Gearing up for his second solo release, Aaron Flood speaks to former Supergrass frontman, Gaz Coombes about songwriting, organic collaboration and the importance of bum-notes
Twenty years ago, there was a song released which summarised the cheeky-chappie, frantic uplifting energy of the Britpop era. With the opening piano chords and its infectious, sing-along lyrics, ‘Alright’ by Supergrass became a classic hit. The accompanying music video, featuring the band members racing around in name-emblazoned t-shirts on a car/bed contraption, became iconic. Twenty years after he reached superstardom with Supergrass’ debut album, I Should Coco, and five years after they split, the muttonchop-pioneering occupant of the middle of that bed, Gaz Coombes, is about to release his second solo album, Matador. Coombes embarked on this solo career in 2012, when he released his first solo effort, Here Come The Bombs, to mass critical acclaim. Yet despite having done it all before with his band, Coombes still feels a pressure when releasing new material. “I think there’s always a sense of pressure, really. Depends on where you let that pressure come from. My pressure came from me, personally, to make a better record than the first one.” Humble as anything, he speaks about Here Comes The Bombs and reminisces on its creation and release. “With the first record my expectations weren’t particularly in the clouds. It’s a new thing so you just do what you can and hopefully people like it!”
There was no shortage of folk who loved the album, never mind simply liking it, with the brooding, dark electro-tinged collection of songs attracting all sorts of fans to Coombes’ work. His new offering builds on the high standard of song-development and production values of his debut. He talks about this development process of his songs by saying, “Sometimes it starts more traditionally with an acoustic guitar or a few chords of the piano. I think the exciting thing about writing and recording on your own is that it can start from anywhere, really. There’ll be tracks that started with a loop, a beat or a bassline. There was no sort of ‘fixed’ way of writing the song. It’s just about whatever speaks to you at the time.”
With true artistic and musical credibility, Coombes plays every instrument on the album, with the exception of the drums on a few tracks. “I guess it’s sort of how I write,” beams Gaz, “I mean I’ve got a great band that I’ve used on a few tracks, but it is how I write. It was important to get the instinctive ideas across in a spontaneous way, and I wanted to make a record that was quite direct in terms of the ideas I had”. Unlike the over-produced, precise and perfect pop records that dominate the charts today, Gaz speaks fondly of the album’s, in his own words, ‘bum-notes’. “There’s a lot of early takes, a lot of first takes on the record. A few bum-notes here and there, first vocal takes and that was all really important to me to get across. I wanted that simplicity in approach, as opposed to nailing the life out of it. I just wanted the life and energy to come from doing things very instinctively and spontaneously”.
After being in a band for so long, one could expect Gaz to long for a bit of company on these solo exploits. However, that isn’t the case with Matador. “I didn’t want to make a shiny pop record with all these celebrity collaborators that somehow seem to get in the way of the odd solo record here and there. I sometimes find it a little bit strange, the importance placed on having these featured artists. I just wanted to get an honest vibe and emotion. So I think at the early stage of this record it was important to be on my own and not have anyone get in the way of those instinctive ideas.”
While Coombe’s intentions at the moment are clear, curiosity rears its little head and the question has to be asked; if Gaz could collaborate with anyone, who would it be? “Oh, I don’t know, Neil Young? That’d be good. I don’t know if we’re the same sort of school but it could be fun. I do think collaborations have to happen organically. I’m not suggesting you sit around and wait for the phone call but if they do happen they have to happen organically rather than two sets of managers going back and forth on the phone.”
The conversation then moves onto the upcoming tour, which takes place a week after Matador’s release on the 26th of this month. “First we travel around the UK, then into Europe before we head to Japan in March. We’re also hoping to get over to Ireland too” Gaz admits, chuckling before adding “I’m not just saying that! No idea of when, but I’m talking to the tour agent at the moment. I’ve had a lot of requests and comments and stuff like that over Facebook, so it’s definitely at the front of my mind, so we hope to get over there within the next few months, if they want me!”
Gaz can be assured a warm welcome when he decides to bring Matador over. There’s plenty of time to visit, as there’s a long year ahead. When asked what he hopes to do and achieve within the year, he replies by channelling his Supergrass past with the unprompted, “Just got to keep it all moving, man. Just keep moving”.
‘Matador’ is out now.