Gnarls Barkley: Three Times Crazy

W hen Cee-Lo Green and Danger Mouse began recording what would become Gnarls Barkley’s St. Elsewhere in 2003, the uncanny pair simply envisioned a pet-project that they could possibly shop to an indie label. Three years later, their debut song “Crazy” is a record-breaking, genre-jumping single in the UK that just started infecting American airwaves, […]

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hen Cee-Lo Green and Danger Mouse began recording what would become Gnarls Barkley’s St. Elsewhere in 2003, the uncanny pair simply envisioned a pet-project that they could possibly shop to an indie label. Three years later, their debut song “Crazy” is a record-breaking, genre-jumping single in the UK that just started infecting American airwaves, backed by Atlantic Records.

Gnarls Barkley is likely to slither into ears unaware of Cee-Lo’s tremendous body of work, and those ignorant of Danger Mouse’s sonic rebellions, The Gorillaz, DangerDoom and The Grey Album. Their buzz has become a roar, but Cee-Lo hopes the noise is heard in the streets as readily as on Apple’s iTunes. The Goodie member unveils a saga of inspiration, intimacy, technology, and ingenuity that embodies Gnarls Barkley. Gnarls Barkley consists of you and Danger Mouse… what brought the two of you together for this?

Cee-Lo: Well the name Gnarls Barkley was actually borrowed from a good friend of ours by the same name; a gentleman who crossed our path and inspired us to poetry. So we were brought together about three years ago. Danger was then recording an album called Ghetto Pop Life with [MC partner], Jemini. During the session, I was doing a remix to a song called “What U Sittin’ On?” So towards the end of the session, he asked me, you know, could he play a couple of things for me he thought I’d be interested in. So he played about six or seven tracks which ultimately became what is now known as Gnarls Barkley’s St. Elsewhere. The first track we heard off that album is “Crazy”, and the song, especially in Europe, is about to make history…

Cee-Lo: That’s what they say… Number One on the charts without anything actually being released, correct? It charted from legal downloads alone.

Cee-Lo: Right. And did that come as a surprise to you?

Cee-Lo: It does. It comes as a great surprise to me… it’s quite awesome. Do you think that it’s going to pick up in the states as vastly as it did overseas?

Cee-Lo: Well… I’m not sure. Maybe. Hopefully. I don’t see why not; it’s a good song. Everyone that I’ve played it for loves it. The song’s quite infectious.

Cee-Lo: That’s nice… You know, I guess because lyrically it comes from a very private place. Something that you would think about, as opposed to writing down and performing. But, I believe that the relationship between the creator and the consumer has crossed quite a few people’s minds. To know that I’m not alone… that’s pretty gratifying. I read that you recorded that in one take, right?

Cee-Lo: Yup. A little over half of the album was done kinda via e-mail. We started working before the Gray Album, and actually before my last solo record, Soul Machine. So we kinda had our own prior obligations. So he would send me instrumentals, and whatever I gravitated towards, I would record it. We did a couple of songs like that. Towards the middle, the project began to pick up the pace and there was suddenly interest in the project as a whole—initially we were taking the independent approach, we were funding the sessions out of our own pockets. So I guess that’s where a lot of that freedom and range came from. There wasn’t any overseer; it was just us being ourselves. And of course with the inspiration of Mr. Barkley around us, how could we not be able to do such a thing? So anyway, we had about two weeks to record and get things dome before he had to move along. When he played the beat for “Crazy,” I was like ‘Whoa’… I definitely fell in love with the production and it looped for about three or four hours, as we sat there and talked. The melody started coming to me in my subconscious, and I jotted down the words; what I felt fit into a cadence. Then we went in and I roughed it, so basically it’s an idea. We were trying to be as productive as we could. I wouldn’t tell him I had an idea for a song called “Crazy,” I would just go in and do it and try to shock him and impress him as I was impressed with his work. We more or less went back and forth with each other like that. When I came out of the vocal booth, we listened to it, thought it was pretty cool… so we moved onto something else. Once it leaked and the reception from the people came out it was like, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” A great deal of the album, and most of the work throughout my career has been one takes. So you know what you’re doing, get in and get out?

Cee-Lo: There’s honesty in the rough. I do like the organic feel… when you go back in and have to do it again, do it again. When you write something down, there’s a healthy degree of premeditation. And of course you know everything premeditated isn’t innocent, ultimately. So when you go into the booth to sing, it’s like a reenactment of an emotion. The more tensions you have to deal with, the less sincere it becomes. A lot of things I say… I am them as I write them and I mean them as I sing them for the first time… so it usually just works out for me to just leave it the way it is. You’d say the first cut is the deepest?

Cee-Lo: Yeah. St. Elsewhere seems to exceed any genre that I’ve heard thus far. Was that a conscious intention?

Cee-Lo: I do defy category and genre; I feel when the music is divided then people are divided as well, and also vice versa. When the music is unified, the people are unified. I’m an advocate of unity and diversity and range and broadened horizons. That’s my sentiment and that’s my take on life and artistic endeavors. And anyone that sees it the same way is welcome. It’s really a “come as you are” basis. I know you guys are signed on for Coachella and Lollapalooza… once the album hits, is touring a possibility for you?

Cee-Lo: That remains to be seen, but there’s a good chance there’ll be a demand for a tour. So I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. Again, it was initially meant to be a studio album and we didn’t quite know that all of this would happen. I knew cool people that kinda knew what time it was would like it. But we weren’t going for any demographic, like “Okay, let’s release it to the UK first, I know they’ll appreciate it.” We know they’ll appreciate it out that way. But I’m standing in the middle of Altanta, Georgia [right now], and I want my people to appreciate it too. I want us as a human race to broaden our horizons and better ourselves. Comparisons have been made to Andre 3000’s “Hey Ya.” How do you feel about being labeled to your Dungeon Family brethren?

Cee-Lo: I’ve heard the “Hey Ya” comparison a couple of times. I think the only difference is I think Andre 3000’s sole purpose with “Hey Ya” was to entertain. I kinda have multiple intentions with it. It’s to encourage, and ultimately entertain you as well. It’ll feed you, it’s something you can turn to in a time of need, it’s a voice of reason for anybody who could possibly be at that point of questioning, “Am I living in fear, isolation, emotional detachment?” I’ve suffered from that quite a few times, for extensive periods of my life. So I can relate and I speak to them and I try to be therapeutic, which is what I think the origin and intention for music is anyway. I utilize my voice and the platform I’m standing on to the fullest. You stay pretty busy. Is Gnarls Barkley your main focus as of right now or are you working on something else?

Cee-Lo: Gnarls Barkley is done, so it’s not necessarily my main focus as of right now. I’m multitasking; concentrating on another solo record, we’ve already kinda begun work on another Goodie Mob record; I have a couple of artists I’ve been working with. Myself and a couple of my homies Metia Malone and the Fabulous Hank Holiday are The Good Time Guys, collectively. The machine and the morality are starting to align for me now. I don’t have a formal contract with anyone that would prohibit me to do as I wish. I am free… that’s a proclamation on freedom on “Go Go Gadget.” I did not realize how bound I was until I squeezed blood from a rock, with Soul Machine, with Perfect Imperfections. I was going through what I like to call the assembly line syndrome. I could only really release one album at a time so being that I’m so broadly influenced, I had to do those albums like that to truly try to come to terms with all that I am and summarize all my influences and aspirations. Now that I don’t have a formal contract to bind me, I can do more things simultaneously. That’s great news for everyone that’s going to be able to hear everything that you make.

Cee-Lo: For sure. You’ve had amazing collaborations with many artists, but in my opinion, I believe your songs with Common Sense are especially superior. “Gaining One’s Definition” is many one of the most inspiring songs ever recorded. Have you guys ever thought of working on an album together?

Cee-Lo: I don’t know… we’ve never spoke about it formally but I don’t think it would be something he wouldn’t be up for. I was just making a comment earlier today, because he asked me was I setting a trend by pairing up with other producers and things of that nature. And I said yeah, it might be something that people can adopt. I could see myself saying, “What it would sound like if Kanye produces me?” or something like that. And if he’s [Common’s] up for it, then I don’t think it’d be a problem. I’d give it a shot. I’m sure we’d come up with some wonderful things. I definitely think so. Let me be the first to vote for you and Common to make an album together. Because when you see things that are just consistently good, you feel like it will only get consistently greater.

Cee-Lo: Well, I’ll let him know because I just bumped into him in LA… I’ll let him know the people wanna see that. Will we ever see the face of the infamous Gnarls Barkley?

Cee-Lo: Well, he’s like the wind… he may show up in the form of something or someone else… he’s quite an elusive character. I wouldn’t be surprised if he were there, and I didn’t notice him at all.