Crazy Train: Gnarls Barkley
Yesterday, Brian Joseph Burton had consented to previewing a couple of songs from the forthcoming Gnarls Barkley album for Billboard. Now Burton, who's better-known by his stage name Danger Mouse, hasYesterday, Brian Joseph Burton had consented to previewing a couple of songs from the forthcoming Gnarls Barkley album for Billboard. Now Burton, who's better-known by his stage name Danger Mouse, has had a change of heart.
He will play one song, and one song only. And there are restrictions.
Standing in the basement of a studio in Burbank, Calif., Burton asks, "So, how do you want to do this?"
He's holding an iPod that contains Gnarls Barkley's second album in as many years. It's the follow-up to "St. Elsewhere," a release that delivered 2006's left-field, soul-drenched smash, "Crazy." Burton and his songwriting/producing partner Cee-Lo have promised their label, Downtown/Atlantic, that album No. 2 will be ready for release this holiday season, and as of the third week of June, Burton says the record is anywhere from "two weeks to two months" from completion.
"I can play the song now or after the interview," he says. "I'm not going to talk about the song, so it doesn't matter when I play it. And I can't tell you the name of the song, either."
To expect anything more, perhaps, would have been naïve. After all, in its brief career, Gnarls Barkley has set out to create and maintain a mystery with steely resolve.
Burton and Cee-Lo have been cagey about what the name of the act means, and each live performance is an opportunity to play dress-up as tennis players, astronauts and chefs, among many other get-ups. The costuming extends to photo shoots, as Burton and Cee-Lo would rather impersonate characters from such films as "Back to the Future" or "Wayne's World." Cee-Lo even appeared at the MTV Movie Awards in a full Darth Vader outfit. (Burton was Obi-Wan Kenobi, and the rest of the backing band and singers also wore "Star Wars" costumes.)
And whereas many artists today are doling out as much behind-the-scenes footage as possible, Gnarls Barkley is holding back, rarely giving fans the personal look the Web has made commonplace. Such an approach takes a measure of calculation, and the tone was set from the beginning, when Atlantic requested Gnarls Barkley do a promo tour prior to the release of "St. Elsewhere."
"They said 'no,' " label president Julie Greenwald says. "They played it extremely cool, and there wasn't much additional content, likes blogs or anything. They were careful to keep a myth around Gnarls Barkley, and that's completely contrarian to how we run most of our projects. We want the fans to know everything 24-7 because of the Internet, and they have the opposite approach."