This week, Damon Albarn announced the release date for his first solo album. Titled Everyday Robots, it is out on April 28. To whet our appetites, Albarn has released the video for the album’s first single, and the cover artwork, both created by artist and designer Aitor Throup. We talk to Throup about what inspired the project.
Running through the work is the theme of portraiture, with Throup keen to show the different sides to Albarn, and the various expectations the public have of him, which are all being brought to this first solo release. The video for the single, also titled Everyday Robots, is an unexpected portrait of Albarn, created in CGI.
Throup had previously collaborated with Albarn on the DRC Music project that was created for Oxfam, and the Africa Express project. For this new work, he spent a lot of time with the musician, to get under the skin of the album and its ideas. “I’ve been hanging out with him for the past year or so just absorbing the process of making the album and trying to absorb what his ideas were, and trying to resist the temptation to put [my own ideas on it],” Throup explains. “To be 100% informed by the work, rather than my own aesthetic.”
The resulting artwork and video reflect Albarn’s interest in the tension between nature and technology, as well as the significance of him releasing his first ever solo work. “I think the idea of identity with him is a really interesting one because he is so identifiable, but all his projects have never been solo in a traditional sense,” continues Throup. “So the idea of giving him an identity, as a brand almost, is quite challenging. But it was throughly enjoyable.
Preparatory sketches for the video
“It had to be really personal. In some ways, all the albums he’s done are solo albums, and none of them are, even this one, because they’re all collaborative. But this one is about him – that’s the core difference. He’s the subject matter, so it was important to me to do portraits. I just wanted to do a few portraits in unconventional ways.”
The video for Everyday Robots was created using the CGI programme ZBrush. Used to create life-like 3D images of people, it is popular in the gaming industry and in Hollywood. Rather than the finished result though, it was the process that particularly captured Throup’s attention, and it is this that is featured in the video, where a portrait of Albarn is slowly built, from the skull outwards. The image is designed to unfold in perfect synch to the music.
“When I saw the programme being used for the first time, I was fascinated by the interface of the programme itself, and the process of creating a final product within it,” says Throup. “I was more interested in the process that the programme offered than the eventual result. So that’s what we’ve captured – we’ve screen captured an authentic digital sculpting process that wouldn’t normally be seen as an animation. It’s not an animation as such, it’s just captured process.”
The imagery from the video forms the artwork for the first single too, though for the album cover, shown below, Throup took a more minimalist route. The photograph used on the cover shows Albarn sitting on a stool lost in thought.
“I really wanted to capture him in isolation, surrounded by nothingness,” says Throup. “But I really wanted to capture him, I didn’t want him to pose. So when I did the photoshoot, I created different scenarios where he would think I was shooting him and then in between shots when he wasn’t aware I was shooting, that’s really when I was taking the shots.”
The look of the shot is deliberately rough and ready. “When we shot it, I proposed it as a test shoot so everything was purposefully not polished,” continues Throup. “So it was just to try out a few ideas – we were planning on doing another shoot as well but I was secretly hoping we’d get the shot then as I wanted to keep the tape on the floor and the scruffy stool – all those things weren’t really considered. Because everyone was thinking it was just a test shoot, it wasn’t precious, it had less pressure on everyone.
“I think it really does capture him, he kind of looks like a little kid whose been told off or something. But at the same time he’s empowered because of that, he’s ready to take on the world.”
Sketch for the album cover
Everyday Robots is released by Parlophone on April 28, and features contributions from Brian Eno and Bat For Lashes. More on Aitor Throup’s work can be seen at aitorthroup.com.