Gaz Coombes has matured from the scamp with the sideburns in Supergrass to considerate solo artist. For his new solo album, he tells us why he’s trying forwards, not backwards. By Wunwell Simpson
We’re nearing the tip of the 12 months and Gaz Coombes is sat in his house studio clad in a sheepskin coat and beany hat.
“There’s no central heating and the electrical radiator I take advantage of broke the opposite day,” he shrugs. So he’s needed to activate his valve desk. “That will get actually heat and finally it does get fairly toasty in right here!”
You may assume this can be a down-on-his-luck ex-pop star scuffling with the price of dwelling disaster, however Coombes is doing very properly thanks.
Over the past decade he’s managed to develop a solo identification fairly separate from the fondly-regarded Britpop band he fronted for practically 20 years.
He’s pulled off one of essentially the most tough tips in pop – maturing while not shedding his fanbase and nonetheless being recognisably himself.
He’s nonetheless the scamp with the sideburns. Only a bit extra considerate and regarded. Like all of us are (or needs to be) as soon as we hit our 40s.
In comparison with others, his lockdown was comparatively stress-free. He even managed to make use of the time to construct this studio.
“We did alright,” he smiles. “I used to be very fortunate to have a neighbour who’s a builder. Took 10 weeks after which off I went. In order that was a cool use of time. I used to be very fortunate to have the ability to do this.”
It was in there that the songs that comprise his fourth solo album, Flip The Automobile Round, started to take form.
“It gave the writing much more quick objective, being a bespoke place purely to do my work, slightly than commandeering a nook of the home to chuck all my gear in and pushing the household out of that bit.
“I imply, you may report wherever however it’s nice to get all of my gear into one place. I are available in and really feel like, ‘Sure… let’s get on with it.”
Coombes labored on the songs from mid-2020 by way of to 2021 and the album would most likely have been out earlier however for a little bit of unfinished enterprise from earlier than the pandemic. Supergrass have been simply beginning out on their reunion tour when it (like all the things) got here grinding to a halt in March 2020.
The reunion had come out of the blue.
“Me and Danny [Goffey, drummer] remained in contact throughout, and the administration workforce that he’s working with instructed that they might assist put it collectively. There have been some anniversaries developing. It was 10 years because the break up.
“All these little dates fitted collectively and I personally felt possibly if we don’t do it now, both it ain’t going to occur or it received’t occur for an additional 10 years. So yeah, it was a case of, ‘Sod it, let’s get in a room’ to see how the songs sound. And by chance they sounded nice.
“I’m actually glad we did it, however I’m gutted that it took three years. It was a pity as a result of it introduced again a few of these strains and stresses of being within the band. However that’s simply the character of the pandemic being what it was and the reunion dragging on. It was value it, although.”
The one reservation Coombes had was that getting the outdated gang again collectively appeared a retrograde transfer for an artist whose albums have all been critically acclaimed (2015’s Matador bagged a Mercury nomination).
“Sure, I used to be anxious about that,” he admits. “Having bought right into a stream and the final two albums having executed so nicely, it appeared a bit odd, like a backward step.
“However then I used to be assured that I may function each issues collectively and it appears that evidently I did, as a result of I used to be clearly scripting this report primarily throughout the reunion so… I really feel like I made finest use of each issues.”
On earlier albums Coombes had performed many of the devices himself however on Flip The Automobile Round there was extra enter from two band members – bassist Nick Fowler and keyboard participant Garo Nahoulakian.
“They’d come over to do classes and work on the stuff that I’d bought collectively already and I’d get them to place some overdubs on. They’re each such musical folks and it’s actually sensible to have them in to vibe off actually. However I stay the core – I’m nonetheless on the drums throughout most of this report.”
The trio used an attention-grabbing, virtually Eno-like methodology, of projecting movies onto themselves whereas they performed within the studio.
“We have been having a session right here, simply getting within the stream and I’ve a projector in right here anyway so we will watch films as a household.
“So I simply switched it on whereas we have been working and it simply does one thing inside the room – the truth that there’s this totally different medium occurring, it stops folks taking a look at their fretboards and releases the mind to go searching.
“The visuals on the wall unconsciously take you to different locations and it stops the main target being on what you’re taking part in. It loosens issues up.”
The ensuing album is a wistful, graceful-sounding piece of labor with a number of of the songs alluding to the depth, magnificence and ache of affection.
“I feel these lyrics are only a approach of me processing stuff,” he suggests. Songs like Dance On and the title monitor took some time as a result of they have been about emotional issues, I suppose.
“There’s a few strains about my mom dying which was 15 years in the past now. It nonetheless kinda creeps out into songs as a result of it’s such an enormous gap and it’s nonetheless there.”
It’s not all private. Sonny The Sturdy is a narrative track of a boxer who will get despatched to warfare. Coombes was impressed by Randolph Turpin, the Fifties middleweight from Leamington Spa who died in suspicious circumstances after he retired from the ring.
“Me and my spouse have been watching a great deal of documentaries and bought into this concept of being whipped out of your profession on the top of your fame and despatched to warfare and the way unbelievable that will need to have been.
“It was an amalgamation of him and a few different boxers. Randolph didn’t go to warfare however I wanted a verse two! It was enjoyable to write down that one.”
Then there’s Lengthy Dwell The Unusual, a rallying cry alongside comparable strains to Pulp’s Misfits.
“They’re the individuals who don’t assume they slot in, who’re solely them and so they’re distinctive. I’ve used ‘unusual’ in lyrics for years and its at all times in essentially the most endearing sense.
“We have been the unusual ones as soon as, dwelling in Oxford. We at all times thought we have been a bit odd and quirky and appreciated to hang around with different individuals who have been additionally a bit odd and quirky.”
Not like their Britpop friends, Supergrass – or at the very least Coombes and bassist Mick Quinn – declined to maneuver right down to London: “It at all times felt good being in a band right here and never being within the eye of the storm,” he explains.
It meant they have been by no means over-exposed, but in addition by no means reached Blur or Oasis ranges of fame. Maybe they by no means fairly fulfilled their potential. Coombes ponders this.
“I don’t know what the substances would have been to be greater, or whether or not or not it was inside us. I feel often it’s not concerning the music. It’s about different issues – having a vanity to power folks, or power the business, to place you in arenas so that you power the problem and begin to inform folks you might be worthy of that scale.
“It’s form of a recreation that’s fairly robust to play. You’ve bought to be totally different form of folks or at the very least have totally different form of managers.”
“However we have been a gang. We actually cherished making music collectively – it was a really household vibe and we lived fairly rurally. Perhaps the substances weren’t arrange for us to be like Oasis, despite the fact that our music was clearly so a lot better!” he says with a chuckle.
“No I do love Oasis, particularly that first report. However we appreciated to underplay. Perhaps we underplayed ourselves out of fame and fortune. However we have been pleased.”
No matter, they left behind some cracking singles. Not least Alright, which might be eternally etched in our collective reminiscence as one of many anthems of the 90s, that sunlit period between the tip of the Chilly Struggle and 9/11. “It was a free-for-all. It was chaotic. It was enjoyable,” is Coombes’ recollection.
“It was a bit like the brand new 60s – the way in which that vogue and music labored collectively, it was like a reinvention of that period. Early on with our band there have been lots of images the place we’ve all bought flares, purple velvet fits, lengthy hair and sideburns. It may have been 1967.”
Supergrass stored at it longer than their contemporaries. They solely break up up in 2010 when classes for album seven ran aground. Did they go on too lengthy?
“That’s a tough one. What I do know is that we made three actually unbelievable information – the primary three. I’m glad we went on to have a protracted profession. That’s one thing cool we wished to emulate from our favorite bands from the 60s and 70s. I appreciated that lifespan of these bands.”
He appears ambivalent about the opportunity of future Supergrass exercise. “None of us are saying by no means. Would we make new music? I don’t know. We break up up as a result of we have been within the studio and couldn’t function collectively so I don’t actually know what can be totally different now.
“I do know it’s a gorgeous factor and folks love the band however no… I don’t know why you’d power the problem when it’s not taking place simply to maintain it going. That wouldn’t fulfil me in any respect. However the door isn’t closed to doing a little extra reveals.”
Within the meantime, the valve desk is lastly making issues toasty and also you sense that Gaz Coombes is simply simply warming up as a solo artist.
“Supergrass was one thing that dominated my life from the age of 15, all the way in which to 2010,” he displays. “I discovered a lot. I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now with none of that for certain. However it’s the subsequent stage now and I’m not afraid of any of those new phases to come back.”
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