'Music is highs and lows - it's weirdly unstable': Gaz Coombes on solo success and being a new man
PUBLISHED: 14:53 13 June 2018 | UPDATED: 14:53 13 June 2018
From the flashily whiskered brashness of Supergrass to a Mercury-nominated solo career, Gaz Coombes has matured from rock-star ego to family man musician. Ahead of a gig in Norwich he tells us how his third solo album re-examines masculinity.
Shaped by Grayson Perry’s recent book The Descent of Man, which he read on holiday, Gaz Coombes follow-up to his Mercury Prize-nominated Matador would seem to be carrying a heavy intellectual load, exploring and questioning modern ideas of masculinity and mental health.
World’s Strongest Man, his third solo album, is certainly the former Supergrass frontman’s most personal and confessional record.
Belying its title it is not a swaggering chunk of rock-star ego. It’s kind of the complete opposite - an album on which Coombes, 42, holds a magnifying glass over masculinity, conceit, and anxiety.
Perry’s book, a deconstruction of gender combined with an excess of “power-hungry maniacs” in both popular culture and politics, was like a “lightning bolt”, says Coombes.
It led him to write Walk The Walk, a cautionary tale of deluded ego which greets you with a heavy, groove riff.
“Baby, you’re the one, you can walk the walk,” he croons down the phone, before stopping himself mid-description as he labels the backing vocals sassy.
“I can’t believe I just said sassy,” he laughs. “That’s my nine-year-old speaking.”
It’s not the only influence his two daughters have had, he adds. Two decades since Supergrass released their brash debut single Caught By The Fuzz, he’s been able to reframe and explore the destructive side of masculinity, a journey present throughout the album.
“I went through my twenties and thirties in the bubble of the band,” he says. “I was very much riding a wave and didn’t really look around much.
“I’ve got two daughters now so there are different hormones in our house and a different mood, in a way I just feel very in tune on this journey,” he adds. “Over the last three or four years I’ve started to look outside a lot more at what’s going on and how that affects my kids, and the people I love. That creeps into the record for sure.
“Everything from the destructive and divisive nature of these entitled, rich, white guys and to other areas I probably wouldn’t have talked about before so much.”
While Walk The Walk checks toxic masculinity, the album’s predominant track Vanishing Act, a raw, stream-of-consciousness, deals with anxiety.
“I express myself in music and what I do and it’s a great outlet but it’s a strange world doing what we do,” he says of the track. “Why not just open up about how you feel about those dark moments? Music is highs and lows... it’s just weirdly unstable. You can be at home for months on end and then away for ages, a strange kind of life.”
World’s Strongest Man also takes on fascism on the gospel-cum-electro track Wounded Egos, which features a choir of primary school children singing the refrain “Wounded Egos/Right Wing Psychos”.
It was Coombes’ idea but producer Ian Davenport managed to rope in his children’s school to carry it out.
“I was quite surprised,” he says. “I didn’t know what the teachers were going to say, I was half-expecting to be told, ‘Get out, we don’t really want to politicise these children’. But no one said a word so I guess they were quite fair-minded teachers.
“These kids are the next generation - they’re way more important than we are,” he continues. “They’re going to hopefully make some big steps to make things right. I thought, ‘Why not?’ - the idea of the next generation singing something so direct and timely.
“It’s just art as well. I’m not a politician, I’m a musician, as I work through a record it’s a bit of everything; it’s the way I express, like throwing paint at a canvas and you see how it falls.”
And he really does maintain hope for the next generation. He speaks of his nine-year-old daughter being “in tune” with how life is and heaps praise on “trash TV” for incorporating all genders and sexual orientations.
“It can be a dating show but it can have all wonderful kinds of pairings of people and that’s just normal life... You’d never have s*** like that in the Eighties, it was all very dry and black and white.
“Normally I’d say don’t watch this s*** but it’s good if it’s just in day-to-day life and shouldn’t be strange, everyone is free to be who they want to be.”
• Gaz Coombes plays Open, Bank Plain, Norwich, on June 16, 7.30pm, £17.50, 01603 763111, opennorwich.org.uk