The Press Article
Wicked! Those cheeky monkeys Supergrass are back with a bounce in their step, a smile on their face and a fab album under their arm. Brill!
Here they come walking down the street, getting funny looks from... hardly anyone, actually. Supergrass, clearly, have been away too long.
It's the first blazingly sunny day of 1999 when we meet Oxford's most feted Small Body Big Head trio - but of course, the sun always shines in Grassworld. Here come Gaz Coombes and Danny Goffey, both 23 going on 12. Gaz is less cartoony in the flesh, a vulpine love pixie with Fred West sideys, natty Banana Splits shades and a Jaggerish line in mid-Atlantic mockney banter. Danny is still the bushy-browed beanpole with the relentless motormouth, bouncing around like a hyperactive toddler after too much Sunny Delight. Then there's Mickey Quinn, Gaz's sardonic cousin and old man of the band at 29. Wicked! Cheers! Mega!
Gaz is now Brighton-based, Mick still lives in Oxford. but Danny lives in London with girlfriend Pearl, formerly of unloved Camden also-rans Powder and more respectable croon-pop combo Lodger. Danny is roundly mocked by the other two for his endless antics on the capital's social scene, sharing a drink or 12 with everyone from Jarvis to - oh yes - David Hasslehoff. But fatherhood has slowed him down somewhat. As you read this, Pearl should be giving birth to her and Danny's second kid. Cool!
We bask in the sun outside a chic Italian cafe Danny has recommended. He also seeks out the most expensive eateries when the record company is footing the bill. He's still playing the teenage truant, bunking off school to do a spot of shoplifting. We talk about the new Supergrass single, 'Pumping On Your Stereo': title by Johnny Fartpants, music by David Bowie circa 'Diamond Dogs' - plus a dash of Ash and a splash of Slade. It's an infectious little boogie and the first great Summer Smash of 1999.
Classic Supergrass, in other words. Wicked!
And crikey, we love Supergrass singles because they remind us of the endless school summer holidays most of us never really had, all cloudless blue skies and home-brewed cider and Chopper bikes and teenage parties and smoking pot in our big brother's bedroom. Mega! Brill! Smart! Ace!
But, secretly, we worry about Supergrass themselves. We are troubled by their carefree blankness and say-nothing sentiments and almost unbearable lightness of tone. And we especially fret over their lack of intellectual hinterland - because there is none of the arty awkwardness or acerbic social comment of their Britpop peers to be found in Grassworld. just bouncy, cheery, brightly-hued Teletubbies pop for all the family. If suede are A Clockwork Orange and Pulp Abigail's Party, then Supergrass are Grange Hill. on every channel. Forever. Brilliaaant! Or, possibly, terrifying.
The video for 'Pumping On Your Stereo' features Gaz, Danny and Mick transformed into human-headed Muppets by the Jim Henson studios. it's inspired, disturbing and strangely arousing. And it should boost the band's new image as cool, mature, grown-up rockers no end. Or perhaps not.
"But the song isn't like a zany cartoon song," protests Gaz.
"Yes it is!" counters Danny.
"And it's quite a dark video as well," Gaz persists. "We're all in these really mad, colourful Muppet outfits but we're all really seriously singing this rock'n'roll song. It was more being ironic, trying to have a bit of a laugh."
Supergrass plus irony? Wrrp! Wrrp! Does not compute!
"There's always room for a bit of irony," Gaz says. "'In It For The Money' was slightly ironic..."
Slightly? Not ironic enough, more like. In fact, the sepia-tinted jug-band jamboree of Supergrass' 1997 sophomore album was way too serious for it's own good. Danny now ascribes this to the record being self-produced, which made the trio "more wary of being silly". So we are delighted to announce that 'Pumping On Your Stereo' marks the official return of the happy-chappy, silly-sideburns, having-a-larf, kiss-me-quick Muppet-mental Supergrass of 'I Should Coco' that we all fell in love with in 1995.Welcome back! Brilliaaaant!
Just one problem: will anyone take Supergrass seriously again?
The new Supergrass LP is the most upbeat, groovy, stoned'n'summery, mad, wicked, ace, brill, goofball guitar record ever made - at least until the next Supergrass album. They announced plans to call it 'Cocked', but they were only having a larf! Mad! One of the tracks has the working title 'Open Up Your Tight Arse', but it probably won't be called that in the end! That was another joke! Wicked! Then again, maybe it will! Brilliaaant!
The album was mostly recorded last summer between World Cup marathons and band kickabouts in the leafy grounds of Ridge Farm studios, Surrey. It is set to be the chirpy pop landmark of the summer and should herald a much-needed upswing following the doom-laden dominance of credible mainstream pop by Radiohead, Pulp, Blur, Massive Attack and all the other merchants of menace. Supergrass, it seems, are the only Britpop survivors prepared to take on Steps and Billie on their own terms - and win! Cool! Smart! Mega!
It is the day after The Verve split, which feels hugely symbolic. Surely the new Supergrass album was cleverly conceived as an ultra-commercial antidote to Ashcroft-style pomp and morbid introspection, right?
"Not really," shrugs Danny. "I have noticed quite a lot of anthemic, romantic stuff coming out, there isn't much which is raw apart from really alternative stuff. But I think we would have made this album anyway, because we just don't want to write about stuff like that. It's much more interesting to write about something ridiculous."
"Also, we haven't had anything bad happen to us over the last two years," says Mick.
"My dad broke his neck the other day," offers Danny helpfully, "but it was a bit late. We could have written a song about that. he did an Evel Knievel off a horse. He's alright, though. They said if the crack was any bigger it would have got the spinal cord. He's got to walk around with this halo brace of screws in his head. He's taken to wearing this cowboy hat too. It looks absolutely ridiculous."
Erm, right. Wicked!
"You're not supposed to mock your dad in NME!" scowls Gaz.
"He's used to it," beams Danny.
Surely you could have written at least one Damon-style lament about soul-crushing heartbreak or a Jarvis-esque plumbing of post-fame depression? Supergrass just look puzzled. Pain? Heartache? Wrrp! Wrrp! Does not compute.
"If Blur want to be that open about it, fair enough," says Gaz. "I heard 'No Distance Left To Run' and thought that it was quite a nice song, but the rest of it does sound like he's unloading his whole head onto a record. We've had times when you're away from home and you miss your girlfriend, things like that. I think we're generally quite optimistic people. There's also the thing of not singing about stuff that's really personal."
Aha! So are Supergrass really as boundlessly cheerful as they appear, or are they hiding their dark side from the public?
It's probably a cross between both," nods Mick. "We don't write very good songs like that, but it is kind of big-headed to say, 'I'm really depressed and I'm doing this to be cathartic...'. And there are dark edges to some of our songs. It's good to have a bit of gritty edge in places, but not across an entire album."
"I find I just don't have enough time to be depressed," says Danny candidly. "I've got a kid and another one on the way, and all this is going on. And also we're not very good at playing slow."
Supergrass share both their management and record label with Radiohead. maybe they should have an exchange scheme where, if they accidentally wrote a nine-minute gloom symphony, they could swap it for one of Thom Yorke's secret stash of knees-up music-hall thigh-slappers?
"Yeah!" say Mick sarcastically. "Then we'd really pigeonhole ourselves!"
"We're thinking of doing that for our next video, getting another band to mime it," says Danny, and he's not joking. "We were thinking about Cast, but Radiohead would be great - and it would be really beneficial for both bands."
It's bizarre that Supergrass share a similar middle-class, Middle-English background with fellow Oxford luminary Thom Yorke and yet somehow ended up being the Anti-Radiohead.
"Maybe it's just a different upbringing," says Danny. "Maybe Thom wasn't a very happy child. As a kid I was always quite up for it and just trying to be silly all the time, that was my outlook on life and it probably stayed with me."
Doesn't having kids make you snap out of the adolescent self-pit mode?
"Yeah, but it also fuels a bit of your adolescence as well, because you can keep mucking around with your own kids."
Supergrass cheerfully admit to rounded , grounded, well-adjusted childhoods. Gaz spent two years in California and reckons it gave him a healthier, wider worldview than most Home Counties tearaways. Danny had "weekend hippie" parents, a TV presenter and a former Labour councillor, who basically gave him a free rein. He was eventually expelled from school, but more through lack of interest than confrontation.
"I had quite lucky, fairly happy teenage years," he nods. "I was really into music and I had mates who were into the same things. I was never really a loner."
So Supergrass weren't arty misfits who formed a band as revenge against school bullies and sneering classmates?
"Not really," says Gaz. "When we played in the drama studio at school, most of our mates would just be going mental in the front row. It was always quite a laugh. We were never like elitist pop stars. kids can be cruel and there were always a few weird people, but most of our mates were into it. That's how we got into music, because it was a really sociable thing."
Wicked! Ace! Brilliaaant! But, sadly, totally useless for rock'n'roll myth-making in music papers.
"Hang on, there is something..." scrambles Danny. "Erm... my dad used to beat me up! And my mum threw a chopping board at my head once! But it didn't make me hate her. Actually, when I was a baby, my mum did drop a can of dog food on my head - that's why I'm weird."
Alas, all completely untrue - but thanks anyway, Danny. So come on, what are the most truly traumatic things that have ever happened to Supergrass?
"Probably my cat dying," says Mick.
"Probably when I had a glove up my arse at Italian customs," grins Danny. "I had to do a naked pirouette in front of six Italian policemen after a night of cocaine, so I had really shrivelled genitals."
What are your darkest secrets, Gaz?
"That's a bit heavy, innit? Nothing I particularly want to share with the world. Most of them are fucking private."
Ever had your heart broken?
"Er, no. Only in the most childish romances."
Ever been in jail?
"No, just a cell for a night. but that's been quite well documented."
Are you happy with people thinking Supergrass are cheery souls on the surface with nothing much going on underneath?
"There's plenty underneath, man! All I'm saying is I'm not going to delve into my deepest, darkest feelings for the NME. I mean, no disrespect or anything...I might tell me mum, but I would never tell the NME!"
fair enough. But we're only trying to find out where this seemingly bottomless well of fantastic songs springs from.
"We'd like to know that too," quips Gaz. "With a lot of it we just decide that something sounds quite good. With some of our songs we discover deeper meanings to it later on, after we've done the song."
"I don't think you have to be pessimistic to have depth," argues Mick. "There is still depth to being well-adjusted."
"But we're not bitter about anything," adds Danny. "There's too much going on in life to be bitter."
So it's fair to say that Supergrass are fairly happy people making fairly happy music?
"Yeah, that's fairly accurate," nods Gaz.
"That makes us sound really shallow!" gurgles Danny. "Hahahahaha!"
Supergrass are the only band in history to turn down both a Steven Spielberg TV series and a Calvin Klein modelling contract. Yet, paradoxically, they remain pure pop from their fuzzy Furby eyebrows to their dinky Muppet toes. They have top ten smash hits, million-selling albums, screaming gurly-wurly fans, the whole nine yards. They are Fatboy Slim with guitars, Flat Eric in triplicate, pure bouncy joy in a sexy cartoon package. They are those three frogs on the crocodile's back in that fantastic Budweiser commercial. They are, in short, not Belle & Sebastian. Brilliaaaant!
Which is why Supergrass can happily write a shamelessly referential song like 'Pumping On Your Stereo', which is about itself and nothing else. Music about music! Wicked! Mega! Postmodern! Possibly!
Like most great pop bands, Supergrass also deny being pop.
"It's the connotations that go with pop being entirely superficial," frowns Mick.
but there is no shame in being a good pop group, surely?
"Would you say Nirvana were pop as well?" puzzles Danny.
Their best songs were, definitely.
"What about The Doors, were they pop?"
No, they were artwank. But artwank with a pop edge.
"And Radiohead?" frets Gaz.
Bloody hell, this could go on all afternoon.
"Where would you put just a good band like... like us?" Gaz ponders. "I'd prefer to say we're just a band. Actually we could be bluesy pop rock... no, souly blues pop rock."
Snappy! But how about 'souly blues pop rock funk metal'?
"I dunno about the funk..." frowns Danny.
"Look, we're not heavy metal, alright?" deadpans Mick. "Or I'm leaving now."
This debate has come back into sharp focus since Supergrass first graced NME's cover four years ago. Back then, Britpop ruled the airwaves, 'our' bands dominated the charts and the revolution seemed to have triumphed. Today, almost all our indie champions have retreated to the margins and only Supergrass remain on the daytime-radio, tabloid-shagging frontline. While their former peers take the Krautrock/art-noise/doomtronica back roads, the Oxford trio are still going head to head with Boyzone and Britney. Have they simply stood their ground, or sold out big time?
"We probably could have sold out a few times, we've had a lot of offers," sniffs Gaz. "Would you say doing a series with Steven Spielberg was selling out?"
No, but Mogwai probably would.
"We had an offer to do The Sun for loads of cash, and we said no immediately. But that just felt like an obvious decision to make because we all hate it."
You also turned down a Calvin Klein modelling gig, Gaz. Would that have been selling out?
"That would have been more myself selling out rather than the band. Anything where you are really prostituting the band's name and doing something which compromises the band's credibility would be selling out."
No offence, but surely Supergrass have nothing to actually sell out - no political manifesto, no left-field musical agenda. You have soundtracked cosmetics adverts and cheesy movies and even appear as characters in a new video game, Sliver [sic]. How can 'credibility' mean anything to you?
"It does to me," shrugs Gaz. "It's not even credibility from the papers or the public, I want to do well by my family and friends as well. The worst thing would be if my friends came up and said, 'Look, you've turned into an arsehole and your music's crap...'."
So selling out is just being uncool, then? Is coolness important to Supergrass?
"Totally!" says Gaz.
Are Supergrass 'cool'?
"Cool as they come mate!" gurgles Danny. "You've got to get up, look in the mirror, and say, 'Am I feeling cool today? Yes!'"
Gaz grins. "'You're a tiger! Roooarghhh!'"
"Is being cool wearing white suits?" Danny ask, referring to their photo shoot for NME. "I think being cool is being really into what you're doing and being quite happy about it. Is this jumper cool? It should be cool because it's fucking Vivienne Westwood!"
Well, Danny, speaking as NME's official fashion correspondent, that jumper is about as uncool as it is possible to get. It even has ready-made 'punk' holes in it! That's how fucked-up and hollow the debate about 'indie' values has become.
"You can't call Vivienne Westwood not punk though, mate!" spits Danny. "She started the whole thing!"
Gaz buries his face in his hands. "You've really blown our credibility now," he groans.
Not quite, Gaz. but the punk barricades are going up again. It's Mogwai and The Beta Band vs Texas and Celine Dion. Which side are Supergrass on?
"I think we just sort of exist," says Danny lamely. "It sounds really naff but I think we do span that gulf. The way we've made music is we've spanned a really wide audience."
Don't you want to attract clued-in kids who 'get' your music while repelling the 'uncool' masses, like Liam from the Prodge?
"But you can't do that if you sell too many albums," protests Danny. "It's just impossible!"
OK, Gaz. There's a gun against your head. Who are you 'down' with - Arab Strap or The Lighthouse Family?
"What's wrong with The Lighthouse Family? They're alright. Hahaha, I'm joking. No, I couldn't say either. I'd say whatever you choose."
So is there any real difference between Supergrass and Crowded House?
"That's really hard," sulks Danny. "If we were really pissed late at night we could probably describe really well why we're not like Crowded House, but I just can't! I think it's just obvious looking at the songs we do."
What's worse - being only in it for the money or only in it for the music?
"It's worse being in it for the money, surely," reckons Danny. "If you're only in it for the music you've got a better chance of making a good album."
"If we were only in it for the music we'd be doing a Mogwai," adds Mick sagely. Aha! So Supergrass are at least partly in it for the money, then?
"We write really good songs and people buy them," says Gaz. "So you can't refuse the money, can you? This is our career."
Hell's teeth! Listen up, Supergrass. There has been a major generational youthquake every 11 years since Elvis Presley cut his first record! Psychedelia and punk and acid house divided the hipsters from the old farts. Do you really want to be swept down the drain of history by the storm that is due to wash the scum from the streets in about, oooh, three months from now?
"But when is the next thing coming that's really strong?" says Danny sceptically. "That must happen soon, otherwise there's going to be nothing to talk about in a year. What new type of music or fashion is going to be so different? I was really off my head one night, talking to Louis out of Rialto, and he was getting really depressed because I was just banging on that there's no future. There's no new music that's any good."
"So you're just writing us off then?" snaps an outraged Gaz. "We're nothing...?"
Not nothing, Gaz. Maybe just the end point of linear rock history. The last stifled gasp of serious debate between 'underground' and 'mainstream' music. The final solution of apolitical, generation-spanning, consensus pop. The having-a-larf, only-in-it-for-the-music, post-everything, blank generation. Christ, Supergrass even make a cameo appearance in Bret Easton Ellis' savagely cynical novel about shallow celebrity worship, Glamorama. this is the end, my Muppet friends.
Unless, of course, your entire career has been one big ironic joke and Supergrass are actually Radiohead in disguise?
"Look, do you want to make us cry or something...?" sobs Danny.
Of course not Danny. We were simply trying to wind you up with all the smartarse, two-faced, snidey indie arguments we could muster.
but we failed. And Supergrass won without even trying, because pop always wins. Because endless summer holidays and dancing Muppets and irony-free fun will always triumph over anal sadboy sniping. Because Supergrass love what they do and do what they love, which is writing great songs that need no intellectual justification or background reading. Because pop is ace, wicked, cool, mega, smart and brilliaaaant!
You don't hear this very often, but maybe Supergrass should take themselves less seriously. And so should we.
NME - 15 May 1999