Gorillaz Monkeying Around With Side Projects

Animated group's Russel remixes Redman; 2D collaborating with Massive Attack.

Unlike their animated ancestors the Archies and Josie and the Pussycats, the members of Gorillaz really do have lives outside the confines of your television set.

With their self-titled debut arriving in stores this week, three of the four components of the cartoon group developed by Blur's Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett, creator of the "Tank Girl" comic book series, are pursuing side projects.

Albarn said drummer Russel has completed a remix of Redman's "Let's Get Dirty (I Can't Get In Da Club)," the first single off the rapper's latest album, Malpractice; and singer 2D is collaborating with Massive Attack and reggae singer Horace Andy. Meanwhile, bassist Murdoc is contemplating assembling a death-metal band.

The Gorillaz draw on the collective talents of Albarn, Hewlett, producer Dan the Automator, Cibo Matto's Miho Hatori, rapper Del Tha Funky Homosapien, former Talking Heads bassist Tina Weymouth and Cuban jazz singer Ibrahim Ferrer. The creators are cagey about saying exactly who does the work credited to "Russel," "2D" or any members of the band; there's no direct musician-to-cartoon-figure match.

While specifics on the side projects remain undisclosed, the Gorillaz have the freedom to go their separate ways because they actually "live" their lives on the band's official Web site. Much more than a portal for band bios, photos and other expected Internet trappings, the site offers voyeuristic glimpses into the group's studio, as well as their individual bedrooms, where users can snoop through the band members' computers to read personal e-mails and find out about upcoming endeavors.

"We wanted to create an environment where, instead of having a Web site where you just download pages of information, we wanted to have a building that you could go into," Hewlett said last week of the virtual haunt. "[Something where] you could sort of hang out, so you could be a part of it. Hang out with the characters, listen to the music, watch videos, look at their computers, go in their bedrooms ... You can go and leave your graffiti in the toilet — do stuff like that. There's so much stuff you can do on it, it's ridiculous now."

And as much as users can interact with Gorillaz, the band members are prone to communicate right back.

"Kids would be in the chat room, just chatting away and then Murdoc will suddenly come on and talk to them," Hewlett explained. "And the kids would be like, 'Wow, that's cool.' "

"It's constantly changing and evolving," Albarn said. "The band reacts to its audience in a way I don't think any other band could do without getting really involved and it all becoming very messy."

Working with his eclectic brainchild allows Albarn the musical freedom he isn't afforded while under Blur's media-imposed Brit-pop limitations. So without his face attached to 2D's voice, Gorillaz are free to explore musical terrain populated by such non-Brit nuances as hip-hop beats, rhymes and scratches.

"There are no boundaries [with Gorillaz] and the Internet is the perfect place for that," Albarn said. "If you've got an imagination, then your audience has probably got more imagination than yourself, because they're a collective and you're one person. So you just all feed off of each other and I think that's the way forward.

"What you have to do is switch your head in a way to kind of forget there are human beings involved, and just enjoy the ride."