Gorillaz return: 'We're living in a world of cults'

PARIS (AFP) - The new album from Gorillaz is all about the cartoon foursome starting their own ridiculous cult. Just don't ask Keith Richards to join.

The animated band, the brainchild of British musician Damon Albarn and cartoonist Jamie Hewlett, is back with an eighth album, "Cracker Island".

It sees the characters of Murdoc, Noodle, Russel and 2D heading for Los Angeles and starting their own ill-fated cult.

The idea came from conversations between Albarn and Hewlett about our increasingly tribal world, as well as the need to flee London "because of Brexit and Boris Johnson and the fact the country is on its knees".

"All of us are living in a world where we're being separated from one another into cults," Hewlett told AFP.

(FILES) In this file photo taken on October 21, 2018, musician and singer Damon Albarn from Gorillaz performs at Demon Dayz Festival LA, at Pico Rivera Arena and Ground, in Los Angeles, California. - A new Gorillaz album comes out on February 24, 2023, as Blur reunites for a world tour: at 54, there is no early retirement for Damon Albarn, the mastermind of both bands, who is always capable of taking a step aside, whether it be towards opera or otherwise. (Photo by VALERIE MACON / AFP)

"There are cults we don't even think of as cults. You take something like Fox News -- it's a cult.

"If you're not wearing what I'm wearing, not following the news that I'm following... it's about being segregated."

- Friendly meetings -

Gorillaz have become an institution and are known for their huge list of collaborations, featuring the likes of Snoop Dogg and Elton John to De La Soul and Mos Def.

The new album sees appearances by Bad Bunny, Beck and Fleetwood Mac's Stevie Nicks.

Not everyone has given them a warm welcome, however -- not least Rolling Stones legend Keith Richards, who inspired the character Murdoc.

"We approached Keith Richards once and he told us to fuck off. He said: 'Who? Gorillaz what? Nah, fuck off'," Hewlett said in a decent imitation of the Richards growl.

"Lou Reed told me to fuck off as well when we first met him. He told me to fuck off before he even heard what my name was," Hewlett added, laughing.

The notoriously grumpy Reed, who appeared on 2010's "Plastic Beach", went on to become "friendly much later on down the line, but the first meeting was harsh".

- 'Cool Dog, Groovy Cat' -

Hewlett puts the band's continued success down to his longstanding friendship with Albarn.

They came up with the concept for Gorillaz when living together in the late 1990s.

Hewlett was the author of cult graphic novel "Tank Girl" and Albarn was looking for a project that could take him away from his frontman duties with Britpop megastars Blur.

Their instant success naturally led to attempted imitators.

"After the second Gorillaz album, we heard that another record company was attempting to put together an animated band," Hewlett said.

"They got some artists to design the characters, who were all animals –- Cool Dog, Groovy Cat," he added with a chuckle.

"They did what they always do when they manufacture a band, which is get people together who have absolutely no relation to one another. I think they decided not to do it at the last minute, because it was really shit."

"We're doing it so well because we're friends and we've known each other forever. And everybody we bring in becomes a friend."

Hewlett praises Daft Punk and Banksy, artists that have hidden behind alter-egos to an even greater extent than Gorillaz, who were quickly unmasked after their launch.

"We're friends with Banksy. You go out with him and people have no idea. And he doesn't give a shit," Hewlett said.

"I always respect people who have that kind of attitude. They're giving you something amazing, but they don't want to be recognised. They don't want the bullshit. That takes a very controlled ego. That gives me hope in mankind."