Jamie Hewlett : the fan interview
Gorillaz co-creator Jamie Hewlett gives his first fan interview about Gorillaz ever, - and puts to rest several ongoing fan debates... along the way we find out out about his original ideas for working with Damon Albarn, his views of the state of contemporary pop music, and what he considers most important about the Gorillaz project...

G-U: What was the the very first idea you and Damon had for working together?

JH: We had known each other's work for so long, because we'd known each other so long, and we said we had to do something togehter. We had an idea that we'd do a clothing range. So we talked about that for a bit. I drew up some stuff, and it wasn't very interesting.

G-U: In the 'Charts Of Darkness' documentary, you refer to the character 'Jamion' as the first idea you and Damon had as a character to front an animated band. Is there any truth in that?

JH: Jamion is a mixture of me and Damon. Sometimes I'll ring him up and he'll be "Helloooooo... this is Jamion!" He's like the evil half of each of us. The name and the look of the characters was a serious idea, but we didn't get any further than that. For the Charts of Darkness documentary, we realised that idea a bit, we had Remi [Russel's voice actor] in the costume and hooked nose; Remi was great in that, like some Elizabethan child with smallpox: "I can smeeeelll them". "I'm bleeeding". [laughs]

G-U: Was there a particular moment of inspiration where you decided to go with the virtual music act idea?

JH: We used to have this massive TV that Damon bought. The first plasma screen that came in the country, he bought it. And we used to spend all day playing computer games and watching MTV. And we were watching MTV one night, and just cussing about how shit it was. We came to the conclusion that if you manufacture a band, the whole idea of manufacturing a band means that surely you could get it right, if you manufacture a band you should be able to pick the people, pick the composer, pick the producer, you should be able to get it bang on. We were moaning about the fact that when we grew up it was the Clash, the Pistols, the Specials, and why were there no bands like that? We came to that conclusion. We just said, while we were watching telly, we should do an animated band. I said it jokingly, and Damon said yes it would be a good idea. We were drunk, and excited. We went to bed later that night, the next day, we got up, and I said to him, are you serious? And he said 'yeah, yeah!'.

G-U: The main way that Gorillaz differs from previous animated bands, it seems to me, is the attempt to engage with the publicity machine on its own terms, through media appearances, public appearances etc. Did you think about that at the start?

JH: Not straight away. But we realised it wouldn't work the same. But this was at the time when that whole celebrity thing was really taking off. And we found that, and we still find that, really revolting. In my mind, the idea of a celebrity is a star who is a star because they've done something that's changed your life and has meant something to you. Anyone can be famous, at the end of the day. As my dad used to say, if you want to be famous, go shoot somebody, you'll get in the papers. And suddenly we were watching that unfold, early Pop Idol, Gareth Gates, etc. And we were watching that happen. And thinking it was shit. And we thought, why not do something that's manufactured, but do it properly? It started off as a flippant comment to be honest, but the more we thought about it, the more we thought this is something the music industry will hate, but if it works, we're going to prove a point here. That gone are the days of bands full of interesting charismatic people where you know every single member of the band, and you love every member. Let's reinvent that, because it doesn't exist. All the big bands that are around at the moment, mean absolutely nothing to me. I've had no connection with them, they don't stick at all. The last decent band were probably the Arctic Monkeys. But bless 'em, I've seen that before. I think the last really original band was Gorillaz. And they weren't even real. That was the joke. That was the point we were making.

G-U: Why do you think that there have been no successful virtual bands since Gorillaz?

JH: Because nobody would dare copy us. We did it first. And we did it as best as it could be done. It was a lucky team-up that me and Damon were friends. That's all it was. A lucky team up. If it hadn't been for that, then it would have been a record company idea, [affects American accent] 'let's get this guy here, and this guy here...' and bringing people together who have nothing in common, to do something. But luckily me and Damon were mates, then we got Cass in who's an old mate, and everybody who's part of Gorillaz is pretty much a mate of ours. Cass wasn't even a writer. He was a drummer. But he's intelligent enough to learn to write. I never directed before. But I gave it a go. All of us were doing things we hadn't done, and were experimenting. And luckily it worked. The upshot is, I think we proved a point. I look at the music industry and I just find it disgusting and hateful. I look at posters for Razorlight "best guitar album since Definitely Maybe". What does that mean? If that was my band, and the record company had put that on my poster, I'd kill somebody. That's an insult. "The best guitar album since the last shit guitar album that was ripped off another shit guitar album that was ripped off of one five years earlier". I mean, Oasis ripped off the Rutles! The Rutles ripped off The Beatles. The only musicians still making music that means anything that I can think of, are Damon and Tom Waits. Who is my all-time hero. Even all the old greats who are still knocking about - The Rolling Stones etc - it's like, please stop! You were wonderful, but please stop now. I just think it's a dead industry. But they're selling to kids. I'm old enough to have seen it four or five times. I don't buy it anymore.

G-U: It's something you and Damon obviously feel very passionately about...

JH: Yeah. I've got kids and he's got kids, and they're growing up on this shit! No way man. I want my kids to grow up on the stuff I grew up on. So I shove that down their throats - they listen to my music! Actually, my older boy likes to watch X-Factor, but we watch it together, and I'm sat there cussing it out and he's laughing at that! His X-Factor experience is based on watching it with his dad. That's the only reason he watches it. But seriously, where's the next generation of artists and writers going to come from, if they're growing up on this shit? We were lucky enough to grow up on good stuff, so unless you divert them to the right stuff...

G-U: I think one of the most important ways Gorillaz does that, is in the range of influences that Damon draws on, for the songs.

JH: Absolutely. I've spoken to Damon and Cass about this, and we're all in agreement. That to us, is the greatest achievement of Gorillaz. It's not the amount of albums that were sold, it's not about the Grammys or the Brits or Ivor Novellos. That's just record company shit. It's that we know that a very large percentage of our audience are kids, who go on gorillaz.com, who go on gorillaz-unofficial.com, and through seeing the cartoons and hearing the tune, buying the record, are finding out about this stuff that they knew nothing about. So they're learning about Vlad The Impaler, or Ronald Searle, or The Specials... so it's like an education. They really get into it. And they discover it, the music we grew up on.

G-U: To put a point of fan dispute at rest for all time, do you really do all the Gorillaz artwork?

JH: I do all my own artwork, and I colour it. But Tim and Kate do a lot of stuff on computer, they take my art and alter it for things, and stuff. I draw 99% of the stuff, but if someone says 'right we need a poster' I'll say, take these drawings, cut them up, reassemble them, put a background on it, and Tim or Kate will do it. But I draw all of the original stuff, yeah. Kate and Tim do the design and layout. Tim and Mike do the website. James does all the CG. There's only nine of us, and we do everything. It started off with just me. Then it was me and Mat Wakeham, an old friend of mine, we grew up together. Then we got Mat Wakins in. He was introduced to me by my old mate Glyn Dillon who's an artist, his missus knew Mat, and said he's really lovely,you have to meet him.I met him and got on with him, and he worked for us for a few weeks and said 'I've got loads of people I can bring in' so he brought Tim who's his brother, and Tim brought Kate, and they brought James, then they brought Mike, so my entire team is from Birmingham.

G-U: What happened to 5/4? Mooted as second single off the first album, you even did all the storyboards for it.

JH: We said 5/4 for the first single, and they said no, Clint Eastwood. And they were right. And then we said 5/4 for the second single. And they said okay, go with it, so we started work, did a storyboard and so on. But then we got pulled up by the record company, and had a meeting. They said they weren't feeling it, and we want to do 19/2000. I was pretty upset. Damon said, 'look, this is how it works, and they're usually right, because they've done tests and stuff, you just have to go with it'. So we were in the office of the head of Parlophone, and I was pretty pissed off because we'd already started, and I thought I had a great idea for the video. So just to prove a point, I came up with an idea for 19/2000 right on the spot. Literally came out of my mouth as I said. They were like 'great, great'. So we went away and I storyboarded it in like an hour. And everyone was like, we'll go with that. It was probably the right decision. It wasn't as big a hit as Clint Eastwood, but the video was good. I liked the fact that it was a driving video. When you do driving things, it's all about shots. That was my favourite video from the first album.

G-U: At one point, it was officially announced that there would be a Gorillaz 3D tour. And now it's been cancelled, why was that?

JH: Basically, it was extremely expensive, extremely difficult, a million and one things can go wrong, every second that the thing's playing. We did that thing at the EMAs. That was a test of what it could be like. And when we sat and watched that, everyone involved was literally gnawing their fingernails, because we knew of the 65 things that could go wrong any second. And when it finished, when the three minutes was over and nothing went wrong, we all breathed a huge sigh of relief. So we realised that if we did a tour, it'd be a logistical nightmare.

G-U: There were rumours of amusing incidents at the Grammys last time 'round [in 2002] as well...

When we were in New York for the Grammys when were up for some awards for the first album, and we got beaten by Mudvayne, they were these punk rockers in white suits with pretend bullet holes in their head, they got up on the stage with this dramatic music playing and then just said [high pitched US accent] 'I wanna thank God, and I wanna thank my mom' and then from the middle of the auditorium, Damon and I had been drinking, came this shout from Damon "GET OFF YOU WANKER!" really loudly! And Snoop Dogg was like three seats in front of us and turned round, and Christopher Walken was in front of him and he turned round! Everyone was like 'who said that!'.

G-U: Jamie, thanks for taking the time to answer our questions!