Jeff Wootton interview: I wanted to take guitar music somewhere else

Gorillaz lead guitarist and music visionary Jeff Wootton speaks about sonic exploration and his imminent debut solo record - The Way the Light.

Ben Smith

Last updated: 19th Feb 2016

Images: Jeff Wootton

At only 28 years old, Jeff Wootton is a massively cultured musician who's for the large part operated under the radar. Rip out your Gorillaz album sleeve and you'll find he was lead guitarist in the band with whom he topped Coachella and Glastonbury

He linked up with Albarn once again for his live solo project The Heavy SeasAfrica Express with musicians like Brian Eno, Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Nick Zinner and has featured as part of Noel and Liam Gallagher's post-Oasis band projects. 

Aside from the endless list of music heavy-hitters Jeff has rubbed shoulders with, there's a common denominator in each of his musical endeavours which is a consistency to explore guitar music far beyond its rawest form. 

Amassing all of those experiences into one album, Jeff has been working on his debut LP The Way Of The Light for over two years.

Released on Friday 26th February, the limited record will come with 10 pieces of original art by Damien Hirst on his newly established Sympathy For Vinyl platform.

Ahead of the release Ben Smith spoke to Jeff about his visionary piece of sonic exploration and more. (catch his latest video 'Sonik Drips' below).

How do you feel about the album? 

It's good to get it finished, it's nice to have the chance to do my own record really because I've just been waiting to do that for a while. With all of the other bands i've been in, it's kind of a nice step. I'm very proud of it. I'm pleased with what we did and the sound of it. I'm excited man. 

Have you always wanted to make an album like this?

I just kind of wanted to take guitar music somewhere else. I think everything's got a bit samey, I just wanted to create something that was taking guitar music forward really. Like sonically speaking I guess, something related to futurism, futur-thinking music that was kind of the vibe.  

Did working with Brian Eno help inspire the ambience of the album. I heard you recorded in California using similar methods? 

We did things in a bit of a different way. We built temporary studios in houses basically and it's almost like an inspiration. We just all set up in the same room and Brian used to set up where the mixing desk is in the same room as the musicians.

You get a group and it's all kind of a nice vibe. We'd record then when we'd finish tear it down really and set up in another room. You always get unique sounds doing that. You know, you could record drums on the stairs or wherever. 

Don't get me wrong I love studios and everything, it's cool, but you can get really unique sounds working in that way. We're very much in control of that really and didn't have much pressure to with studio time or money so we could really take our time.

So was it about all about experimentation for you with different sounds? 

That was it really. Sonic exploration, I called it sonic exploration before but that was kind of it man. There's still songs in thee but I wanted to kind of push it a little bit sound-wise. 

What track on the album is perhaps most out there or something far beyond what you envisaged at the start? 

I guess they all link to each other man. That track I put out 'Sonik Drips' I put out really was all built around a guitar loop that we had going and I just built the track. I did vocals that I pitched higher, that's something that wasn't made in an ordinary way. So i'd say Sonik Drips, it represents something that is really different on the record. There's guitars on their that don't sound like guitars. 

What about the kind of break-beat drums on the track? 

Yeah it's pretty out there. 

If you've heard Bowie's latest album Lazarus he does a similar sort of thing with the drums on 'Blackstar'.

I have yeah. Cool man, nice one. 

What about the link up with Damian Hirst for the artwork - How did that happen? 

He's a friend basically, I met him through a mutual friend and he was a fan of what I was doing. He really liked the music as a musician, an artist and a guitar player. He really loves dirty guitars, that's what he said. He said, "listen I really love what you;re doing man. If you want to collaborate I'm up for it." And so that was it. 

Did he base the artwork on your music or vice versa?

We were kind of listening to stuff and he just made these spins in his studio and we just picked the spins out that we thought suited the tracks. 

Is their a piece for each track? 

That's the one. Each track has got a piece of art. I'm really into the Velvet x Warhol stuff you know. I think that's got lost as well: a lot of art in music.

It goes hand in hand, you know all the Factory stuff from the Warhol period?Even the Factory records sleeves and everything, they were a big element that got lost. So it's nice to be able to do that and bring back this art as it were.  


A photo posted by Jeff Wootton (@jeffwootton) on

You mention bands like The Velvet Underground, are you trying to achieve a similar sort of thing with guitar music?

Yeah man. As a product and a record. We've just done these 500 vinyls and that's it. That's all there's gonna be. You get 10 artworks with that so it's nice to be able to add a bit more to an album these days because it's so easy just to stick it on iTunes and people forget about it or whatever. 

Has there been a big demand? 

There is man. The thing is they're sixty quid so it's a big ask for a first album. But they're going, it's been good. 

When listening to the album it plays out like a journey rather than individual tracks. Will that reflect in your set list on tour

It's similar. I've already started writing a new record.  I'm trying to get another one going while I can - so for the next gig I can stick a few new ones in. 

Is the new album you're working on similar sonically?

If you've heard that 'The Eternal remix' yeah? It's kind of got some heavier stuff and based on African rhythms I guess. I'm experimenting more with rhythms and grooves on this one. 

You used an African instrument called the Imzad in your upcoming album, is it a similar kind of thing? 

No that was just a one off. It's just African drum rhythms, I've used tribal stuff as a foundation and we're gonna build up on that. 

So we can expect a similar thing to kind of hip hop rhythms? 

Exactly, that's it yeah. 

Tell me about your project Sympathy Vinyl that you have going on at the moment.

We just set that up to put my record out. I'm lucky enough in that I've got my own studio, I've got my own recording equipment so I can make music kind of when I want.

That was set up with this being the first release, but I also want to collaborate with people.

We'll maybe do a 7 inch of 'The Eternal remix'. It's a similar thing to what Jack White is doing with Third Man records. I'm into that Third Man and the Factory Records stuff, it's a platform to kind of do that really. 

Will it be restricted to a similar sound? 

It's for anything really. We could do a piece of art and stick the Hirst stuff out as editions. It's a platform to be creative I guess without having anyone telling you what to do.

The most important thing for me is to make records that will matter in 10 or 20 years time and people will take a certain sound and move forward with it then that's great for me.

I just want to make some really crazy records, and hopefully people will still be into them in years to come you know. That's my aim really. 

You've road tested the album supporting Blur at big venues like Glasgow Barrowlands. How does that compare to the smaller venues you have coming up like Manchester's Night and Day Cafe and 100 Club in London. How do they compare? 

It'll work I think when we were trying to get the set together it was difficult. Some of the tracks had us scratching our heads, thinking shit how are we going to play this live. But we've got it together were we can kind of strip it down and do something. But for those gigs it's going to get out there big and heavy.  

The Way the Light is released Friday 26th February. He plays Night and Day Cafe in Manchester on Wednesday 23rd March - tickets available via the box below.

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