Jeff Wootton joined Gorillaz as lead guitarist in 2010, aged 23, playing alongside Mick Jones and Paul Simonon of The Clash as the band embarked on their first ever world tour. Wootton also played lead guitar with Damon Albarn on his solo album, and in 2013 he joined Damon Albarn, Brian Eno, Nick Zinner and several other musicians and producers on a trip to Mali to record an album as part of Africa Express.
Jeff's now stepped out as a solo artist in his own right with his debut album 'The Way The Light' which was released on 26th February. Wootton plays everything on the album apart from the drums which are supplied by Gang Of Four's Mark Heaney.
Jeff is a well respected and in-demand multi-instrumentalist - having also collaborated with the likes of Massive Attack, Noel Gallagher, Liam Gallagher, and Damo Suzuki from Can.
Inspired by the Velvet Underground's work with Andy Warhol, Jeff has also collaborated with Damien Hirst on a sequence of 10 original artworks to accompany a 12" limited edition vinyl, each of which corresponds to a track on the record. Speaking on the collaboration, which you can see below, Hirst said this:
“After listening to the tracks I had an idea to use color and let it speak like the music, like a visual spinning equivalent of the sound. On a small scale the spin paintings work like the movement of grooves on a vinyl LP. Like a vinyl album being played track after track, so I made each spin to be a visual print of each track on the album. But on a larger scale It feels familiar maybe because this spinning motion is something we know, it's what makes the planets and stars move in space and also the atoms in our bodies.”
The musicianship displayed throughout the album is outstanding, sonically, The Way The Light is inventive and experimental, but with a deft grasp of melody. Check out the video for the latest single 'Sonic Drips' below or scroll down to read our full interview with Jeff...
1. You've had the pleasure of working alongside some legendary artists throughout your career, do any of them return the favour and feature on the album?
"I’m a fan of musical collaborations for sure but it was important for me to do my first record without musical names featuring on the album. I wanted to create something that was purely me and my sonics. I felt I had to establish my musical imprint first without the help of others.
I collaborated on the art side rather than the music. The view on that was I wanted to give a record value again. I’m a fan of The Warhol / Velvet Underground period and also Factory Records. Each release from the cover to the music was artistic integrity, something that’s been lost over time.
In future, now that The Way the Light is out, I’m going to look to do musical collaborations and one-off releases with some names I’ve worked with through my imprint Sympathy For Vinyl. I just released a track The Eternal [Reconstruction] which featured Nick Zinner from the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s and Bootie Brown of The Pharcyde."
2. Being a very busy and in demand musician, how long has this album been in the making?
"The record took about two years from writing to recording. We only recorded for 2 weeks at a time in a house in Manchester and Los Angeles but then a lot of devotion to experimentations with sonics and sound sculpting came into play. We would take what we recorded and manipulate it, from vocals to guitars then feed it back in. There’s a lot of devotion to sonics on this record."
3. You mention being influenced by Eno's approach when in Mali - could you tell us a little more about that?
"I made a record with Andre de Ridder called ‘In C Mali’ which Brain featured on. I have a deep regard for Brian Eno and his ideas, he has great commitment to what he does but also his methods are unique. He was making ambient records and didn’t give it a shit about pop music and they still stand up today.
We recorded The Way the Light in renegade studio installations, in much the same way In C Mali was recorded. We would set up where we could, record, then pack up. You get very unique sound’s working that way rather than working in the same studio everyday."
4. The album naturally is very experimental - where do you draw your inspiration from?
"Anything with artistic devotion and integritiy. I would describe it as experimental in the sense I’m pushing artistic boundaries. I wanted to push guitar music forward sonically and try and create something unique. Make a record that stands the test of time."
5. If you could collaborate with anyone dead or alive, who would it be?
"Miles Davis for sure, Bitches Brew and Live Evil are my favourite records of his and still sound fresh and beautiful today – I reckon we would have made some mental shit!"
6. How did the collaboration on the artwork with Damien Hirst come about?
"We are friends and fan’s of each other’s work. I have a lot of admiration for him for collaborating with me, He understood my vision and I think we created something really special. The art he created represents each track beautifully."
7. You play most of the instruments yourself on the record, how does it differ playing live with ?
"With the live show we can really push the envelope and I can focus more on what I do, I have a great band and they can play their interpretation of it. It’s one thing I learned from Damon Albarn, he will encourage a musician to let them add their ‘voodoo’ onto it, he’s the master of collaboration and it certainly is the way to do it. I’d hate to play this record exactly how it is on there."
8. Did you have any trouble translating songs for the stage?
"With the help of technology and samplers now we can trigger any sound we can’t produce again to give that feel. Although on the show’s each track can go on its own journey, we don’t specifically play each song the same every night. I’m lucky to have a fantastic band of musicians with me that we can go and do that."
9. Do you prefer creating or performing?
"Both equally, they go hand in hand for me. Wether it be live or studio I try and be as innovative and creative as I can and different to the rest."
10. The albums out on the 26th Feb, then your have shows in Manchester & London, what's next for you after that?
"They’ll definitely be more shows and I’m writing another record already. My mind is always full of sound and production ideas and I want to try and break new ground on every project."