Thundercat Drags Gorillaz Into the Third Dimension on 'Cracker Island'

Thundercat Drags Gorillaz Into the Third Dimension on 'Cracker Island'

by Payton Dunn

Gorillaz has been no stranger to Satanic imagery over the years, perhaps best exemplified by their 2005 paradigm-shifting alternative hip-hop album, Demon Days.

There was an obscure track hidden in plain sight on Demon Days’ B-Sides album, D-Sides, titled “Murdoc Is God,” an ear-shattering piece of noise rock that came with a visualizer depicting a quivering inverted crucifix.

That simple title, “Murdoc Is God,” has become the motto behind the latest developments piling away in the Gorillaz universe. The animated band’s chartreuse-skinned bassist Murdoc Niccals is taking on the role of the harbinger of the occult, looking suspiciously like Aleister Crowley in the music video for their newest song “Cracker Island,” out today.

The video sees the band taking the plunge back into the third dimension, a style that their cartoonist Jamie Hewlett first toyed around with on the music video for “Stylo,” a head-bobbing track off of their 2010 electropop album Plastic Beach. The song takes after Plastic Beach in more ways than one, with the playful coyness of its electropop style having evolved into the trippy synth funk that they’ve fully embraced with “Cracker Island.”

That trip is more or less literal in the music video, with frontman 2D hallucinating the song’s collaborator, Thundercat, in the middle of a dimly lit Hollywood hospital. The virtuoso bassist and singer is shrouded in a neon haze as he chugs away on his signature six-string bass and delivers his dreamy harmonies, playing back and forth with 2D as they get a call-and-response going on the verse.

The video culminates in a reintroduction of our newly appointed cult leader and man of the hour, Murdoc Niccals, but not before showing us a few shots of our timid fan favorite drummer, Russel Hobbs. Hobbs is seemingly in a trance while on “Cracker Island,” locked away in one of liminal rooms housed in the vast labyrinth of the hospital complex. He’s transfixed on a retro tube TV that breaks its whirring static to give us a glimpse into some subliminal messaging.

We woke Hobbs up from his trance and brought Thundercat out of 2D’s hallucination and into the real world to sit them down for a chat on everything from fashion to environmentalism, below.

Thundercat: Seeing as you’re into fashion, are you the reason for the crazy Converse patchwork collection that I loved so much? I haven’t seen a pair like them since — was it your doing?

Russel Hobbs: Hey TC! Yea, it’s what we used on the Geep back in the day. I’ve always been into disruptive coloration and distracting people from the mundanity of life, and for that we all need a little camo in our lives. They were cool too, so I’m pleased you like ‘em.

Thundercat: Who is one of your favourite designers right now? Mine are Yohji Yamamoto, Mason Mihara and I love the work KAPITAL is doing. Who are some of your favourite designers?

Russel: Well I’m a huge fan of Christopher Raeburn. He makes these beautiful recycled technical pieces that have a warmth to them, like a jacket remade from a parachute, which is kinda genius. Then there’s Prospective Flow in San Pedro, which I know you dig, and KTZ or Kokon To Zai, which is more of a religion than a brand.

Thundercat: As a drummer, who is one of your favourite drummers?

Russel: I’ll give you 3: Tony Allen, Jack DeJohnette and Leon Ndugu Chancler. There are others that come close like Denise Chambers, but those are the top three for me. If I'm picking one then it's Allen because basically he can do what the others do but they can’t do what he does, makes sense?

Thundercat: Are there any video games coming up that you’re genuinely excited for? I’m excited for the video game Stray where you play a stray cat. I’m angry they didn’t use any of my music for the soundtrack but that’s ok as I’ll just play my music while I’m playing the game.

Russel: Neill BlomKamp's Off The Grid. I think his ability to use near future dystopia in District 9 to illustrate racial divisions in South Africa had an emotional depth like nothing else at the time. I think as a film director he can bring that depth to gameplay. I’m super excited! I hear you that was a missed opportunity by Stray, they should deffo have asked you. Some peeps just don’t join the dots bro...

Thundercat: I see that you care about the environment. I’m vegan. Do you think that animals care about us as much as we care about them? Not the domestic ones...

Russel: Man you make too much sense!! I'm gonna go further, I’ve been listening to Stevie Wonder’s "The Secret Life of Plants" lately. I’m straight Buddhist on this one; every living organism has a kind of soul, even amoeba. We are all connected corporally, emotionally and actually, I believe in the Butterfly Effect. When I drum to my plants I know I’m sending them the deepest, most beautiful vibrations, and they work to give me oxygen in return. It’s the best, ‘specially seeing as the drums I'm playing are relatives of theirs, spiritually speaking.

Russel: If life was a chess board, what piece would you be and why?

Thundercat: I don’t play chess but if life was Mario Kart I would be the blue shell.

Russel: When we shot the video, I saw your super bass shining a light into the future like a 6-string funk torch. What else makes it so special and can it fire lasers?

Thundercat: I like to think of my bass as Guts’ sword from the manga Berserk. It will break your wrist if you think you can just pick it up.

Russel: I can’t stop watching Seth Green's Tales from the Tour Bus. It's sooo funny and so weird. What crazy shit have you had to deal with whilst touring this summer?

Thundercat: I thought there was a saying: “what happens on the road, stays on the road.”

Russel: Do you think technology can save us from global climate disaster or do you think we gotta go back to simpler times like the bronze age if we’re gonna make it to the other side?

Thundercat: I think we’re all idiots. I think that technology is a Band-Aid on a bullet wound. The production of technology will always be complicated — for every step forward, we take two steps back. So even if we keep going with technology — we’re going to wind up in the Bronze Age. Look how long it took for us to accept we need electric cars. Real forward thinking LOL.

Russel: I love the Minah Birds, which is a band that had Rick James and Neil Young in it at the same time. It's got a classic ‘60s folk funk feel to it. What’s the craziest combo you’ve heard on record?

Thundercat: Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock.

Photo courtesy of Gorillaz