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Damon Albarn on the Making of Gorillaz’s ‘We Got the Power’

It’s been seven years since Gorillaz last released a proper album, which isn’t that long considering all the labor that goes into one. Though it’s meant to seem like the work of four fictional cartoon characters, the business of actually making their latest record, Humanz, their fourth, fell as always to illustrator Jamie Hewlett, who creates the visuals, and Damon Albarn, who produces the music and wrangles the guests. For We Got the Power the upbeat anthem that closes Humanz, those guests included D.R.A.M., Savages front woman Jehnny Beth, and, most intriguingly, Albarn’s former Britpop nemesis, Noel Gallagher. I spoke with Albarn, Gallagher, Beth, D.R.A.M., and Hewlett about how the song came together for the next issue of New York Magazine Here’s an extended version of those interviews

So we’re here to talk about just the one song — “We Got the Power,” the last track on Humanz.
This song has its own unique story and had many different manifestations before I arrived at the final version. It’s one of those songs that attracted the mercurial attentions of my record label. Not that I ever do what they say, but sometimes you can present them an entire body of work and they become obsessed with that one particular tune.
Working in the pop business was never pretty, but a long time ago, when I was a young, naïve 19-year-old, it was still so abundant that people from record companies went out to lunch and didn’t go back to the office, and they drank and took cocaine on Wednesdays. CDs were making the labels vast amounts of money, and none of the artists received what we should have. But what was once an Eden-esque garden of abundance has become a dry savanna with only a few fruit trees left. When they hear something that resembles a fruit tree in this arid landscape, they get obsessed with it, and they get involved with things, which is a real problem. This was one of those tunes.

How did the song first come to you?
It started on March 23 of last year when I was given a Casio MT-40 by my studio engineer, Stephen Sedgwick, and my PA, Charlie. They always give me a new keyboard on my birthday. I’ve got hundreds of keyboards in my studio, but I was particularly excited about this one, because it has the same sound as those very classic ’80s reggae tunes, the “sleng teng” riddim; it’s got that bass line programmed in. I happened to be in the studio, so I thought, I’ll make a tune. Shit. This is really exciting. It’s my birthday. So I made a demo and came up with the line, “We’ve got the power to be kicking the class thing down the next morning,” which felt a bit too wordy. So it metamorphosed into the more straightforward, “We got the power to be loving each other.”

So you immediately thought to call Noel Gallagher and ask him to sing on it?
In a sort of lighthearted way, I’d promised Noel he could be on this record. He was always like, “I want to be on the next Gorillaz record,” and I was like, “Sure.” I thought it might be cute, the idea of us singing about the power to love each other. Of course, no one’s asked Liam what he thinks about the song yet. No doubt he’d have a fantastic one-liner about what a bunch of fucking knobheads we are.

Liam liked the most recent Blur album.
Yeah, but The Magic Whip didn’t have his brother and I singing about loving each other.

How long did Noel spend on “We’ve Got the Power”? Did he just pop into the studio, sing his part, and leave?
No, no, no. He was there all day. We hang out. We’re not just all about work, you know. We have lots of things to talk about, and people to bitch about. We talk about football. Well, he does. This year he’s not as keen about football as I am. That changes, depending on the season.
So he came in and sang the chorus with me, and then I got Graham Coxon to play a few crazy, weird guitar bits, and I was overexcited about him being in the studio, so I had him play some power chords. And then Noel put in some distorted guitar. So at this point, the song started to become this strange kind of Britpop clarion call from the grave — it got quite rocky.
I was like, Oh dear, I think I fucked it up, which the record label was obviously very upset to hear. But it wasn’t really fitting with the rest of the record. It was very Anglo-Saxon. I wanted to make a club record, and Anglo-Saxon club records are thin on the ground. So I ditched it, and then began the war of attrition. The record label said, “What about that song, ‘We’ve Got the Power’?” I said, “I don’t like it.” That continued until the autumn, and then I said, “Oh, all right, I’ll have another look at it.” I decided to scrap all the guitars and start again. I rang Noel up and said, “We’re going to have to do this again, mate. Sorry.” But he was like, “Oh cool, I don’t mind.”

Source: New York Magazine via Vulture.com