Deeply committed to Gnarls Barkley
Danger Mouse and Cee-Lo Green say the success of 'Crazy' has brought them closer together.
DEEPLY COMMITTED: Danger Mouse, left, and Cee-Lo Green dress as groom and bride to promote their new album, The Odd Couple. (Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times)
It can make a career, of course, but it can also overexpose the performer and create a backlash, set up impossible expectations and box an artist in. Just ask Beck, who spent a few years trying to shed the slacker image slapped on him by his breakthrough single "Loser."
That was the prospect facing Gnarls Barkley when "Crazy" became a massive hit in 2006. It put the fledgling team of composer-producer Danger Mouse and singer-lyricist Cee-Lo Green on the map, collecting critical accolades and two Grammy awards. But would it throw things off balance for a partnership that was just finding its footing?
"I think if we had been a genuinely new group in our early 20s, that would have been a problem," says Danger Mouse, who's 30 and began making records in the late '90s. "We wouldn't have had much context for what was going on.
"But I think we both had plenty of experience. . . . It was a big leap in certain ways, but it didn't make us leap very much. We kind of stayed where we were mentally. We had each other to bounce off of."
"Crazy's" popularity also kept Danger Mouse and Cee-Lo on tour much longer than planned, another challenge for two musicians not especially attuned to the road life. That turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
Says Danger Mouse, "I think the intensity of being with each other for that year and change -- most people, I guess, it kind of breaks them up; for us, it got us kind of closer."
How close? Well, for all the photos promoting their new album "The Odd Couple," they're dressing as bride and groom.
"Those images of the marriage and the name 'Odd Couple' are symbolic of our commitment to it," says Green, sitting in a Beverly Hills hotel suite with Danger Mouse during a recent round of prerelease interviews.
"He's the bride," adds Danger Mouse, indicating the rotund singer sitting to his left. "You kind of could have guessed that, wouldn't you? Yeah? Good. . . . I think most people would have guessed who would have been the one to have the [courage] to wear a dress."
A serious side
DANGER MOUSE'S playful moment is a brief shift from the serious, analytical tone that marks most of his conversation. A music junkie (he tries to listen to a new album every day) with a taste for both indie and hip-hop, the Los Angeles-based artist, born Brian Burton, has always been a heavy thinker as well as an instinctive experimenter.
He became a critical and cultural hero in 2004 when "The Grey Album," his unauthorized mixing of Jay-Z and Beatles recordings, demonstrated the potential of the mash-up and became a flash point in the debate over sampling and intellectual property rights.
Since then he's carved a distinguished career as a producer, working with British musician Damon Albarn on the Gorillaz' hit album "Demon Days" and with acclaimed cult artists such as Sparklehorse and the Black Keys. He's currently producing Beck's new recording.
His beautiful bride, Green, 33, was an offbeat presence on the Atlanta rap scene, working with the Goodie Mob and releasing two solo albums that established his persona as a soul/rap preacher of boundless imagination. The second, the acclaimed "Cee-Lo Green Is the Soul Machine," was widely likened to OutKast's "Speakerboxxx/The Love Below."
When the two started collaborating, with Green writing lyrics and adding melodies to tracks created by Burton, the chemistry was cooking. They financed the recording of "St. Elsewhere" by themselves, then signed with the Atlantic Records-affiliated Downtown label.
The U.S. sales of 1.4 million were accompanied by critical acclaim and a widespread fascination with an enterprise that made a mission of being hard to define, from its jokey name to its eclectic music to its policy of dressing in costume -- including "Wizard of Oz" and "Star Wars" characters as well as chefs and astronauts -- on stage.
"Gnarls has really defied expectations at every step," says Jeff Antebi, the group's Los Angeles-based manager. "I think the industry perception was it was going to be studio-driven project, but the band did a year's worth of worldwide touring. . . .
"And more recently, I think people assumed that Danger Mouse would go off and do one thing and Cee-Lo would go off and do another thing, but before you knew it, they have another album.