Earlier this week, British musician Damon Albarn announced details of his first solo album, Everyday Robots, set to drop April 28. Albarn has always presented his music in strong visual terms, not least with the virtual band Gorillaz, in which he worked closely with illustrator Jamie Hewlett to form one of the most memorable supergroups to capture public imagination in the last decade. In keeping with this, his nominated Creative Director for the new album is Aitor Throup, acclaimed menswear designer and visual artist. Throup has enjoyed strong collaborative projects with musicians before – in particular the electronic rock group Kasabian, for whom he has art directed album covers and tour visuals. Guitarist Sergio Pizorno has reciprocated by modeling Throup’s clothing range.
Freshly returned from California where Albarn and Throup had just premiered the first video from the album at the Sundance Film festival, Highsnobiety caught up with the designer/artist. He offered further insights to the creative process involved in developing a visual language for the album. As with all of Throup’s creative output, there are rich layers of background detail to each project, yet it contains enough accessible surface information to attract the most casual observer.
The video depicts a series of CGI scans of Albarn’s cranium, effectively underlining the individual nature of this solo album as being a very personal statement. Emphasizing that each person’s skull is unique to themselves, the film progresses introducing color to identify the various zones of Albarn’s head. “I used ZBrush, a software tool that operates in a similar manner to sculpting. We found a way to capture the process of facial reconstruction with this digital ‘clay’. So, you’re not seeing animation, but the same process of construction as the medical profession would rely on.” The introduction of color represents a departure from the textural monochromatic appeal of his menswear designs, even a playfulness that offsets against the professional software that delivers a layer of authenticity to the video. And this marks Throup out as not simply another artist who brings his recognized aesthetic to bear on a collaborative project, but rather, a genuine creative director who has absorbed the musician’s perspective and offers an interpretation of that world.
“We met through mutual friends backstage at a De La Soul gig,” he recalls. “I was with [Maharishi founder] Hardy Bleckman and his brother-in-law, Richard Russell who produced this album. Damon and I got on instantly, there was a clear mutual interest in each other’s work. I’ve always liked that he’s obviously a deep thinker but also that scruffy lad off the street. I identified with that,” he chuckles. What started as a casual relationship based on similar ideals soon evolved into spending more time together, participating in an exploratory trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, some loose sketches and then being offered early demo tracks of the album to listen to. “He kept me in the loop throughout, and it seemed a natural step to begin documenting everything. Very soon, I had a sketchbook full of ideas,” says Throup.
“I mainly worked on this idea of singularity,” he continues. “And flipped them. It’s a new interpretation of visual portraits and a focus on anatomy. Literally physically and philosophically. And, behind all this, the album centers around themes of Nature.” If all this is beginning to sound highly conceptual and painstakingly clever, the album cover offers a reassuringly grounded portrait of Albarn. Sitting on a stool with his head down, in an oversized parka, disheveled hair and soft brogues, there is a deliberate absence of background information, barely a hint of shadow. The portrait is instantly familiar and in its simplicity, almost naked. After so many years of working with other band members, this is Damon Albarn without any props or other musical personalities surrounding him. Just himself and the music as interpreted by fellow artist, Aitor Throup.
Read more on Aitor Throup in the next print issue of Highsnobiety, due out in March.