Blur's Dave Rowntree: blood pacts, musical tension and keeping secrets

In creating The Magic Whip, surprising everyone with their first album for 12 years, Blur’s drummer thinks they may have made their best album ever

Hello Dave. There’s a new Blur album on the way, 12 years since Think Tank. After all this time do you still feel a sense of excitement?

Yeah, it’s great when you finish something like this and you get to unleash it on the unsuspecting public. We had a plan for how [the news] would go, which entailed surprising people with new stuff and the announcement, so we were very pleased that we managed to keep absolutely everything very secret.

That is a remarkable feat in 2015.

Absolutely, I was saying what a ridiculous idea it was. You can’t keep a secret for more than five minutes in the digital age. But there you are. I was completely wrong.

Was there ever any reluctance from anyone in the band to launch into a new album?

No, provided the music was good. If the music is good everything else follows quite naturally from it. We were all concerned that if we came back with something substandard ... it had to be very confident and [we needed to] think it was one of the best things, if not the best thing we’ve done. Otherwise there’s no point. There’s no point in coming back with a mediocre album after all this time.

Is there a particular track on the album you like best?

I like Pyongyang. It’s really beautiful. It’s very hard especially at this stage to have a top-10 list of things. It’s still very fresh.

Was there any tension during the recording process?

Blimey, no. Should there have been? Musical tension, maybe.

So did you all fall back into your roles?

It’s not like we hadn’t been in the studio for however long. We’ve been making music over the past few years. We did the track for Record Store Day. We recorded a couple of tracks before one of the shows at Hyde Park [in 2009]. It hasn’t been quite the gap that I suppose it’s been suggested. In reality it’s still quite familiar.

Was there a specific lightbulb moment when you realised you might have material worthy of a new album?

Yeah, we did five days in Hong Kong and that all seemed to go very well. But it wasn’t until Graham picked up the ball and ran with it and got Stephen Street involved. They did some editing and production work on it and then sent around the initial tracks to everybody to show us what we’d done and we all realised we’d done something quite special. It was very hard at the time while you’re in the midsts of recording to know what you’ve actually done. There were 18 months or so that allowed us to have a bit of perspective on it and allowed Graham and Stephen to do that work and then play it to us. That was the time everyone got very excited about it, and we realised we were actually a lot closer to it than we thought. It’s actually going to be really good.

How do your family feel about you venturing into a new project?

We had a blood pact between us about who we were allowed to tell and who we weren’t, so I’ve had to do a bit of catch-up phone calling today. There were a fair few angry people going “Why wasn’t I in the circle of trust?”


Harriet Gibsone

The GuardianTramp

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