginger through a juicer. The place is filled with the evidence of his nomadic musical lifestyle: religious icons from Ethiopia, a framed print by the veteran Malian studio photographer Malick Sidibé and, surreally, a set of wooden puppets from Jakarta that are meant to depict Albarn at various ages, but look nothing like him at all.
There is a ping-pong table in the middle of the room but, mercifully, he does not challenge me to a game. He is ruthlessly competitive and tells me that he once managed to alienate an entire audience at a club gig in Lagos by thrashing a succession of local contenders at table tennis just before he went on stage. This comfortably functional space is where his solo album was conceived and where, when he is not touring or travelling, Albarn works nine to five every weekday. “It’s not very rock’n’roll, is it?” he says of his rigorous work ethic. “But I need routine. It’s just the way I’m wired. I hate wasting time, because life is just way too short for that. And I hate doing things that disrupt my routine,” he adds, somewhat pointedly. “It’s hard to get back into the swing if your day is disrupted.”
His collaborator on Everyday Robots was producer and XL Records label boss Richard Russell, whose ambient electronic soundscapes define the mood as much as Albarn’s plaintive vocals. Russell says the album is “filled with the ghosts of many late nights” and describes it as “a bit of a smoker’s record”, which just about captures its drifting, almost soporific sway. It was Russell who urged Albarn to indulge his more reflective, melancholy side. I put it to Albarn that, apart from a few moments like the upbeat, childlike Mr Tembo, a gospel-inflected ode to a baby elephant he encountered in Tanzania, it all sounds surprisingly sad, mournful even. “Well, it’s an album about love, loss, getting older and learning to live with that,” he says. “I’m not consciously melancholic, in fact I am often the opposite – boisterous and outgoing. So that melancholy feel may come from the way I use certain chords, which, as it happens, is very similar to certain English folk singers.”
He also seems to be channelling the pagan folk tradition with references to the spirit of the Green Man and placing pentangles in tree shrines on Hollow Ponds. It’s a long way from W11, the trendy west London neighbourhood that he and Russell live and work in. (Their neighbour Brian Eno makes a guest appearance, duetting with Albarn on Heavy Seas of Love – “He goes to the same gym as Damon and me,” says Russell.)
"It’s kind of innate, that traditional folk thing," says Albarn. "When I close my eyes, I often imagine what this area must have looked like in ancient times – slightly elevated, the Thames valley in the distance and loads of green countryside. It fascinates me maybe because it’s something to keep hold of when you live in a big city. So, there are traditional aspects of our old English culture on the album – trees, magic, the Green Man, the pentagram. It’s just rural tradition and the power of the countryside, but, when I talk about it," he says, looking a bit narked, "it’s suddenly classed as pagan witchcraft."
He is referring, I assume, to Q magazine’s recent feature about him, which was trailed, tabloid-style, on the front cover as “Witchcraft, Heroin, Bullying and Me: Damon Albarn’s Secret Past”. Though the magazine’s inference that he may have latent occult tendencies went uncommented-upon, his acknowledgment that he had dabbled in heroin during the dog days of Britpop did not. Several mainstream news stories ensued, all putting particular emphasis on his admission that, for a time, he had found the drug “incredibly creative” and “incredibly productive”. (Bemusingly, he had already admitted the same in an interview with the Guardian in 2012, but without causing such a stir.)
When I ask him about the other more hazily biographical song on the new album, You and Me, on which he sings the line “Tin foil and a lighter, the ship across, five days on, two days off”, he shifts in his seat, palpably uncomfortable. “Yeah, that is a reference to my heroin period about 15 years ago, but do we have to go there?” Given that he went there in the song, it would seem odd not to. Why, for instance, did he feel the need to revisit his heroin period now? “Who knows?” he says, wearily. “An image can come out of my unconscious and I will just go with it.”
Was there a need to get the whole subject of heroin off his chest though, given all the rumours that have circulated since the final days of Blur? “Maybe… Yes. Those rumours have been lingering since Beetlebum [a Blur song from 1997 in which he sings “She turns me on/ I just slip away and I am gone”, which is widely understood to be a reference to his broken relationship with Justine Frischmann of Elastica, whose heroin use was not such a well-kept secret]. I suppose it’s just me saying, ‘Let’s just get this out of the way. I took heroin for a while and I found it interesting and, yes, it was remarkably helpful in the creative process for a short time. I didn’t go down in the gutter, in fact I was incredibly disciplined about it. Blah blah blah. So what?’”
He stands up and strides over to the corner. “If this room is my solo record,” he says, picking up a small African carving, “this statue is that one song. But, you know, this is the kind of stuff that the senior staff of music papers think people want to read about. If you don’t say anything about it, you’re too guarded. If you do, it becomes this big issue.” He sits back down again. “It was such a long time ago and, really, I don’t want to say anything more about it.”
In one way, then, Damon Albarn’s solo outing is about setting the record straight, both about his upbringing and about the darker side of Britpop. Twenty years on, that time is still synonymous with the orchestrated rivalry between Blur and Oasis, which fixed the former in the public consciousness as middle-class, southern, arty popsters against the latter’s working class, northern, supposedly more authentic rock’n’roll. “The whole class thing was just insane,” says Albarn, growing suddenly animated even after all these years. “But we were young and we let ourselves get caught up in it. And the competitiveness was ridiculous for a while, but, you know, I was never gonna beat Noel [Gallagher] in a war of words.”
(The class issue reemerged just days ago, when old Harrovian pop star James Blunt took a surreal swipe at Albarn in the Sun, saying Albarn had “an orchard full of plums in his mouth and a silver spoon stuck up his arse”.)
While he has long since buried the hatchet with Noel, Albarn’s post-Blur trajectory has often seemed driven by a desire to shed both his Britpop persona and his art-pop roots. Since Blur imploded, he has become a very contemporary kind of pop star: constantly moving forward, shifting identity and style with each project. Initially inspired by the collective approach of Bristolian pioneers Massive Attack, Albarn jettisoned what he calls “the weight of being in a rock group” for a much looser role as a kind of free-floating creative catalyst. “I remember being on tour and listening to their first album, Blue Lines, and being really jealous of their freedom, not to be tied to a band structure. It was a model for the future.”
While some of his contemporaries struggled to redefine themselves post‑Britpop, Albarn teamed up with comic artist Jamie Hewlett to make four successful studio albums with virtual pop group Gorillaz before forming the Good, the Bad and the Queen with Paul Simonon, erstwhile bass player with the Clash, and the great Afrobeat drummer Tony Allen. “When I first started working with Damon, some music people I know said, ‘Don’t go there, it’ll be a nightmare,’” says Simonon. “But, in fact, he was the complete opposite. His approach was more, ‘If you’ve got a better idea, let’s do it.’”
Since then, Albarn has worked in Mali with local musicians: “Mali transformed the way I make music, but it also energised me as it was free from all the cliquishness and cool of the pop scene.” He has also toured and recorded with the hybrid Africa Express and, alongside Russell, produced an acclaimed comeback album for the veteran soul singer Bobby Womack. Along the way, he somehow found time to co-write and produce two ambitiously theatrical pop operas, Monkey: Journey to the West (2007) and Dr Dee (2011), both of which premiered at the Manchester international festival.
If he still has shades of that precocious youngster sipping tea and chatting with the locals in Istanbul, Albarn certainly inspires fierce loyalty in those he has worked with. “What I envy about him is that he is incredibly free from inhibitions,” says Rufus Norris, soon-to-be director of the National Theatre, who collaborated with Albarn on Dr Dee. “If he thinks something might work, he just goes with it, whether it’s an opera or an experiment that brings together rock musicians and traditional African musicians. I actually think there is something childlike about his enthusiasm for the new and adventurous and I find it so refreshing. He’s uncluttered by the baggage of being cool and he is incredibly competitive without being ego-driven.”
Simonon concurs: “One of his gifts is his ability to bring disparate people together and fire them up. In that way, he’s more like a conductor or a composer than a pop musician. If you put that together with his English pop sensibility, he’s like the Vaughan Williams of British rock’n’roll.”
Some of Albarn’s restless creativity must surely come from his parents: his mother, Hazel, was a set designer for the radical theatre director Joan Littlewood at the Theatre Royal Stratford East. His father, Keith, managed the 60s experimental rock group Soft Machine before teaching art at North East London Polytechnic, where his pupils included Ian Dury and Adam Ant, and then running the art and design department of Colchester Institute.
"I was always going to graduation shows, foundation shows and private views," remembers Albarn. "All that stuff goes in, I guess." Likewise, he absorbed his parents’ liberal left politics, becoming an outspoken opponent of the Iraq war alongside his friend Robert "3D" del Naja of Massive Attack. "My dad saw his art school turned into an art and design school and then into an industrial design school and he was fighting those kind of political decisions every day as well as the cuts," says Albarn. "I remember him coming home exhausted and angry from fighting that cynical attack on the great art school tradition."
Albarn grew up as a pop fan in thrall to the Specials and lead singer Terry Hall in particular: “I was obsessed with him, I could not imagine anyone cooler.” He speaks passionately about what he calls “the implication of the Specials as a reflection of multicultural London – what they were saying on songs like Ghost Town had a very powerful impact on me.”
Ghost Town, a song about inner-city decline, unemployment and the fallout of the riots of that year, reached No 1 in 1981; does he think pop music has lost much of its cultural and political import since? He nods his head furiously. “Completely and utterly. It’s bereft of it. It’s a shame because the three-minute pop song was such a great way to express discontent. But we have allowed our pop music to become dumber. You have to look to the margins for a lot of the really interesting stuff. With the mainstream, it’s like we’ve gone back to showbusiness again. It’s a pop landscape that exists like Dylan and the Beatles never happened, never mind the Specials.”
Albarn’s next project is another opera, this time in the company of Simon McBurney, director of theatre group Complicite. “It’s an adaptation of a much-loved children’s book,” he says, refusing to be drawn further. “And it’s a relief not to sing about myself.” I ask him if he thinks his upbringing gave him the confidence – some would say arrogance – to attempt anything that takes his fancy, from African music to opera. “Is that arrogance?” he counters, looking affronted. “I’d say it’s curiosity. I’m learning, it’s fun. I’m up for throwing myself into anything. Really, I’m an idiot when it comes to opera and I know that the opera world probably hates me, but I love it. I love theatre. I love the adventure of it. And, if I’m not good at something, I like to get better. It maybe goes back to failing A-level music, but that’s how I am.”
On a cold March evening in Manchester, as a headliner at the first 6 Music festival, Albarn previewed Everyday Robots before a packed and lively audience in the cavernous, concrete space that is Victoria Warehouse, perhaps the least suitable venue for these often slow, tentative songs. He looks nervous beforehand, pacing the backstage area with his dapper young band, the Heavy Seas, but they just about pull it off, the crowd attentive but only really igniting when he plays an old Blur B-side. Afterwards, in a small, crammed dressing room, he looks relieved, if slightly shell-shocked. When I mention this, he smiles and says: “That was a tightrope walk. It was quite an ask – a Friday night festival packed with people drinking and wanting to let loose and we appear with a bunch of quiet songs that no one had ever heard before. I like a challenge, but that was pushing it.”
And pushing it, of course, is what Damon Albarn does best. “You have to keep moving forward,” he says at one point. “Something terrible happens to you if you just stay the same. We are only here for a very brief time and if you are not inhaling as much as you can – excuse the metaphor – you’re just wasting precious moments of time.”
For most of the show that he played on a recent Thursday night at the Highline Ballroom in Manhattan, Damon Albarn focused on introspective and autobiographical music spanning his pop-music career of some 25 years. Then, as he wound down the set, Mr. Albarn brought out a gospel choir to accompany him on a new song, “Mr. Tembo,” a cheerful tune that includes the refrain, “It’s where he is now, but it wasn’t what he planned.”
It says a lot about Mr. Albarn that he wrote this song for a Tanzanian elephant but that it still ended up being more or less about its author: a sonic explorer who spent the 1990s as the frontman of Blur, one of the most successful British rock acts of that era, only to set that aside, first for Gorillaz, a band consisting of fictional cartoon characters, and then for further meanderings in other side projects and immersions in the music of African and Asian cultures.
By following a career that often seems unplanned, Mr. Albarn is now at the point where, at 46, he has completed his first solo album, called “Everyday Robots,” which Warner Bros. Records will release on Tuesday.
Damon Albarn, with Oluwaseye Adelekan on guitar, performing last week at the Highline Ballroom in Manhattan in advance of his solo album. Credit Chad Batka for The New York Times
“Everyday Robots” is Mr. Albarn’s opportunity to demonstrate what it means to make music as himself, freed from the burdens of his previous bands and unadorned by artifice or contrivance.
But who exactly is that person? He’s still figuring it out as he goes.
“It would have been harder to explain if I had put this out under any other name,” Mr. Albarn said in an interview, expanding himself comfortably along a couch in the lobby of the Greenwich Hotel in TriBeCa. “I’m a complete first-timer, a newcomer, under my own name, which is bizarre.”
“I feel like I’m on my umpteenth apprenticeship,” he added. “It’s actually quite a relief to be starting again. There’s something honest about starting afresh.”
A London native with tousled hair, sleepy eyes and a smile that gleams with a gold-capped front tooth, Mr. Albarn was still recovering on this Friday afternoon from the previous evening’s show and the after-hours he spent celebrating at the table-tennis club SPiN New York.
It was still a far cry from the loutish behavior he celebrated (and sometimes engaged in) during the ’90s-era heyday of Britpop, a rock genre that spoke to the aimless values of young, middle-class Britain and sent bands like Blur, Pulp and Oasis to the top of the charts.
“It was a time of change and celebration, and a time of excess,” said Steve Lamacq, a D.J. for the BBC’s Radio 6 Music station. “After three or four years of listening to angsty American grunge, there was an appetite for bands who actually wrote about what it was like to live in this country at the time.”
Eventually, this musical moment came to an end, and Blur released its last album in 2003. And when it came time to move on, Mr. Albarn had a ready cache of passports and aliases to draw from, having cultivated other projects like the cartoon band Gorillaz (created with the comic-book illustrator Jamie Hewlett) and a group called the Good, the Bad & the Queen.
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“He couldn’t be more overt at not wanting to stand in the spotlight,” said Jian Ghomeshi, the rock musician and CBC Radio host. “Now, you could say that’s a Machiavellian attempt at modesty. But I think there’s a genuine discomfort with being the cliché rock ’n’ roll star, and it plays out in the choices he makes.”
Mr. Albarn said there was no calculation in these decisions, nor in the travels he has made over the last decade to African nations like Mali and Ethiopia, where he has learned indigenous musical traditions, recorded albums and met with artists like the kora player Toumani Diabaté.
“It gives you a bigger vocabulary,” Mr. Albarn said of these trips, “and the bigger your vocabulary gets, surely the more articulate you can be.”
He has also been involved in unexpected endeavors like the Chinese opera “Monkey: Journey to the West,” created with Mr. Hewlett and the director Chen Shi-Zheng, which was presented last year at the Lincoln Center Festival. (Reviewing that production for The New York Times, Charles Isherwood called it a “boisterous spectacle.”)
During all of this, Mr. Albarn said he had been consistently creating music in a workmanlike way at his London studio.
“I start work at half past 9 in the morning, and I finish at half past 5, five days a week, except vacations and weekends,” he said.
Asked how he kept to such a reliable schedule, Mr. Albarn responded with slight incredulity, “That’s my job.”
Can he simply turn on his creativity in these discrete blocks of time?
“Yeah,” he answered with a sheepish chuckle. “Some days, nothing particularly wonderful happens. In fact, some days, nothing happens. But the fact that you went through the process means that you’re still in the process.”
When Mr. Albarn decided to work with Richard Russell, the music producer and owner of the label XL Recordings, on what would become “Everyday Robots,” he had already accumulated a significant stockpile of material.
“Damon hit me with a huge collection of songs and sketches and half-songs and quarter-songs that he’d written,” Mr. Russell said. “I mean, more than 100 of them.”
Mr. Russell, who has collaborated with Mr. Albarn to produce music for Bobby Womack, and has also produced for artists like Gil Scott-Heron, said of Mr. Albarn: “He’s a believer in keeping the tap on, which means you’ve got to be creative all the time and not necessarily worrying about the results.”
In further sessions, Mr. Albarn and Mr. Russell worked out songs like “You and Me,” a quiet elegy inspired partly by London’s annual Notting Hill Carnival (when, Mr. Albarn explained, “two million people walk past my front door and then they just disappear”); and the title track, a rhythmic ode to the automation and alienation of humanity.
If the overall feeling of “Everyday Robots” was a desolate one, Mr. Albarn said he liked to operate in a mode that was “dystopian yet hopeful.”
“It’s more my Englishness than my melancholy,” he said. “If you want to get really melancholic, go listen to Welsh folk music. They really push all the buttons.”
For all of his innovations, Mr. Albarn has not entirely left his past accomplishments in the past. He has played a handful of Blur reunion concerts in recent years and, at his Highline Ballroom solo show, appeared to get a bit choked up as he introduced the song “This Is a Low,” from the band’s best-selling 1994 album, “Parklife.”
(As the prescient chorus of that song observes: “This is a low, but it won’t hurt you/When you’re alone, it will be there with you/finding ways to stay solo.”)
Mr. Albarn explained afterward that he had never previously played that song in a live, public setting without his bandmates from Blur.
He said he did not feel confined by the success of that band nor obligated to play its songs when he goes out on stage. But if he’s being truly honest with himself, Mr. Albarn said, he could appreciate the kind of adulation that seems to come only when he is playing the enduring anthems he helped create in that period.
“When you’ve got 200,000 people in a field in Glastonbury singing one of your songs, it’s a mighty noise,” he said. “So, yes, I do like that.”
Among his peers from the Britpop era, Mr. Albarn is one of a few artists regarded as having pushed past the margins of that movement and for continuing to evolve in new incarnations.
“You can be a really clever” bloke, said Mr. Lamacq of the BBC, using stronger British slang, “but you won’t get the best out of yourself unless that’s attached to an amazing work ethic.”
“There’s no boundaries to Damon,” he said, “I think some people pen themselves in. They have their one trick, whereas Damon’s got a box full of them.”
Mr. Albarn could not say for certain what comes next on this ad hoc trajectory. He said he was working on “a new opera thing” with Simon McBurney, a founder of the British theater company Complicite, but could not disclose further details because “I haven’t written anything for it yet.”
Sounding like a high school student who has remembered the big class project is due tomorrow, Mr. Albarn said, “Hell, I’d better get on with it.”
Beyond that, he said, “I hope I hang around long enough to have as many adventures as possible.”
With chagrin, he pointed out that, for all his global travels, he had never been to India, a nation rich with cultural possibilities.
“Who knows what will happen to me when I go to India?” Mr. Albarn said, adding that he could easily imagine himself falling under the influence of a swami there. “I might end up tying my penis into knots and standing on one leg for several years.”
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, standing awkwardly in a long corridor like a naughty child sent out of class. 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 with a debilitating hangover. 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.
It wasn’t always like this. Blur’s ‘Parklife’ (released 20 years ago this week) made Albarn a huge star. Yet his brashness, his conflicting bookish v blokish persona and the hubris of ‘the battle of Britpop’ with Oasis had turned many against him by the end of the ’90s. A more humble and earnest musician has since emerged. Albarn thrived behind the cartoon façade of Gorillaz, becoming a global player and showing how his remarkable songwriting could transfer across seemingly endless genres. When Blur roused Hyde Park to celebrate the end of the 2012 Olympics, it felt like national hero status had finally been conferred on their frontman. Today, though, he’s a hero who looks like he might cry into his canteen breakfast. I suspect he’s prone to teary hangovers? ‘Oh absolutely,’ he replies, with a stare and a moist gob of egg on his shirt. ‘I might get a bit emotional.’
These should be perfect conditions to discuss ‘Everyday Robots’, the 46-year-old’s first solo album and a deliberate attempt to lay himself bare, from his childhood in Leytonstone to the complications of having ‘a cheating heart’. It’s almost too perfect, in fact: today Damon is oversharing in all directions. Maybe it’s because he’s kept schtum for so many years. Maybe it’s the after-effects of a colossal bender (timed to coincide with his 14-year-old daughter’s half-term). Who cares? It’s just heartening to know that a national icon wanders round the house in just his pants.
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.’
A dad who’s hungover.
‘Every time school holidays start, it feels like work is finished and I can take a bit of a holiday.’
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.’
You talk on the album about your past use of heroin. What made you put that out there now?
‘I wanted to say it. I wanted to explain something that was really profound for me and had a massive effect on my life 15 years ago. It was a long time ago.’
I know that this might be a touchy subject for you.
‘I’m not touchy. I’m just aware there’s an ambiguity and that my explanation can get lost in the sensational amplification of things. So I’m left with two options: I either become really guarded and aloof, and return to this reputation I’ve had over the years of being a difficult bastard, or I just don’t talk at all. It’s really frustrating… you must understand that?’
Some people would find it hard to understand. They’d see taking heroin as a mistake.
‘But I don’t totally see it as a mistake! That’s the point. It was part of me growing up. Look, I didn’t go out and look for it. I turned up at my house and there it was, made on the table. What should I have done? Leave my life and reject it, or stay in my own house and somehow assimilate it into my life? Once I’d tried it, I found it initially very agreeable, and very creative.’
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 shit!’
Are you still feeling emotional?
‘Well I spend about half of my life emoting in one way or another. Thank God I have a job where I can get away with it.’
The clatter and clang of a passing freight train drown out the birdsong that has, until now, filled the air. In the distance, the Westway is, as ever, choked with traffic. Surveying all of this, on the penthouse terrace that stretches the width of his west London HQ, Mr Damon Albarn and I spark up cigarettes and luxuriate in the early March sunshine.
Three floors below the terrace lies the recording studio where, last year, Mr Albarn made Everyday Robots - his very first solo album, and a record that is already being described as one of the greatest pieces of music this restless, inquisitive, multifaceted musician has produced. Don’t roll out the bunting or hit the dance floor just yet, though. Everyday Robots is also the most personal and, for the most part, downbeat record Mr Albarn has made to date. To understand what inspired its spare, forlorn and deeply reflective lyrics, melodies and soundscapes, we need to follow its writer far, far back - to his childhood in Leytonstone, east London, to the streets, parks and woodland he explored, to the multicultural community he grew up in (a journey described, vividly and beautifully, on Everyday Robots’ pivotal track, “Hollow Ponds”). Mr Albarn did just that while writing the album, walking unnoticed around his old haunts.
"It was very low-key," the singer says. "I just got on the Tube, got out at Leytonstone, walked around, smoked. It helped me realise that the majority of my memories of that time are pretty joyous, really. What I learnt from making the record was that I now understand what happened to me; this happy, boyish, very open kid, living in a very fresh-feeling, multicultural neighbourhood, with a good, strong set of influences, in my house, next door, down the road." That all came to an end when Mr Albarn was nine, and he went on holiday to Turkey with a friend of his parents while they and his sister moved to an Essex village, leading to the start of a radically different life for Mr Albarn on his return. "I had this mad sort of mini-odyssey in Turkey," the 45-year-old continues, "and then came back to Anglo-Saxon rural Essex. And I went to the village school, tanned, from multicultural London, and immediately I was an outsider. And that sense didn’t diminish, it grew. I think now that that was the point where I started to become consciously creative. And I do think there needs to be some sort of disturbance in your psyche for creativity to be sparked. I understand that now - and everything preceding that, and since it, begins to make sense. That’s why making the record has been so great. It’s like, finally, I get it."
Yet there are other things that Mr Albarn doesn’t get at all, as the lyrics on Everyday Robots make clear. The title track is self-evidently bleak, with lines - set to mournful descending piano chords, over which a classical-violin sample hovers, menacingly - such as “We’re everyday robots in control, or in the process of being sold” attesting to the singer’s preoccupation with, and fear about, what mankind’s retreat behind mobile phones, tablets and computers, and into a sort of catatonic state of alienation, denial and disconnection, will mean for our collective future.
Mr Richard Russell - owner of XL Records, home to artists such as Adele, The xx and Vampire Weekend - was charged with editing down the 60 songs or song sketches that Mr Albarn gave him. He was also a crucial contributor as Everyday Robots’ producer, his armoury of strange samples and beats pushing Mr Albarn way beyond his comfort zone. “Richard doesn’t have any real musical training,” the singer says, “so he sort of puts stuff on stuff, if that makes sense - and that can be quite challenging to write for. With Gorillaz, you tend to conform to the beat. With this album, a lot of the phrasing is much longer than I’d normally write; it keeps going to the point where you think, ‘Is this actually going to stop?’.”
Another key intervention by Mr Russell concerned the album’s major curveball, “Mr Tembo” - a song about an orphaned elephant Mr Albarn met while visiting Tanzania with Mr Paul Simonon, the former bass player of The Clash. Within the context of Everyday Robots, it serves as a necessary tension breaker, undoubtedly. But it is also utterly delightful, as the singer, backed by Leytonstone City Mission Choir (who he first heard when cycling past their church as a child), shakes off the surrounding introspection and anxiety and simply throws himself at the song. “That’s totally there as a result of Richard,” Mr Albarn says. “I saw it as being very much in the ‘music for kids’ category - I’ve written a lot of songs for my daughter over the years. So I was like, ‘Come on, I’m not going to record that’. But Richard went, ‘You have to’. They seem particularly keen on that one in the States, and want to make a really special video for it.” When Mr Albarn sang the song to the elephant, it emptied its bowels. Will that detail be included in the video? “I don’t think you can get an elephant to crap on demand,” Mr Albarn laughs. “But seriously, I can’t begin to describe how strong the aroma was. We were in a camp in the middle of the wilderness, the elephant’s there with his handler, and I’m stood there with Paul, who doesn’t have a sense of smell, so he was fine. On the original version, you can almost hear me retching as I’m singing. The only time I’ve encountered a stench as bad as that was when a tomcat sat on my chest, turned round and sprayed in my face. I mean, I saw stars. I entered the universe of catdom at that moment.”
Let’s go back to Turkey, though, and a nine-year-old boy “wandering around on my own”, as the singer puts it, “walking into mosques and drinking tea in carpet shops”. That visit sounds like a hugely significant experience in terms of how it inculcated in him a desire, and a willingness, to investigate and draw upon influences, and use them in his work. The man recalling that period in his life has, in recent months, visited North Korea, West Africa and South America, among other locations. He is still “wandering around”. A natural magpie, Mr Albarn exhibits all the signs of wanting to recreate the multicultural life he grew up within in east London, before that “disturbance”, as he describes it. Well, long may he recreate, long may he dig, and long may he roam.
Dem said she loved our smiles, I loved hers too and how her eyes got big. Demri is such a blessed soul that we all learned so much from….still trying to wrap our souls around…..mindlessly….Lol! She “got it” way before all of us! Layne agrees, even before him…that’s why he was so attracted to her…no matter what!!
I think I said this before but will say it again. Before Alice was “Signed”, everyone referred to Layne as Demri’s boyfriend she was the one that knew every body and I mean EVERY BODY. You could not go anywhere from Vancouver Canada to LA that she did not run into someone she knew. It bugged Layne a little he said because he wanted to be successful but he was also proud of it too because he loved Demri.
When Alice was “Signed”, it was flipped. Demri would not have minded so much except it happened by people close to them that new them prior intentional or not. She was her own person but it seemed to be said in a derogatory way as if she had latched on to him when she was there supporting him and helping him realize his dream. That was back in what was called The Butt Rock Days. Labels were not coming to Seattle to sign bands so it was not even a reality that he would ever realize that dream. There was no one prouder of him. Demri would always say, “Look what Layne drew”. “Listen to what Layne did” as she did with all her friends and family she bragged about you to other friends. She would support you in your dreams and give you fuel to believe in them and go after them.
One of the reasons for their “Forever Love” is that he could go out in the world and play Rockstar and date models or actresses but he knew that no one would love him unconditionally Rockstar or dirt poor like Demri did.
Demri needed money desperately for rehab or a roof over her head and would never ask Layne for a penny. She was proud that way. She wanted to be the moneymaker and support him, her friends, her family and strangers. She would give someone she did not know the last penny she had because she knew she could finagle it easier than they could or could find a bed or a meal that someone living on the streets could not. Sometimes things were not pretty but when you are young, you do dumb things.
The worst thing for her was when Layne would go out of town she would rarely hear from anyone and as it was approaching time for him to come home from tour the phone would start ringing. It was very hurtful.
Once when she was in the hospital (she had a zero percent chance to live and I believe the 13th time in), all these people showed up at the hospital. She was so happy and excited until she did not understand why they were not coming in the room to see her. They were waiting out in the waiting room. Then she realized they were waiting for Layne to arrive. She was so broken by that. Once Layne came home from New York and they all saw him she was back to being alone in the hospital. It was not until later that she found out she was not expected to make it and then it was like putting salt in the wound that those “friends” did not care about her. There were always a handful of people there for her good times and bad but to show up at the hospital and ignore her was not cool. It is different from those that stayed away for sobriety reasons or because it was too much to deal with.
More than anything, I am so sad that Layne and Demri were good people and had to go through such sorrow; life could be so different and wonderful for them now.
I remember when Demri died people were using the phrase, “What a waste”. Kathleen was hurt by that and would say, “My daughter’s life wasn’t a waste”. I felt “It was a “waste” in that Demri did not get all the great things she deserved back in life. I think we all would have loved to see that happen for her. People think of a drug addict wasting their life away, but Demri kept up with me and I do not think she wasted a minute let alone a second she just got derailed.
Demri lived in an environment of theft/borrowing/selling/giving away. I don’t recall much other than her pictures/photo album she had on her consistently. Tom kept all but Demri’s shoes when she died, Juliet dropped pictures off at Layne’s left at her house and Kathleen divvied the rest out amongst family and friends.
Demri would find something she liked, say a pin and take a piece of ribbon and make a necklace out of it. If someone said they liked something she had on, she was likely to hand it over. She might see something you had and trade you right on the spot could be a necklace or an undergarment, she was not predictable. I think this was with the things her mom has. I know there was some jewelry when we went through her stuff with Kathleen at Juliet and Larry’s, Sonja may have it. Kathleen wanted to be sure we all received what had value to us, I wanted things I gave her and having not given this too her I don’t have a clear memory. I think Mara, Ro, Seth and Layne were the only no shows, but things were put aside for them.
Also, all the times in the hospital, if things were not lost she would have given things away to a nurse that was nice, a roommate that was sad, or someone that brought her Taco Bell. That happened throughout a day in Demri’s life.
I have heard several stories about how they met, but the most definitive one came from a source that knew her well and I can’t remember the name. Apparently, Demri worked in a shop at the mall and a friend of hers came in with Layne. Layne and Demri took one look at each other and that was that. Seriously! The other story I heard was that they were at a party or bar and took a look at each other and Layne proposed to her right then.
Dem’s mom :
I was saddened to see so much misinformation still out there…I am responding to the post of 10/29 Remembering etc. Demri DID die of an overdose after not using for a short while„„She battled endocarditis for over 2 years which the doctors informed my family they were unable to kill (I’ve often wondered if it was MRSA before it had a name,) She had a heart valve repaired and another replaced and the pacemaker implanted age 26.
Demri HATED being known as Layne’s girlfriend….If I had a quarter for all the times she and I were approached with “I know you…you’re Layne’s girlfriend and she would step back and reply No, I am Demri” I would take all of us to Vegas. Dem had gifts, she was not tortured she was a very old soul. She did not come here to learn any lessons she came to teach…she taught unconditional LOVE and from what I can tell she continues to do so…………..Do not place any attachment or story to my mother’s headstone for Dem that story will come out after my mom is no longer around….. that is another story Thanks for the oppurtinity to set a few things straight…I know the misinformation did not come from you sorry if I appeared to be venting perhaps I was a little.
Your site is beautiful if I were computer literate I would’ve corrected the writer it is nice to set the record straight .”
Layne and Demri loved to watch movies. What do you guys think was a favorite movie of theirs?
They absolutely loved to watch the oldies and goodies in black and white! All the classics….
It’s a one word name and they would have named their daughter it.
They loved ALL movies….”Willow” was one of my fondest memory of them and watching it with them, and their love and reaction to it.
“I am what I am.” Laynes’ best Popeye the Sailor man impersonation…toot, toot. Ahh yes, how he made us laugh.
Demri and Layne They dreamed of a home with a white picket fence, love and laughter, surrounded by flowers, fairies and butterflies, a swing chair on the porch and little ones with golden locks running around”
Demri called her Mom “Butterfly.” Summer reminds me of Dem.”
“Demri she was loved by everyone she met-even if it was only 10 minutes.
Her grandfather remarked at her memorial “she was one of kind”. She is still reaching out and touching us.
I remember Demri coming by Fantasy to see me the day before Valentines Day I gave her some cash to go to dinner and a care package of toys & lingerie and told her ” Don’t forget to shave in a heart, she wen’t skipping out the door, excited to surprise Layne. It was fun to do that for my friends, hook them up w sexy goodies. I always remember her in February since her birthday is the 22nd ~ I miss my friend.
Demri was a HUGE fan of the Cocteau Twins. She also liked the Cure, Violent Femmes, Janes Addiction and she was personal friends with Perry Farrell from Janes Addiction. She loved to create crafts like paper collages and decoupage which is where she’d cut out Victorian styled angels and fairies and flowers.. usually from real pretty wrapping paper, wallpaper or whatever she could find and then she’d use decoupage clue and clue them all to boxes, antique makeup totes and carry cases. She loved to surround herself with art and pictures. She’d also cut out pictures and then plaster the walls in her apartment and then later in her hospital room with all kinds of art collages and hanging dried flowers. She loved dried flowers and incesne. But Demri was a not a hippy, goth, grunge girl..she was her own creation. She was the “it” girl in Seattle in the early 90’s and anyone who knew her and the club scene at the time I doubt would argue with me on that. She liked cupids, hearts and anything Victorian. In the early 90’s she dressed in all kinds of crazy yet cute clothes anything retro or vintage. She loved long dresses, skirts, tutu’s, over-alls and doc martins, hand-made clothes, she never really wore jeans and t-shirts it was always something you’d never think of wearing but looked great on her.She had that tiny little body that looks great in clothes. She always wore her hair really long like too her butt or longer and she had thick wavy auburn hair and even though it was usually knotted and dred locked here and there but knotted or not it always looked cool. She wore black nail polish and when she wore make up she used maybe some black mascara and red lips but she didn’t usually wear a lot of make up maybe except for lipstick when she went out. She was also the first girl I met who used her lipstick to add blush to her cheeks. She also wore Patchouli oil and oil perfumes..which I’m not a fan of myself but it smelled good on her and she definitely had a very distinct smell. Her whole house smelled like her, her clothes, and if she stayed at my house.. my house smelled like her too. It was not a bad smell not at all just uniquely Demri. She always looked adorable even when she wasn’t trying.”
April 1993 This was outside the hospital in Las Vegas for a severe Pancreatic Attack she got while kicking. (She probably asked for a smoke break to get outside.) This is about a week off drugs and look how fast one starts looking better. I usually don’t do pix lucky I have one of her and I thanks to my friend Jamie who was in love with her (who wasn’t) and wanted a pix. Of course Layne flew in to town and whisked her away.
I shared this I thought with Natalia on “our” FB FRIEND PAGE and Fab saw it just as I did it and commented on it and now everyone has it I guess. (I don’t know how all this stuff works). I just took a quick pix from a friendship frame it was in that Dem gave me. If I knew it was going “out there” I would have waited and uploaded a good version of the pix. This is from Demri living with me in Las Vegas. She came down to kick and had a Pancreatic Attack that almost killed her and ended up in the hospital. She told me she HAD kicked and wanted to come down and be with me so we could finally have some fun because she could stay health around me. She had a pool, her own room, her own car (good for her but not the other people on the road), musicians to be around and be spoiled, but Layne came and got her in May. They were supposed to get married on stage at Lola that year. (There’s more to the story but that’s the jest of it). Maybe we should have a where’s Waldo Demri Page to track where she was when with the coinciding pix.
I love you Amber and Demri always and forever…I still have the beaded head piece I was making Dem for their wedding…never finished. I remember talking with them about their wedding plans…him in a top hat and tailed tuxedo and her in a vintage dress…the head piece with draping pearls and pastel beads to accent her beautiful crown of curls and face…Xx
Demri got her first dress at my mom’s shop. It was so not her. My mom and Dem had talked over the phone about it and my mom sent me down to Seattle with it to Demri’s (she was at Layne’s by the time I got there). I remember her trying it on for Layne, Damon, Howard and I (Layne’s face was classic). She immediately had the idea to deconstructing it. Once she had it, all a part it became too big of a job and probably no way to style it into a Demri kind of thing. (I remember her carrying it around with her sewing kit everywhere for a while in 2 big black garbage bags.) She got as far as using the appliqués from it on jeans or a jean jacket, but no dress. Kathleen should still have it, was the Vintage gown there too Fab? It was there when we went through the things at Juliet’s. When you two were talking about the vintage dress you found and all excited I remember Dem getting this look on her face like the cat was out of the bag and I would be disappointed. I knew that dress wasn’t her and the one you two found was more of a Demri thing. Besides that’s the way you’re supposed to find a dress with your best friend, not over the phone. Later when my mom asked her about it, Demri thought she’d be upset that she wasn’t going to use it and because she cut up a $2000 dress. My mom pulled out this big sketchbook (I hadn’t seen it since I was little) of clothes she hoped to make one day, (she wanted to be a clothing designer) going back to the 50’s and Dem was in heaven; well they both were going through all the pages and designs. My mom was fine with it as long as Demri still had the wedding at the house (not the Lolla but the one for family and friends). That’s where the idea came up for the Demri Garden on the property. Out of 52 gardens, only 2 were named after people and not one after her or I who had spent thousands of hours making them. I still have that image in my head of Demri walking from the trail and old growth forest past the Demri garden with ferns taller than she in a Vintage wedding gown to the upper grotto. She used to carry a picture of that garden around with all the other pictures that ended up being stolen. I wonder if somewhere, else all these plans happened in another place and time?
I drove by Larry’s in Arlington yesterday on Highway 9..I couldn’t remember where it was exactly, but what I do remember, after Dem’s memorial, we went there and Kathleen opened a closet in the foyer and there were a bunch of dresses there of Demri’s. She handed me one that I still have..it wasn’t the one, but it’s beautiful. I also wanted to turn off and go downtown and take a photo of the little theater that Dem would go see matinee’s…
whatever spirits come through…I know Demri will be dancing around! Me, Me!!
Best smile!!! It would light up a room!! Then when she walked away…..!!! Layne loved her sooooooooooooooo much. Her spirit is grand!!!!
Long gone day : Lake Washington…drum circles..near the Soundgarden…”
Layne was the sweetest boyfriend and friend!!! If anyone has ever wondered, and believe me, I’ve been asked…I never slept made love with them in the physical sense, nor the “heavy” we did smoke some herbage….but our senses were so in love with each other…they weren’t of this world. They did their time. Life here, has not been the same without them…but but there is so much LOVE, and as Demri said, “We are OLD SOULS.”
Layne and Demri: The way they played off each other.
I loved their sense of humor and “geekiness”….so immature and child like but deeper than the ocean. Their River Ran Deep!! No matter what, fame and fortune, Layne couldn’t live without this little girl, the love of his life here, Demri…no matter what anyone has to say… In the beginning, I miss rummaging through our clothes and changing outfits, or not, braiding or curling our hair, or not, shaking our hair and dancing, hitting the town and shows, photo shoots, acting goofy, being young and naive, laying out by The Soundgarden, Magnuson Park, playing drums in a drum circle, and hanging with Layne and smiling. We were happy and fun. Coolest thing about her and Layne for that matter, is, they were never pretentious…”
Layne Staley, como invitado en el programa de TV Rage (1993)
La lista completa de videos que programó es la siguiente (los espacios entre canciones indican el momento en que Layne hablaba):
Just One Fix - Ministry
NWO - Ministry
Jesus Built My Hotrod - Ministry
Buttown - Iggy Pop
Mountain Song - Jane’s Addiction
Head Like a Hole - Nine Inch Nails
Wish - Nine Inch Nails
Heart-Shaped Box - Nirvana
Justify My Love - Madonna
Mercy Seat - Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
Mr. Krinkle - Primus
When Doves Cry - Prince
Sign ‘O the Times - Prince
Purple Rain - Prince
1999 - Prince
Creep - Radiohead
Asleep at the Wheel - Suicidal Tendencies
This Love - Pantera
Fire - Jimi Hendrix
No Rain - Blind Melon
I Built This Garden - Lenny Kravitz
With a Little Help From My Friends - Joe Cocker
Rubber Band Girl - Kate Bush
So Alive - Love and Rockets
Trust - Ned’s Atomic Dustbin
Hed - Hammerbox
Pretend That We’re Dead - L7
Killing in the Name - Rage Against The Machine
Punishment - Biohazard
Tearing - Rollins Band
Suggestion/Snub TV Interview - Fugazi
Man In The Box - Alice In Chains
Angry Chair - Alice In Chains
Rooster - Alice In Chains
We Die Young - Alice In Chains
Sea of Sorrow - Alice In Chains
Would? - Alice In Chains
Them Bones - Alice In Chains
Original cover art for Mad Season’s lone album Above created by lead singer Layne Staley. The artwork is created from a collage of printed material touched up and encompassed by a hand-drawn “frame”, which has been pasted over the cover of another album cover. Accompanied by a handwritten letter from Layne Staley to the Sony/Columbia Art Department, Here is the Album cover. There are absolutely NO touch-ups/flaws - or imperfections needed to be corrected or messed with…Thank you much, Layne + Mad Season. Also accompanied by another handwritten letter from Staley regarding the printing of the lyrics, and a letter in another hand regarding the label on the album. The original envelope from Staley to Sony is also included, as are proofs of images used in the production of the album cover and liner notes.