Stop all the clocks. Cut off the telephone. Today is no normal day. I’ve been tasked with interviewing British band Gorillaz about their forthcoming sixth album, The Now Now. Their manager has already informed me it’s impossible to get everyone in one place, so I have to find them myself based on some very vague information. Murdoc, I already know, is in jail. Noodle, I’m told, is across town somewhere. And right now, 2D and Russel are sat opposite me, in a tiny west London greasy spoon called The Coffee Cup Cafe.
The cafe is small and narrow, the kinda place with 11 different variations on the full English breakfast, all for under a fiver. 2D is wearing a turquoise and black sweater and a brown fedora with a badge of a clenched fist on it. He’s booked out the whole of The Coffee Cup Cafe for our interview. There are five tables. A large plate of chicken nuggets and curly fries is brought to us, and 2D smiles like an emperor.
“What made you choose this cafe for our interview?” I ask, and wait for an answer, but he stares straight past me, like he’s in some sort of yogic trance. I give Russel a look and he turns to 2D and takes two small wireless headphones out of his ears. I ask the same thing again.
“Hmm, complex question,” replies 2D. “Nothing made me. I am the Beginning and the End, the Alpha and the… Amiga. Omega 3? O-Megadrive?”
“Omega,” corrects Russel.
“I’m talking, Russ,” says 2D. “If you mean why did I pick here? Partly TripAdvisor, but also ‘cos of a dream vision I had, in which I journeyed here in my mind, having taken the number 72 bus – in my mind. And when I finally got here I saw something beautiful – they do curly fries.”
All I know so far about the new Gorillaz album is this: following the transformative experiences of last year Gorillaz began to write and record new songs inspired by what’s happening now, right now. And when they were finished they called it The Now Now.
I can’t quite place my finger on it, but there is definitely something about the usually passive and dreamy 2D that is new and strange. He appears to be bolder, more empowered, sitting forward in his chair. As we talk, he occasionally leaps up to wildly gesticulate with his hands.
“You seem… transformed,” I tell him.
“Well, seeming is believing, as they say,” he replies. “Yeah, I feel good. Sharp, like a pebble. But one that’s been sharpened. I’m focused, I know what I have to do now. The world is in trouble, bad stuff is happening. For example…”
He starts clicking his fingers loudly, once every second. The waiter behind the till looks over at us.
“Did you know that every time I click my fingers, a chicken dies?” says 2D, becoming increasingly animated, “Yeah, I know, it’s messed up. So what I do, and what we can all do – is stop clicking our fingers. Save some chickens. We all got the power. You feel me?”
“I feel you,” I say, unconvincingly. “So, when did this transformation happen?” I ask, but he ignores me and shoves a ridiculously large handful of chicken nuggets into his mouth, then shouts to the waiter to fetch him some “Guatemalan truffle oil”. The waiter looks confused and brings a bottle of Daddies brown sauce.
I ask Russel what he makes of the new 2D? “It’s not like we bought a new one from the store,” he shrugs. “He’s just evolving. Like the world right now. We’re in a storm, pulling us in all directions. And in the dark of a storm, you need a lighthouse to guide you out. 2D is that lighthouse.”
With no word of warning, 2D wanders off to speak to the waiter, and I overhear him saying something constructive but critical about the curliness of the curly fries. I try to imagine him as a preacher man, delivering eternal truths to the masses and holding the feet of power to the fire. It’s not an easy scenario to conjure, no matter how much wisdom Russel is feeding him.
“What have you seen recently that has influenced how you think about the world?” I ask 2D, as he sits back down.
“Nothing with my actual eyes,” he replies immediately, “they can deceive you. I see with my other eye, my turd eye.”
“Third eye,” interjects Russel, affectionately.
“With these extra eyes I am able to see into the heart of things,” says 2D “like one of those X-rays at the airport where they look at your pants.”
Just as I’m about to ask my next question, a pale yellow 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88 Royale screeches to a halt outside the front window of the cafe. I recognise it as the same car that Bruce Campbell drove in the old Evil Dead movies. The window winds down and a spindly green hand begins to beckon in our direction. I soon realise it’s Ace, the new bassist who’s replacing Murdoc while he’s locked up.
“One last question,” I plead, as Russel and 2D begin making their way to the door. “Where can I actually find Murdoc? What prison is he in?”
Russel zips up his green trench coat, and tips his fireman’s helmet towards me, and I notice it has the same clenched fist logo on it as 2D’s badge. “Follow the trail of cigarette butts and restraining orders,” he smiles glibly.
Across town I find Noodle in a gym not far from the Gorillaz recording studio. This morning’s Jiu-jitsu class has finished, the students have all left and Noodle is sat on the wooden floor in a bomber jacket and shorts, reading Original Stories from Real Life; with Conversations Calculated to Regulate the Affections, and Form the Mind to Truth and Goodness while “Touch Absence” by Lanark Artefax booms from the speakers in the corner. She puts the book down and stands up as I walk towards her.
Earlier this year, I was watching highlights of the Kentucky Derby, and noticed Noodle in the crowd with Ace. It wasn’t the only weird thing at the Kentucky Derby – there was also a horse in the race with “Free Murdoc” written down its leg.
“I think I saw you at the Kentucky Derby?” I enquire.
“You saw me, or you think you saw me?” begins Noodle. “It is hard to know the difference these days. As Einstein says, reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one. Never has that been more relevant. ”
Suddenly, she does a lightning quick manoeuvre and sweeps my legs from beneath me. I look up at her, helpless, like a tortoise on its back in the desert.
“Helps break the ice, no?” says Noodle.
“Sure,” I say, still on my back. “So… How are Gorillaz doing at the moment? Is everyone in a good place?
“There is no ‘good place’ for Gorillaz,” she counters. “We are always between places, never staying still. For now, Murdoc is in a place with lots of bars and locks. Russel is trying to put the world back together, like it’s a broken teapot. 2D is… well, in a new place. Less fragile, somehow, stronger. It’s weird. He’s even stopped watching Gilmore Girls.”
“So, do you still enjoy being in Gorillaz?”
“I would not say that I am ‘in’ Gorillaz, but that Gorillaz is in me. It is a way of being. A feeling, a rebellion maybe, that we will not be controlled or do what is expected. I don’t know if I enjoy it, but I can’t escape it either. A bit like Tom Cruise and the Mission Impossible franchise.”
“Could you ever see yourself breaking off and going it alone?”
“As I say, Gorillaz will always be a part of me, wherever I go. But right now, it seems too many people are breaking off and going on alone. The world is splintering like a melting iceberg. So maybe now is the time to stay together? Plus, who would look after 2D, and stop him transferring all his savings to the president of Uganda who keeps emailing?”
With that, Noodle smiles peacefully, and, before I can ask another question, opens her book to resume reading. I get up off my back, and set off to find Murdoc.
I always knew at some point in my life I would end up in prison, but I didn’t think it would be to interview Murdoc from Gorillaz. The last anyone saw of the legendary bassist was a video call he made from behind bars during the Brit Awards. After much research and phone calling, I finally traced him to HM Prison Wormwood Scrubs.
I sign in at the main gate and wait for him in the visitor's centre. A loud buzzer goes off, and the inmates begin to walk in, with Murdoc trundling along at the back with bloodshot eyes. He’s wearing an orange jumpsuit, although none of the other prisoners are, which makes me think this is perhaps a personal stylistic choice. I look around, and it seems that more than a few inmates are sending ocular daggers in Murdoc’s direction.
“Have you made any friends in here?” I ask.
“No,” he rumbles. “In prison, every man is an island, paranoid and cut off from the rest of the world, like post-Brexit Britain. All you can do is defend your borders and boast about how big your nukes are. The current superpower in here is a psycho called Big Balls McGuinness. I’ll probably twat him one, show these mugs who the real top dog is.”
I laugh. Murdoc doesn’t. I glance at my questions and move on. “So, tell me, why are you in prison?”
“Ask the bloody judge, mate,” he blurts in his cockney accent. “Wouldn’t trust that clown to judge a vegetable growing contest. Pretty sure I saw a hip flask under his wig, too. Bloke was probably absolutely slotted. Anyway, it’s a shocking miscarriage of justice, the worst since Dr Richard Kimble in The Fugitive. Would Harrison Ford play me in the movie? No, he’s nearly 80 years old. It’d have to be someone younger and with a knob like a burrito. But the point is, I shouldn’t be in here! I’ve been stitched up, framed by a devil – nay, a diablo – by the name of…”
He leans in close and places one hand on my shoulder, then quietens his voice to a mere whisper. “El Mierda” he says, with exaggerated and definitely incorrect Mexican pronunciation.
“El Mierda?” I say. Murdoc jumps in his seat.
“Careful chucking that name about in here, mate, unless you fancy yourself as a human piñata. Come closer and I’ll tell you.”
“Okay…” I say, acknowledging that we are already pretty close.
“Not that close,” spits Murdoc, “they’ll think we’re lovers, and I’m already getting too much heat from a worrying duo known as the Soap Sisters.”
“Sure, is this better?”
“Smashing. Alright, El Mierda… is a shadow, a demon, a direct descendent to Nuestra Señora de la Santa Muerte herself. That’s foreign for ‘Our Lady of Holy Death’. A total [fuckwit], basically. And muggins here had the misfortune of meeting him during the ‘Strobelite’ video shoot. 2D was making a tit of himself on the dancefloor, so I went to the bar and banged down some mezcals. El Mierda piped up; I presumed he wanted a selfie. How was I to know he was the kingpin of the bloodiest crime dynasty in modern history? Reminded me a lot of my old Geography teacher, actually, so we did a selfie anyway for my school WhatsApp thread.”
“So this… El Mierda… framed you?”
“Yeah, for smuggling or some bollocks. And look, I like a prank as much as the next man. I once tipped-off the feds that 2D was the Zodiac Killer. Swat team came for him at night, interrogated him for weeks. But in the end I came clean. But this bastard, he’s playing for keeps. This isn’t a fucking joke, mate!”
Murdoc doesn’t seem to pine for his bandmates. He tells me he misses them “like the clap”, and the only communication he’s received from them was a text from Noodle that just contained one thumbs up emoji. When I tell him I’ve heard the new album and it sounds great, he grimaces.
“Oh well whoop-de-fucking-do. They’re in denial, mate. It’s textbook. When people suffer a great trauma (i.e. my absence), they do whatever they can to get by. So they’re pouring their grief into their music. And I get that. Some of my greatest tunes came from my darkest moments. We wrote ‘Tomorrow Comes Today’ shortly after I crashed my Vauxhall Astra into 2D. I loved that car.”
I decide to lighten the mood and tell him about a petition I’ve seen on Change.org, started by fans, requesting that he be freed immediately. Suddenly he becomes illuminated, and eyes begin to widen and sparkle.
“Oh yeah? Ah that warms my enlarged heart. Has Madonna signed it?”
“Um, I’ll check for you.”
“Cheers. But yeah, it’s no surprise to me that millions of people have—”
“It’s not millions,” I interrupt.
“—billions of people have come together to fight this terrible injustice!” booms Murdoc. “The masses have spoken, Murdoc shall returneth, like a glorious rocket from the heavens, a great and terrifying phallus crashing to Earth to save all humanity, and make Gorillaz great again! Plus hoover up those mini burger things at the welcome home party.”
The buzzer goes off, and everyone around us begins to get out of their chairs. “Do you have any special messages for those fans?”
“Keep up the good work,” he says optimistically, as he’s hoisted to his feet by two enormous guards with ham shank forearms. “I can feel a massive movement swelling, and I don’t just mean the one in my jumpsuit. #FreeMurdoc!”
Gorillaz's 'The Now Now' is due out on Friday 29 June via Parlophone