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From Supergrass to pastures new
7:00am Saturday 20th October 2012 in Music
Gaz Coombes is stepping out on his own after years as the frontman in Supergrass. He talks to Andy Welch about his solo album, released earlier this year, and his forthcoming UK tour.
By Andy Welch
As the frontman of Supergrass, Gaz Coombes always cut an iconic figure.
With his outlandish sideburns, distinctive vocals, laid-back guitar-playing style and wondrous way with a chorus, he stood out from the crowd.
And the vision of Coombes and former bandmates Mick Quinn and Danny Goffey prancing around in the video for signature hit Alright is an enduring image for all Supergrass fans.
Sitting in the offices of his record label in west London to talk about his forthcoming solo tour, he barely looks any older than when Supergrass released that first batch of singles back in 1994 and 1995.
But Coombes, 36, is a different person now: calmer and more measured, and very much enjoying stepping out on his own after so many years of being in a band.
"I've never really had a proper job," he says. "Well, I worked at a garden centre once, but got fired for smoking in the rose bushes.
"I've got two kids now, so other things are happening. When you're young in a band, you're free and easy to do as you please, and I still think I'm as driven as I was - the drive to make great music doesn't change - but there will be compromises where once upon a time there weren't.
"I just want to get this record out to as many people as I can because I believe in it," he adds, referring to Gaz Coombes Presents... Here Come The Bombs, which was released earlier this year.
The 2010 decision to disband Supergrass, whose first album I Should Coco was the fastest-selling debut on the Parlophone label since The Beatles' Please Please Me in 1963, wasn't one any of the four-piece (Gaz's brother Rob joined officially in 2002) took lightly. From Coombes's explanation, it sounded totally necessary.
"I was very unhappy at the end of Supergrass," he says. "I think we all were, in different ways. I wasn't happy with the quality of the music we were making, I didn't think it was strong enough. What was great about the band was that there was always a high bar."
The band were in the middle of recording their unreleased seventh album Release The Drones when they opted to tour one last time and call it a day.
"It was an example of a band being confusing and not firing on all cylinders," says Coombes. "It should be brilliant, being in a band, hanging out with mates and playing music all day, so when it doesn't feel like that, you have to knock it on the head."
After the break-up Coombes sat at home playing with his two children, not really sure what he was going to do next.
A prolific songwriter, he soon started writing again and was pleased that the sketches of songs he was working on were all strong.
"I could've easily had a divorce-like period where I disappeared up my own a... and wrote a load of rubbish," he says.
"I think this is some of the best stuff I've ever written, and [producer] Sam Williams came over to listen and started jumping up and down and reassured me that I had to finish the songs and release them.
"That's great to have, that outside voice. I knew then that I could make a record and tour it, without expectations."
Coombes's first live performance was at Brighton's Great Escape festival, basically a showcase for new bands over a weekend by the sea.
He enjoyed turning up with basic equipment and unloading it himself, although he does admit that having played the toilet-venue circuit with Supergrass almost 20 years ago, he's no desire to do it again on his own.
"That said, this tour that's coming up, I've not jumped straight into big venues. I want to build it naturally," he says.
His first solo album certainly doesn't pick up where Supergrass left off. He's aware that some fans would have wanted exactly that, while others might have preferred an acoustic album. But pleasing himself was his only criteria.
"It was a really liberating experience to be on my own, to find out what I can do and what my particular voice would be," he says.
"Other people's expectations weren't in my mind, though. I didn't really care, to be honest. I knew this album was a blank canvas for me, and I felt that I could do anything I wanted to do regardless of what I'd done before.
"It was important for me to leave Supergrass alone as well, I didn't want to carry that on, but I don't want to tread on it either."
The resulting album is bold if not radical. Guitars are used sparingly, and in come electronic sounds and exciting new textures.
"That was what I was really into this time," says Coombes. "And like on Sub Divider, I really liked the idea of not having a chorus in the traditional sense, but just cutting into a new section of the song. Playing with the sonics and getting that right was really interesting to me, and while I wasn't too drawn to electric guitars, I did want those moments.
"There's the end of Hot Fruit, the very ending particularly, which is really in your face. I think it startles people. I wanted that part to be loud, but you can't be loud if you're loud all the time."
Coombes has few regrets about the passing of Supergrass. "There's no part of me that wishes the band hadn't split up," he says. "It was the right time, and now is the right time for what I'm doing now.
"It feels a little bit like washing clean. I might not have the youthful exuberance I once did, but I couldn't be happier."
Extra time - Gaz Coombes
:: Gareth Michael Coombes was born in Oxford on March 8, 1976.
:: Prior to forming Supergrass, Coombes was in The Jennifers with Danny Goffey, Mick Quinn and two other members.
:: He has three brothers: Rob, who joined Supergrass in 2002, Charly, who plays in Gaz's current live band and was once in the 22-20s, and Eddie, another musician who lives in Paris.
:: Supergrass released six albums, selling more than five million copies around the world.
:: Gaz and his partner Jools have two daughters, Raya May and Tiger.
17: Academy, Newcastle
18: King Tut's, Glasgow
19: Club Academy, Manchester
20: Brudenell Social Club, Leeds
21: Academy, Birmingham
24: Xoyo, London
25: Rescue Rooms, Nottingham
26: The Haunt, Brighton
27: Academy 2, Oxford
28: The Fleece, Bristol
:: Gaz Coombes Presents... Here Comes The Bombs is out now. He begins a UK tour in Newcastle on Wednesday October 17.