‎Cracker Island by Gorillaz on Apple Music

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    Because the headquarters of a producer/songwriter who’s won Grammys for his work with Adele, Beck, Foo Fighters, and more, Greg Kurstin’s LA studio is well appointed. “It’s a museum of ’80s synths and bizarre instruments,” Kurstin tells Apple Music. “Every thing’s patched in and able to go.” Damon Albarn discovered as much when he arrived during a visit to satisfy prospective producers for the eighth Gorillaz album. Drained and, by his own admission, uncertain about recruiting a “pop” producer, Albarn quietly explored the equipment, occasionally unfurling melodies on the piano which Kurstin would take part with on his Mellotron—two musicians feeling one another out, searching for moments of creative accord. After two or three hours, Kurstin felt glad enough, but Albarn’s manager was concerned. “She goes, ‘Damon just likes to drift around. He’s not going to inform you to start out doing something, it is best to just start recording,’” says Kurstin. “That gave me a kick to get right down to business.” He opened up the input and added drums while Albarn built a synth part. Before the day was done, they’d “Silent Running.” “Damon seemed energized,” says Kurstin. “He was enthusiastic about how the song progressed from the demo. I used to be thrilled too. He gave me a giant hug and that was it: We were off and running.”

    Discovering a mutual love for The Clash, The Specials, De La Soul, and ’80s synth-pop, the pair took just 11 days during early 2022 to craft an album from Albarn’s iPad demos (give or take Bad Bunny collaboration “Tormenta,” which had already been recorded with long-standing Gorillaz producer Remi Kabaka Jr.). They valued spontaneity over preplanning and discussion, forging hydraulic disco-funk (the Thundercat-starring “Cracker Island”) and craving synth-pop (“Oil” with Stevie Nicks), plus—within the short space of “Skinny Ape”—folk, electro, and punk. As with a lot of Albarn’s best music, it’s all anchored to absorbing wistfulness. “I gravitate towards the melancholy, even in a fun song,” says Kurstin. “And Damon really brings that in his ideas. Once I first heard Gorillaz, I used to be pondering, ‘Oh, he gets me and all of the music that I really like.’ I at all times felt that connection. It’s what you search for—your people.” Here, Kurstin talks us through several of the songs they created together.

    “Cracker Island” (feat. Thundercat)
    “Bringing in Thundercat was a very fun flavor to bring to the album. This wild, type of uptempo disco song. I had just been working with Thundercat and we had change into friends. I texted him and he said, ‘Yes, definitely, I’ll do it.’ It was very fun to observe him work on it and to listen to him write his melody parts. He sang numerous what Damon sang after which added his own thing and the harmonies. It’s at all times fun to witness him play, because he’s absolutely amazing on the bass.”

    “Oil” (feat. Stevie Nicks)
    “That contrast of hearing Stevie’s voice over a Gorillaz track is amazing. I feel my wife, who’s also my manager, had provide you with the concept. We’d have these conversations with Damon: Who could we usher in to this project? Who does he know? Who do I do know? I had been working with Stevie and change into really good friends together with her. Damon was very excited, he couldn’t even consider that was a possibility. I feel Stevie was just very moved by it. She loved the lyrics and she or he took it very seriously, really desired to do one of the best job. Stevie’s just so cool. She’s at all times listening to latest music, she’s in contact with all the pieces that’s happening and just so sensible as an individual. I really like her dearly.”

    “Silent Running” (feat. Adeleye Omotayo)
    “‘Silent Running’ really was the North Star for me, might’ve been for Damon, too. It just began the entire process for us: ‘Here’s the bar, that is what we will do, and let’s attempt to see if we will even beat it.’ I feel we knocked out ‘Silent Running’ in two or three hours. That was the fun part about it, just this whirlwind of throwing things against the wall after which recording them—and I’m form of mixing as I’m going as well. By the tip of the day, it gave the impression of the finished product did.”

    “Latest Gold” (feat. Bootie Brown & Tame Impala)
    “Kevin Parker’s just great. I used to be really excited to be involved with something that he was involved with. Damon had began this with Kevin and was a bit stuck, mostly since it was in an odd time signature, this type of 6/4. It’s somewhat little bit of a twisted and lopsided groove. It was type of delay eternally and perhaps nothing was going to occur with it. It needed Damon to get in there and get enthusiastic about it. I feel he liked the way it was began, but ending it was just too overwhelming. I believed, ‘OK, let me just attempt to piece this together in the shape of a song that could be very clear.’ That type of began the ball rolling again. Damon heard it after which he worked on it a bit and evened out the time signature.”

    “Baby Queen”
    “Only Damon could provide you with such a wild concept for a song. [In Bangkok in 1997, Albarn met a crown princess who crowd-surfed at a Blur gig; while writing songs for Cracker Island, he dreamed about meeting her as she is today.] Once I heard the demo, it was just sensible. I loved it. As a producer, I used to be just trying to usher in this type of dreamy feel to the track. It has a floating quality, and that’s something I used to be leaning into, attempting to put a soundtrack to that dream.”

    “Skinny Ape”
    “There’s something mad and crazy about ‘Skinny Ape,’ the way it took shape. I felt on the sting of my seat, uncontrolled. I didn’t know what was happening and the way it was going to evolve. It was numerous glad accidents, like throwing the weirdest, wildest sound on the track after which muting 4 other things after which hastily, ‘Wow, that’s a cool texture.’ Playing drums in that type of double-time punk rock section was really fun, and Damon was excited watching me play that part. That feeling of being uncontrolled after I’m working is exciting since it’s very unpredictable and brings out things of myself I never would have imagined I’d’ve done.”

    “Possession Island” (feat. Beck)
    “I feel like one of the best of me after I work with Beck, and I feel the identical with Damon. I feel pushed by their presence and their body of labor, searching into places that I never looked before—deep, dark corners, sonically. What can I do this’s different than I’d do with most individuals? It’s very easy to fall into comfort zones and what’s easy if you’re making music. Working with Damon really woke up some creative a part of my brain that was sleeping somewhat bit. I want to work with these people to maintain these items going. Damon had been playing that piano part during his shows [The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure the Stream Flows tour]. That melody was something he would play each time he’d sit down. I began playing the nylon string guitar, after which it became somewhat bit more of a flamenco influence, and even a mariachi sound with the Mellotron trumpet. I really like hearing Damon and Beck singing and interacting with one another that way, these Walker Brothers-sounding harmonies.”

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