Each member of Blur has their respective careers outside of the reverence that the band amassed since the early ‘90s, so the chance to see Blur together is a rare occurrence. Fans of the band, however, can pay gratitude to a happy accident that resulted in the foursome to remain in Hong Kong to record their long-awaited album — The Magic Whip. JUICE was kindly sent on a press junket to Hong Kong for Blur, where guitarist Graham Coxon and bassist Alex James recounted to us the experience of making the album in the city of Hong Kong, working with long-time producer Stephen Street, and Graham’s true reason as to why he took responsibility of the album.
Would you record another album in Hong Kong? Because Avon Studios — where the band recorded the new album — was sold…
Alex James Yeah, when the record business was a good business, recording studios were good businesses. EMI sold their own studio years ago…
Is it possible to make another album then?
A We could probably make one in our hotel room; we could get all the computers you need, all the gear you need and a laptop computer now, really. We didn’t really have time this week, but I don’t know, we have tomorrow morning off, so who knows? I mean, it was totally miraculous that it all happened so quickly; it was a combination of incredibly fortunate circumstances. We’ve been playing shows around the world and it has gone fantastically well. We’re all kind of used to playing together; we were enjoying each other’s company… I think. When the show that we were supposed to fly on to from here in Taipei got cancelled, we were ready for it. And we spent so many years playing together that we were able to do a big chunk of recording in a short space of time, and that’s really the way they used to make records before recording studios became as sophisticated as they are now. You know, just a bunch of cats — really, really good musicians — just banging away. But in a way, I think recording studios [are] everywhere… it just reminded me of The Matrix actually.
When Damon came back to Hong Kong to write the lyrics, it was at the end of the Occupy movement and some of the lyrics were related to the event, and we understand that you were not here when it happened. So, did you follow closely to the news and what was happening in Hong Kong during that time?
A I think it was right on top of Christmas. I’ve got five children, so I’ve got a lot of wrapping up, if I’m totally honest (laughs). But it is really wonderful to be back here. The imagery that Damon managed to capture was sort of walking out of the hotel this morning seeing the ‘New World Towers’ opposite… that was the song that really haunted me after. There was quite a long gap between the period of recording in Hong Kong and the time that Graham decided to take the tracks off and sort of finish them off, and that song particularly woke something out in my head. So, it just feels rather wonderful and magical to be back and I think Damon completely nailed it with the lyrics. I mean, you really have to talk to him about [the ‘Occupy Central’], really.
What was it like to work with Stephen Street again after 18 years? Apparently, Graham, you’ve worked with him after your departure from Blur, and we suppose you guys have more experience working together. Does it affect your role and the dynamics of the band when working on the new album with Stephen’s involvement?
Graham Coxon Well, yeah. It was different. The whole thing was kind of a different thing that we’ve never tried before and I think that was a good thing. We hardly realised the process once it started, because I think if we ever tried to repeat the processes that we used before to record albums, it falls flat on its face. It was a good decision to use Stephen, I thought he was the right bloke… I don’t know, I trust him. I knew he was meticulous and had a good eye for detail and even when we were playing wild when we were kids, he would edit it out a load of rubbish. I just want to it to be as easy as possible for everybody, really. I suppose, in a way, I was quite selfish, I just wanted the ball all to myself and kind of kick it about.
A There were so many materials. It was five days of solid playing.
G Yeah, you could make an album that is not quite good out of the stuff that was chopped up and not used… if you want one of those.
A Yeah, we’ll do it cheaper.
We can’t help but think what if Blur had been stuck in Jakarta instead of Hong Kong… would you have decided to jam there? How would an album have come out if that did happen? Would an album come out?
G Yeah, it’ll be exactly the same (chuckles).
A I think there’s something particularly resonant about Hong Kong’s place in the world at the moment. It’s like a bridge between the past and the future, the East and the West. So, I think it might have been a different album in Jakarta, maybe. I don’t know, more big, sunshine-y, bouncy tunes, I don’t know! Who knows? Who knows? I think playing in Jakarta, we played directly after The Magic Whip sessions here. Yeah, it was wonderful going to new places and getting receptions like that — hundreds of people singing ‘Tender’ to us at the airport. But I don’t think we couldn’t carry on playing new material. I don’t think none of us want to play something that fizzles out, but it’s incredible, these are one of the biggest shows that we’ve ever done; the reviews have been astonishing. I haven’t seen a bad word written about the record, it’s just… I can hardly contain myself. I’m just running around going, “Ahhh!” I’m just absolutely loving it. I think I thought I played my last cup final. What about you, Graham? Did you think it was all over?
G No! I didn’t. I think we needed to be something, some punctuation. Maybe that was a determination to get this record together.
You each got busy personal careers and lives that you’ve built on your own; do you think you’ll ever prioritise Blur as long as there’s new material?
A I think that’s another brilliant thing that we’ve got stuck in Hong Kong, not only is it so far away from home, but in the day time, everybody at home is asleep. We’ve all got complicated lives, so it is really hard to get enough space for [making new Blur material]. Normally, it always gets stuck into something else – there are always distractions. I think it’s good [that] we’ve all managed to evolve as people and do all kind of stuff, but it can hamper Blur’s development, I guess. Thank god Graham was willing to take the ball on this one…
G Bored! Because I was so bored. Yeah! I think eventually I thought of other reasons of doing this that were kind of nicer, but initially, I was actually really bored. I thought, “Gosh, I didn’t want it to get so far away from that time and place and those jam sessions that it really couldn’t connect properly.” That was really why, and also to commit myself to a punctuation mark that I was talking about, and to be a part of something that was positive after the last album, which was kind of confusing and no one really knew what really happened.
We have a question about the comic book; in what ways do the comic book reflect the relationship between the band and the city of Hong Kong, and what do you think about the futuristic, retro look?
A I think if I’m totally honest, the comic book was a cynical marketing device… I think it’s very nice; I’m very pleased we have a comic in the way we presented it. I think it was something pertinent to Hong Kong—they are popular here in Hong Kong, we were told. There’s a very big culture of comic books here, so we thought it would be nice to have one. You know, when you’re making a record, you sort of have to have something to promote it. We thought it was a good thing for the world to see a comic of Blur set in Hong Kong. I mean, it’s not an artistic [statement], it’s just nice
G In England, in the ‘90s, a newspaper did a cartoon of us. Basically, it was about us…
A … Having powers?
G No, it was how we all bonded and there was a very good image of us — with our arms around each other in a circle — naked.
G And of course, that’s what we do before every show, in a sauna or something. And so we just wanted to do our own comic, with all the nice colours, nice graphics that we’ve generally seen in the graphic novels that you’d see over here… It’s a bit like Flash Gordon and A Hard Day’s Night, isn’t it? No? Maybe not.
Graham, what were your personal thoughts when you heard the words to ‘My Terracotta Heart’?
G “Oh, that’s nice. Oh, is it?”
G That’s it. “Oh, is it?”… I thought it was nice! It’s lovely to have songs written about you. I suppose women have songs written about them mostly. But to have your friend write [about you]… yeah, it was about relationships, a long-term relationship, a long-term, brother-style thing that started out innocently and it goes on a journey, it gets put through several mangles and through several changes, whatever — precious work, travel — and it comes out the other side… (voice grows smaller) still unsure of its stability, something like that. It’s not particularly devotional; it’s quite an unsure sentiment. So yeah! I felt like Pattie Harrison.
In support of The Magic Whip, Blur performed at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre on Wednesday 22 July ’15.