After touring his well received solo debut Here Come The Bombs, Gaz Coombes went straight to work making solo album number two, the sonically adventurous and genuinely thrilling Matador. Rich with beats and loops, Matador's 11 tracks explore a dizzying array of sounds and rhythms whilst still crucially retaining a songwriters knack for a tune. Tracks like 'Buffalo' and 'Oscillate' are as hypnotic as they are structurally ambitious. While 'Seven Walls' and 'To The Wire' showcase a refreshing honesty and a gift for storytelling that can only come from someone who has 20 years of song writing experience under his belt.
Fully aware of how the mainstream success of Supergrass could possibly shape the public perception of what a Gaz Coombes solo record might sound like, during our conversation it's clear he has little time for nostalgia, preferring instead to look forward and forge a new future. Certainly on the strength of Matador, that future looks bright.
DiS: Having been in a band for so many years have you got used to the project just having your name on it?
GC: Yeah I guess so, it been a bit of a whirlwind couple of years. Heading straight off the first record into loads of touring and then off the back of that I got straight back into writing the second album. It's been pretty continuous. So I guess this is where I'm at, this is the mode that I'm in. It's feeling right, it's feeling natural and this whole album process has been really exciting. It's been a really different way of making a record for me. A lot more on my own, letting instinctive ideas come through. I'm really happy with the record and so far it's going down well.
With Here Come The Bombs you ended up playing most of the instruments yourself, is that the case with Matador as well?
Yeah, I think I felt the urgency within myself to put down ideas as quickly as I could. So I think inherently that meant I would play the stuff myself just purely to get it down quickly. I didn't want ideas hanging around too long, then having to organise sessions, set a band up and go through all that thing.
Listening back to the odd demo that I've done over the years. They've got this real magic about them, this real simplicity and a raw honesty which I always really like. Sometimes that kind of thing gets ironed out when you do the final version, when the band are all sorted and they've nailed it. So I wanted to get the imperfections across and the vulnerability of the songs. I think that was the right way for me to do it.
I suppose that makes it a solo record in the truest sense of the word, it's your performance coming across on everything we hear.
I guess so. It wasn't vital that I played everything. I wasn't a control or even an ego thing. It just felt kind of necessary you know? Just to get the ideas across in the way I wanted.
So was a lot of it done in your home studio?
Yeah, a lot of it was done in my studio at home. When a little bit of cabin fever set in I went over to another studio in Oxford where a friend of mine Ian Davenport, was able to assist me and take over some of the engineering side of things. So it was kind of like a two stage record in that way.
Last year you covered 'This Time Tomorrow' by The Kinks which was received really well.
Perhaps many people were expecting the next album to be more of an acoustic singer songwriter affair. So it was really interesting to hear Buffalo for the first time with the loops and the fantastic time signature change.
Is that one of the advantages to not being tied to a band name and all the expectations that come with that. You can go in any direction you want?
Definitely. That's the really exciting side of it I guess. Being free to explore whatever I want. I don't think that I necessarily have a defined sound yet. Only two albums in. If you look back at classic bands debut records they always evolve through albums three or four. So it's really exciting to think of it as a blank canvas in a way. After being in a band for so long, that kind of exploration is what really excites me. Even now I'm thinking about ideas for the third album, just little things that pop into my head. It's great, I just think 'Fuck it, I can go straight in and get that idea down.' I don't have to work it through people, persuade people to go with the idea or explain it to anyone, I just need to do it!
What happens from one album cycle to the next? Is it a brand new slate and all the songs on this record are written from scratch or are there any old songs or half finished ideas that get finished off?
No it's all brand new pretty much. I mean there's a couple of ideas...I found a couple of old sessions from maybe four or five years ago that I had just completely forgotten about and I thought 'Actually I'm ready to finish this now'. As is the case with many ideas sometimes they disappear for a while then they come back around. Nothing that was part of another session for a record though. A lot of the time I just go down to the studio and quickly record some stuff and it's not part of anything, not meant for anything. Sometimes those are the killer bits you know? Those are the bits of magic.
The way a lot of albums feel at the moment, because you can just buy individual tracks on their own. They sometimes feel like just a collection of individual songs. But when listening to Matador it really feels like an album as a whole piece of work, with one song informing the next. Is that important to you to that an album is still an album?
It's important to me. I'm more than aware of how the landscape is with music at the moment. The Spotify generation and how people listen to music. I just think that's the way it is you know? I wouldn't lose sleep over that. Kids can listen to it however they want. If they want to hear it on their tinny iPhone speakers then so be it. But I just think an album has a certain amount of weight to it and it's how I still listen to music. I mean don't get me wrong, I do listen to tracks off the internet and single tracks. But I've always got my record player set up and when I put on a record it's about the whole thing. I've got to switch it over to side B and I've got to hear the whole thing! There's always a story you know? It would be a shame for people to miss out on that story, that journey. It feels right to have a record like that, rather than to have it based around four key tracks and then some album filler around it, that's the last thing I would want to do.
I suppose with live stuff you can introduce an audience to a whole concept too, are you looking forward to touring in February?
Yeah definitely, the band is on fire man! The band is sounding so good. I've got a great bunch of guys with me so it's been great hearing the new album take shape in a live way. To hear it come to life is really exciting. That's the next stage, to take it all live, it's going to be amazing!
How do you find fitting in the older really well known songs with the newer material?
I won't be fitting in any Supergrass songs into the show. At times I have done the odd acoustic version of 'Moving' or whatever, but no that's not really a big thing for me. It's more about making these two albums fit together live. What's been really cool is that although they are very different albums on record, when I bring them together live there is a coherent feel to it and they gel together really well. It's a really exciting live set actually between the two records. I don't know whether that's just inner confidence or what, but it feels like a great set with great dynamics and everything in its right place. That's what gives me a buzz.
Do you prefer a more intimate setting or the big festival crowds?
Well it depends, they are totally different animals. There's something about your own club shows where you can be really close with the crowd and you can feel the sweat flying off the front row. There's something I'll always love about that. That's how I started years ago and now I'm at this new stage in my life where I'm starting again. I love those compact, intimate venues. The sound is always amazing. But equally I've always had a love affair with festivals. Ever since doing Glastonbury in '95. There's been so many memorable ones.
You played some churches last year how was that for you?
It was great, it was just an opportunity, an idea that I had. I wanted to experiment with the room you actually perform in. These churches have got this incredible natural reverb. I worked with a three piece band, we tried to change the structures of the songs and the instrumentation of the songs to suit the natural reverb of the room. It was really cool. You approach it totally differently to a rock n roll club gig where it's all about hard impact and directness. In the churches it's all about the subtleties and the space within the songs.
There's a lot of '20 years since Britpop' stuff floating around at the moment. How do you feel about that point in musical history now, and your role in it?
I don't think about it. Maybe when I've hung up my sideburns, (laughs) I'll sit down and bask in our previous glories! But it's not something I really think about. I have my own personal feeling about what I remember, what affected me and what shaped my life but I don't feel ready to go into all that now. It's just part of my life and this is where I'm at now.
Quite unhelpful really!
I'm sure you'd understand it's about evolving. For me I don't know, I never expect all the Supergrass fans to come to all my shows or for all the Supergrass fans to buy my record. It doesn't work like that. The fact that I've been getting a whole new load of fans together is a great feeling, so I'm not just living off a legacy. It's really important to me that I don't do that. Saying that, in my own personal way I'm really proud of everything that I've done. But it's not something I really need to talk about too much at the moment.
Absolutely, the new record sounds so sonically different to your previous work anyway. You can't really put it in the same category...
That's cool, that's the nature of going through something on your own really. But I didn't know it was going to work. I didn't know that when I came out of Supergrass. I didn't even plan to make a record. You've just got to go with your gut feeling, go with your instincts. So I had no expectations. I still don't. It's a bit of a shock when this album is already getting great feedback from people, it's like oh, OK great! I've done alright. It's exciting times I guess.
Of course the musical landscape has changed so much since you started, how do you find having to deal with Twitter and all the social media side of things nowadays? Do you get involved in all that?
Yeah, to a degree. I'm pretty mixed on it really. On one hand it's great to be closer to the fans and have control over what I put out. It's more of an opportunity to give the fans an exclusive on something I've done, to have that close connection. That was harder to do way back when. But it's weird, I kind of miss the mystery you know? Pre social media, a band would disappear into the studio and you just wouldn't hear from them for like six months. You'd be thinking shit, are they gonna split up? Are they gonna come back? I think that keeps an energy there. I think now there's too much information flying about. Way too much information given away by artists and bands. Half the time I think is that really necessary? Do we really need to know that? It's just one of those things. But I think the way that the music industry is now is very exciting. Bands are free now to do whatever they want and to control their own destiny. Which I think is great, but it's a double edged sword.
I suppose that was what was so interesting about what Bowie did with The Next Day, nobody knew anything and then it just dropped, which is so rare today.
Yeah it was cool. I mean obviously he's able to do that! That's the other problem as well for new bands, and I'm still finding it now. The pressure to provide a whole load of information week after week after week. I think it's kind of crazy for a new band to do that. I almost think it would be great if they were left alone a bit more, just to be a band. To be a gang.
To evolve naturally?
Yeah, do shit gigs. Fuck up a few times. Make mistakes. But now it feels as though the pressure is there almost immediately for them to be fully formed and media savvy, and it's like woah! Hang on a minute! Make a record, do some gigs. Just learn how to be part of it all and deal with the highs and lows. But again, I cant say that's a big problem. That's the nature of how things are.
Main photo by Rankin.
Matador is released on January 26th 2015.
Gaz Coombes tours Europe in February 2015:
4th Bristol, Fleece
5th Brighton, Old Market
6th London, Queen Elizabeth Hall
7th Oxford, O2 Academy
9th Birmingham, Glee Club
10th Edinburgh, Pleasance Theatre
11th Manchester, Gorilla
13th Hamburg, Rock Café
14th Berlin, Frannz Club
16th Amsterdam, Bitterzoet
17th Brussels, Botanique
18th Paris, La Maroquiniere