The Press Article
Reap What You Sow - Supergrass
Spliff-munching, sideboard sporting, cheeky chappies Supergrass have been troubling the charts ever since ‘Caught By The Fuzz’ propelled them into public consciousness in 1995. Hitting pop’s peak with the infectious ‘Alright’ and then consolidating their appeal with second album ‘In It For The Money’ in ’97, they returned earlier this year with the rocktastic ‘Pumping On Your Stereo’. Now with their third longplayer about to send them supernova rock sound caught up with them to find out how they’ve broken free of the dreaded Britpop tag and made a timeless record.
So I’m sat in an office at EMI chatting to Supergrass’ press officer when in rolls Danny Goffey, Supergrass’ drummer. He stops dead in front of me, stares intently and proclaims I have "weird eyes, man." As introductions go, it’s a little strange, but since he claims he’s still jetlagged from a promotional trip to Japan I’ll let it go. He’s swiftly followed by singer/guitarist Gaz Coombes who tells his press officer that he’s "got to have a reefer before we do anything else," and merrily proceeds to skin up on the desk. Gaz is thoroughly relaxed having spent the weekend on the beach in his beloved Brighton, checking out "the topless babes, man. Best cure for jetlag, ever."
Danny’s having none of it, accusing him off being addicted to spliff and revealing that in Japan they saw the real Gaz because he couldn’t get weed. "He was really talkative and full of energy," crows Danny. Gaz doesn’t care though. "Being addicted to spliff’s OK," he says, "better than being addicted to lady boys!"
Mickey Quinn, the ‘Grass’ bassplayer ignores them both and settles down to do a phone interview for a bass magazine so we leave him to it and head for the pub. It’s blazing sunshine and time for lunch. Gaz chooses a weird egg sandwich concoction, Danny opts for half a roast duck and when it arrives decides he doesn’t want it after all and in his absence they order Mickey a beef and cheese baguette, because "he’s a full on carnivore, man. Meat, meat, meat."
Of course, being in a pub, beers are quickly purchased and the conversation turns to music, specifically the release of Supergrass’ spiffingly good third album. It’s been an intriguing journey for the threepiece to get this far. Schoolmates in Oxford, Gaz and Danny got together when they were still in short trousers and formed a janglesome indie outfit called The Jennifers. After signing to Nude Records at the same time as Suede, The Jennifers released one single before disbanding. However, Gaz and Danny swiftly recruited local lad Mickey and formed Theodore Supergrass. By 1994 with a shortened moniker, limited edition single and John Peel’s support they’d signed to Parlophone. Within 18 months they’d had a string of Top 20 singles, a debut album (‘I Should Coco’) that had sold over a million copies and been around the world. Followup album ‘In It For The Money’ spawned more hits, even though it was a darker record. Then came this year’s triumphantly glorious single, ‘Pumpin’ On Your Stereo’ with its Bowie stomp and outlandish video. With new single ‘Moving’ and their third eponymous album just released, they’ve finally come of age. Danny however rejects the idea that the new album is their definitive statement. "Well, it’s not really called ‘Supergrass’. I think, for the benefit of magazines and charts and stuff, we have to put a title on it. But it’s more like we had so many titles and we couldn’t agree on it..."
"And we have a really strong album cover," continues Gaz, "with X-Rays of our heads and things, with mad colours, so we just thought people would refer to it as ‘Supergrass The X-Ray Album’. A bit like with ‘The Beatles The White Album’".
They may get their wish because it has that aura of ‘classic’ about it. Not so much The Beatles, I suggest, but more of a ‘70s influence. In fact the opening sounds just like ‘Animals’ by Pink Floyd.
"Yeah? I hadn’t thought that before but... yeah, probably we ripped a bit off them on the acoustic part," admits Gaz. "I think it might be ‘Sheep’, (sings it). You’re right! But I don’t think we’re influenced just by the ‘70s. Hopefully we’re influenced from all of it. Happy Mondays, Oasis, The Smiths, The Cure, ‘60s stuff, Elvis, it spans through it all."
Danny cites David Bowie as a big influence because "he’s so diverse. He has rhythm ‘n’ blues, soul influences and then he can rock out. Like ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ the production was, ‘Just go for it!’ That’s such a smart album."
JESUS, MARY AND BOWIE TOO
It’s an approach that Supergrass have emulated this time around, choosing to stretch their wings and not deliver just a collection of easy pop songs. In fact ‘Supergrass’ feels like a really solid piece of work. There’s that aura of quality around it.
"There wasn’t a grand plan, though," says Gaz. "It was all a bit haphazard. It’s not like a concept album. I’m quite into the idea of a musical though."
Well ‘Jesus Came From Outer Space’ sounds like that. One of those raunchy, raw, rock musicals. Is it destined to be a single?
"It’s quite mad actually," laughs Danny. "When we were in Japan, ‘Jesus’ was the one they all picked up on..."
"But in Europe they all want ‘Mary’," finishes Gaz, sounding for all the world like a pious Catholic, which is strange seeing as Danny maintains that ‘Jesus Came From Outer Space’ is actually a dig at religion. Possibly a thorny subject for a poptastic single but Supergrass don’t worry about what people think. In fact they claim not to have worried at all that ‘Pumping On Your Stereo’ was so unashamedly influenced by Bowie’s ‘Rebel Rebel’.
"I didn’t really see it that much. Honest, I didn’t," protests Danny.
"I started off playing it on the piano," Gaz explains, "and I turned to Mickey and went ‘That’s really Bowie’. He started playing bass, (keyboard player) Rob took over the piano and I started playing guitar. But even though I’d said it was like Bowie, we didn’t build on that. I suppose, in a way we’re not aware of it. It’s only when it comes out and people do start saying stuff like that. It’s a dangerous area to get into, if you ever are conscious of it. I mean, I don’t appreciate it when you hear bands and you hear too much of something."
It’s more the spirit of the song though, rather than ripping off three chords or whatever.
"Yeah, that’s what I thought. It’s the vibey stuff like handclaps, things that make you think, well we’re just in there really wrecked and doing what comes naturally."
The Bowie influence stretches a little further than handclaps though, with elements of white-boy ‘Young Americans’-style funk creeping in and broadening out the Supergrass template.
Gaz looks horrified. "Nah, it’s soul!" he exclaims.
"It is a bit funk, man," counters Danny. "‘Pumping On Your Stereo’ is a bit funky."
"No, it’s more like what we do naturally, like Sly & The Family Stone, how they got the groove," maintains Gaz. "Funk to me is all that over-produced stuff. ‘Young Americans’ has that funk edge, but it’s not all that disco shit. I’d say we’re more into Sly & The Family Stone and Marvin Gaye, than Bowie. Totally."
THE BRITPOP WARS
You’re obviously wary of being pigeon-holed. Is that leftover from the whole Britpop scene?
"I think the music we’ve come out with since then has been a little bit unexpected," replies Gaz. "‘In It For The Money’, was unexpected. Everyone said we were really serious. It was weird ‘cos we never sat down in interviews to drive the point home that we weren’t Britpop. Basically we didn’t care enough about it to even talk about it. And then we’d suddenly be in a magazine labelled as Britpop sensations, and that was happening a lot, but we were pretty much distanced from it."
Danny laughs, "Doing the Britpop special didn’t help. That blew it. But it was just marketing. We didn’t really like many of the bands either, there were loads of shit ones."
Gaz: "The ones that have survived, Blur and Oasis are cool but..."
Danny: "Pulp, Gene, Shed Seven..."
Gaz: "(advertising voice) ‘You know more Shed Seven songs than you think you do!’"
It was always a certainty that Supergrass wouldn’t be lumped in with the losing brigade, but critics complained that second album ‘In It For The Money’ wasn’t as successful as the debut, ‘I Should Coco’. However, it’s now sold more copies worldwide and has gained Supergrass a wider following.
"It was strange though," remembers Gaz. "People were expecting more of the same stuff as ‘Alright’ but I’d go to the supermarket and I’d have real rockers going, ‘I love your new single’. People who hadn’t heard the first album. So it broadened it for us."
With record sales now in the millions there’s less record company pressure on the band in the creative stakes. Not that Supergrass give a damn for their intervention.
"Our A&R guy comes down just to smoke our draw," laughs Gaz.
"When we did the first album, we were signed as part of the New Wave Of New Wave," recalls Danny. "And when we did the album I remember Keith (Wozencroft, their A&R man and MD of the record company) going, ‘Did you play all the instruments on this?’ He was really amazed. He thought we’d got loads of old blokes in to help us play it. So that’s where the record company stands."
CHARTS AND THE ENEMY
Of course, record companies expect results, which often means high chart placings, but are Supergrass blasé about the charts?
"Yeah, you look at what kids are buying at the moment and it’s nothing to aspire to," reckons Gaz. "What can Steps give young kids except an idea for a haircut? I’m not saying abolish it all, ‘cos there’s room for everything, and the chart stuff is there for the sake of it. And that’s invaluable. You need ups and downs."
Danny believes, "it’s a generation thing. Look at Abba, they were amazing. They had great pop songs. If only more bands did that. You know, just being interested in playing music."
Gaz: "Whereas now it’s business men thinking they can get loads of money out of the music business, so they try their hands at writing pop songs and getting pretty people to front it for them. So rather than worrying about high chart positions we want to sell for a reason."
Danny: "It sounds really naff, but I was really chuffed when I heard my little brother playing ‘Sgt Peppers’. I’m not saying ‘60s music was great. It’s just that The Beatles universally wrote mental songs, even if you hear an orchestra playing them in an elevator it’s still incredible. And it’s good for young people to hear that."
But what was great about the Beatles was that in seven years they went from simple pop songs to radical experimentalism. Do you ever feel the urge to go off and become the Aphex Twin?
Gaz laughs. "When you get together in the rehearsal room, I think it’s instinct for us to just get up and start jamming a mad riff, start playing an Iggy Pop cover or something like that. And then when you record, other stuff comes in."
"It all goes back to Elvis," proclaims Danny. "Elvis was the start of popular music. Mick tells this mad story that Elvis used to wipe his arse on geese (looks at his food and signals a waiter). Excuse me, has Elvis wiped his arse on this?"
The waiter thankfully pays no attention. But, talking of wiping your arse on things, I hear you were not best pleased with a front cover you had earlier this year on a weekly music mag. It basically set out to ridicule you.
Danny looks annoyed. "Yeah, it was a right old farce. He (the journalist) was nice as pie."
Gaz agrees. "It wasn’t even challenging us. If you’re gonna set us up, do something that’s gonna catch us out. Don’t just write it so we look like fools. It was a waste of time. He even admitted at the end of the article, look I’ve tried to catch them out and I can’t."
Danny: "They get away with so much shit. What did they get out of us, apart from the fact we know what selling out is? We know what the difference is between us and the Lighthouse Family... We just felt stitched up. It was our first come back interview and he didn’t even ask us about the album."
HEY, HEY, WE’RE SUPERGRASS
At this point Mickey arrives, having finished his interview and sits down to his congealing baguette. The band is complete, but contrary to popular myth, they’re not a gang of mad mates, all hanging out and living together. In fact, they’re spread out around the South of England. Danny jokes that they only communicate by e-mail these days. It’s at odds with their image which he says is "pretending to be really young and stupid". And it’s true. Fans always have this idea that Supergrass are...
"Bum chums!" shouts Danny.
"They think we’re the Monkees," sighs Mickey.
Gaz: "It’s hard though, they’ve got kids and I’ve got to spend time with my girlfriend in Brighton."
Danny: "We did all live in the same house for a while. But it’s better now. You don’t see each other for a few weeks, so you’ve got more to talk about."
Gaz laughs, and then with tongue planted firmly in cheek gushes, "I really pine for you two guys. The whole time."
Danny admits that squabbling band members are a feature of the music industry. "It’s quite scary how many bands don’t get on. Even the best ones," he says.
Mickey: "Duran Duran all had separate limos apparently."
Gaz: "Roger Daltrey got chucked out of The Who four times, and then ‘My Generation’ got to number one and they had to bring him back. He was a right old meat head. I was listening to ‘Live At Leeds’ and he’d say, "We’re glad to be back in England," and there’d be silence and then Keith Moon would say something and everyone would cheer."
So do you aspire to the rock aristocracy? The country mansions and trout farms...
"It depends on the ex-wife scenario," jokes Mickey amongst protestations from Danny that they’re, "really boring" and Gaz maintaining, "We don’t feel like rock’n’roll stars. I think we’re just successful in life, you know families and stuff."
Mickey explains that, "We don’t have rows, we have ‘discussions’. We don’t have fistfights, well... sometimes, more like Chinese Burns. But I’m a Zen Buddhist. I’ll back down, ‘cos I know it’ll all come back. Karma."
REJECTED, NOT DEJECTED
But this relative harmony can easily be threatened. Contrary to popular belief Danny’s sojourn as the drummer for his girlfriend Pearl’s indie band Lodger was not a Supergrass sanctioned dalliance.
"Yeah, me and Mickey formed a side project called The Rejections," Gaz half jokes
Mickey corrects him. "The Rejection Letters. Actually we just did something with Dr John (Gaz and Mick played on his ‘Anutha Zone’ album). But," he says turning to Danny, "it would’ve been nice if you’d told us before doing the Lodger album."
Danny shrugs, "Well we had to get started."
Gaz: "I think we just need to talk to each other about it."
Danny: "When Lodger came up it was after we’d finished ‘In It For The Money’."
Gaz sighs, "Yeah, but it was just that you didn’t tell us first."
"I know," confesses Danny, "but instead of sitting around I wanted to do something."
Lunch is long finished and drinks are being drunk as the press officer glances at his watch, and a look of concern crosses his face. They’re already late for another interview and photo shoot on the other side of London. At which it transpires there will also be food and drink. Danny grins. His half-hearted attempts to eat his duck have left him hungry. "I’ve got a barbecue to go to later as well. We’re onto a good thing here," he states, looking at his bandmates with affection.
And indeed they are. Fame, fortune and (good natured inter-band rivalries aside) a rosy future awaits them. ‘Supergrass’ is going to see them consolidate their appeal and looks set to confirm them as a ‘classic’ band for the next millennium. Perhaps that operatic concept album may be closer than they think!
William Luff, Rock Sound - October 1999