Dan ďThe AutomatorĒ Nakamura is hip-hopís Prodigal Son.
Part eclectic revolutionary, part laid-back visionary, his latest
project, Gorillaz, which also features Blurís Damon
Albarn, Miho Hatori of Cibo Matto, Tina Weymouth
of Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club fame, Del The
Funkee Homosapien, and the artwork of Jamie Hewlett (Tank
Girl) is smashing up the charts, even if band member Murdoc
doesnít want it to.
Derrell Bradford: Iím a huge fan of Handsome Boy Modeling
School and Deltron 3030; I thought those albums were
amazing. Just cutting right to the chase: youíre doing stuff like
that, which I hope is the future of hip-hop musicówhere do you think
the genre is going right now?
The Automator: Well, itís going a lot of places at the
same time. Hip-hop, especially if you look at last year, had some
of its biggest records ever, as well as [immense mainstream success].
But at the same time, the undergroundís bigger than itís been in
years. So both sides are doing pretty well. I think what was most
interesting about hip-hop last year was that groups like Jay
Z, DMX, Outkast, Puff Daddy or whateveróthey
all had big records that were, like, some of the higher quality
DB: I think thatís kind of odd because I donít think it
was always that way. For a long time the biggest names in hip-hop
were just, essentially, putting out the whackest shit.
A: Exactly. This isnít like MC Hammer time any more. Puff
Daddy has always made really hot records. But this last one, itís
really good. And Outkastóthatís some of the most original
stuff out there. I mean come on. And these guys are also selling
their own records.
DB: I have a question for you about alter ego. On all of
your albums, youíre always someone different. Everyone on the album
is always some astral projection of who they really are. And itís
a different person based on the album and what the concept of the
album is. How important is it to you to sort of cloak yourself in
another identity before you start out on a new project?
A: For me itís just having fun. The best way I can say this
is that, when I get to do an albumóI mean a whole albumóI like to
make it into something like an experience. Iím a big record buyer,
and a lot of the records I buy [have] one or two or three really
great songs and the rest are junk. To me, thatís doing me a disservice
as a consumer. So when I make a record, I want it to be so that,
at least once, you can listen to the whole thing. To make a record
like that, I think you have to surround it with some sort of continuity
or concept and put it into a place. So to me itís kind of like musical
movies, or plays.
DB: So whatís up with your new album Lovage?
A: Iím really excited about it. Lovage is one of my favorite
recordsÖwell, all of my records, from Handsome Boy and on, are my
favorite records because I get to do what I want to do.
DB: Now, about Gorillazówhatís up with the live show?
A: There are certain difficult technical issues involved
with bringing 2-D characters to the stage. And to accommodate the
fact that theyíre two-dimensional, thereís like a 50-foot screen
in front of the stage that plays [the animations] and the band plays
behind that screen, and theyíre backlit onto the screen. And that
takes place with me kind of in the middle. Itís a different kind
DB: As a group, do you feel like, other than putting good
music out there, that your goal was to say to the music industry
ĎListen. Weíre the anti-music superstars. And itís important to
note that even though we donít have this huge marketing budget and
a major label isnít blowing us up, that there are still really talented
musicians that donít need all of that stuff to get good music out
A: I think thereís the whole idea that we wanted to create
music we felt really good about. And I think a lot of that had to
with the fact that a lot of the music we really enjoy doesnít really
see as much light as other music. And we didnít want that to deter
us from what we were doing. And we wanted to make music that we
felt represented our state of mind.
DB: Describe your process for cooking the beats up for this
album. I mean, itís not a surprise that you were able to orchestrate
the beats and the hotness that goes with Gorillaz. But, when youíre
sitting down thinking, ĎIím gonna make these tracks for Gorillaz,í
whatís the process?
A: Itís a collaborative thing. You know, Damon [Albarn]
and I come to the table with different backgrounds and stuff and
we meet in the middle. He has a lot of pop sensibilities that are
better honed than mine and I had the luxury of having that around
DB: The more I listen to Gorillaz, the more complex it becomes;
and not just complex musically. Like you were saying, it tells a
story. The album needs an intellectual context almost to set it
up. It also does a great job of punching the industry in the face.
Iíve noticed on your website quotes from Murdoc, whom I suspect
is no singular person in the band, talking about how the album is
a confluence of what you guys think and what you all put together
and that itís not meant necessarily to be a million seller.
A: I mean, selling records is always great because it validates
some issues. But I think we were making this record because we were
making this record. [Being] given the opportunity to work together
was great. And we will continue to do so. The fact that people like
[Gorillaz] is also great. [laughter] Itís a secondary issue [though].
As people we donít really have the ability to dictate who buys our
DB: Whatís up with Del Tha Funkee Homosapien? I think heís
dope but that he doesnít get any love.
A: I think he gets love. Heís one of the few rappers whoís
had the same style, skill and hipness for over a 10-year period.
If you even look at acts like Run DMC, their heyday was like
í82 to í90, and that includes Down With The King. Thatís
an eight-year run, and Delís been down for 10. I think thatís fantastic.
DB: In looking at him and in looking at Kool Keithówhom
youíre also down withóI find them really interesting in that their
styles are similar. Theyíre both extremely intelligent and it really
A: Well, they do whatís pure to them and thatís what comes
through. And Delís a well-read guy and he can paint a picture better
than any guy I know. Thatís why Deltron 3030 worked so well for
me. Itís just his ability to convey the details.
DB: So youíre going on tour right now; what do you have
planned after that?
A: Well, Iím gonna do my own record and I have a mixed record
coming out called Wanna Buy a Monkey.
Gorillazís self-titled album is available on Virgin Records