Supergrass man on getting experimental…

Gaz Coombes is full of surprises. But then, that’s how he likes it. Following a two-decade career with Supergrass, the songwriter’s approach to his solo output is to enter into unexpected realms.

New album ‘Matador’ (review) is a case in point. Out this month, it was largely recorded in the singer’s home studio and found Gaz utilising banks of analogue kit to craft something that continually evades expectation.

“It sort of just happened straight from the last record, in a way – it came out of touring the ‘Here Come The Bombs’ album (review),” he explains. “I just really felt that I sensed the momentum that I could make the most of. So then I thought, yeah: I want to do another record here. Let’s just go for it. It’s really a case of getting spontaneous ideas down, being instinctive with the recording and not over think it, in a way. Get my honest thoughts across, really.”

“They’re just sort of instinctive ideas, I guess,” he continues. “The gear I use is pretty old, but it’s a real mix. I really like to mix digital with analogue, so it’s a modern approach. Mix it with older influences as well.”

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You go with your gut to begin with. I wanted to record and write at the same time. I wanted to record pretty quickly, really…

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Working in a quick-fire fashion, the songwriter was keen to move beyond the sounds he had employed on his previous, debut solo album.

“I think every record I’ve ever been involved in has been a reaction against the last, you know? On the first solo album, inevitably, there’ll be a lot of ideas – especially coming out of a band for 20 years. I know that I spent quite a lot of time working out who I am, and what lights my candle, what gets me going. I think, just because more time has passed, it’s becoming a bit clearer. It’s becoming clearer the more that I do, the more that I write. Like I said, there’s real momentum happening now, I can see hints of this calling me. It feels really focussed.”

Working with a blank slate, Gaz often found himself inspired by pure sound – if something caught his ear, he would loop it for minutes at a time, gradually allowing ideas to sharpen. “I guess you go with your gut to begin with. I wanted to record and write at the same time. I wanted to record pretty quickly, really. Get the idea for the chords, or the structure, and then get it down pretty quick.”

In some ways, ‘Matador’ is a conscious attempt to avoid the pitfall of endless choice that can come with recording at a full, professional studio.

“I think that was my plan, really – to record it in the way I do demos a lot of the time,” he says. “I’ve got this thing about pro studios: you can wander in sometimes and it’ll be all too easy. There’s dozens of expensive microphones and expensive engineers and it’s all ready to go. What I like about recording at home is the limitations; there’s not as much gear, so you find different ways of doing things and you don’t become so precious about spending three hours on a guitar sound.”

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‘20/20’, live at 229, London

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Filled to the brim with irregular and conventional sounds alike, ‘Matador’ combines Coombes’ trademark melodic sense to some definite prog elements, while also displaying hints of Krautrock’s endless motorik rhythms. Explorations in sound, certain aspects of the material on this new album also developed in a traditional songwriting manner.

“Quite a few of them were written, I guess, as you would write songs. With ‘To The Wire’, I sat down at the piano to write the chords, so it was written very much like a [regular] song. With ‘Detroit’ there was an old session that I found, and it had this little guitar riff which was just looping round and round, and I basically picked up an acoustic and played chords to this really repetitive guitar loop.”

“When you’re in a band,” he continues, “you’re always getting in a room, you jam and you sort out ideas. Being on my own, the possibilities are endless with how you begin a track, with how it’s conceived. That, to me, is really, really exciting. It’s open ended.”

Working entirely on his own, though, Gaz quickly learned to become a ferocious self-editor. Thankfully, he was able to rely on the team around him to give their (sometimes brutally) honest opinion.

“I think it’s the mad thing about doing a record on your own, I guess: it’s a constant battle with self-doubt. I guess I don’t take it for granted. It’s good not to get too comfortable or complacent. But that really drove me, pushed me forward and propelled me through the record – the need to have everything feel great. Whatever I was releasing, I wanted to be really proud of. There’s no room for a bit of album filler, there’s really no room for that, and I wanted it to be quality from start to finish.”

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It’s good not to get too comfortable or complacent. But that really drove me, pushed me forward and propelled me through the record – the need to have everything feel great…

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Eager to play with form and arrangement, Coombes is also capable of disarming lyrical honesty on this new record. ‘The Girl Who Fell To Earth’ for example, comes over as a Bowie salute but is actually a tribute to his daughter, who suffers from autism.

“She’s an amazing little girl, she’s got autism and it’s inspiring to see her. These 10 years or so have been quite a mad little journey into understanding her world. In the most beautiful way I look at her as my little alien who’s landed on the planet and it’s my job to settle her into life on Earth. I thought it was a beautiful little idea to write about. It was sweet.”

‘Matador’ is full of unexpected moments; ‘Is It On’ is a 30-second piece influenced by leftfield classical composition, while the closing title track comes over all epic before reaching its shock conclusion within 90 seconds.

“I think it’s to the annoyance of my managers and a few other people. There’s this great quote from one of my managers: ‘This is probably one of the best tracks you’ll ever do, but you haven’t finished it.’ I thought it was great!” he laughs. “I felt like everything had been said in that track. I like the thought of people listening back to it again, finishing it and wanting to hear it again. It’s got the right amount of information in it, as far as I’m concerned.”

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Words: Robin Murray

‘Matador’ (review) is out on January 26th through Hot Fruit. Find Gaz online here and see him live as follows:

28th Rough Trade East, London

4th The Fleece, Bristol
5th The Old Market, Hove
6th Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
7th O2 Academy, Oxford
9th Glee Club, Birmingham
10th Pleasance Theatre, Edinburgh
11th Gorilla, Manchester

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