Damon Albarn Interviewed: “These songs clearly were highly personal. They were a lot more open than previously…”

Damon Albarn speaks exclusively to MOJO about his relationship with guitarist Graham Coxon and the making of Blur’s ninth album The Ballad Of Darren.

Blur 2023

by Danny Eccleston |
Updated on

2023 was quite the year for Blur. In addition to reforming for a world tour that included two nights at Wembley Stadium, they released their ninth studio album, The Ballad Of Darren. A collection of classic Blur-heft tunes that cast an eye back over the band’s past and ranked with their very best work. In this extract from our exclusive interview with Blur frontman Damon Albarn in the latest issue of MOJO, he tells MOJO’s Danny Eccleston about the origins of the record, why it’s Blur’s “mature” album and his enduring creative partnership with guitarist Graham Coxon...

The lyrics on The Ballad Of Darren appear to be very direct and personal to the band…

It’s a record that sort of delves into what it’s like to be 55. There’s a lot of young people who, in one way or another, have got into Blur recently, but this record is overwhelmingly a ‘mature record’, as they say. You know, it’s a lovely thing to be able to do lots of different things. Right now I’m deep in research for a project I’m doing about Goethe’s Magic Flute fragment [AKA The Magic Flute Part Two], which he wrote, sort of hoping that Mozart might set it to music, but Mozart died, and then he forgot about it. The point is, I like the contrast, and I suppose I get frustrated that people only see you as you are at that moment. But Blur was a great opportunity to reunite something that obviously completely defines who I am.

It made sense to make a record in the year you played shows…

For some of the other members of the band, there was necessity, somewhat. But for me, having just done two years of world touring with Gorillaz, it was more, You know what? I really fancy singing those songs again. Not for too long, not to overstate it, but I just felt like those songs could exist in 2023. Then it was, OK, where are we going to play? And it was, Let’s play Wembley Stadium. It was something we hadn’t done, something we’d dreamt of as kids. I mean, you couldn’t even imagine you could be that big that you could play Wembley. Only people who were truly megastars played there.

And then while I was in America this time last year I just started writing, and then I realised, Oh right, I’m writing an album about myself and Blur. I came back in January and basically played them the whole record. Then we got [producer] James Ford involved and did it very quickly.

So, in your mind you wrote these songs specifically as Blur songs?

As much as you ever do. A song’s a song really. It comes from somewhere inside you, and I suppose it can go anywhere after that. But these songs clearly were highly personal. And for someone who is normally quite obtuse and coded about everything, they were a lot more open than previously. And everyone responded really well to them. It requires Graham to completely embrace it for it to move forward as Blur.

Is there something else, other than the four of you playing on it, that makes it Blur? I ask, because these are classic pop tunes, and you don’t always write like that…

No, and it’s kind of weird, because you don’t expect men in their middle fifties to write tunes. That’s supposed to have long abandoned you (laughs). But yeah, we talked about it initially and decided there was no way of doing this without going back to the four of us in my parents’ garage in rural Essex. It’s got to go back that far. And we were very aware that we didn’t want to put too much embellishment on it.

You said Graham has to invest in your songs for them to become Blur…

Yes. He’s very generous like that. He really is. But I suppose also, if you’re gonna get a Blur record done he has to do that.

He plays some brilliant things on The Ballad Of Darren.

He’s a really fantastic musician, and it’s always a pleasure to play with him. I think when we started he was more accomplished than I was but I think I’ve worked really, really hard and I can keep up with him now. I was sort of going through my exams on the piano and violin, less successfully on the violin. And he wasn’t so much doing that, but he just had so much natural music in him. But, you know, we were very lucky to meet each other. They talk about it as a terrible era when kids were put in Portakabins because of lack of investment in education. But some of my most important decisions in life were made in Portakabins.

“It’s an emotional thing, being this age. Our lives not getting any longer…” Read MOJO’s interview with Damon Albarn in full only in the latest issue of MOJO which features the inside story of the last Beatles song, Now And Then, U2 in Vegas, Talking Heads, the best albums of 2023 and more! More info and to order a copy HERE

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