'Matador', the Mercury and challenging pre-conceptions...

Gaz Coombes is – as they say – in fine fettle, his voice positively ringing down the line. Little wonder, though, given that the one time Supergrass frontman is toasting the remarkable success of solo album 'Matador' with a Mercury nomination.

“I've been doing this now on my own for like three years and it's tough, it's tough starting out, he admits. “You've got to try and help people to get past any baggage or any pre-conceptions they might have and just to look at stuff on face value. So it really feels like it's validated that for me, I guess, getting the Mercury.”

“I think it's such an important thing, the Mercury award, because – for me – all the bands that I listen to these days, I think they're all fairly small bands, really. Small artists. They're not selling hundreds of thousands of records and topping the charts. At the same time it's great to be up alongside Florence & The Machine, she's had an incredible year as well. I think it's great, that cross-section of British music. Some of it may have sold a thousand copies, some of it sold a million copies, and I'm honoured, honoured to be on that list with those artists.”

Gaz freely admits that he's still coming to terms with the impact the Mercury nomination has had. “It is really important to me,” he explains. “I'm really blown away. I was so overwhelmed the day I found out, and like I said, just to get that recognition of an album that I absolutely loved making. It was a total joy to make it. Not that I needed a lot of faith restoring but it does kind of restore your faith in the fact that you can accept stuff at face value. If it's a great record, it's a great record, regardless of what's come before, or where that artist sits commercially and I think that's really important to me, that's what music is about, for me. It's about that purity of delivering something that excites you in the hope that you'll excite other people.”

'Matador' was largely crafted in the singer's home studio, and it flits between slightly left field, almost Krautrock influences and some deeply English songwriting. At times it's an incredibly personal record, but it was always one that was designed to be open – a welcome return from a welcoming artist, you could say.

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“I think it's really important – for me – to not get too personal and morose in any kind of lyric,” he says. “I always try and keep that element of the hook, the riff. I want people to be drawn in, but in a different way. For me, it works really well. It ('The Girl Who Fell To Earth') is inspired by my daughter but it's not like every line is directly about her. I think I struck a good balance between not being afraid to say: I'm really fuckin' freaked out right now. This is a battle. Or whatever personal event I'm talking about. But then, keeping sort of little shafts of light piercing through it so that it doesn't get too morose and too over-personal, I guess.”

Recently playing a massive solo show at the Forum in London, it's clear that Gaz Coombes' solo material is cutting through. Sure, some have no doubt purchased their tickets on name recognition, but a great number are excited, enthused, passionate about his solo work – probably just as passionate as the man himself.

“I guess the first time I saw it on a big scale was at Glastonbury, when I played on the Park Stage,” he remembers. “You just never know what kind of crowd you're going to get. You never know who's going to be on the main stage, or somewhere else at the festival. When I walked out onstage and saw the packed field, in that beautiful bowl, that natural bowl at the park area... yeah! That was bit overwhelming. It's like: shit, there's a lot of people here.”

“I guess, that it's the buzz from the record,” Gaz continues. “It's not people coming to see me do a version of 'Moving' or 'Caught By The Fuzz'. They're coming to hear '20/20' and they're coming to hear 'English Ruse'. I don't know if I've ever really had that feeling before. I don't know if I've ever sort of experienced that feeling of immediate validation of having a record and having that translate to the stage and with the crowd. It was insane.”

When Clash calls the singer he's actually packing his bags, making sure he's got enough clothes for a quickfire burst of European tour dates. It's something he actually relishes, with Gaz explaining that the buzz of packing up for shows in some farflung land always leaves him breathlessly excited.

“I've been doing this for 20 odd years and that first night on the tour bus... I still behave like a 17 year old for some reason!” he laughs. “I start cracking open bottles of wine and getting far too excited. I should really show my age a bit more, but there we go. It's just a lot of fun. These songs have grown and grown onstage over these months, they've expanded and blossomed and it's really special to hear and see that happening as you go along. I'm getting such a buzz from playing live at the moment.”

Inbetween shows, though, Gaz has been able to steal a few precious moments in the studio, laying down a few ideas and pondering where his music might go next. “I started tinkering away on things a few weeks back,” he admits. “It's kind of exciting and I'm kind of shitting myself as well. I don't know what's going to happen, to start with. I think I'm going to fall into it, in a way. Like I did with 'Matador'. Just start writing instinctively. Just start getting a few riffs down, a few melodies. Just let it be what it is and hopefully something will speak early on and it'll give me a direction.”

As for the exact direction he aims to go in, Gaz admits that it's too early to tell. “I don't know, man. I wouldn't like to say.,” he adds. “But there's some exciting things coming out already, a couple of ideas I was working on last week I'm really buzzing off at the moment. Fingers crossed that it'll be a good 'un.”

The Mercury shortlist is typically diverse, ranging from home-recorded indie folk to lush major label sessions, from underground hip-hop influences to some straight up rock. 'Matador' has as good as change as any, with the record seemingly finding new ears on a daily basis. But if Gaz didn't win, who would he like to see approach the podium?

“Oh man, that's a tricky one!” he laughs. “I'm a big fan of Ghostpoet and our paths have crossed a few times this year, we've hooked up a couple of times and he's such a lovely guy. Real, real top man. I love hearing him talk; hearing him talk about how he does it, his approach. And there's some really, really cool stuff on that record. I think he'd be great!”

“I heard some C Duncan stuff the other day, which was really cool,” he adds. “I like the story behind that, as well, a guy in his bedroom making this mad music – I can relate to that! I think it's a really cool story. There's a lot of stuff there. I'm just going to enjoy the free booze and food on the night! It'll be great. It'll be a good night. It's a real pleasure to be a part of it all.”

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The overall winner of the 2015 Mercury Prize in association with BBC Music will be announced on BBC Four and BBC Radio 6 Music on Friday 20 November. BBC Four coverage begins at 9.30pm.

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