The Press Article
That Supergrass Show
When you've got groovy Brit-pop tunes and witty one-liners, who needs Steven Spielberg to make you the next Monkees?
On the pilot episode of That Supergrass Show, things open up with the English trio's mutton-chopped frontman Gaz Coombes beaming over a half-naked image of himself on a Calvin Klein billboard hovering over the corner of Sunset and Vine. It's only a matter of moments before a starstruck throng chases the overnight pin-up boy sensation down the street and he has to run home for his life.
Then Gaz's landlord, C.J. Johnson (played by Chris Rock), gets word of his tenant's windfall and wants to raise the rent. Now Gaz, Supergrass's singer/guitarist, hasn't only been moonlighting for Calvin, but also violating his lease by allowing his two bandmates - quick-witted bassist Mick Quinn and absent-minded drummer Danny Goffey - to crash with him and help pay the already astronomical rent. When C.J. pays the boys a visit, they try to avoid being evicted and some leap-out-of-the-window wackiness ensues.
Ah, if only That Supergrass Show were more than a gleam in Steven Spielberg's eye. The E.T. auteur proposed the idea for a Monkees-like sitcom starring Supergrass (he even flew the band to "his Hollywood office at Universal to talk about it) capitalizing on the mania in the UK surrounding the invigoratingly randy 1995 debut / Should Coco (Capitol).
"We are young/ We are green," they sang exuberantly on the album's single "Alright," and they were. Gaz was a tender 18 and the other two in their 20s.
Who could blame Spielberg for his brainstorm? The "Alright" video featured the boys contorting their faces as if their flesh was Silly Putty and jumping up and down on a motorized bed. It also caused Calvin Klein to ask Gaz to model in his undies.
The band's teen-themed, razor-pop-laden debut was chock-full of episode possibilities, such as discovering glitzy nightlife or getting arrested for smoking pot at 15 and dealing with mom and dad when you got home. Supergrass's sophomore effort, the cynically titled 1997 album In It For The Money (Capitol), could have been the act's equivalent of the Monkees' trip flick Head - an alienating and artsy move designed to shatter the cuddly-cute image. Supergrass's record was a sprawling mess of paranoid, "they're-out-to-get-me" lyrics, thrashy guitars, swirling, seasick keyboard lines and apologetic acoustic guitar ballads.
America turned its back on these works and England opened its arms. Both albums went platinum in the UK, and Supergrass became NME and Melody Maker darlings.
Five years after saying no to Steven and Calvin, the trio is seated on a fat, black leather couch in an eerily hip Manhattan hotel. Candlelit at 10 a.m., the backdrop is clearly a refuge for cell phone vampires, the type who probably love Supergrass but wouldn't exactly hang out in the band's favorite pub.
The band still oozes everyday mod cool. Danny's shag is spiky, Mick's is overgrown and Gaz's signature chops and manicured stubble distinguish him from the others. Older (Danny is 26, Mick is 30 and Gaz is 23) and two albums wiser, the band has split with Capitol, refined its sound, and released the self-titled Supergrass on Island Def Jam. What episodes could Spielberg have storyboarded for their third effort?
"This time it's about going to a bar and having a bad time," Danny says laughing. There are also plenty of religious references. "Probably from listening to soul music," figures Mick. Gaz tries to deny any religious connotations. "Jesus Came From Outer Space" is a piss-take on religion, explains Danny. Soon, the three square off about the point in believing in anything other than yourself, perhaps a tad heavy for Must See TV. Mick points to Lou Reed as the inspiration for "Jesus."
It's easy to understand the confusion. All of Supergrass's music and lyrics are written piecemeal, either with the guys sitting naked by the piano (hey, that's what Danny said...but it does make that TV show seem like a bad idea) or tossing ideas around during soundchecks and rehearsals.
"The songs are schizo," Danny states. "I find it really hard for Gaz to sing every night because sometimes we don't know what a song is about." Gaz counters, "I know what I'm singing." Danny offers, "Stuff like 'Mansize Rooster' [off / Should Coco] has really bizarre lyrics." Gaz returns, "It made more sense after some guys came up to me and said they were listening to it as they sat in their car fucking off: 'This jam is brilliant, man, it told us just how we felt at the time.' I thought, 'Well, it does mean something.' It was quite surprising."
Musically, Supergrass marries dreamy soundscapes and understated dance beats in a mixture of Pink Floyd desolation, Bowie-meets-Iggy soul-funk and Eno-esque shimmer. The leadoff track and main single, "Moving," begins with strummy guitars and wistful lyrics about losing yourself on the way to your dreams. A minute into it, the band comes in behind Gaz, lifting things up with some downtrodden disco - "Got a low, low, feeling around me," sung against minor chords set to a walk-on-the-clouds groove.
"Guitars definitely took a back seat on this record compared to the one before," Mick says, explaining that strings, vibes, bicycle pumps, tympani and harpsichord filled in the void. "You mean guitar solos did," Gaz interjects, almost defensively, "I think there's loads more guitars on this one than the last one. I played more." Both are right. While there were once powerchord blasts, more subtle, Curtis Mayfield/Jimi Hendrix-style guitar textures now prevail.
"We didn't sit around and have a planning meeting beforehand. When we went to write the songs for this record, we hadn't seen each other in three months," Mick says thoughtfully. "We all sat in the room sheepishly and were tentative about playing each other's ideas. It worried me - I thought we'd lost our passion for the music and weren't going to be able to write. By the end of the writing period, we had a new song every day, and they were all top-dollar."
England's had about eight months to warm up to the new vibe (the album came out last September on Parlophone in the UK). "I remember our first four gigs, thinking to myself. 'Is this working? Are we really fucking up here?'" Mick says, chuckling nervously, "People just stood there. Then you realize people are standing and watching you because they're really interested in it and they've never heard it before." Danny says, "But we saw the difference on the next tour: people jumping up and down and mouthing all the words."
America is a different story; it's always been that way. The band cites not getting promoted properly as the primary reason for switching from Capitol to Island Def Jam. "It used to disappoint me that we'd play these really good American tours" - like 1997's outing with the Foo Fighters - "and nobody seemed to be buying the record or have heard of us," Mick says. "Although I really liked In It For The Money, it didn't sell very well. It didn't come across to people, and I think that's partly because we lost our humor, it was such an intense record. We had all these happy singles on I Should Coco and people were expecting more of the same, and we didn't deliver that. But we're in a position where we have three albums that cover lots of different points, so we're very comfortable with the band we are now."
Any misgivings about not joining up with the Spielberg empire? "Nobody in America had heard of us at that point," replies Mick j "If we'd come out of the box as Steven Spielberg's Supergrass, we I would have never been our Supergrass." Now that the band has a notable catalog, they could be ready for their closeup, Mr. Spielberg.
New Music - May 2000