By Alex Meakin
It’s been nearly two decades since Gaz Coombes shot to fame as the frontman of Brit-pop band Supergrass. Now, three years after the band split, Coombes talks about his return to Oxford with his new solo project, his attachment to the city, complacency with Supergrass and how the local scene that he helped create has lost its way.
So how did your new solo project start?
“I didn’t really expect to be doing much after Supergrass split. I just kind of fell into to it, I just kept on writing and went down to my studio most days and before I knew it I had half a record and I really liked it. I thought that it was some of the best stuff I’ve ever done and I may as well push it on.
So I thought I’d make a record and see what happens from there. There were no big aspirations to be a solo artist at first, I just thought it was too good to leave on the tapes in the basement really, I just wanted to get it out there. And here I am.”
So what’s next?
“In the last months I’ve been writing other stuff and booking these shows to showcase a new song that I’d written and also the track ‘Break The Silence’ has a new video out at the moment with this really cool animation. Those two tracks are going on a double A-side limited edition 12 inch and then have a proper release on iTunes at the start of June.”
Are you trying to do things differently this time around?
“I suppose I’m just trying to do things differently, for 18 years or so we had an approach, I think it worked the majority of the time up to the last few years but it was tricky. We were often based around disappearing for a while to make a record and then coming back and touring for two years.
I think for the fans it seemed like a hefty amount of time between new material and I want to address that and do it in a different way. To keep providing new stuff as quickly as I could. To record as spontaneously as I could. Not to disappear to a country studio for six months and go off the radar. I’ve just got the energy to do new material as quick as I can.
It’s great to feel like you’re on the edge again, in a way Supergrass felt quite comfortable. We’d get booked for big festivals every year and I think a bit of complacency might have set in with that comfort of being an established band. I’m really excited about the prospect of being on the edge of it, starting again and roughing it a little bit at times. So it’s been really exciting.”
So have you found that it is mainly Supergrass fans that are turning up to your solo gigs and have you been playing any of the old hits at your shows?
“I didn’t really expect to pick up the Supergrass audience. In fact it was a conscious decision to try and make a separation and start again. I didn’t link this project to Supergrass at all, it’s a brand new thing. So, it’s a journey and I’m just at the beginning of it.
I think mainly the fans have been into the album (Gaz Coombes presents: Here Come The Bombs released last year). It’s been well received live. As it’s gone on, I did ‘Moving’ on acoustic a few times, I’m doing that a little at the moment on the shows but just at the encore.
The whole set is the album and then, if they’re good, if they’re receptive as an audience, it’s just a little treat from the vaults. I’ve got them to thank for being able to have the freedom to make a new record it’s because I had really good years with Supergrass. Although it’s a separation I do have a nod to the fact that we had some really great times and wrote some great songs together and I don’t see the harm in playing any of those live.”
The band members that you have for your live shows are all Oxford based, was this important to you for this project?
“Yeah, it was in a way. I was having conversations with various people and looking bringing in session musicians from around the country or just from London. People were telling me “You’ve got the pick of the bunch, get who you want.” But it was important to me to start it organically and start it from the roots much like I did with the records and the recordings. I wanted it to grow as a project and I didn’t feel the impatience and the need to steam in at a pro level.
I just wanted to start with a few shows and see what was working and what wasn’t working, and I’m really glad that I did it like that. I think now we’re really firing on all cylinders and grown as a project. It’s that sort of natural growth that I wanted really. That sets the tone up for the future.
I put this band together which was the cream of the Oxford music scene, I feel. We’ve got great players. Loz Colbert, Charlie Coombes, Joe Charlett who used to play for Spring Offensive and Nick Fowler who has played in many bands so it’s a great bunch of guys.”
Oxford is your home, what’s special about playing here?
“I got so many memories. So many attachments with the early days. I remember those early Jericho Tavern gigs, even with the Jennifers in ‘91-’92. It’s was a great place for music. The Oxford scene was kind of like an anti-scene which I felt was really cool in terms of the diversity of bands.
To pick three as an example you have Radiohead, Supergrass and Ride. Completely contrasting bands with completely different styles and for me that was always what was great about Oxford. In fact, I think that’s almost the downside of Oxford music these days is that there seems to be kind of a cleeky thing going on where bands are coming out and all sounding a bit the same.
For me that’s not what makes Oxford music great. I think it’s the diversity that makes Oxford music great. I think living here for so many years and growing up here that was how I lived. When I lived on Cowley Road I lived among artists, dropouts, drug dealers and students and that massive mix of cultural backgrounds. So there’s a massive attachment to playing Oxford. It’s my home, man.”
So you think that the Oxford music scene has lost it’s edge?
“I feel at the moment, yeah, a little bit. There’s a sort of cleeky scene where it’s closed off. The scenes closed off. All the bands sound quite similar to each other and everything’s got sort of tight guitar sounds with odd little moves. It’s hard to explain in words without hearing stuff.
It’s a bit weird at times and it would great if everyone was a little more relaxed and not trying to create a scene. It feels like everyone’s trying a little too hard to get an Oxford scene on the map and that was never what was great about Oxford. It was relaxed and it was diverse and if bands broke through, they broke through, they didn’t break through because of a movement or scene. We’re not Manchester. They’ve got a really strong identity with music. Oxford just needs that diversity.”
Gaz Coombes will be playing the O2 Academy Oxford on May 4th and will also be making an appearance at this year’s Truck Festival. His debut solo album Gaz Coombes presents: Here Come The Bombs was released in 2012.