2015 was a banner year for Gaz Coombes, former lead singer and guitarist of Supergrass. The release of his second solo album Matador garnered wide-spread critical acclaim and was a nominee for the Mercury Prize Album of the Year. Now about to embark on his first solo tour in the U.S., I caught up with Coombes to discuss his current work, the final days of Supergrass and how he will explain any of his youthful indiscretions to his daughters.
CS: Where are you right now?
Gaz: I’ve just arrived home from a little rehearsal, I guess. I don’t know if it was a kind of rehearsal. Just checking that everything’s working. Playing a bit of guitar for a bit and setting up all the equipment, ready to come over to the States.
CS: When was the last time you toured the States?
Gaz: The last time I came was with the Hot Rats, with me and Danny [Goffey, drummer of Supergrass], but I think we only did a couple of shows. We did New York and L.A. That was kind of our most ridiculous, opulent world tour ever. It was a world tour of six places: New York, L.A., Tokyo, Paris and London. It was a big party really.
CS: That sounds like a fun world tour.
Gaz: (laughing) Yeah, a world tour consisting of six dates.
CS: What can we expect from your upcoming U.S. tour?
Gaz: It’s kind of an extension of what I was doing in December and January with the shows here in the UK. I decided to try a few things on my own, just me and a few instruments and a sampler with some beats and a couple of guitars. I played a few gigs and it just went really well. And then I ended up going on tour by accident. So I’m going to bring that over to the States; sort of me on my own with weird little boxes and stuff. It’ll be fun.
CS: I was curious about this upcoming tour because the production on Matador isn’t stripped down at all. Since this will be a stripped down show, are you concerned at all with how these songs will translate live and that you’ll be able to present them in the manner that you want to?
Gaz: I’ve been doing it for a little while over here so I’ve done the set and I’ve played it in a way that feels really good to me. Actually, the response I’ve gotten from the audience is that it’s been working really well. Every gig’s different and that’s the cool thing about it. There’s no playing to any backing tracks. There’s no computer stuff. If there are beats and loops then there are just beats and loops just running off a sampler. It’s kind of fun. Sometimes it goes wrong and sometimes it goes really, really right and it’s a real buzz.
CS: With being a solo artist, there must be a certain amount of freedom that you have now musically that you didn’t have in Supergrass. That being said, do you miss bouncing ideas off the guys? What are the pros and cons of the situation?
Gaz: I don’t know really. I don’t ever really compare them. I think the whole solo artist thing and solo album thing is a bit weird. There are certain artists, when I think about them. They’ve played in bands. They’ve played on their own. They’ve done collaborations. But I think of them and that name and what they’re doing currently rather than their stature or their position. It’s just an extension. I’ve just evolved from what I was doing 10, 15 years ago so it’s different but it’s just what I’m doing right now. But there is a lot of freedom to explore and just do what I want to do.
CS: Does it differ with performing live now? With Supergrass, you could be performing and give each other visual cues that only you would recognize. It must have been a bit odd when you started touring as a solo artist when you turn around on stage and they’re not there and your working with different musicians.
Gaz: Well, when you’re focused on something and when you’re in the middle of it, you don’t really reference back to anything. I didn’t compare it. It’s the same performing live. The first group of guys I got together on the first [solo] record, it was sort of fun playing with different people and more ‘can these guys translate what I’ve done on the record?’ because I pretty much did both records when I was on my own, really, just messing around with ideas. Then you have to translate that to the stage and that’s the challenge. It’s been so satisfying and so much fun and kind of, flying by the seat of your pants which is a cool feeling. That uncertainty, you know? Playing a gig in front of 50-60 people four years ago and then last year playing the Park Stage in Glastonbury to a full field and then headlining the Forum in London. It’s incredible to see how it has moved forward and people aren’t calling out for Supergrass songs.
CS: So no one is screaming “sing ‘Alright'” at you?
Gaz: (laughing) No. It was a good year last year.
CS: Speaking of good year, Matador was on the list for the Mercury Prize for Album of the Year. What was your initial reaction when you found out?
Gaz: I was bit blown away by it, you know? You just don’t know how people perceive you. I don’t think about it. It’s not something that I ever really feel like I need to think about. I guess when something like that happens you think “Alright, maybe, okay so people aren’t just looking at this guy who used to be in a band.” Which is a good feeling, you know? Seeing something and valuing it with some merit and it’s nothing to do with what went before. So I guess that was a kind of validation maybe of what I’m doing now.
CS: With the end of Supergrass, you announced your impending break-up and had your final show at La Cigale in Paris. What was the mood within the band at the time? Did you all feel that Supergrass had truly run its course and did you feel good being able to give your fans a final show?
Gaz: It was kind of bittersweet. It was a strange feeling because I know that I had, kind of, lost interest in terms of being in the studio and the album not working out and ideas not connecting. I was really disillusioned and I felt that that was the end of music (laughs). It was a weird feeling not to be enjoying it any more. So those gigs for me were a bit weird. I really appreciate the fans being there and being able to perform for them, I guess, for the last time. It was pretty emotional. But it wasn’t the usual buzz when you get off stage and you feel on top of the world and you’ve got this adrenaline surging through you. I remember feeling quite deflated after each show. It was a real odd one, you know? I felt the gravity of it. I felt the love a lot from the crowd but I came off quite deflated.
CS: You didn’t go out and party afterwards?
Gaz: Oh yeah, we definitely partied. Yeah we partied even harder because of the strange feeling of emptiness (laughs).
CS: You have two young daughters now, ages 7 and 12. When they reach the age that they might start rebelling, are you concerned that they’re going to throw something like “Caught By the Fuzz” [a song Coombes wrote after being arrested for possession of cannabis at the age of fifteen] in your face when you try to discipline them? Your record is literally on a record.
Gaz: No, I don’t think so. I’d like to think that they’d see that I put that into my art. It wasn’t the beginning of my slippery slope into hedonism hell. Hopefully they’ll just realize it’s stuff that happens. To be honest, I think two teenage girls is going to be quite a challenge in many, many ways but I don’t think that will be one of them (laughs).
Gaz Coombes will be performing live at Jammin’ Java, Tuesday, March 22 at 7:30 pm. Tickets: $20-$22. To purchase tickets, click here.
For more information on Gaz Coombes, click here.
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