“The heating hasn’t come on in the studio yet but all is good, it’s very snowy and quite pretty out there,” enthuses a beaming Gaz Coombes as he surveys the white blanket of land outside his Oxfordshire studio on the first day of last December’s big freeze.
He’s got every right to be brimming with confidence. In 2022, Supergrass drew a line under their “satisfying” if later than planned reunion, rocked out with Chic legend Nile Rodgers in honour of the late Taylor Hawkins and learnt that Billie Eilish and Jason Sudeikis are both huge fans of the band. “The gigs and the performances were great,” reflects Coombes over Zoom with NME. “We felt really satisfied and just really happy to be able to play those songs to everybody and to have played them so well. It was also great to see the response from everybody.”
During what little downtime he had in between, the Supergrass frontman spent the rest of last year chipping away at his fourth solo album ‘Turn The Car Around’, which he is currently preparing to take on the road next month. We spoke to the Supergrass frontman about his new record and what lies ahead in 2023.
Hi Gaz! It’s 10 years since you became a solo artist. Did it work out as you intended and do you feel you’re a better songwriter now?
Gaz Coombes: “I don’t know. My intentions were very vague at the beginning. I came out of Supergrass and I didn’t really do anything for a little bit but as the songs started to come, I thought I might have a record here. Then it was [2015 album] ‘Matador’ when things really picked up. My writing and recording approach just seemed to click perfectly around 2014-15 and that just basically fuelled the next six years for me. Really believing in the new songs and feeling like I’m writing the best stuff I’ve ever written and communicating that.”
‘Long Live The Strange’ on the album was inspired by a trip with your daughter to see Cavetown…
“I heard Cavetown a lot coming from my daughter Tiger’s bedroom and she’d been getting into a lot of different music, a lot of old stuff, Fleetwood Mac, The Clash, The Cure but then at the same time hearing I guess what other teenagers were really digging online. Then we went to this gig in the middle of the pandemic in 2020 and there was just a vibe that people were still kind of a bit on edge, a bit delicate but he was just super cool. He came out very unassuming with an acoustic guitar, very sort of underplayed and then the room just went with him and was singing along. I looked around and I just thought it was quite a powerful moment really, a live experience on a very small scale. It was one of those nights where you felt quite connected to what the idea of performing live music was again, that connection with the audience.”
‘Sonny The Strong’ is about a semi-fictionalised British boxer in post World War II Britain. How did you come up with the idea for that?
“It was based on Randolph Turpin, this British boxer in the ’50s. He had his moment when he defeated [world champion] Sugar Ray Robinson to claim the title and then just got involved with the mob and money troubles and had this incredibly turbulent life that ended very tragically.
“I was watching a lot of documentaries over the last couple of years at home and I got into these rise and fall stories. When I wrote this song, I had the first line and it was about somebody but it was just a case of finding who it was about? And then I found this article on Randy Turpin which was fascinating.”
You teamed up with Willie J Healey and Ride drummer Loz Colbert on this album too. How did that come about?
“I was doing backing vocals with The Roxys – the girls that sing for me live – and I wanted Willie J and Loz involved. I had this four part gang backing vocal idea that I thought Willie’s voice would be perfect for. So he came over, we spent the day laying down some backing vocals on ‘Long Live The Strange’ and ‘This Love’ and it was brilliant.
“With Loz I managed to get him on some drums on ‘Not The Only Things’ before the pandemic. He came over to my house and put some beats down for this track that went through quite a lot of different mixes before I came up with the final version. But I kept that beat throughout.”
I believe Nile Rodgers nicknamed The Roxys. How did that happen?
“We’d just done this performance on Later… With Jules Holland and we met Nile down the hallway. He was great to meet and such a sweet guy. I remember him saying: ‘Yeah your guitar sound was sick, it was like filthy’. I thought, ‘that’s great Nile thinks my guitar sounds filthy’. Then he saw the girls and he just pointed at them and went ‘Roxy, Roxy, Roxy’. He was just being kind of funny and charming and that was it. It was kind of sweet how it came about. He’s just one of those guys who says something cool in the moment.”
Will you go back to Supergrass at some point?
“Reunions can’t go on forever and they’ve got to have some sort of lifespan. It was always gonna be that year, we were gonna do everything in 2020. But because of what happened with the pandemic, obviously it got spread out into two and a half, almost three years which is pretty crazy. But it’s cool that it ended in a way where we could definitely look at the possibility of other shows down the line if it feels right and if everyone’s in the right place.”
What moments stood out for you over the course of the reunion?
“Glastonbury was a real moment for us, just to play there again on The Other Stage. We always had a bit of a love affair with Glastonbury from our earliest performance in ’95. That shaped our band in many ways, that early performance. I just remember being quite excitable but kind of nervous and young at the time. It was that combination of shitting my pants but having this excitement that needed to be released, which are always good ingredients for a live performance.”
I hear Billie Eilish was watching from the side of the stage when you played Glastonbury in 2022?
“So I heard, yeah. I didn’t see her but I heard she was singing along to ‘Sun Hits The Sky’ on our little viewing gantry which was kind of cool. I’ve got huge respect for her. I think what she does is great and how she does it is cool. They’re an interesting writing team Eilish and her brother [Finneas] as well.”
Supergrass were close to Foo Fighters and Taylor Hawkins. How was it playing that tribute show at Wembley Stadium?
“The day itself was incredibly special and it was amazing how they [the Foo Fighters] managed to piece it all together. It had this almost Live Aid feel about it and it was an emotional day for everybody but really special. There was something in the audience as well that night. It was an incredible vibe.
“Getting on stage with Nile Rodgers was a total honour too and I loved every minute of our performance of [David Bowie’s] ‘Modern Love’. I know that song backwards but actually when I rehearsed it, I’d been visiting some friends up north, they’ve got kids as well and my mate has got this garage set up with loads of equipment and his boy is a really good drummer. We set up this family band with my daughter on bass and his boy on drums and then we ran through ‘Modern Love’ about 10 times and it was brilliant. So I’ve got the family band to thank for honing my performance on that one.”
What do you think Taylor would have made of the show?
“He would have been incredibly blown away I imagine. It was so cool to be able to do that because his death was such a fucking shock and so fucking horrible for everybody. I can’t imagine what the Foos and his family were going through. But if you can try and do something special just to mark what a beautiful guy he was… it’s great that they managed to do that and deliver it in such a great way.”
There was archive footage of Danny Goffey recalling the time Taylor jumped on the drums for ‘Caught By The Fuzz’ when Supergrass toured with the Foo Fighters in the ‘90s. What were your memories of those times?
“Taylor would kind of play our songs in soundchecks and stuff and we’d often hear it. I remember being told when he used to play with Alanis Morissette, he used to do ‘Lenny’ and he got Alanis’ band into ‘Lenny’. Of course he loved Danny. They had this great little drummers thing going on.
“As for that performance, at that moment we were like ‘come on and play with us’. He played (‘Caught By The Fuzz’) so fast, it was ridiculous. I think he dropped the eighths on the [hi]-hats in that American rock way. Suddenly, ‘Caught By The Fuzz’ was even faster than it was originally which is quite a feat in itself. Then Danny was like, ‘Hey why am not on this stage?’ So he made sure he was on the stage and he ran on and jumped on Taylor. That was quite a moment.”
‘Ted Lasso’ star Jason Sudeikis also admitted to being a Supergrass fan at Wembley too.
“Yeah, I met him just a couple of days before that Wembley show and he was really lovely. I didn’t realise he was such a big fan. It’s always interesting when you meet new people and you don’t realise they know who you are, know what your band is like and have heard your music. I did like Ted Lasso as well. It’s a great feel good series.”
‘Turn The Car Around is out on January 13 on Hot Fruit Recordings / Virgin Music.