The latest Gorillaz record may feature epic, up-tempo party songs, but that isn’t stopping frontman Damon Albarn from fretting about the future.
“I default to the apocalypse,” Albarn tells the Daily News matter-of-factly as he sips a flat white in the lobby of the TriBeCa hotel where he’s staying. “And I suppose I have this deep, English melancholy.”
Gorillaz are in town for a headlining spot at The Meadows on Saturday night, a performance that kicks off a U.S. tour. The set is expected to heavily feature songs off their new album “Humanz,” and Albarn hints that a slew of special guests are set to appear Saturday night.
While Albarn admits that performing the new album “feels joyful on stage,” “Humanz” was written and recorded under a dark cloud.
Before the outbreak of civil war in Syria, Gorillaz had collaborated with the Syrian National Orchestra, a partnership that Albarn laments received minimal media attention.
The war displaced many of the members of the orchestra and in 2016, Albarn reunited the Syrian musicians, who at that point were scattered across the world, for a series of performances to raise awareness for the refugee crisis.
Damon Albarn channels his feelings of despair in his latest album “Humanz.”
(Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)
“They’re great musicians and they’re not trying to get here to take your money or your land,” Albarn said. “They’re just genuinely f—-d and they need help, but they have a lot to offer.”
Albarn and the Syrian musicians arrived in the UK on June 23, 2016 — the day of the Brexit vote — to play a set the following day at Glastonbury.
“I woke up in the morning, and we’d left Europe,” Albarn says.
That feeling of despair, accentuated by Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, set the tone for “Humanz.”
“It was a weird year last year,” Albarn says, closing his eyes for a moment. “It was like some sort of deep fear we had was manifest as a boil that was ready to explode.”
Albarn points to increasing xenophobia and racism as “the debris of that explosion.”
Albarn and The Orchestra of Syrian Musicians perform on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival.
(Ian Gavan/Getty Images)
But beyond political strife, Albarn worries about a “death of creativity” that he blames on the capitalist impulses of “impotent” record labels.
“Would we have had a lot of the amazing things that we’ve had if young artists weren’t given the chance to develop?” Albarn asks.
“Can we afford in any area to diminish the creative arts? Are they not now needed more than ever?”
Despite his well-honed pessimism, Albarn appears undeterred to continue making art, a compulsion he refers to as a “survival mechanism.”
Albarn says that he’d like to make another record in his traveling studio while he’s on the road, and has been laying down tracks with his band The Good, the Bad and the Queen. Also, Albarn reveals that he’s currently learning the West African language of Bambara for a theatrical adaptation of Sundiata Keita, an epic poem of the ancient Mali Empire.
“I love being lost in the world of creation,” Albarn says. “I’m addicted to that. Just constantly searching for that rarefied emotion that music and good communication gives us.”