Gaz Coombes: 'Music is favourite way, in fact it might be the only way, I can express myself'

Gaz Coombes: 'Music is favourite way, in fact it might be the only way, I can express myself'

credit: Steve Keros

Former Supergrass front man tours his third solo album World's Strongest Man

It's almost a cliché when a band breaks up due to 'musical differences' and the frontman goes solo. Most crash and burn however Gaz Coombes bucked the trend. Once the lead vocalist / guitarist with Britpop favourites Supergrass (behind the heady delights of 'Alright' and 'Pumping on Your Stereo') Coombes seems to have found even more freedom to express himself since the release of Here Come the Bombs in 2012.

Each subsequent album has found an artist and musician growing in confidence. 2015's Matador was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize while this year's World's Strongest Man finds Coombes experimenting with multiple genres, apparently inspired by Frank Ocean and Grayson Perry.

When we talk he has literally just landed after a tour of Australia, New Zealand and America but is still happy to discuss the new album, the upcoming tour and the Britpop years.

Have you enjoyed the freedom being solo offers you as an artist?
It's all a work in progress. I spent 25 years in a band, writing together as a band, so I didn't necessarily explore what my voice is, we created a single voice between us. That's been really challenging but also really satisfying to explore over the last five years. Having the freedom to explore whatever I feel like in the moment has been very liberating and exciting.

The album's been out for a few months now, how do you feel when you listen back to World's Strongest Man?
I'm kind of wary of thematic vibes because each song has a separate role, a snapshot of my brain over the two year period of writing. There are all sorts of different emotions and moods on the record, there are tracks that are light and airy but then 'Vanishing Act' is a blow by blow account of a panic attack, so is a lot heavier in that way. For me it's just being honest and open and not holding anything back, be it euphoric happiness or being deep down in a hole, I want to show it as it is.

How do you feel about being so honest and open in such a public way?
Music is great, you can be more visceral at times and more abstract at others. I like to deliver a couple of lines that are quite direct and hard hitting then I might float around and get more abstract and poetic, pepper it with little Easter eggs of chaos. So it doesn't feel as personal as me unloading my darkest fears conversationally. In conversation I think things have more personal gravity but with an album the music also plays a part, not only the lyrics but the chord changes, to explore that emotion. It's my favourite way, in fact it might be the only way, I can express myself in the fullest way.

What can you tell us about the recording process?
The sessions would start at my [home studio] and it would be pretty chaotic putting a lot of ideas down at once. Then I go to work with Ian Davenport at Courtyard Studio, that's also in Oxfordshire, and between us we try and shape it and make it more coherent. It starts off as chaos then the second half is more scientific. I like that way of working, it means I can get out all the mad ideas early on then just shape it. I think I played most instruments because that's the way I like to work, get out my drum kit and lay a beat down, there's no point getting another drummer in then having to tell to them to play it just like I played it. That's not coming from an arrogant place I just know what I like.

And how do you then translate the album for a full band for the tour?
That was the fun bit. Back in the rehearsal rooms with a group of musicians I've been playing with for the last three years. They are such intuitive instinctive players and they are an amazing help, they come in to rehearsal having listened to it and it's great to hear their take on the album. So it's a bit of a hybrid of what they play as musicians and translating what I did. It's a new thing in a way, it's not exactly like the record sounds but it's a great live interpretation. I'm lucky to have such a great band on stage with me.

Now the dust has settled how do you look back on the Britpop years?
I can't remember that stuff [laughs]. It was alright, there were a couple of good bands around, Supergrass were great! I liked Pulp, I don't know about the rest of them. But it was a good time for bands, rock music was on Top of the Pops and there would be four or five indie bands in the top ten. It was great for Supergrass that guitar music was well and truly in the mainstream. It was a really exciting time riding a wave.

And how are relations in Supergrass? Do you still see each other?
We talk to each other through our lawyers [laughs]. We're all good, I spoke to Danny [Goffey] yesterday, I just called him for a catch up and it was nice to chat. I was with Mick [Quinn] in Australia, he's living in Melbourne, we had a bit of food together. We're all good when we're not working together [laughs].

World's Strongest Man (Hot Fruit) is out now. Gaz Coombes UK tour starts in Brighton on 18 Oct and ends in Nottingham on 28 Oct.

Gaz Coombes

Supergrass frontman brings the same tunefulness to his solo work.