Marking his 10th year as a solo artist, Supergrass frontman Gaz Coombes releases his fourth solo album to date, Turn The Car Around on January 13. Headliner sat down with him for an in-depth chat about musical discovery, calling time on his old band, exploring themes of masculinity through songwriting, and why he has no idea where he is headed next…
Gaz Coombes occupies something of a niche in the pantheon of great British songwriters. When Supergrass emerged at the height of Britpop as a trio of baby-faced upstarts, early singles like Alright and Caught By The Fuzz became instant classics; impossibly hooky vignettes of youthful abandon and misdemeanor that would stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the biggest hits of the ‘90s and etch themselves permanently into the pages of iconic 20th century guitar-driven pop. Subsequent releases such as Richard III, Sun Hits The Sky, Moving, and Pumping On Your Stereo would serve only to reinforce their status as masters of melody and purveyors of some of the finest singles of the era.
But while their songs have undeniably endured, the band’s frontman has not found himself fixed by the media gaze in quite the same way as some of his contemporaries. The absence of high-profile spats with other artists, or a reluctance to engage in the public sniping and macho posturing that typified so much of UK indie rock at the time, has perhaps led to Coombes being perceived as a more anonymous figure; simultaneously a musical national treasure and one of its most underrated talents.
When Supergrass split over a decade ago, Coombes’s transition from band leader to solo artist was also scrutinized to a far lesser degree than some of his peers. An obvious case in point being the demise of Oasis, with the anticipation of where the brothers Gallagher would tread musically almost secondary to the inevitable slagging match that would ensue between them.
This, it seems, has been to Coombes’s benefit. With no such baggage on his shoulders, he has spent the past 10 years releasing a volley of ever-intriguing, ever-evolving records that rank among his finest creations to date. His latest and fourth solo album Turn The Car Around, a refined blend of pop melodies, fuzz infused rock, and gentle acoustic numbers, feels very much like the distillation of everything he has produced since breaking out on his own. What’s more, that instantly recognizable vocal has simply grown richer over the years, seemingly immune from the ravages of almost three decades in the business. Few voices in British pop have aged this well.
When Coombes joins Headliner over Zoom to discuss how Turn The Car Around came into being, he explains that he always felt the record needed to draw a line under his solo output so far. Following 2015’s Matador and 2018’s World’s Strongest Man, he says he publicly declared the record as the final installment of a trilogy purely to put pressure on himself to mix things up next time out.
“What I said was sort of bollocks,” he says with a laugh, sitting in the newly built studio at the end of his garden where much of the new album was made. “I publicly said it was the end of a trilogy to back myself into a corner. I don’t know if it is... well, it is, as I’ve said it now! That was the point. I wanted it to be set in stone so that it pushes me onto something completely different next time. I don’t want to start the next record like I’ve started the last three, which have all been made in a very similar approach or process. I just decided I wanted whatever I do next to be different and leave this as a moment in time. And they are all totally connected. Lyrically I have got across all of the themes I was playing with, and I have explored that as much as I would like to for now.”