Interview Agiani Salima
Ten years had passed since Britrock royalty Blur released Think Thank, and 5 years since they decided to reunite. Damon Albarn, Graham Coxon, Alex James, and Dave Rowntree aren’t about to release an album soon though, but not for the lack of trying, there are 2 singles coming out soon in July after all. Still, having had toured recently, it seems like the quartet found more comfort in playing to a crowd of appreciative fans. The band recently played at Big Sound Festival in Indonesia, naturally our Indonesian counterparts managed to get Alex and Graham on the hot seat – both of whom regaled them with droll British wit and probably mortified them a bit with their revelation on the truth of the Britrock myth.
Hi Alex and Graham. How’s the tour so far?
Alex James Could I just say thank you very much for making us feel so welcomed. It’s taken us a very long time to get here and I don’t know why it’s taken so long.
Graham Coxon It’s because we walked. (Laughs) It took years and years and years…
A But it’s been an amazing couple of weeks touring in Asia, places where we’ve never been. I think we sort of do that this year, go to the places where we’ve never been and we’ve been really enjoying it, and loving playing together. And I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed it quite so much. Cause it’s something that we really don’t sort of feel we have to do anymore. I think it sort of like right at the very beginning when we first started. We were just doing it because it’s good fun.
You’ve experienced the ‘90s as well as the ‘00s as a musician. Based on what you’ve been through, which decade do you think is better to be in a band?
G I think the ‘90s were always a struggle…
G Well, for me. It was strange in the ‘90s for me cause all the bands, there were a lot of rivalries, you know. And everybody was young and insecure, wanted their band to be the best. So everyone was saying, “Your band is rubbish and our band is the best.” So there were loads of arguments. But after that, during the ‘00s, I thought things relaxed. But I think right now actually is really, really nice.
A I think it’s really a difficult time for bands like Blur now. I think the climate has changed a lot and bands are getting like farms. The big farms are getting bigger and small farms are disappearing completely. And you know there isn’t really a culture of independent music anymore in Britain. Is there? Certainly not like it was…
G Well, not in the old sense of the word, no. But I mean there is the thing you could just do on your computer now. Instead of making a hundred of 7” singles and give them to your friends you can just put them online and people can access. I suppose it’s the equivalent. So in a way it’s easier and more convenient, but you don’t need the record label necessarily. You can make music at home easily. Sounds like rubbish but… the technology is getting so good. The digital technology is getting so good at analogue, of making things sound actually warm and nice.
A I actually think the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, and up to about the mid-‘90s were the golden age of pop music. I think it was like an incredible time when an industry grew from nothing. I mean when George Martin signed The Beatles in the early ‘60s he was literally selling a few hundred copies of records he was making each week. From that time in the early ‘60s of records just selling copies by the hundreds or by the thousands, over a very short space of time, in a few decades, it became this very sophisticated industry.
G What happened is they invented it. Like Brian Epstein, The Beatles’ manager, who had the record shop. He would get the records in and the kids would go into the listening booth and go, “Wow! This American music! Brian, get some more of this stuff!” So he’d import it. So the English love this American r’n’b and turned it into their own thing, so that was it with The Kinks, The Beatles, and The Who. And I think Blur is in the same lineage.
Do you still go to record shops?
A Record shops are gone really, haven’t they? I mean you have to walk a long way to find a record shop these days.
G Yeah, there’s a good one. There’re good second hand ones. Well, my favourite record shop is in Camden. They still have those nice things with psychedelic fonts written all over it and you take it and you go, “Yeah, this is a good one. It costs fifty quid?!” But it’s all there. It’s nice. You can get nice second hand records if you like vinyl.
Have you ever met Banksy?
A He was in our dressing room in Coachella actually, a few weeks ago.
G I didn’t meet Banksy.
A You did! He was in Coachella.
G Yeah, but I didn’t meet him properly. He was invisible.
A He was kissing you.
G He wasn’t kissing me. Unless… I didn’t know what he looks like so I might’ve missed him. Did he have a rough face?
A Yeah, he looks like he’s from Lewisham.
G Is he from Lewisham?
A I dunno.
G He’s omnipresent.
A I guess we’re sort of an art school band and we’ve had the chance to work with some of really good artists on our album covers.
G Thank you…
A (Laughs) That’s my favourite one! But, yeah, I think Banksy and Julian Opie did great cover for us. And Damien Hirst… what did he do? He did a video for us! But, yeah, you know I think artists and musicians always have a lot to say to each other.
A lot of old British bands are getting back together, like Pulp and The Stone Roses. Do you think Britpop is making a comeback?
A Oh, please! (Laughs)
G Well, I hope not because I think people have a different view of what it actually was. I don’t think it was a great celebration of British music. Like I said earlier on there were a lot of competition between the groups and not an awful lot of love between the groups. But there were some people you get on well with. Like Pulp, we used to get on well with. But still you didn’t really know what they were saying behind your back. You know, you get on well at a party and the next thing you hear is someone in the band saying, “I don’t like you.” And you feel kinda sad. I actually think it’s a lot healthier now. I think people were a lot less uptight. I think the ‘90s was uptight. And there’s a lot of terrible pop music!
A You’re bound to have contemporaries but we never really felt like a part of any scene. We were just Blur as far as we’re concerned. We weren’t trying to sound like anybody or be part of some groovy scene. So, you know if we were to make another record hopefully it would move on to something new. The great thing about Blur is that we constantly evolved.
G It’s like any other artistes, you have your preoccupation and in the ‘90s our preoccupation was something we experienced day to day. And I think the older you get the more you concentrate on your inner life. The older I get, I use music in a different way. Now I use music to relax, to contemplate. In the old days I always wanted to make fast music, as fast as possible. But now I quite like the slower, contemplative stuff that has a lot of interesting sound. And I think that’s something we all quite like. I don’t know if that’s what any new music we might make would sound like but that’s what I like.
Over the past years, what is your favourite song to perform? And least favourite as well!
A Oh, it changes all the time.
G My least favourite is ‘Coffee & TV’ cause it’s so hard! (Laughs) But I quite like ‘Caramel’ because it’s loose and it’s more… we can improvise a little more and expand.
A I think it does change all the time. There were songs that always go down well. I really enjoy ‘Country House’ the other night. (Laughs) When we first got back together again, playing the songs from around the time of Modern Life is Rubbish, they were the ones that affected me the most emotionally. I don’t know why. Well, I think because that’s when we sort of really first found our groove. We were really young then.
G It was funny because when we first started to rehearse in 2009 for these shows that we were going to do in Britain when we first got together, the first song we played was ‘She’s So High’. It sounded okay but then, after three days, suddenly it was like, “Wow, we were sounding exactly as we always did!” It sounds good. We’re playing good.
A We spent so many years playing together. It’s funny we don’t seem to need to rehearse very much and when I try to think what I’m playing I’d mess it up. It’s actually really good to not play too much because we’d still get really excited about playing. Like the songs we’re going to play tonight, we’ve only played them two or three times in the last ten years. So we’re getting a lot from the music. And I think it sort of heightens our performance.
Blur played in Indonesia on 15 May ’13. More on the band at www.blur.co.uk.