Gorillaz' Noodle and St. Vincent on animating a modernist sound in which the unconscious mind speaks through guitar

Noodle & St. Vincent
(Image credit: Gorillaz / Aaron Farley)

It's fair to say that Gorillaz, everyone’s favorite virtual rock-hip-hop-electronic-synth-pop outfit, are far from your average band.

And yet, even by their unconventional standards, Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez, the newest release from the British collective (led in real life by co-creators Damon Albarn of Blur fame and artist Jamie Hewlett) is a wild outing. 

Initially launched as a music-based web series, Song Machine’s “first season” consisted of a collection of standalone singles, each with Gorillaz’s animated members – guitarist Noodle, front man 2-D, bassist Murdoc and drummer Russel Hobbs – joined by a wide range of guest artists including Elton John, The Cure’s Robert Smith and St. Vincent. 

The songs, 11 in total, were released one each month and accompanied by animated music videos, and have now been collected in audio format for the Strange Timez album. 

It’s a unique approach, to be sure, but one that is in keeping with our streaming, on-demand era. As Noodle explains, “Many traditions stay in place if they cannot be improved. But now we put music out when people want it.”

As for how the band selected their Song Machine collaborators?

We didn’t talk about the song, per se. We just talked about the future of humanity, of performance, the infinity of a single moment, four-tracks

St. Vincent

“When the music comes,” Noodle says, “it chooses the right artist for itself.” Which would mean, apparently, that the breezy, synth-y Chalk Tablet Towers, one of the standout cuts on Song Machine, saw something of a perfect match in St. Vincent.

“We didn’t talk about the song, per se,” St. Vincent remarks about collaborating with Gorillaz on the track. “We just talked about the future of humanity, of performance, the infinity of a single moment, four-tracks. We realized we are a modern combo platter of human identity and experience. We talked about the future in a way that made me jump out of my chair with excitement. That’s the fucking spirit.”

Regarding St. Vincent’s contribution, Noodle says she “brought her unique spirit and sound to the song.”

As does Noodle herself. When it comes to her playing with Gorillaz, she says, “Through my instrument I allow the unconscious imagination to flow,” adding, “for me, the guitar is the source. “I don’t favor the guitar as an axe,” Noodle continues. “But more as refined power.“

  • Gorillaz's Song Machine, Season One is out now via Warner Bros.

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Richard Bienstock

Rich is the co-author of the best-selling Nöthin' But a Good Time: The Uncensored History of the '80s Hard Rock Explosion. He is also a recording and performing musician, and a former editor of Guitar World magazine and executive editor of Guitar Aficionado magazine. He has authored several additional books, among them Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, the companion to the documentary of the same name.