Blur. They are one of the most iconic British bands of all time, and after over a decade apart they reformed with lead singer Damon Albarn to create an album largely recorded in one tiny Hong Kong studio.
It’s been eighteen years since Blur performed as a band in Australia, and Albarn has a reputation for being slightly difficult in interviews…
I hope you don’t mind me wearing sunglasses I just haven’t had any sleep in about five days, I’ve got terrible jetlag.
It doesn’t look that bad.
You don’t know you haven’t seen it.
If I asked very nicely, would you consider taking them off?
I don’t normally do it, I just feel really tired.
I love the story about how the album came about. My understanding is you were on your way to festival in Japan, which didn’t happen. So how do you find yourself in a studio in Hong Kong? How did that come about?
I don’t know, we were just like, find us a studio.
How different is it recording now to recording when you were eighteen?
I think everyone is a lot more confident, and less reserved, and more trusting of our instincts. That was the great thing about Hong Kong; there was absolutely no pressure. No one knew what we were doing, and we didn’t think we had to necessarily achieve anything; it was just a nice thing to do. It was literally a way of using our time, so I thought, we’ll make it in five days and put it out next week.
You also found your way into North Korea, and there’s the song Pyongyang; why was it important to go to North Korea?
It wasn’t in the context of this record. I just had this experience and I had all this stuff to say about it, and that song in particular lent itself to that eulogy for a fallen city.
People have preconceptions about North Korea; what was the biggest preconception that you had?
There’s an Englishness in everything from Dr Dee to Parklife, a love of English history. I read that some of that evolved during that American tour before the explosion of the 90s.
Very much so. We found ourselves touring around America to quite a noticeable level of indifference. We definitely developed our stamina of touring. Any process which is difficult you’re going to benefit from it, if it doesn’t kill you.
My songwriting became a sort of imaginary England under the imminent influence of American mass culture. It just felt like, this is going to happen to us. What we’ve seen there is going to happen to us. This is an invasion that is about to happen, and it did happen in a sense.
In terms of the music you put out and the influence you had around the world - are happy with the impact that you had?
It has definitely been adopted by another whole generation. It’s really extraordinary for us, being in our late forties, to see kids having this strange connection with this stuff that we wrote when we were kids.
You can never really imagine that until it happens. I suppose clearly something resonates within those songs that is still meaningful today. Which is great. Lucky us, really.
I found it was quite a magical place in that everyone was under a spell. I found the people really interesting and, on a human level, really nice. I’m aware how terrible North Korea is, but you’re never allowed to see that.