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 Mouses 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 Apples iTunes. The Goodie member unveils a saga of inspiration, intimacy, technology, and ingenuity that embodies Gnarls Barkley.
AllHipHop.com: 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 Id be interested in. So he played about six or seven tracks which ultimately became what is now known as Gnarls Barkleys St. Elsewhere.
AllHipHop.com: The first track we heard off that album is Crazy, and the song, especially in Europe, is about to make history
Cee-Lo: Thats what they say
AllHipHop.com: Number One on the charts without anything actually being released, correct? It charted from legal downloads alone.
AllHipHop.com: And did that come as a surprise to you?
Cee-Lo: It does. It comes as a great surprise to me its quite awesome.
AllHipHop.com: Do you think that its going to pick up in the states as vastly as it did overseas?
Cee-Lo: Well Im not sure. Maybe. Hopefully. I dont see why not; its a good song.
AllHipHop.com: Everyone that Ive played it for loves it. The songs quite infectious.
Cee-Lo: Thats 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 peoples minds. To know that Im not alone thats pretty gratifying.
AllHipHop.com: 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 wholeinitially we were taking the independent approach, we were funding the sessions out of our own pockets. So I guess thats where a lot of that freedom and range came from. There wasnt 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 its an idea. We were trying to be as productive as we could. I wouldnt 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 aint broke, dont fix it. A great deal of the album, and most of the work throughout my career has been one takes.
AllHipHop.com: So you know what youre doing, get in and get out?
Cee-Lo: Theres 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, theres a healthy degree of premeditation. And of course you know everything premeditated isnt innocent, ultimately. So when you go into the booth to sing, its 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.
AllHipHop.com: Youd say the first cut is the deepest?
AllHipHop.com: St. Elsewhere seems to exceed any genre that Ive 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. Im an advocate of unity and diversity and range and broadened horizons. Thats my sentiment and thats my take on life and artistic endeavors. And anyone that sees it the same way is welcome. Its really a come as you are basis.
AllHipHop.com: 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 theres a good chance therell be a demand for a tour. So I guess well cross that bridge when we get to it. Again, it was initially meant to be a studio album and we didnt quite know that all of this would happen. I knew cool people that kinda knew what time it was would like it. But we werent going for any demographic, like Okay, lets release it to the UK first, I know theyll appreciate it. We know theyll appreciate it out that way. But Im 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.
AllHipHop.com: Comparisons have been made to Andre 3000s Hey Ya. How do you feel about being labeled to your Dungeon Family brethren?
Cee-Lo: Ive heard the Hey Ya comparison a couple of times. I think the only difference is I think Andre 3000s sole purpose with Hey Ya was to entertain. I kinda have multiple intentions with it. Its to encourage, and ultimately entertain you as well. Itll feed you, its something you can turn to in a time of need, its a voice of reason for anybody who could possibly be at that point of questioning, Am I living in fear, isolation, emotional detachment? Ive 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 Im standing on to the fullest.
AllHipHop.com: 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 its not necessarily my main focus as of right now. Im multitasking; concentrating on another solo record, weve already kinda begun work on another Goodie Mob record; I have a couple of artists Ive 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 dont have a formal contract with anyone that would prohibit me to do as I wish. I am free thats 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 Im 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 dont have a formal contract to bind me, I can do more things simultaneously.
AllHipHop.com: Thats great news for everyone thats going to be able to hear everything that you make.
Cee-Lo: For sure.
AllHipHop.com: Youve had amazing collaborations with many artists, but in my opinion, I believe your songs with Common Sense are especially superior. Gaining Ones 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 dont know weve never spoke about it formally but I dont think it would be something he wouldnt 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 hes [Commons] up for it, then I dont think itd be a problem. Id give it a shot. Im sure wed come up with some wonderful things.
AllHipHop.com: 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, Ill let him know because I just bumped into him in LA Ill let him know the people wanna see that.
AllHipHop.com: Will we ever see the face of the infamous Gnarls Barkley?
Cee-Lo: Well, hes like the wind he may show up in the form of something or someone else hes quite an elusive character. I wouldnt be surprised if he were there, and I didnt notice him at all.