Still On The Buzz!
Bake them a cake - Supergrass are officially 10 years old! Now his band has reached double figures, Gaz Coombes reminisces over his favourite 'Grass moments with Robert Collins
It's hard to believe but it's been 10 years since the pedal-to-the-floor intro of Caught By The Fuzz announced that a new force in British rock 'n' roll had arrived. Crash landing at the dawn of the Britpop phenomenon, Supergrass, also know as Gaz Coombes (guitar/lead vocals/sideburns). Danny Goffey (drums/vocals), Mick Quinn (bass/vocals) and occasionally Rob Coombes (keyboards), have outlasted the vast majority of their contemporaries for one simple reason - better songs. Openly influenced by great British bands like The Beatles, The Who and The Jam, and never slavishly following fashion, Supergrass have happily changed and grown with their audience. The result is Supergrass Is 10: The Best of 94-04
on CD and DVD, a collection perfectly illustrating why the band has become a British musical institution.
To celebrate the 10th anniversary of masterful Supergrass song writing, we asked Gaz Coombes to talk us through 10 of our personal favourites from the past decade.
1. Caught By The Fuzz
"Here comes my Mum, She knows what I've done"
An electric debut: the unlikely tale of a young man arrested and held for having a small bag of cannabis. Propelled by a thunderous bass and drum track, Caught By The Fuzz confirmed the Oxford threesome, still in their teens, as genuine talents.
"It wasn't trying to be a real statement, but at the time we knew that it was a big deal. Kids all around England were getting nicked for having a bit of hash on them. In Oxford that kind of thing happened quite a lot. It's all true so it was easy to write. It was a funny experience - not too funny at the time 'cause I was only 15 and shitting myself. The song has that disturbing energy. It's comparable to your heart racing. The adrenaline rush you get when your mum walks into the police station is similar to the energy of the song."
2. Mansize Rooster
"Why you looking so crazy? Why you looking so lonely for love?"
A giant leap, Supergrass's second single combined the 200mph rhythm of Caught By The Fuzz with Beatlesque verses and Mick Quinn's patented high harmonies. Any suggestion that Supergrass could only write novelty punk hits were instantly consigned to the history bin.
"The three of us were playing in Mick's bedroom and it really excited us to have everything kind of loud and fast. All those songs written at that time had this energy. We were big fans of The Who and The Jam and that energy came across in our gigs. There were a lot of mistakes, but a lot of energy and a lot of honesty too.
"The harmonies were like The Who. You get Pete Townshend and John Entwhistle doing their harmonies and it reminded me of that. That's what we were listening to. Bowie, Jam, Buzzcocks - pretty much what we listen to now. Actually, it's interesting how little has changed."
"Smoke a fag, put it out"
Arguably the quintessential Britpop single, Alright's cheeky lyrics and insistent detuned piano were the perfect response to three years of american grunge negativity. Alas, the video's success also saddled Supergrass with a 'cheeky chimps' image they've never quite shaken off.
"We detuned the Sawmill's piano for that song and apparently it's never been the same since. We spent ages se-tuning it and really fucked it up to get the perfect sound.
"I remember when we wrote it. I started banging away on the piano and we all just really liked it. We could all imagine it coming in really upbeat, even though it was written in the middle of winter. We were all feeling cold and depressed and it just cheered us up. I remember going to the pub in forest Hill and we wrote the rest of the lyrics. the first few lines felt really apt and as the song went on it became more of a take on being 13 and 14, when you first discover girls and cigarettes. Contrary to popular opinion that song wasn't about us, it's about the freedom you feel at that young age.
"We don't play it live too much now. It's hard because it's harder to relate to it now. We never did ride Choppers around anyway. The video was kind of a piss-take but people thought 'that is Supergrass'. I don't mind it but behind the scenes we were a little more sarcastic about it."
4. Going Out
"Read it in the papers, tell me what it's all about"
The first single from the superb In It For The Money
album and a massive step forward. Complete with brass section and cascading chorus, Going Out was the record that set Supergrass apart from their Britpop contemporaries and confirmed their status as classic British songsmiths.
"It was a bit of a reaction to Alright and the bubblegum cartoon vibe that was happening. Once you release a video and single like Alright people need the band to actually be like that, For us that was all good and well but there's just so much more to us than that. That's why we had songs like Going Out, In It For The Money and Richard III. It was a reaction in a way to say 'This is what we're really good at'."
5. In It For The Money
"Got my mind made up, I got my finger on the button"
Mysteriously never released as a single, the album's title track is arguably the finest song in the Supergrass cannon. A classic 'slow builder', it swells to an almighty climax before stopping with a shudder. Only one criticism could ever be levelled against this song - it's not flipping long enough.
"There is a longer version somewhere. We're still really proud of that song. I love the chord changes. It's definitely one of the best songs we've ever written. Dare I say it, but we always thought it was quite White Album-y or Abbey Road-y."
6. Richard III
"It's the hardest thing you'll ever know"
The heaviest single since Caught By The Fuzz, this barrelling locomotive of a song, powereed by an irrepressible Goffey rhythm, was narrowly pipped to the Number One slot by R Kelly's I Believe I Can Fly.
"We decided to release Richard III as a single, slightly against record company advise. It's funny, because our two Number Two singles have been Alright and Richard III. It's strange, because they're such different songs.
"Recording this album was just really exciting. The first one was exciting because it was our first album, but on In It For The Money
we were on our own. We had no producer, even though we were only 18 or 19. We just went for it in the studio. It was a really, really exciting time. The first week we went in we played Richard III and thought ' this is fucking great'. With each album we've done we've felt more in control. It gives you freedom with the music."
7. Late In The Day
"All I really have to say is people pass along the way"
A strange, downbeat choice of single, probably confounding fans of their punkier side. In retrospect, Late In The Day is one of Supergrass's finest tracks, proving once again their mastery of the subtler side of song writing.
"We really liked the song. It was our ballad. I sometimes wonder if we confuse people a bit. It's not like Oasis, where you get what you pay for, but it would be completely unnatural for us to find a formula and stick to it. It would be so boring. that's why I love the Beatles so much and always have. I know they go into fashion really heavily and then it becomes uncool to like the Beatles, but I've always just loved them. Their songs are so full of quality. And every song is different. Abbey Road
is a fantastic album and the White Album
goes from one extreme to another. What more do you want from music?"
8. Pumping On Your Stereo
|CAUGHT WITH SOME FUZZ: THE GAZ COOMBES GUIDE TO SIDEBURN MAINTAINANCE|
"You've got to keep consistent with the style. There's no point in going from pointed corner to straight edge. I use scissors really. And a comb. And I rub avocado on them too. Sorry, that last one wasn't true."
"Life is a cigarette you smoke to the end"
After a long break away from the studio on tour, Supergrass came back with an eponymous album and this corking single, accompanied by the unforgettable Jim Henson Workshop-aided video.
"We would like it if we had time to do an album, give it a quick tour and go and do another one. These days you do an album, then tour it for two years. then you're utterly knackered. We did the UK, Europe and a preliminary visit in the US, then we got offered a big tour in the US - we're toured with the Foo Fighters and Pearl Jam.
"This song just excited us at the time. I remember being in the rehearsal room when we wrote Pumping, and it was similar to writing Alright because I started banging away on the piano.
"Mick joined in on bass and Danny joined in and it just started going like that. We thought 'this is a good riff and a good vibe'. We thought it was quite hard actually. It didn't feel poppy at all. I think it still is to be honest. Alright is so friendly and Pumping has a bit more offensiveness to it, which I like."
"Got a low, low feeling around me"
Another strange, downbeat choice of single, full of minor chords and melancholy, that still had enough commercial appeal to break into the top 10 in September 1999.
"It's like life really. Some days you're not there. I remember writing Moving in my house and I wasn't amazingly inspired, so things like that come out really. I really love soul music and The Beach Boys and the mellower side to all sorts of things. That feels as natural to me as getting in a room and cranking up the amps and playing punk rock.
"It's what I wanted to hear at that time, so I just wrote it. That's what we do. We can't change the band. We try not to write stuff in a certain way. I'd like to give the fans a bit more respect than that. hopefully they'll appreciate all sorts of music. Moving touched a lot of different people - maybe some slightly older fans. I like to think we can give anyone a bit of something. That's the way we like it."
10. Seen The Light
"I'm a rock 'n' roll singer in a rock 'n' roll band"
Another long break, another blinding return to form with the Life On Other Planets
album. This glam rock stomper bore all the classic Supergrass hallmarks - uber-catchy choruses, high harmonies and, er, a sampled sheep.
"The glam thing's always been a part of us because Bowie and T Rex and that period. We weren't listening to anything particularly new but we wanted to be direct on LOOP
and keep the song and structures tight. In many ways I think LOOP
and I Should Coco
are similar - 13 quick rock 'n' roll songs.
"We went and recorded the sheep at a little farm - it's just this one sheep. You want to remind people that we're not inching our way up each other's arses in the studio. We're not getting really deep here - so here's a sheep noise. It's about music. And it's about enjoyment. and satisfaction.
"We felt that Life On Other Planets
was the best thing we'd done for years. It's got a lot of great songs, but I'd like to expand a bit more on the next one. Freak out a bit more. not give people exactly what they want. Give them something they have to chew over a bit."
Nodding to the past but looking forward to the future, Supergrass have proven that after all the bullshit, success still boils down to writing great songs. Here's to the next 10 years.
Robert Collins, Play Music - May 2004