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No 'Grey' area for Danger Mouse

December 09, 2005|Richard Cromelin | Times Staff Writer

Not long ago the music business was warning Danger Mouse to "cease-and-desist." On Thursday it told him, "Come on down!"

The musician, producer, mixer and DJ was nominated for a producer of the year Grammy, capping a remarkable transformation from scofflaw to member of the inner circle.

Two years ago, Danger Mouse, whose real name is Brian Burton, holed up in his Los Angeles bedroom studio and mixed together tracks from rapper Jay-Z's "The Black Album" with songs from the Beatles record popularly known as the "White Album."

The result, "The Grey Album," became an underground sensation, but EMI Music, the company that holds the Beatles copyrights, stepped in and issued cease-and-desist letters to Burton and people who circulated the recording.

The notoriety made the album a lightning rod in the battle between free-use advocates and those favoring strict safeguards on copyrights. And though the album was never officially released, it was included in numerous best-of-2004 critics' lists.

Burton's Grammy recognition stems from a thoroughly legitimate project, the million-selling album "Demon Days" by the Gorillaz -- a conceptual group of cartoon characters whose music is created primarily by Damon Albarn, the former leader of the British rock band Blur.

"I didn't know why ... he thought I was gonna be able to do this," Burton said of Albarn during an interview earlier this year. "I think he just thought, 'This guy's kinda nutty, he's kinda all over the place and he knows good music -- we'll see what happens.' "

For Burton, the producer of the year nomination (he also was nominated with the Gorillaz for record of the year for "Feel Good Inc.") represents a validation he's been waiting for ever since "The Grey Album" made him famous for the wrong reasons. (Adding a note of irony to the situation, Burton's success has come on the Virgin Records label, a subsidiary of, yes, EMI.)

"I've been trying to get people to realize that ['The Grey Album'] is something I did on the side, it's not even what I really do," he said. "I figured, man I've got all this work to do now to let people see how much more serious of a musician and artist I am."

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