Ian Peel chats to Gorillaz lead-vocalist 2-D about life in the world’s biggest cartoon band.

The Godfathers of Pop: 2-D interview

In a bizarre encounter that takes in drawer slamming, popcorn chicken, virtual pop luminaries the Silicon Teens and Millionaire-era ABC, we catch up with 2-D, lead vocalist of Gorillaz. The cartoon band, founded by Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett, has been in ‘existence’ for two decades: sixth album The Now Now was released in June and features new fictional member, Ace Copular from The Powerpuff Girls – as original bassist Murdoc is currently languishing in jail.

In You Can Call Me Al, Paul Simon once opined: “I don’t want to end up a cartoon, in a cartoon graveyard.” Is that a fear you feel for real?
Hmm, I love Paul and his work, but it sounds to me like he is having an identity crisis there. First of all, he’s got two first names, and now he wants to be called Al. I’m not afraid of the future because the future can’t hurt you. Let me demonstrate by slamming my fingers in this drawer… Ow! That really hurt. Whereas if I slam my fingers in a drawer next week… Nothing. Doesn’t hurt a bit, see? We only exist in the now, now. You get me?

Totally, and before we get on to The Now Now (which is, of course, the title of the latest Gorillaz album), we were wondering… Have you ever met Eden or David Yarritu, the two cartoonified characters who joined Martin Fry and Mark White for the How To Be A Millionaire line-up of ABC?
I dunno, man. Maybe I met them at a showbiz party or something, but I’m bad with names. I wish people all wore name badges like in B&Q, so we would always remember what everyone is called. I wouldn’t need one, as I’m mega-famous so I already know what I’m called. Plus it’s stitched into my socks and pants.

They certainly broke down a lot of boundaries and preconceptions as to who could and could not perform in a pop group. How do you feel about those two in terms of inspiration and/or admiration?
Yeah, I probably am an inspiration to them, but they’ve inspired me, too. Like their song That Was Then But This Is Now (from 1983’s Beauty Stab). I really dig that lyric. I relate, you know? Not long ago I was different, but a lot has changed since then, and now I’m me.

They themselves were inspired by Mute Records’ pioneers of virtual pop, Darryl, Jacki, Paul and Diane, aka the Silicon Teens. What would you say of the Teens’ influence in general? Would you ever consider collaborating?
Whoa, these are really hard questions, dude! I ate way too much popcorn chicken last night, and I might still be in a chicken OD, actually. But sure, the Silicon Teens and, of course, ABC were an influence. I’m a big synth junkie. Even more than chicken, actually.

We’ve never quite fathomed the band dynamic within the Gorillaz unit. Would you say you are the leader of the group?
I wouldn’t say I’m the leader. It’s more like King Arthur and the Round Table. Everyone is equal, but Arthur is obviously the most awesome one because he’s got a crown. But the crown weighs heavy sometimes and can give you a pain in your neck. You have to make some really hard decisions, too.

In terms of the latest album, The Now Now, which other artists and recent releases have inspired you?
Music comes from inside, like thoughts and trapped wind. I guess I’m saying I inspire myself, but not in an arrogant way. A man shouldn’t ever idolise himself. That’s the motto written on the fresco I commissioned of myself on our living-room ceiling.

You don’t seem to have aged one day since Gorillaz first arrived on the scene almost 20 years ago. Classic Pop readers need to know: what’s your secret to defying the ageing process?
The trick is not washing too often, so your skin stays fresh. Also, I might be immortal, I think, because when I was on holiday in Marbella I drank The Elixir Of Life. They were selling it in a cocktail bar; it was on two-for-one. I am a bit worried about living forever, though, because one day the Earth will blow up, but I’ll still be alive, left to float through the universe forever with nothing to do except play eye-spy with myself… I spy with my little eye, something beginning with A… Is it asteroid again? Yes, 2-D, it is.

Read more: The Godfathers of Pop: Rusty Egan interview