Jump to Main ContentJump to Primary Navigation
Top

Gaz Coombes on music, money and his ShortList gig

gaz-coombes-1.jpg

Mercury-nominated solo artist (and former Supergrass frontman) Gaz Coombes is playing a free gig for ShortList readers this week. Jonathan Pile meets him

Britpop survivor Gaz Coombes has a complaint to make: “The other day I was referred to as a Britpop survivor. That was a bit weird. Is it even a compliment? F*cking hell, can you really not think of another way of describing where I sit musically?”

Let’s try it. Reinvigorated solo artist Gaz Coombes? Oxfordshire troubadour Gaz Coombes? Britpop survivor Gaz Coombes? Oh, wait, that one’s banned. Maybe we should just get him to do it.

“I can’t actually. Struggling musician with a minor drug problem? [Laughs] I suppose I’m finding my way. But that’s why it’s so magical making music. I was just sat in my basement and made a bit of a mad record. It could have been nonsense. But when I finished it, I knew it was strong. I knew something had happened.”

He’s talking about Matador. Released this year, it’s his second solo album since Supergrass split up, and easily his most successful. In fact, it’s just been nominated for the Mercury Prize. “I was blown away,” he admits. “I love the record, but I didn’t think it would be nominated. It’s bonkers really.”

Coombes

I don’t need to be a millionaire, I just don’t want to work in a kitchen

Coombes is now undeniably a solo artist in his own right. Supergrass called it quits five years ago and, after disappointing reviews and slow sales for his first post-split record Here Come The Bombs (“I was still transitioning, but you’ve got to start somewhere”), the reaction to Matador has thrust him back in the spotlight. And this time there isn’t a bed on wheels on Portmeirion beach in sight. 

Going it alone

The expectation is, after a band splits up, solo albums from its higher profile members will follow. Generally, they do. Noel Gallagher did it. Richard Ashcroft did it. Brett Anderson did it four times. Four. (You probably don’t remember any of them. That’s why Suede are back together.) But Coombes claims his solo career was by accident rather than design.

“I just started writing. I don’t have anything else, there’s no back-up plan. What else can I do?”

But not being tied to Supergrass has given him creative freedom. He can do whatever he wants. He mentions Beck and Frank Black as inspirations because he doesn’t believe you can “pigeonhole” them to one type of music. But it’s more than exploring different music. He’s escaped the corporate pressures of EMI – there’s no one asking him where the singles are any more.

“With Supergrass it was about the hits. And the pressure to write more hits. With Matador there was nothing I had to keep up with. It was a blank page. So I went into it thinking, ‘What do I want to hear?’ and trusting myself it’d be what other people want to hear, too.”

And so far it’s worked, especially within the limits of his modest, self-set expectations – that the record just does well enough for him to make another one (“I’m not asking to be a millionaire. I just don’t want to work in a kitchen again”). It’s done more than that, and not just because of the Mercury nomination. The songs are going down a storm at his live shows, too.

“I’m really feeling it onstage,” he says. “Everything’s aligned and everything’s connecting. I get the feeling people are excited to hear 20/20 and are excited to hear Buffalo. We’re hitting our peak, so it’s a good time to catch us.”

This is good news for everyone concerned. Gaz Coombes is the latest artist to sign up for our 48 Hours To… gigs – he’ll play a free show in Manchester tonight. A good location, it turns out: “I’ve had a long love affair with playing there since I was 15 years old and travelled up in a van with [his first band] The Jennifers. And, of course, there’s the impact the city’s music scene had on me as a kid.”

Coombes

Britpop bypass

Wherever Gaz Coombes goes, and whatever he does musically, the spectre of Supergrass will follow. He’ll always be asked about that time. And even as he’s promoting Matador, he’s competing with himself – albeit a version two decades younger. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the band’s debut I Should Coco, which has been remastered for a re-release.

“I made it clear, not in a disrespectful or awkward way, that I have Matador, so I have to focus on what I’m doing now. But I am really proud of that record. To think what we did at that age – it’s a f*cking great album. I listened to it recently – it’s really fresh and energetic. And I do want more people to hear that record – for a new generation to know it wasn’t all just Oasis and Blur. That there were some other cool things going on. But we bypassed the Britpop thing. We were never part of that.”

This can’t be true, can it? Surely Supergrass were one of the quintessential Britpop bands? And that if in the completely implausible situation that you had to create a Britpop band in a lab, those three lads from Oxford, messing about on bikes and singing about keeping their teeth clean would be almost exactly what you’d end up with?

“I think any band that came out between ’94 and ’99 was seen as a Britpop band,” Coombes counters. “We just had a big hit at its peak.”

Talk turns to the band’s final years, and the split. Although they do remain friends (“Mick came round for a cup of tea the other day”), a seventh album remains unfinished. “There’s nothing more powerful than a band who are together and unified. Towards the end, we weren’t such a powerful thing. It became quite diluted. Supergrass lost that connection.”

Supergrass bypassed Britpop. We were never a part of it. We just had a big hit at its peak

The future

Apart from being a musician, Coombes leads the life of a normal 39-year-old. He takes his kids to One Direction concerts and does the school run – his latest plan is to initiate an Album Of The Week, where he plays one classic record in the car, and nothing else, so his kids are exposed to other things. He’ll start with The White Album.

He also has a studio in his house, and he splits his time between working there and, as he puts it, “procrastinating”.

“It’s one of my flaws. I think, ‘I’m going to nail that Kubrick collection in the next couple of days,’ and then I get to the end and think, ‘What have I done? I should have been in the studio.’ But it’s all creative. I had a phase of getting into history. Just reading through history books. I don’t know if my head’s in tune, though – I’m terrible with facts. I wish I had the sort of brain that could retain facts, like the wonderful Stephen Fry. I don’t have that. But I can retain riffs. Retaining riffs – that’s my thing. But history is full of mad stories and you think, ‘How the f*ck was it like that?’ Kings and queens and all these f*cked up relationships and battles and wars. It’s so fascinating.”

Supergrass

A young Gaz (left) in Supergrass with Mick Quinn and Danny Goffey

But the plan is, of course, more music. And getting people to hear it (“F*ck it, they can download it illegally if they want”), because he sees himself as a new artist, having to prove himself over again.

“I’ve got to remain on my toes. If things were too comfortable, then there wouldn’t be something to fight against. It’s always about light and dark, self-doubt and confidence. There’s never a middle ground. That’s what’s really mad about life. I’m never particularly comfortable emotionally. But I’m all right with that.

“I can’t rest on what I’ve done. I can’t feel too safe. And I can’t be afraid to fail.”

Good advice. But it seems, in 2015, Gaz Coombes has survived Britpop and is doing just fine.

Photography: Matt Holyoak

Related

stlucia2.jpg

The ShortListen: St. Lucia (no. 187)

Rudimental4.jpg

Rudimental: the Understated World-Beaters

Stereophonics3.jpg

Two decades in the sun: what keeps the Stereophonics going?

rexfeatures_3643804m.jpg

Who's The Greatest Living British Musician?

youtube2.png

YouTube To Take On Spotify With Music App & Subscription Service

2.jpg

The house where Bruce Springsteen wrote Born To Run is up for sale

Comments

More

Benedict Cumberbatch sings on stage with Pink Floyd's David Gilmour

We think he should stick to acting

29 Sep 2016

This baffling tune about pineapples in pens is a legitimate banger

You need these fifty seconds of pure joy in your life

27 Sep 2016

All the clues that suggest 2017 will be the year of Daft Punk

We live in hope by Paddy Maddison

26 Sep 2016

Album cover models: where are they now?

From Nirvana's iconic Nevermind baby to Blink's Enema nurse by Paddy Maddison

26 Sep 2016

We went all the way to Ibiza to find the person having the most fun

A quest to find the person having it largest in Europe's club capital

21 Sep 2016

DJ Shadow's Endtroducing is the greatest album you’ve never heard of

Endtroducing..... celebrates a landmark birthday & it's as good as ever by Dave Fawbert

20 Sep 2016

Bros are coming back & here's why we should be celebrating

The hidden genius of their biggest hit by Dave Fawbert

19 Sep 2016

After Skepta, here are the next five grime acts you need to know about

Get these on your playlists right now by Dave Fawbert

16 Sep 2016

This is why, as they reunite, Aqua deserve to be celebrated

The story of one of pop music's great lost songs by Dave Fawbert

15 Sep 2016

11 times Kanye proved he's the most ridiculous guy on Twitter

Twitter was basically made for Kanye. Well, that's probably what he thinks anyway by Paddy Maddison

15 Sep 2016