Back in the formative stages of the much-hyped ‘Britpop’ movement of the early to mid 90’s, there emerged a gang of fresh faced young upstarts out of Oxford, England who went by the name of Supergrass.
Channeling a neat line in buzz saw, alternative pop-rock with lashings of sublime 60’s melodies, the band exploded like a supernova upon the nascent Britpop landscape, eliciting scene-screams and critical acclaim in equal doses with their debut aural thrill-ride, ‘I Should Coco’.
Traversing the giddying heights of chart success and sellout tours, they were even approached by renowned film maker Steven Spielberg, who wanted to base a TV show on them, along the lines of a modern day version of 60’s sunny-pop mischief makers The Monkees. But the band spurned the opportunity at the time, wary of being seen as lightweight and gimmicky.
Their sound evolved and matured across their subsequent five studio albums, without ever losing their spunky, smile inducing edge that made them so adored in the first place.
The band’s distinctive front man, Gaz Coombes, (who famously sported the best set of mutton chop sideburns in the biz during their 90’s heyday), is now a well-respected solo artist in his own right. His second solo album, ‘Matador’ was nominated for the prestigious Mercury Prize in 2015. And this May saw him drop his third album under his own name, ‘World’s Strongest Man’.
Chatting with the affable Gaz (or Gareth to his mum), I asked him about the genesis and creation of the new album, a lot of which was initially formulated in his own home studio, with Coombes playing most of the instruments himself.
“It’s been great to have that space and freedom. I can get up in the morning and be free with my own ideas. I kind of jam with myself in the studio, play some drums here, lay down some piano there, loop some other things in. I tend to record and write at the same time, so I can get some first takes and original ideas, which is always fun. But I also worked in another studio (Courtyard Studios, together with co-producer Ian Davenport), which is a bit more of a party vibe, with people rolling into the studio for some guest performances. So the first part of the process was very intense, kind of isolated experimentation, while the other half was more free-flowing, letting other people help with channeling my energy.”
“Since I’ve been doing my solo thing, it’s probably been the most creative time of my life, really. Just being free to explore stuff. I think my instincts really came through on these last two solo records, it was all about trusting myself, and it’s been a good feeling to know that my instincts have been validated.”
As well as having a core backing band for transposing his solo work in the live setting (who Gaz describes as “the cream of players in Oxford”), he’s also recently started playing a few purely solo shows, for which he expresses unbridled enthusiasm.
“I take some guitars and a piano and some weird little boxes and loopers and stuff. That’s been really fun. I’ve been doing it for the last month or so and I’ve really been blown away by the response, it’s been incredible!”
Supergrass were a much-loved touring entity in Australia throughout their existence. I can recall seeing them at least three times at various club shows and festivals, with their Tivoli show of 2008 being a drop-dead highlight for this here fan. So I couldn’t help but ask Gaz if he would be Grace(ing) us with his live presence anytime soon.
“I’ve got to contain my excitement while we work out logistics, but yeah, it’s on the cards!” This news has now been confirmed, with Gaz booked in to play a show at The Zoo in Brisbane on 14 September!
He then goes on to reminisce on the wonderful times he spent touring in Australia during the height of Supergrass mania.
“We did some cracking festivals, Splendour and Big Day Out and stuff. Not to mention the great club shows. I always dug the general attitude of the (Aussie) audiences; very discerning, not too cool for school, they know their shit. We always loved to playing for the Australian crowds.”
I also couldn’t help but ask if his current solo live shows feature any Supergrass numbers, and put it out there if there was any likelihood of a Supergrass reunion at some stage down the track.
“I feel that my current audience are very in-the-moment with me. Now that I have a bit of a back catalogue of solo work behind me, people are mainly calling out for big songs from my current stuff, which is really awesome. If it’s a great show with a good vibe, I’m more than happy to play a song close to my heart from my past, such as ‘Moving’. But when I’m with the full (Gaz Coombes) band, I don’t wanna play the Supergrass stuff with them. I love playing those songs with Danny and Mick and Rob (ie. the other three Supergrassers) and I don’t want to do a diluted version of that.
I feel quite consumed in what I’m doing now, I actually haven’t had time to think about playing with Supergrass again. I totally get people’s love for the band. My opinion is ‘never say never’, but my solo stuff is my focus right now, I’m really enjoying it and I’m starting to get a really cool fan base. I met a fan at a recent gig in Berlin and he came up to me after the show and said he’d never even heard of Supergrass! He came without any kind of baggage, which I think is kinda cool as well. But ultimately I’m very proud of that time I had with Supergrass, so who knows..”
Catch Gaz Coombes on Friday 14 September at The Zoo in Brisbane.