The Cast of 'Cracker Island': Damon Albarn Breaks Down Gorillaz' Latest Collaborators in His Own Words
The musician explains the process of working with Tame Impala, Bad Bunny, Stevie Nicks, Thundercat and more
Published Feb 22, 2023In theory, Gorillaz are a virtual band; in practice, they're more like a drop-in jam session, as collaborators file in and out, offering up a nugget of brilliance before making way for the next guest.
Every new Gorillaz album brings a stacked lineup of features, and Cracker Island is no different. While the album tones down the project's hip-hop influences and centres leader Damon Albarn's pop songwriting, there are seven guests across the 10-song tracklist, including legendary veterans (Stevie Nicks, Beck), returning friends (Bootie Brown, Adelye Omotayo of the Humanz Choir) and of-the-moment stars (Bad Bunny, Tame Impala, Thundercat).
"When you work together, you've got to embrace each other's joy, and how that is attained within the context of the session," Albarn says. "If I was going to write a handbook on how to make collaborative pop music, it would be more a psychotherapy book than a music book — for myself included."
Below, read Albarn's reflections on each of his Cracker Island collaborators: the "magic" artist who flew in on the breeze and left just as quickly, the bass-driven puzzle that was difficult to crack, and his abandoned plans to work with Julian Casablancas of the Strokes. Read Exclaim!'s March 2023 cover story about Gorillaz here.
"He was someone who works with Greg Kurstin quite a lot. Although I had met him previously a couple of times — once with Erykah Badu — I hadn't actually worked with him directly. I [thought] he would hopefully get the fun in the song. He was brilliant. He did exactly what I hoped he would do, and then added all that amazing extra bass, which just took it to another level. We've played together lots since then. Hung out in Dusseldorf, randomly."
"Originally on that song, I imagined Julian Casablancas. But that didn't work out for one reason or another. And then Greg had this inspired suggestion: he was like, 'I'm working with Stevie Nicks at the moment — why don't I play her the tune and see if she likes it?' She related to the lyrics, which was great, because my lyrics sometimes can be a bit inaccessible to some people."
"He has been singing with Gorillaz for a long time [with the Humanz Choir]. He has the most wonderful voice. I had sung that answering phrase, but I felt like it needed somebody like Ade to interpret it, and he's got a glorious, emotional voice. It's nice when you can just call up a mate and go, 'Can you please come and do something. It didn't take him very long, because it's easy for him to sing that."
Tame Impala and Bootie Brown
"I met Kevin [Parker of Tame Impala] in the hills behind Malibu at some beautiful little studio. He came to me with the 6/4 bass loop. It took a long time, because I don't usually write to basslines. The bassline usually comes afterwards. The chords come first. There's many different versions of that, but then Bootie Brown very kindly agreed to come and help me. We were in Mexico at the time, and we somehow worked out the puzzle."
"The first line of communication came through some radio interview that I did, and I said that I really rated him. Somehow we got in contact, and then a long period passed. We met in Jamaica. There was a really crazy storm that day. That informed the tune we did. And then he was gone again. He appeared for the magic and then he disappeared, and went on to be the biggest streamed artist in the world. An amazing piece of good fortune. He is magic. There's no doubt about that. He's got some very special thing about him, I think."
"I've known Beck for a long time. We've been joking over a beer about doing a Walker Brothers record together. This is the first time I've written something that felt appropriate to try that out. It was a tester for what we might do at some point. We actually did a take where we played around and pretended that we were the Walker Brothers. There's a version of it where there's very deep vibrato on both our voices. Especially as far as the genesis of Gorillaz, I would say that Beck was one of the most important influences on the whole thing, so he's someone I respect hugely."