Music interview: Gaz Coombes

Gaz Coombes
Gaz Coombes
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GAZ Coombes is soaking up the early autumn sunshine in his Oxfordshire garden while musing on his first solo album.

“I think sort of everything I’ve done or put my name to has been a reaction to the previous thing,” the 36-year-old singer says. “The ethos in Supergrass was trying to be different.

“This is different to a Supergrass album. I did not have a band around me; it puts you in a totally different place. Having Danny [Goffey] on drums for all those years, I never had any need to venture into an electronic drum kit. He did those crazy rolls you wanted to hear. It was more circumstance [that Here Come the Bombs is more electronic]. I wanted to creatively make a change.”

It’s also a statement of intent – Coombes is very much now his own man. “I do feel that freedom to be able to get anything across,” he says. “I wanted to do something that was quite true.

“The influence of soundtrack music on the record was really interesting to me and the electronic side – beat programming, electronic bass – these are all areas I’m interested in.

“There were always hints of it over the years. I tried to find new stuff. I still listen to Bowie but I like to search around for new things, like when I found a song by this band called This Heat – they were a late 70s progressive art band. Some of the stuff they did was not really listenable. They used lots of loops and stuff, a track would morph into something else – it’s dangerous stuff but quite brave. Hearing something like that, you think that’s the area you can go to. You don’t always have to be restrained into song shape of verse and chorus.”

These days, he says, song ideas can be triggered as much by sounds as chord progressions. “I write a lot on the bass guitar, it’s a fun instrument to write on, but the sound of it directs the style of whatever you are going to play. If I pick up an acoustic guitar sometimes I can write scratchy chords. There’s no rule to how I work.”

Here Come The Bombs was released under the banner ‘Gaz Coombes presents’. More projects are likely to follow under umbrella. “It was quite interesting in the beginning not to close doors to anything, but I knew, coming out of Supergrass, there were still a lot of things I wanted to do,” he says. “One of those things is making more cool music. It can be anything – a Josh Homme desert sessions style thing where you get musicians to do a collaboration, or a movie soundtrack, even a collaboration with someone else – that would be kind of cool.”

There are, he says, “a ton of [film] directors” he would like to work with. “We were offered little bits over the years but the times were not right. But it’s definitely an area I’m really interested in. It’s a big part of this record. I couldn’t be a***d waiting for a soundtrack to come up so I started my own – to a film that does not exist.”

When Supergrass decided to call it a day in 2010, their demise, after 17 years together, was widely mourned. Coombes feels the four-piece had reached a natural conclusion. “We were in the studio, working away [on their seventh album]. For whatever reason we were not firing on all cylinders; we were not all on the same page. I guess it was a natural end. I have no regrets; it was the right thing to do, just to move on, have a change and for me to come out of some comfort zones.

“Being in a gang for a long time, you can get too reliant on each other. It was great to step out of that, to think, ‘F***, what am I going to do?’ You just push it and go for it – that’s the way I want to approach anything.”

For years the popular perception of Supergrass was of three (later four when Coombes’ brother Rob joined the band) happy-go-lucky characters singing Alright at the height of Britpop. The image, however, didn’t always concur with what was going on behind the scenes. “That’s the beautiful irony, in many ways,” Coombes says. Drummer Danny Goffey and his wife Pearl Lowe, in particular, had a reputation for partying hard. Yet the band was not without a sense of humour.

“When you look back at Steven Spielberg [the Hollywood film director] asking to meet us [to discuss a Monkees-style cartoon series about the band] after seeing the Alright video, I can understand why – we always were a bit silly,” Coombes reflects. “It’s the natural way we were. We were inspired by those early Beatles press conferences where they were larking about.

“Everyone was seeing these pompous American rock bands – even some UK bands took themselves so seriously. We thought, ‘This is mental’. We were having a laugh, living the dream – that came across in the videos. It’s still the attitude I have now. Even though this album is a lot darker than the Supergrass stuff, I’m not taking it ultra-seriously.

“Though when I’m working,” he adds, “I can be very professional.”

Coombes was a rock musician from an early age – his first band, The Jennifers, released an album when he was just 16 years old. Supergrass formed a year later. “It was quite mad doing a live TV performance at 17,” he says. “To use a crude analogy, it’s almost like football players – Rooney at 17. You have that fearless approach to it. That was the way it went for the first four or five years. I remember it as riding the wave. I lived quite hard and pretty fast, it was a great experience. No-one ever really freaked out. We had our moments but nothing that split the band up.”

Having been part of a band for so long, I ask if it seems strange to now be gigging on his own. “Not particularly,” he says. “It would be if I was playing Supergrass songs without them around, but it’s all new stuff. It’s very much my sound. To get players around me on stage translating the album will be great. I love the songs, they’re sounding so good live.

“I’ve got nothing but great memories of Supergrass. There’s no shortage of memories in the tank if I need to look back and feel good. But what I’m doing now is a new thing. [The past] is not in my mind.”

October 20, Brudenell Social Club, Queens Road, Leeds, 7.30pm, £12.50. Tel: 0113 275 2411.

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