“It’s hard to know whether I’ve grown as a songwriter as such,” says Gaz Coombes, the one time Supergrass frontman now forging a career as a solo artist.
“It’s sort of a dark art, in a way. I get so many times in life where I don’t know whether I’ve written my last good song and don’t know whether it’s going to happen again.”
Fortunately the 39-year-old appears to be on a hot streak at the moment. His recently released second solo album, Matador, has been praised as his best work to date.
Coombes began writing the record at the end of 2013 and realised early on, with the epic-sounding Buffalo, that he was on to a good thing.
“I loved the sonic approach and the musical approach on it and lyrically as well I felt really good about it so I think that just lifted me up,” he explains.
“I felt like I’d got an angle, I’d got a direction for the record and for the production and so I just had to be instinctive and get as much out while the moment was there.”
The album’s title stems from its last song.
“I just came up with it one day in the studio. I think I had a lyric for the end track, Matador, and I was just playing around with it. There were a few people in the studio with me and I sort of said ‘What about Matador?’ and it just went down really well.
“It was one of those moments where everyone was ‘Yeah, that’s a good title’. I guess that’s how it started then the more I looked at it it connected with that thread that I guess is going through the record – resilience and strength and fighting spirit and I guess confidence and feeling like ‘OK, maybe I’m on my own but I feel like I can brush aside anything that confronts me, I can push through’. I think even more in hindsight it’s a cool title.”
Coombes’ open hearted approach to lyrics on this album was, he admits, influenced by the solo work of John Lennon.
“What I really like is the sort of raw beauty, when beauty isn’t saccharine and poppy and sweet,” he says.
“I like it when beauty is flawed and imperfect and f***ed up. I just think that’s kind of how real life is and I think that’s what I love in Lennon’s records, his lyrics and the delivery of it, you can hear there’s a beauty in there but it’s delivered with a kind of darkness as well and at times a sense of loneliness or a sense of wonder, all those things. ”
In the song Detroit, Coombes recalls a paranoid episode he suffered while touring in the States with Supergrass in 1996. “I rang up my girlfriend and she kind of recalibrated my head and told me to get on with it and it’ll be all right. I just looked back on that and thought that’s a cool thing to write about and it’s cool to set it in that environment.”
The Girl Who Fell to Earth was inspired by his eldest daughter.
“She’s autistic and it’s been a kind of rollercoaster 11 years, really. Just learning how to get into her world and how she things differently and the tough times and the great times. I just felt it at one moment and started writing a few lines. Rather than it be directly about her, I think it’s important with lyrics that you keep an element of outward thinking and don’t become too internal.”
He’s looking forward to bringing his new songs to Live At Leeds this weekend. His lunchtime set at the O2 Academy is destined to be one of the day’s highlights.
“When I got the offer I thought it was great, I wanted to be part of Live At Leeds,” he says. “I haven’t done that venue for a long time and my memories of it are brilliant.”
Gaz Coombes plays at Live At Leeds on May 2. He is due to perform at O2 Academy Leeds, starting at 1.30pm. For further details visit http://www.liveatleeds.com/