Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?! – Supergrass’ Gaz Coombes

In Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?!, we quiz an artist on their own career to see how much they can remember – and find out if the booze, loud music and/or tour sweeties has knocked the knowledge out of them. This week: the Supergrass frontman takes the ultimate test

1
You wrote the song ‘Drone Alone’ for Channel 4’s Fresh Meat. But which other former Britpopper also wrote a track for the character of Kingsley?

“That’s Graham Coxon, right?”

CORRECT. He wrote ‘The Implodium Implodes’ for series two.

“Good start! It was cool because it was something that had no attachment to anything I was doing, and you’re free during those times to explore and come up with mad ideas. I went to Manchester to see them filming and oversaw Joe Thomas [who plays Kingsley] singing it in the studio there as well. It was a laugh.”

2
When Supergrass performed ‘Caught by the Fuzz’ on Top of the Pops via satellite in 1995, which actor was emblazoned on bassist Mick Quinn’s T-shirt?

“That’s tricky! [Laughs] Trying to remember clothing of other band members over the years is quite niche! Jack Nicholson?”

WRONG. It’s Hugh Grant’s mugshot – he’d recently been arrested for solicitation of sex worker Divine Brown. Is it true that image was set to be the artwork for the United States single sleeve – before Grant’s lawyers intervened?

“No, I don’t think so. We had some jokey conversations and meetings about it, because it seemed to fit topically with what we were doing and felt cheeky. We felt there was an opportunity to have a laugh with it but we made the right call in the end.”

 

3
When you played ‘Sun Hits the Sky’ on Da Ali G Show in 2000, which band did the titular spoof host pretend to confuse you with?

“Supertramp?”

CORRECT. Ali G – the self-described  treasurer of the national campaign against indie music” mistook you for Supertramp, told you to shave your sideburns and ‘assisted’ with a bass-heavy remix of ‘Sun Hits the Sky’.

“That was funny because Sacha Baron Cohen [aka Ali G] came into the dressing room before the show and went through the script with me, so I thought I was all ready. When the cameras started rolling, he changed everything and did completely different bits of banter. Hence my dazed and confused expression at times. Or that might have been the joint before the show! [Laughs] My kids find the YouTube clip funny.”

What was the most surreal offer you’ve ever turned down?

“There was that weird offer to model for Calvin Klein, which was strange. I wasn’t into the idea of myself in pants on billboards! But I’d do it now, man – though I haven’t quite got the figure I had when I was 18! Obviously the Spielberg stuff …”

Supergrass rejected an offer from director Steven Spielberg to star in your own Monkees-style TV series…

“We flew over and had a meeting with him at Universal Studios. It was fascinating and exciting. We were in the midst of the success of the ‘Alright’ video and were flying. Part of us thought, ‘Fuck it – why not?’, but we’d started work on the second album [1997’s ‘In It for the Money’] and were loving how it sounded. If we’d moved forward with Spielberg, it would have stopped that record. It was an easy decision in the end. It was a Sliding Doors moment: do we want to carry on making records or be TV stars? We didn’t want to be celebrities. I’m the same now. I’ve been offered Dancing on Ice, but the thought of me in ice skates is enough to send shivers! [Laughs]”

 

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4
Complete the following lyrics: ‘The girl with the removable face / She didn’t have much of a life / All the boys used to pull it off…’?

And use it as a frisbee!

CORRECT. From your pre-Supergrass band The Jennifers’ song ‘The Girl with the Removable Face’.

“A classic! That was when myself and [Supergrass and Jennifers’ bandmate]  Danny [Goffey] had started writing songs together, after covering the likes of The Cure and Dinosaur Jr.. Some of those early songs were terrible – one was called ‘Harvey The Accountant’ – but in others you can hear the thread to the start of Supergrass in terms of that freedom, youthful energy and personality in the music.”

Having started off covering The Cure, did it mean a lot to find out Robert Smith said you reminded him of a young version of himself?

”It means loads, man! He was on a bedroom wall when I was 10/11-years-old. Seven years later, I’m sat next to him on a flight to Rio. The Cure were in first class, and Robert found out where we were sat back in economy and came and sat with me for the whole flight. We chatted and talked about music. I can’t remember too much about it. We were taking Valium with loads of wine and everything went really fuzzy. [Laughs]”

5
Supergrass’ first live television performance was playing ‘Mansize Rooster’ on The Word in 1995. Name any other guest who appeared on the same episode as you.

“That’s really hard! Put me out of my misery.”

WRONG. You could have had: Liv Tyler, Shane Richie, or the kids from 1970s/1980s sitcom Diff’rent Strokes.

“Wow! What a team! [Laughs] We got a bus and brought 50 of our mates from Oxford to the studio for that. On the way, they got absolutely trashed – dropping things here, there and everywhere, so were super-rowdy. It was exciting. I remember utterly bricking it. If you watch that performance, you can see I’m shitting my pants but I’m giving it everything. It was a mad old night.”

As mad as dropping acid before being interviewed by Jamie Theakston on BBC pop programme The O-Zone in ’95?

“That was over in the Arizona desert. That week was ridiculous. We’d met Shannon [Hoon] from Blind Melon and got on well. He gave us a bit of acid – as you do! – and we didn’t do it for a few days. We thought it was our day off and took it, before realising: ‘Shit – we’ve got this TV interview!’. By which point it was too late to do anything about it. It was bonkers. I thought I was talking to a mountain goat – but it was Jamie Theakston! [Laughs] Bless him, he didn’t know what to do! They kept cutting the cameras, going off and saying: ‘Look, these guys are just mumbling – I don’t know what they’re saying’. We were off our faces on acid, man! Sadly, we found out a few days later that Shannon had passed away [after overdosing on his tour bus], which was really awful and sad to hear. We were freaked out by it afterwards.”

6
What bizarre accident caused Supergrass to cancel their 2007 Oxford homecoming gig?

“Hmm – that’s not when Danny broke his hand, was it?”

WRONG. Mick Quinn reportedly sleepwalked out of the first floor window of a South of France villa he was staying in.

“God yeah, of course! Wowzers. That was heavy. We were all frightened for him. He managed to recover, but it was one hell of a horrific fall. I remember being in hospital with him while he described what he’d done and thinking: ‘Man, you were centimetres away from death there!’ We’ve been in some pretty hairy situations over the years and sometimes you look back and think: ‘That could have gone a slightly different way….”

What have been some of the hairiest?

“In Texas one time, we had escaped convicts on our bus and they stole all our drugs. We heard from the promoter that a couple of guys had escaped from the local prison, and I’m glad we didn’t go up against them!”

7
Which band’s rider once specified they would “only share a dressing room with Supergrass, Oasis or maybe Led Zeppelin”?

“That’s got to be Dave and the boys. Foo Fighters, yeah?”

CORRECT.

“They’ve been brilliant supporters of us over the years. They’re a great bunch. In 2008, we were in the States supporting them on an arena tour, with our own gigs factored in as well. We had a day off and me and Danny had a big, big night. We hadn’t slept and I got a call from our manager saying Dave Grohl’s voice had gone and the Foos wanted me to sing with them on a VH1 performance celebrating The Who that night. I said: ‘No, I can’t – I’m fucked!’. But Danny barged in the door, told me I had to do it, and almost tore my dressing gown off and pushed me into the shower until I started to feel a bit better.”

“We went to the VH1 event and Jack Black was excited to meet us because we’re one of his favourite bands. Then I ended up singing The Who’s ‘Bargain’ with the Foo Fighters in front of millions of Americans. I had a teleprompter because I didn’t know the lyrics, but it froze at one point, so I fucked up the end of a verse, but pulled it back. Then we got a police escort to our own gig, and arrived with five minutes to spare. What an experience!”

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8
Which cartoon band covered ‘Alright’ for their 2007 video game?

“Erm… I don’t know. You’re going to have to tell me that one!”

WRONG. It’s Alvin and the Chipmunks for their video game of the same name.

“My kids were fucking obsessed with Alvin and the Chipmunks. Horrifically so. I had to listen to their squeaky voices too many times on car journeys, so that’s a version I won’t be listening to!”

9
Which drug smuggler once interviewed you for The Big Issue magazine?

Howard Marks.”

CORRECT.

“He was a really lovely chap. We got on well. We’d all read his book, and he was fascinating and easy to talk to.”

Talking of criminals: Didn’t you also end up hanging out with The Great Train Robbery fugitive Ronnie Biggs?

“Yeah. Some lively mind was trying to concoct press stories, so it was a case of, ‘Listen, why don’t you, Supergrass, meet an actual supergrass?’ It was quite surreal. Added to that, we’d been put in a massive hotel in Rio and it was our first time in South America.”

10
Name any three slogans on the various badges that adorn the cover artwork of the 2004 compilation ‘Supergrass Is 10’.

“Oh man! I probably could if I took time to think about it. On the spot… No, I don’t know! Hit me with it! [Laughs].”

WRONG. Among various others, you could have had: “Draft Beer”, “Not Students”; “Stamp Out Reality”; “Go Naked”; “Make Love Not War” and “Support Your Local Button Merchant”.

“I do remember sitting in a board meeting coming up with those badge ideas!”

Since the band reunited in 2019, having split in 2010, Supergrass’ live shows have been met with an ecstatic response. Will it lead to any new music from the band?

“No, I don’t think it will. The reunion was just going to be for a year for 2020, to celebrate our career and 25th anniversary of our debut album, ‘I Should Coco’, and put out a definitive boxset [‘The Strange Ones: 1994-2008’]. We were meant to cram everything into one year and have a great time, but because of COVID, some shows we should have played in 2020 have been moved to 2022. I’m also working on a solo record that’s almost finished, so I’m going to be focussing on that.”

How has it felt being back in Supergrass?

“It’s great. It took me by surprise at the start – to begin with, getting back in that headspace was tricky, but we’ve got a unique connection onstage, and I feel like we’ve been on fire as a band, hitting the songs with real energy and I’m singing better than ever. This weekend’s [Saturday 18 December, 2021] homecoming is going to be cool. We haven’t played live since September and are buzzing to get onstage.”

The verdict: 5/10

“Good to know I haven’t trashed my brain entirely!”

– Supergrass play the O2 Academy2 Oxford on December 18

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