Gaz Coombes

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Gaz Coombesgazcoombes.com

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GAZ COOMBES

Seventeen years in the same band, and you can start to forget things. Gaz Coombes isrecovering a feeling - the moment you first realise that music can give you goose-bumps, make your hair stand on end. He got it aged fourteen, and heǯs getting it again now. It was a Dznew emotion,dz he recalls. DzLike nothing Iǯd felt before, and it would choke me. I was always in tune with that feeling, but never quite brave enough to explore it myself.dzFor nearly two decades with Supergrass, Coombes came to embody the oddball end of British indie and Britpop. But it is through his solo work that he has found himself. With his 2015 album Matador, he presented a new musical identity: wide-screen, emotional, cinematic and full of artistic surprises. It earned him a Mercury Prize nomination. DzWith MatadorI almost got it right...dz he says. With World’s Strongest Man, Coombes brings that solo self into dazzling definition. Thereǯs more space and light in the music, which takes its motorik drive from krautrock(first single, Deep Pockets, is surreal night-time car journey) and its subtle soundscapes from introspective West Coast hip hop. Lyrically, he points the searchlight inwards to explore what it means to be free and doing life on your own terms. But this is an album more outgoing than its predecessor – with a greater variety of moods than weǯve heard from him before. Coombes overhauled his home studio, dragging everything from the basement of the house he shares with his wife and two daughters and taking over the first floor – the living space became a happy tangle of drum machines and synths. The World’s Strongest Man is exquisitely made and lovingly lo-fi. Musically, it almost refuses categorisation: Walk The Walk could be Thom Yorke singing funk over a track by NEU. There are gorgeous, experimental electronic landscapes, but there are choruses as lush as any of the top ten hits heǯs known for. As with Matador, he played most of the instruments himself. The album title was partly inspired by Grayson Perryǯs The Descent of Man - the potterǯs 2016 manifesto for that Ǯdoomed speciesǯ, the white middle class male. The title track, with its cavernous reverb, explores the contradictions of masculinity: DzIǯm a little messed up / Iǯm the worldǯs strongest man / Call me if the fire starts / donǯt call me when it gets too hot...dz
DzItǯs about an adult human being who wants to be all these things but has weaknesses,dzCoombes says. DzTo be honest, I think Iǯm really good at being a little bit fucked! Itǯs not all laid out in front of me perfectly. I wanted to get that across by being open and honest.dzWalk The Walk (DzIn a time of separation / Paralysed by our own nationdz) widens the view, with flashes of figures that could be Trump or Boris Johnson, or any other of the Dzmisguided, delusional men that are making it worse for everyone else,dz Coombes says. It conjures up images of a sweaty guy in a compound with his finger on the big red button: DzImagine freeing men from those constraints of being dicks! Imagine what they could do...dzAs the father of two girls and the only man in the house, he explores male psychology with humour and self-awareness. The mesmerising Wounded Egos (DzRight wing psychos / All the madness outsidedz) hints at extreme politics but focuses on one man whoǯs hiding his head in the sand. It is a beautiful, paranoid portrait of getting stoned in San Francisco - backed by a childrenǯs choir who werenǯt aware quite what they were singing about. From Tenderloin, to Florida, to the DzNorth Atlantic windsdz that shake his walls (on Weird Dreams), this is an album which stretches space and time, full of snatches of poetry, sunlight, fear and love. Itǯs perhaps not surprising that Coombes was listening to Frank Oceanǯs Blonde a lot last year. His new material shares the same impressionistic quality - exploring quiet moments, new sounds, and the inner workings of a mind. DzIǯm still conscious of laying out thoughts that are too personal to hear, and not moaning about stuff,dz Coombes says. DzIt canǯt just be rambling thoughts of inner turmoil! In music there needs to be directness. I found it fascinating, that combination of being open and honest about the things that freak me out, but being disciplined to keep it in a framework.dzDarker feelings never overwhelm World’s Strongest Man. In Waves, which transforms an antique, off-kilter sample into a sharp post-punk riff, was inspired by happy memories of teenage discovery. DzI wanted to be an astronaut when I was younger,dzCoombes says. DzBut I quickly realised it might be slightly trickier than I thought with only couple of GCSEǯs in Art and Music...So I bought an old guitar instead, and that was doable! The song is loosely inspired by that period of discovery as a kid, all those big brush strokes and new lovesdzThere are moments of great intensity - Vanishing Act is his Dzbreakdown songdz, a driving stream of consciousness with a wild cry of DzIǯve got to get my fucking head straight!dz But there is also restraint. Slow Motion Life (DzI took my hands off the wheeldz) puts the breaks on, right at the albumǯs centre - a hazy ballad in which the music stretches into a blissful, almost anaesthetised space. The Oaks is a mysterious meditation recalling thoughts in the wake of his motherǯs death ten years ago, taking its title from a crop of trees heǯd walk to near his parentsǯhouse. Itǯs a song about the distractions we make for ourselves in a time of chaos (Dz
Another plan to occupydz) with a whispered refrain of DzAll I want is you.dz The album ends with Weird Dreams, where clipped beats and bubbles of poetry most recall the feeling of the Frank Ocean record that inspired it. It is a portrait of intense love: an entire lifetime lived with someone, in one night. As the hagiography of Britpopǯs founding fathers continues, Coombes continues to move on. One of the great freedoms in being solo is having free reign to experiment. Hecreates Dzfantasy bandsdzin his head to invent new musical textures, then records and edits them into short loops for blink-and-youǯll-miss it Dzmini-soundscapesdz. Recording was Dzvery much a spontaneous thing,dz he says, Dzworking off instinct and recording from the early writing stages. What gives me a buzz is not knowing quite what youǯre going to do. That first phase has to be as exploratory as possible.dzCoombes would alternate between his own studio and Courtyard in Oxford: a week on his own, recording as many ideas as he could as quickly as possible - then heǯd Dztake his ramblingsdz to long-time producer Ian Davenport, with whom he structured the record. He compares it to what it must be like editing a novel.He works with a strange combination of perfectionism and spontaneity. Loads of first takes and happy accidents made it on to the final cut. He is a long time victim of Dzdemo-itisdz: DzYou do something on a four-track cassette recorder and you take it to an expensive producer in a posh studio and you say, no, the demo was the one we want,dzhe laughs. DzIǯm a really big fan of those early ideas. The way you did something, before you knew what you were doing.dzDzI loved every minute of Supergrass, apart from maybe the last few years...dzhe adds. DzBut I spent twenty years in that machine and for me it was an absolute joy to approach music a different way. Just to make some art that was not calculated to hit a certain market, or do a certain job.dzYou could say heǯs followed the reverse trajectory of his many of his peers, finding the creative process easier now than ever before. DzI feel like I am full of ideas,dz he says. DzIt used to be much more of a struggle to write songs. I feel more connected to modern times than I ever used to, but Iǯm resistant to playing the game.dzWriting and recording World’s Strongest Man, Coombes has finally felt a bit of that musical euphoria he first sensed at fourteen, listening to Abbey Road or Pet Sounds in his bedroom. It comes from music that is DzFull of love. Experimental. Uncertain but confident. It believed in itself, but it wasnǯt scared of being vulnerable.dzAnd his studio is still set up in the living room, at least for now. World’s Strongest Man is released on 4th May 2018.

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