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INTERVIEW – Gaz Coombes, March 2015

| 13 April 2015 | Reply

INTERVIEW – Gaz Coombes, March 2015
By Shane Pinnegar

Gaz Coombes 01

It’s hard to fathom that cheeky chaps Supergrass released their first big single Caught By The Fuzz a whopping twenty one years ago. With it’s irrepressible, bouncy melody, fuzzy guitars, and a video clip that showed the young trio larking about like an early Beatles film, getting busted for having a joint never sounded so much fun.

Six albums later and Supergrass called it a day, leaving singer/guitarist Gaz Coombes solo, and this month he released his second album, Matador. A sometimes moody collection of tracks which leave the quirkier side of Supergrass far behind, Matador features consummate song construction and the sort of layered sonics that lend themselves to movie soundtracks, more than three-minute pop hits.

Bizarrely enough though, every second music journalist in the world still obsesses about Coombes’ mutton chop sideburns rather than his music.

“Oh, tell me about it – it certainly doesn’t go away, does it?” says Coombes with an exaggerated sigh. “There always has to be an angle of some sort. There’s got to be something there. For me, that’s what it’s ended up being. Who’d have thought it twenty, twenty-four years ago, when they first appeared, that I’d be still talking about it?”

Gaz Coombes - Matador cover

Not here at 100% ROCK – we’re all about the music, which brings us neatly to new album Matador, and Coombes says the response to the record has already been great.

“Yeah, it’s been a pretty amazing couple months actually. It’s always stressful to the moment when you’re looking to release a record, and I’ve been working on it for so long and put so much into it, there’s always that sort of, I don’t know, mixture of tension and excitement and nervousness. You don’t know how people are going to take it. It’s been amazing. I’ve been down in my studio putting ideas down and trying to get a record together and, all of a sudden, it’s out there and being really well received. I’m pretty overwhelmed by the response. It’s been amazing.”

Not that he’s anxious about the record at all, but there is a sense of not knowing how it will be received.

“It’s tricky, it’s not something that I can necessarily think about,” he explains further, “but there’s the added complication of the baggage that goes before it, the legacy or the history of Supergrass as well, everything that people compare it to. Like I said, it’s not something I can really entertain when I’m making a record. I’ve just got to do my own thing. I guess there’s a lot there for people to reference against and, obviously, a lot of it’s inevitably referring back to Supergrass, [which was] a really important time in my life. It’s the reason I’m here. If it wasn’t for Supergrass and all the great stuff that we did, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now.”

That wacky and zany image that Supergrass had was far more in your face than on Coombes’ solo work. There’s still humour in there, but it’s deeper down in the mix. I wonder if that is a sign of maturity now that he’s a Dad to Raya May (aged 12) and Tiger (aged 6)?

“I don’t think so,” he asserts. “The same ridiculous surreal things get me going. I don’t think my sense of humour, or my approach, or my outlook on life has really changed that much. You know, you just have to kind of feed off what’s happening at that time in life. It’s very instinctive writing and instinctive recording. Life’s great. My life’s good. I’m enjoying myself, the nucleus being a lot of weird, chaotic moments over the last ten, fifteen years that have brought me to a certain place. It’s just the way it is, man. Life gets more complicated as you get older. It gets more chaotic and complicated and there’s more factors and layers to tap into. Maybe that’s what it is.

“Again, I’m wary of the whole maturity thing. I think that’s insane because I don’t think I’m mature at all. I think I’ve got the same neuroses that I had when I was eighteen, but you just look at things differently. There’s a lot more there to pick from. Life is, one minute it’s: you’re on top of the world, the next minute everything’s kind of falling apart. It’s the same for everybody. I guess the fun is to tap into all of that stuff, the light and the dark of life, perhaps more than we did in Supergrass, but I still think there’s a lot of those dark layers within Supergrass too.”

Gaz Coombes 03

Coombes played most of the instruments on Matador, and says he didn’t restrict himself to any single genre when making the album.

“I just wanted to feed off what was happening instinctively. I’d get into the studio and I’d start putting that beat down, maybe just a beat or it might be something that would start from a few loops, maybe a little melody or something, and then feed off that really and try and find inspiration from the studio and from what was around me rather than any particular influence from the outside. It’s almost giving into what I felt like doing. If it was a case of getting a mad sort of Ringo Starr drum sound, then enjoying that process of getting cool sounds… would often lead onto something really interesting. I try to keep my mind open to whatever came along and that’s really what propelled it forward.”

With acoustic guitar elements and electropop sounds sprinkled liberally throughout the album, the overriding feel is cinematic in scope. Did Coombe have a widescreen picture in his head when writing or recording tracks such as The Girl Who Fell To Earth?

“I don’t know,” he ponders. “I think that sort of thing just comes from the track being shaped. I mean, that [song] just started off with a guitar and vocal, probably one of the most traditionally written tracks on the record, really acoustic and the melody came out. I did a lot of the lyrics actually straight away. I wanted it to still have a raw quality to it, much in the way that Lennon would get on his early solo albums and that sort of raw emotion in that way.

“I think production-wise, things just come along, little ideas float into my head,” he continues. “I don’t know. I wanted this rolling kind of brushes on the snare, much in the way of Nilsson’s Everybody’s Talking, but then I wanted to give it a bit more of a modern feel to it so I put it through a phaser which kind of created this different vibe to it. It’s purely instinctive ideas, throw them out there and see if it sticks.”

With the quality of songwriting on display on Matador, I wonder if Coombes is concerned about leaving a legacy as a song writer?

“No, that’s not the sort of stuff I think about.” He says dismissively. “I always feel that I have to keep improving and keep writing better stuff. I don’t think there’s ever really room to feel complacent or comfortable with a particular kind of position or any kind of perception in that way. I’ve got to keep going and keep doing what I’m doing. It’s great, man. It’s been amazing how well it’s all being received and stuff. I always know that I can do better and I can keep trying to write better songs.

“I tell you, it’s weird. Sometimes you think, I finish a song like Buffalo or something and that was the first time that I completed a record and I think, ‘shit: how am I going to better that? I’m really digging that song. Am I going to be able to kind of improve on that and make an album of stuff that’s of the same quality?’

“There’s always that panic and that kind of uncertainty and that sort of self-doubt,” he continues. “As soon as you let that freak you out, that’s when you’re in trouble. I think you’ve got to relax and then I just kept writing and things come. Things come if you let them and if you’re not too closed off to it. I just try to remain open to new ideas coming through.”

Gaz Coombes 04

Coombes goes on to explains the relevance of the title.

“It’s partly those lyrics I had already [for] the last track on the album. I was playing around with that metaphor of the matador and this sort of lone figure goading these stampeding beasts, or that metaphor of wandering through life and, at certain times, we’ve all got to dodge some kind of beast that’s hurtling towards us or defeat whatever is in front of us. I don’t know. It’s resilient.

“I like that the message is resilient and pushing on through on your own, if you like. That is looking into it in quite a deep way. In essence, I thought of it one day in the studio and thought, ‘Matador, yeah. That’s the name of my album.’ It was very simplistic and in a guttural way, it was just, ‘yeah, that’s a good title, man. That’s great. I’m digging that.’ Then I felt a few of the songs were keyed into that metaphor, if you like. I thought it was quite interesting.”

Coombes has wasted no time in getting the material heard live, either.

“I’ve just come from a short UK & Europe tour,” he explains. “It’s been amazing. It’s been incredible. I’ve got a great bunch of guys playing on stage with me, [and] they’ve embraced the record and been able to translate what I did on record, in a really amazing way. It’s beyond my expectations. We had an incredible show in London a few weeks back where I put in a choir as well for a couple of tracks which is just this crazy thing that I blagged. It was a really, really, really beautiful night. I guess it was probably up there in the top five of my all time favourite shows. It’s great to feel that love in the room and that sort of magic. It’s really highly additive shit.”

Will Coombes be bringing the live show down to Australia at all?

“I sincerely hope so, man. We’re scheduling the year ahead at the moment actually. We’ve got the [European] festival season coming up in summer and so we’re looking at all those festivals. Then, as we get through the year, it’s high up on my list really. I’ve got to get over there at some point and continue that love affair that we’ve had with Australia over the years. We’ve been over a lot of times, and shot videos over there, and done tours, and been part of great festivals. Yeah, it’s something that I need to feel again. It’d be amazing. Yeah, working on it, man.”

Gaz Coombes 05

Coombes was only 17 and working at the local Harvester restaurant when Caught By The Fuzz became a hit, but doesn’t recall the fame being a debilitating headfuck.

“I guess at times, but then, I was so young,” he explains, “I just remember it like riding a wave and trying to stay on it for as long as possible. You take the highs and the lows. Thankfully, it was all pretty amazing stuff.

“I remember touring America when I was seventeen, not too long out of school really. It shaped my life. It shaped who I am today [with] totally really special memories and stuff. I think it was great. I think we dealt with it pretty well. We all had pretty good foundations around us, and families and stuff. I guess [that] kind of honed us to not fuck up. I think we always managed to not completely lose the plot and end up in rehab several times. I think we managed to somehow dodge that bullet.

“It’s that sort of thing that, if I rolled up at my folks’ house, falling out of a limo with cocaine around my nose and a bottle of champagne in my hand, I think they would have told me to fuck off and come back when I’m sorted out! If you have a strong sort of family that’s not taking shit, you don’t want to mess that up. You don’t want to hurt those people that you love. It’s a strong kind of repellent in a weird way. It doesn’t stop you having crazy adventures and having a great time, which we did. Believe me – we had an awesome adventure. It’s that little switch in your head, ‘let’s not implode right now, we’ve still got a lot to do.’”

Coombes has always remained true to his music rather than selling out and doing things just for the money from the earliest days of Supergrass, when Steven Spielberg tried to get them to star in a Monkees-like TV show, and the likes of Calvin Klein and Italian Vogue to model for their ads.

“I think you have to in a way,” Coombes says. “Certain things come along that are peripheral to writing music and to being a musician, but certain things that are easier to stomach. They’re easier to digest and you can validate certain things quite easily, but then there’s other stuff you just know it’s not the right direction. You know it’s not the right path to take. Spielberg would be a good example of, if any of us had designs of being American TV stars – I think a couple of us would have been dead in hotel rooms before too long [if we had].

“You just get a feeling, I think, that something isn’t on your radar or, you know, that actually this one’s got nothing to do with what I love to do which is make records, and to perform live, and to keep trying to write great music. This one’s going to get in the way of that. This one’s going to interfere and I’m not into it. I guess it’s been quite easy over the years to work those ones out.”

All of which makes the title of Supergrass’ second album, In It For The Money, more ironic.

“There was a certain irony to it,” Coombes agrees. “I think even the fact that we’d been trying for an album title for months and I think our record company might have offered us a bribe. They sort of said, ‘look, we’ll give you money if you can think of an album title in the next seven days!’ We thought of In It For The Money, and then they paid us and then that was it. That was a beautiful irony to the whole statement.”

So, twenty years on from I Should Coco, with a masterful second solo album out, does Gaz Coombes feel the same about music as he did as a sixteen year old?

“Yeah. It’s a different climate, a different landscape to be involved with, but that excitement when I play back something through the speakers in the studio or I get that feeling on stage, like I was talking about with the recent shows, then, yeah, it’s exactly the same. It’s exactly the same and the same kind of thing that fuels me. It really is. It’s a different sound, a different sort of vibe. That’s the whole part of the evolution process. You’ve got to keep changing with it and keep adapting, but the essence always, I guess, remains the same.”

This interview first appeared in edited form in X-Press Magazine’s 1 April, 2015 issue

Category: Interviews

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