Damon Albarn's tempo has slowed, and he'd like to keep it that way


Interview with Damon Albarn
Interview with Damon Albarn about his 2021 solo album 'The Nearer The Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows' (Photo by Matt Cronin | Graphic by MPR)
Interview: Damon Albarn on 'The Nearer The Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows'
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Ahead of his new solo record, The Nearer The Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows, Jade connected with Damon Albarn about slowing down and taking stock of your life in quarantine, becoming a citizen of Iceland, and his plans for touring the record.

You can listen to a radio edit of the interview in the audio player above, and read a full transcript of the conversation below.

Interview Transcript

Edited for clarity and length.

JADE: We have a special guest joining us today. Damon Albarn of Gorillaz and Blur has his second solo album. We've been enjoying it here on The Current it's called The Nearer The Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows and it's coming out on November 12. Damon, thank you so much for joining us first of all, how are you doing today?

DAMON ALBARN: I'm good, I'm good. I was just wondering what the weather's like.

JADE: The weather here is weirdly beautiful. We have like 80 degrees in Minnesota which is bonkers for this time of year.

80 degrees? Wow, you've had some crazy weather haven't you?

What I keep saying is wouldn't it be nice if this is what it was like all year long? In October in Minnesota we typically have snowstorms.

Exactly, it's the beginning of the tough tough months.

Our weather guy at the station was saying he keeps track of all of the the weird anomalies that are taking place, and he said this is our new normal. It's all very different way of kind of looking at what normal weather is.

Yeah, I mean, there is no such thing as normal, you know? Jimmy says in Quadrophenia all those years ago, well Phil Daniels says in Quadrophenia, "What's normal?"

I guess that's something we've all learned, you know? If you felt like there was some sort of normal, I think that got kicked off its platform for you in the last year and a half.

Yes, I think it's really responsible and important to be sensitive to how everything has a sort of counterweight somewhere else on Earth. Sometimes it's really great for somebody on one part, and the other part is the complete opposite because of the consequences of what's great for the person--it's that pendulum isn't it? So we just all got to come out and have a slightly more simplistic outlook, you know? Less stuff.

Yeah. Did you recently move to Iceland, is this a new thing for you?

No, I've actually been going there since 1997. I recently was made citizen. It's quite a surreal thing, because I'm still British. So I've got dual citizenship now, which--I don't know. It doesn't feel odd when I'm there. So I suppose that means that it's a positive thing.

Yeah. Well, congratulations on making this a home of sorts. I want to talk about the album a little bit since we've been touching on nature so much. The album is named after a poem, and the poem is really a lot about nature as a metaphor for a life lived--for the life and death cycle. Was that something that you were feeling? Were you feeling nostalgic when you were creating this album?

No, I'd read that poem a long time ago, and I'd actually written down "the nearer the fountain," and I think in time I kind of totally divorced it. Not that I didn't know where it came from, but I had sort of obliterated everything around it and just was kind of meditating on that particular idea because it just felt, in a way, that when I was looking out my window in Iceland, and I see this amazing picture of mountain that on its outline looks like it has a sleeping giantess with this huge sort of plateau of hair that just goes on forever into the distance. It's amazing, really, the way the weather changes so frequently and can go from horizontal to vertical rain. And then the temperature can stop, drop, like only a couple of degrees, and then suddenly everything goes into slow motion, it looks like, because it's all crystallizing into snowflakes. It's very trippy and a great sort of starting point for making a record. I'm lucky really that I did it before the pandemic, that part of it, because I never really had that opportunity to make music with that many people during during the pandemic. Really the more solitary aspects of it, which was writing and finishing songs, was perfect for me being not around people. Allowed me to think deeply about what I was trying to say for once.

Well because you are such a collaborative artist and so many of your--

Yeah, I can be, and sometimes it's just because I'm useless at everything else.

So taking this this time on your own, you were kind of talking about that transition of rain to snow and I was watching a video of you explaining "Royal Morning Blue" where you kind of talk about that too. And it reminded me a lot--

I feel like I'm varying it though.

You're doing a wonderful job, it feels different every time.

I hate to think I'm repeating myself and I become one of those bores who just does the same thing for every single interview they do.

I do think that's that's lovely because you were talking about the piano, and I used to play piano, and--

You still play piano, you just--

I don't practice.

Oh, no, no, but that's not--well, does it still give you pleasure when you play it?

Oh yeah, it comes back.

So you do play the piano, so it doesn't matter. Sometimes just the sound of--I mean I get as much pleasure just going like that [plays a few notes on piano] as I do from [plays a more elaborate set of chords]. It's all the same to me. Anyone who gets pleasure out of the piano plays a piano.

That kind of reminds me, I always think it's funny when people say like, they can't dance, or that's just not something that they do. I feel like music and dance are so human, right?

That's a very good observation.

It always makes me sad when people feel like they don't have that inside of them.

Yes, exactly. That's what being a musician, and a sort of committed one, teaches you is that you've just got to be really unselfconscious and just allow it to flow through you, then it's fine. Doesn't matter then because you're in the stream. You're throwing all your clothes off and you're lying prostrate in the middle of the street, just remember whether you're going downstream or upstream to how difficult it is, like the salmon and the trouts.

They like the challenge. Are you somebody who pictures how people are going to be listening to your music? If you could dream the perfect way for someone to enjoy this music that you made, how would they be enjoying it?

Oh, I have moments--flashes of what people are gonna think of it but it's more in a kind of Ren and Stimpy kind of way, but then I just hit myself over the head and just say, "What's the matter with you? You haven't even finished yet." Don't start writing headlines before you've finished it. One of my problems when I was younger, hopefully I've matured now.

Kind of the "this is what it's going to be, this is going to be the best song"?

I'm capable of melodrama in my own head.

Well, that's I think that's a good way to be. If you can't be dramatic inside of your head.

Where can you be dramatic these days?

Yeah, you got to let it out.

It's really nice talking to Americans again. All I've been talking to is f***ing Europeans who are lovely, but it's nice to talk to some fellow Anglo-Saxons.

I don't know how to take that.

I just thought...it's just Anglo-Saxon music kind of, it's something nobody wants to be. Hands up if you want to be Anglo Saxon. No one. But I like to see myself as more Nordic these days, more Scandinavian than Anglo Saxon.

Well, then you're basically a Minnesotan, because we're all--

I can prove it, you see?

Yeah, you've got a card now.

Yeah. I've left the Anglo Saxon sphere of influence.

Do you do you feel like you take in a lot of the place that you're at when you make music?

Doesn't everybody? Yeah. But I mean, this might sound really trite, but I really love the world. I think it's a f**ing awesome place. It's just incredible, and I just don't want us to f*** it all up.

Well, it's getting close to that. It's a little scary.

We're already there. But this is the fact, this is the new reality. You really have make an effort to improve your environment now.

And you can do that in small ways too, I think.

The wonderful thing is by improving your own individual environment, you improve your neighbor's environment and they improve their neighbor's and then it becomes infectious. Not that that's a particularly--a buzzword at the moment, but particles isn't it? It's just about sending the positive particles around, there's unavoidable particles so let's turn them into positive particles.

Bill Bryson wrote this book called "The Short History of Nearly Everything" and there's a part in it where he's talking about that exchange of atoms and how your when you touch something there's always an exchange of atoms and--

Yeah, it's called spiritual amodient, that every thing on earth has. If you touch the finger bone of Thomas Becket, you get a bit of his spiritual amodient. Rub it on your face and it will make you very Anglo Saxon, in fact.

And now it'll be with you forever.

Lovely. Yeah.

So with that in mind, who was the first person that you you played these songs for? Who was the first person that got to experience it after you?

I think everyone was around at the time, you know? That's very vague, isn't it?

It is very vague.

Also very accurate.

So you're not somebody who hides their music away while you're while you're making it, you kind of--

I'm less ebullient as I used to be when I was younger. I used to pester people to listen to stuff all the time, and drove many people mad over the years. So I'm much more circumvect in my music, but I'm happy to just play music, and play the piano all the time. The records have sort of--they're records, aren't they? I like it in the moment, really I like just playing music with people, or just playing simply.

Well I don't want to spread rumors here. But I've read it enough times that I feel like it must be true that you originally started this project as a live experience, it was supposed to be something that was started. So how did that transition?

Well, the pandemic simply--I just was stopped in my tracks really. I've done three, four, five day workshops in Iceland with the orchestra. We've recorded everything we've done, but hadn't finished anything until then. I just had that, but nothing else and no prospects of anything changing. So after a while, I just felt like I had to finish it, and I had enough to say that I felt was necessary for myself to get out of my system. I needed to express myself.

That's a lovely thing to get to a point as an artist where you can just do something that feels very much just something for yourself almost, to do that that way.

I mean, I just make music. Some of it is like this and some of it isn't psychotic stuff.

You do stretch out into very distinct sort of areas. I think that a lot of that comes back to those collaborations. Do you get to a point where you kind of feel a little stifled and want to bring something--

I like being a part of something? No, I don't like being entirely alone, man is simply a sociable animal.

Do you feel like the pandemic was tough on you because of that?

I had my family and I was in the countryside and I was making music and I was cooking for eight people and I was swimming having a rare old time.

That sounds lovely.

It was. It's much harder now though to live like that, because everything's getting so busy again. I don't know, I suppose everyone's work--you're gonna work really, really hard until the next time now, won't we? I will be better prepared for maybe--that'll be the time when we made those big, big, big, big changes that we were really, really thinking about.

I think people are already doing that.

They are for sure. But I'm saying like, no this is for real, we're not playing at this. "Yeah, I spent six months in the countryside," and then you find yourself back in town for like two months, and then you go back and then it's like, "Oh no," you just get drawn back into it, back into the hustle and bustle, as they say.

What is your hustle and bustle? Are you going to turn this album back into that live experience?

I have been playing in parts, yeah. I've got a whole concert tour of opera houses and concert houses of Europe. The fine concert houses with an orchestra and my band. I would love to take that to America, if you want any of us humble Europeans back in, we're more than happy to come and play for you.

As the as the ambassador of the United States, I'll say come on in.

Because I've missed you a lot. I mean, when we get there, you might realize you've missed us as well. I definitely missed you.

At this point, speaking for more than myself, the live show experience--the last two live shows that I've been to I've cried at, and I'm not a big crier sort of person. So it's been emotional just to be out.

It is. I was talking to somebody who does stand up comedy this morning, a guy called Alan Carr. He was just saying he's really aware that people haven't been out for ages. But he said it's just so emotional doing his shows at the moment, people really need that collective laughter, and it's the same with music.

In a strange way, maybe that's a silver lining--is that this pandemic has made people realize how much they do need people, because I think everybody's getting to a point where they're like, we don't need people we can communicate--

I want to know--I've missed out in kind of knowing, taking the temperature of America because I haven't been there for nearly two years now. So I don't know how how everyone is thinking over there anymore. Not in the way I used to. I used to come over to America all the time, have these conversations, and talk about everything. About your politics, our politics, I haven't had those conversations within America, which I felt I kind of was getting to really know. So I'd be really interested to see where you're at, because it's kind of--I'm not going to talk about it now but it's kind of an interesting situation. You are living in a new reality, but you still got another one superimposed over the top of it.

I mean, if you have three days.

The rest of us are dealing with one new reality, I think you're dealing with two simultaneous new realities.

The Nearer The Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows by David Albarn, album art

We're talking to David Albarn, and the new album The Nearer The Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows is out November 12. Damon, I'm curious about this, you know, we have been talking about the pandemic. Do you feel like you've learned something through this, that you're going to take with you in the future when you're making music?

For sure. But I suppose it just allowed me to have a little bit of time to take stock of all the mad stuff I've done over the last eight years. It didn't put me off carrying forward, but it definitely made me just have a different tempo and I really want to maintain that somehow. I am struggling. I'm gonna try again, because I like living a simpler life. I do.

Well, there's something about being able to go for a walk, see something beautiful, and then come back in and, like you said, reflect it musically. Well, thank you for the conversation and the inspiration.

As you can see, I'm really looking forward to coming back.

We're happy to have you. Come to Minnesota, we'll take our Icelandic Damon Albarn. Thank you so much for making time and we're looking forward to listening to more of the new album.

Thank you. Cheers.

External Link

Damon Albarn - Official Site


Jade - Host
Damon Albarn - Guest
Derrick Stevens - Producer
Jesse Wiza - Digital Producer

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