Star Scene: Gaz Coombes (ex-SUPERGRASS)

Gaz Coombes’ scene is a far cry from the chaos and disorder of Caught By The Fuzz. Formerly the frontman of Supergrass, subsequently an admired Mercury nominated solo artist, the unassuming Coombes states: “My scene is psychedelic beauty … like beautiful music and my kids and travelling. That’s kind of my scene.”

Currently Coombes is planning his first solo tour to Australia to promote his third solo album, World’s Strongest Man which was released on Hot Fruit/Caroline Australia in May 2018. It has been a long journey from touring with Supergrass and playing at larger venues and at major Australian festivals such as Big Day Out. But it was a necessity for Coombes to redefine his fan base. He states: “It’s just a different set up really. It’s a whole different infrastructure in terms of starting again. I never really expected to bring all of the Supergrass fans straight over to my solo stuff. I know that it doesn’t work like that. I was kind of really up for a new challenge, in terms of being aware that there’s going to be starting again with gigs and working from the ground up again. I think inherently that makes it to world travelling. It’s a great thing that we live in a time where with these huge record companies, it’s not about piling money into stuff. You can work your way a bit more, as an artist, rather than dealing with middle men and racking up loads of debt with record companies.” He continues: “With Supergrass, it was just a different time. You’re part and parcel in the machine, I guess. It was a lot more structured in the way of the band kind of started off in the UK, then you do Europe, and then you go through America, then you go to Australia, you go to Japan. It’s kind of this world tour thing that just seemed to be a bit easier to structure. With the weight of a major label behind you, it’s easier to get into the rhythm. I found a different rhythm and it’s no less exciting and challenging and rewarding. In fact, because artists have got to do a lot more for themselves it can kind of make it more interesting.  I’ve been trying to get over to some of these intimate venues, like small little theatres where you’re very close to the audience. Just the response to my records has been kind of overwhelming. It’s really blown me away how it’s been with things. None of the rest of this stuff really matters to me. It doesn’t matter to me. If you don’t have this enormous infrastructure around it, I quite like it, it’s quite raw and DIY in many ways. My record is DIY and it’s just all about expression. I just like to express the shit that goes on in my head and try to translate that and articulate that to people. It’s great. It’s been such an amazing trip for years. I’ve loved it.”

Some of the “shit” that goes through Coombes’ head is about “bad habits” in the aptly titled Shit (I’ve done it again) from World’s Strongest Man. The new album has many gems, beginning as rough diamonds polished by Coombes’ writing and recording process. Coombes explores this process stating: “All three records or maybe these last two have been constructed in a similar way. It will always be about the early days, early weeks being in the studio and just being free with ideas and trying to put them down as quickly and spontaneously as I can. I’m a big fan of trying to capture the idea before I actually know probably what I’m doing. I’m just a big fan of that kind of instinctive art in a way. What’s just bursting to come out, before anything’s calculated or primed. I let all these things come out so it’s quite chaotic and messy at the beginning. As I get through a couple of months of sifting through ideas, it starts to get more focused and I’ll hone in on three or four key ideas and then try to evolve those to become more coherent and stuff.”

In particular Coombes was relieved with the actual completion of The Oaks. He states: “The Oaks was one that at the beginning we were kind of buzzing on it. It felt great in the studio, but it just didn’t have a complete structure. It didn’t really have a B section, a secondary section like a chorus, or that kind of thing. As hard as a tried, I just could not find this other section for that song to make it complete. I think that went on for three or four months. I had to put it away. I just had to put it to one side and, yeah, it was losing at that point, that song, it was kind of right down the list. I took a break and I came back to it and worked with the co-producer on it a bit more in Davenport and we just put one last concerted effort in and then I just hit upon something which was great. It suddenly just became what it was. It’s great when that happens. Obviously, you want all ideas to come effortlessly and easy, but sometimes the really tricky ones that you’re wrestling with and trying to narrow, those can be really rewarding as well.”

The Oaks was written about Coombes’ hero “Bowie”. He explains: “That was completely Bowie. It just broke my heart and it’s my Mum as well. I think I just connected to Bowie like he was a member of the family. Everybody felt like that. Which is great, which was what was so amazing about Bowie. It really did feel like it was a brother or uncle or father who’d gone. My Mum and Bowie were part of that song. Just the idea to deal with that loss and make sense of that is where The Oaks came from.” Coombes actually met his hero and he was “just like a family member”. He recalls: “Back in the early 2000’s, we did a Meltdown festival in the UK. He was curating. I just ran into him in the corridor and I ran into him in the hallway, the corridor, at the end of the show. He was actually leaving and I kind of called after him. It’s probably really embarrassing now. I was like, ‘David!’ He was absolutely charming. Very gracious and every time I think of him I’m dazzled. We played early on and he’s, ‘I know, I know’ and he was just a very warm and welcoming charismatic person.”

With the Australian tour, Coombes states: “It’s just gonna be me. It’s a cool show. I’ve been working on it for a couple years now. It’s a bit like a small version of the studio I work in. I’ve brought some of those elements on stage like drum machines, little looping boxes, strange things. Acoustic guitars and piano. It’s a bit of a kind of cross-section of how I work and how I write. I thought it would be cool to bring that to the stage. It’s a little bit of experimenting, but it’s been really great and so well received and that’s why I still really enjoy doing those solo gigs. People seem to like it.” As for Supergrass hits, Coombes states: “I play that by ear really. A couple of them I still do, a couple that mean a lot to me personally, that I feel good about doing on acoustic guitar or whatever. I’m always wary about playing Supergrass stuff with a new band. I don’t really want to do that. I’d rather play that stuff with Supergrass. But yeah, sure, I definitely do Supergrass songs. Depends on how the crowd is.”

The responsiveness of Australian audiences is assured; a reflection of Coombes’ love for Australia. He remembers many tours down under, especially those “early Big Day Outs”. He states: “They were incredible. It was like a touring circus, especially because it was us and The Prodigy and we were kind of travelling together and hanging out in hotels together. We were up for partying for sure, and The Prodigy sure as hell were up for partying. Some of those nights were quite interesting. I remember the first time I met the lead singer of The Prodigy: I walked into a lift, and he was just there. I walked in to the lift and it was just us two and it was quiet for 20 seconds and then he looked at me and he went, ‘I’m a firestarter’. It was the weirdest thing; yeah, it was like some sort of an automatic, surreal, kind of weird thing. I thought it was really funny. I was like, ‘I know, I know you are, mate’. And then we went up to his hotel room and there was all sorts of things going around. It was a rather eventful evening, but we made it out. It’s one of those nights when you sort of wake up in the morning and you’re like, ‘Thank fuck, I’m awake. I made it’.”

Catch Coombes, still brandishing his sideburns, on his first Australian solo tour.

GAZ COOMBES Australian tour dates:

THURSDAY 13 SEPTEMBER, OXFORD ART FACTORY, SYDNEY
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FRIDAY 14 SEPTEMBER, THE ZOO, BRISBANE
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SUNDAY 16 SEPTEMBER, CORNER HOTEL, MELBOURNE
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http://www.gazcoombes.com
https://www.facebook.com/GazCoombes
@GazCoombes

 

Hot Fruit / Caroline Australia

Secret Sounds / XIII Touring

 

On a side note, the interviewer was keen to learn about her namesake song. Coombes responded:
“Wow, ‘Mary’, okay. I don’t know how it came about. I think I was steering this idea we were jamming in the studio. I remember playing this Evo thing on the guitar to get this sustained weird sound. It was a really cool backing track and then in classic Supergrass way, we just kind of got together on the vocals. Me and Mick like to do a lot of that tandem vocal thing. These lyrics just kinda came out of nowhere really. They often did, you know. There’s just one line that would come out like, ‘we gotta girl and her name is Mary’, and then you just take it from there. It’s just kind of a weird, sort of, yeah, it just paints a weird picture of this person or this situation. It was always a cool track which people like as well.”

About Mary Boukouvalas 915 Articles
Mary is a music photographer and reviewer.

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