Gorillaz, the animated band created by "Tank Girl" illustrator Jamie Hewlett and Blur frontman Damon Albarn, is readying its self-titled debut for North American release on Virgin a week from today (J

Gorillaz, the animated band created by "Tank Girl" illustrator Jamie Hewlett and Blur frontman Damon Albarn, is readying its self-titled debut for North American release on Virgin a week from today (June 19). Albarn tells Billboard.com that the group -- which features himself, Dan The Automator, Cibo Matto's Miho Hatori, and Del Tha Funkee Homosapien performing for their animated alter egos -- hopes to play some North American dates before the end of the year.

The album, which debuted at No. 3 in the U.K. and has already hit the top of the charts in Italy and Germany, includes the single "Clint Eastwood," which hit No. 2 in the U.K. and has recently been serviced to U.S. radio.

The four official members of Gorillaz, as drawn by Hewlett, are Murdoc (satanic chain-smoking bassist/possessive leader of the group), 2-D (blank-eyed frontman singer/Albarn alter ego), Noodle (10-year-old female Japanese whiz guitarist), and Russell (hulking drummer, possessed by the spirit of his dead rapper friend). In their alternate virtual reality, they met through a bizarre chain of events and currently live together in Kong Studios, a headquarters/recording studio in London. The group's visually stimulating Web site allows visitors to search around this virtual "home."

To date, Gorillaz has played a lone gig in London in March, but has six more dates planned through September, including two before the end of the month. According to Albarn, the live Gorillaz experience is "an experimental thing ... there's no actual band that you see on stage -- it's one big cinema screen. It's kind of taking a ride back to the sort of silent-movie era, really. Except it's a lot louder."

Albarn and Hewlett want to introduce the record and concept to North American audiences before playing live in the region. Like most stars of '90s Britpop, Albarn acknowledges that breaking in the States is always a crap shoot, but he gives Gorillaz a better chance than Blur. "We're having mammoth hits in places like Germany," he said. "Traditionally, I've never even been able to get myself arrested in Germany. So [Gorillaz is] definitely not working on the fact of my notoriety. It's working very much on its own steam, which gives me hope for America."

As for the fate of Blur, Albarn admits the group is "in a bit of a transition period now." Blur recently postponed plans to begin work on a seventh album but does not appear to be on permanent hiatus. Still, with Albarn's busy Gorillaz-related schedule, it's unlikely he'll be able to reconvene the group anytime soon. "[Gorillaz] has basically become a full-time job," he and Hewlett agree.