Right in the thick of Britpop’s mid-’90s heyday, Supergrass developed their own brand of rock and roll while trying their hardest to stray from the pack. Consisting of brothers Gaz and Rob Coombes on guitars and keyboards, Mick Quinn on bass and Danny Goffey on drums, the Oxford group rose from the ashes of Gaz and Goffey’s previous band, The Jennifers, to set the British charts on fire with 1994’s “Caught By The Fuzz”. Supergrass remained consistently relevant and excellent during the next two decades, even as Britpop faded from the old soggy pages of the NME and Melody Maker, but called it quits in 2010. Now Gaz Coombes is back on these shores as a Mercury Music Prize-nominated solo artist, attempting to establish his own voice and set a new course for success.
Coming off the release of his second solo album, January’s Matador, Coombes will be performing at the David Friend Recital Hall located on the campus of Berklee College Of Music this Saturday, March 26. Vanyaland had a chat with Coombes about his vision going into making the new record, how his experiences as a teenager affect him as a father, his thoughts on Britpop being a bit overblown, working with New Orleans music icon Dr. John, and the chances of Supergrass’ unfinished album Release The Drones ever seeing the light of day.
Rob Duguay: You produced Matador yourself and it’s been well received for its experimentalism and dark tones. What was your vision going into making the album?
Gaz Coombes: It just began as instinctive and spontaneous ideas. I was writing and recording at the same time. I’d go into the studio basically and with some ideas I would play around with along with playing different instruments. I would sit at the drums for a half an hour trying to turn around a beat and I would just put things down as they came as quickly as possible. Then I guess I sort of stopped experimenting with ideas after that and tried to finish it into something. I didn’t really know stylistically what was going to happen until I recorded “Buffalo”. That was really the template, it was kind of the seed of what was to come. I really like that sort of sonic approach and that sort of vibe.
When I first listened to “Buffalo”, I dug how sonically inclined it is and there’s a lot of different stuff going on with beats, guitars and a lot of other dimensions. Supergrass’ first single “Caught By The Fuzz” is based on a true story of you getting arrested by police for possessing marijuana as a teen. You’re a father with two daughters now, does your rambunctious life as a teenager have any effect on you as a parent?
I’ve been skirting the issue with my kids for as long as I can kind of hold it off. I’ve been directly asked if I’ve ever been in trouble with the police and I’ve run out of ways of distracting the shift of the conversation. When they’re old enough I think if they wanted to know the history then they can. As we get older we all hear tales about our folks when they were younger and the shit they used to get into. I guess it’s no different in that way, it’s all sort of shit you do when you’re young. They’ve already been searching on Youtube for videos of Supergrass and when I tell them that it’s actually me on there they can’t believe it.
You’ve talked about before how you have a disdain for when the media in the ’90s and early 2000s would always rope Supergrass into the Britpop genre. The genre has seen a bit of a revival nowadays with Blur, Suede, and Pulp getting back together and even contemporary artists like Gerard Way using it as an influence on their latest records. Does any of this change your opinion of Britpop or do you still hate it?
I don’t feel like I’ve ever hated it, I just found it to be a massive marketing plan to sell records and we got put into a group that we didn’t really identify with. Looking back, it was definitely a bit overblown but a few good bands did come out of it.
A big critique of the music coming out of the U.K. nowadays is that it’s very highly concentrated and the quality has become a bit watered down. Do you feel that way about today’s music with either your contemporaries from when you started out in the ’90s or bands coming out this decade? Do you think that British music is still exciting today or do you agree with the critics?
There’s always reason to attain a certain level of excitement. There can always be that band that can come along out of nowhere and give that freshness. If anything, what’s lacking is perhaps a bit more of a throwaway rock and roll approach. There’s so much pressure these days to make it and do really, really well. I haven’t seen a band since the Arctic Monkeys first came up when you saw that they were a little bit freaked out on stage, they were really young, they weren’t all that media savvy and it was before they had thousands of Twitter followers and all that. I think the focus is on so many different things these days rather than a band just being a cool fucking band.
Back in 1998 you and Mick Quinn got to collaborate with the legendary Dr. John on his album Anutha Zone for the track “Voices In My Head”. What was the experience like for you and was he weird at all during the recording process?
It was incredible man, I was kind of freaking out a bit from the beginning. I was still very young and it was the first time I’d ever worked with someone of that stature, that gravitas. I’m aware of his work and I’m still a big fan so at first it was kind of from the seat of the pants and I was holding on, trying to keep it together and play without my fingers falling everywhere. He was really cool, we had a chat, he asked my name, I said it was Gaz and he said “Ahh like natural gas”, I thought that was very, very funny. He told us stories about when he got to see Elvis [Presley] perform and it was one of his first ever shows in 1954 or something crazy. All these stories and he was an absolute joy to work with, it was amazing.
When Supergrass broke up in 2010, the band left some unfinished business with the album Release The Drones still remaining unreleased and unfinished to this day. Do you think the band will ever get back together to finish and put out the record?
It’s really impossible to say. I think the one good thing is we didn’t try to kill each other, we’re all alright and we’re still good friends. As long as those kind of doors are open and we’re still talking to each other then I think that there’s always a chance. Who knows what that might be? I wouldn’t want to go and just do some sort of greatest-hits thing and make the money, it’s not really something I would want to do. It has to be something creative and interesting, they’re a great bunch and it had to end when it did but there’s always a chance. I guess you never say never.