Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit
Gaz Commbes new pic 2018 1
Nine Songs
Gaz Coombes

The singer/songwriter on the songs that inspire him, both from his time in Supergrass and now as a solo artist.

13 April 2018, 09:00 | Words by Ed Nash

I find this out straightaway when we meet in a pub in West London on a bright spring afternoon. Coombes is about to release his excellent third solo record, World’s Strongest Man, the follow up to the Mercury nominated Matador. When I tell him that it sounds like he’s got his funk on with this record, the ever affable Coombes laughs and says “I hate the word funky, I don’t know why. Is Beefheart funky? There’s a groove to the new record, that’s what I was after.”

When we meet he’s just gotten back from playing acoustic shows at SXSW in the US and is gearing up for a full band tour, which includes a night at The London Palladium in May. “That’s quite mad isn’t it? I told my Dad about playing at The Palladium and he was quite chuffed. I’m excited about it, it’s going to be a mad venue to play in. I feel really good about this record, it feels like I’ve hit a rhythm and live the band are really on it, they’ve translated it so well, it feels so exciting.”

Talking about the songs that inspire him in various ways he explains “These songs have been in mind over the last couple of years and have aided the inspiration for the creative process.” Some of the artists, such as Iggy Pop and Brian Eno he discovered during and prior to his time in Supergrass and others, such as Frank Ocean are more recent finds, but all are united by a love of a groove and song craft. Despite his aversion to the word funky, Coombes nine song choices are the sound of an artist and a consummate music fan, a writer who’s always searching for something new and translates that passion of discovery into his own brilliantly idiosyncratic, universal songs.

“Cristo Redentor” by Donald Byrd

“This was on the soundtrack of Luke Cage, which me and my missus watched quite a lot, it’s a cool series and there’s great music on that show. I first heard this track years ago, but when I heard it again on Luke Cage it reminded me to go and root out the record.

“It’s a beautiful snippet of a sort of souly… actually ‘souly’ is the wrong word, I don’t like the word souly, it gives me the wrong image! It’s a beautiful little instrumental moment with these wonderful female vocals doing their thing, they’re almost like Disney vocals. ‘Cristo Redentor’ is a really cool bit of music, I hear something like this and I get inspired and think ‘I want to have a female vocal that does that kind of thing’ or ‘I want that air and space to the bass guitar’, where it sounds like it’s not just DI’ed in but it’s got this roominess to it. It’s quite often sonic things that I hear; where I’ll hear something and think it’s right up my street sonically or it’s the combination of instruments.

“There’s such a great tone and vibe to this. I was listening to stuff like this when I was making the record, these sort of moments, like how Hip Hop uses old moments from soul records, that kind of approach. I think production-wise a lot of that stuff is amazing, there’s instruments like glockenspiels and it’s quite orchestral but with this great undertone - it’s different, there’s a dirty rawness about it.”

“Copenhagen” by Scott Walker

“I was playing Scott 3 quite a lot at Christmas and there’s something about this song that’s more Christmassy than Christmas songs. It’s just kind of magical, that’s how I’d describe ‘Copenhagen’, it’s magical.

“I think this song is my highlight from Scott 3, there’s something about ‘Copenhagen’ for me. I think it’s the instrumentation and the orchestration on it, it’s utterly gorgeous, the sound of it is really, really beautiful and then there’s his voice over the top, the lyrics and his delivery. I guess it’s rooted in that crooner area but there’s a tenderness to it. ‘Copenhagen’ has a delicacy to it and I’ve always loved the vulnerability of it as well, like there’s crack in his voice. I’m just in love with this song.

“I think a lot of people like Scott Walker songs because they touch on stylistic elements that could be seen as more commercial or just normal or standard in some way, but they’re not. When you hear how he delivers this there’s an off-kilter feel to it, an oddness to it. It’s got a beauty but it’s not really an obvious beauty and he manages to walk that line really well, between darkness and beauty.

“That’s another thing that I love about the whole album Scott 3, it is quite dark, but it’s dark and beautiful and those two things are something that I’m really in tune with, a sort of dark beauty and that’s what Scott Walker does really well.”

“We Did It Again” by Soft Machine

“I can’t really remember when I first heard this song, it was probably on tour at some point with Supergrass, but I heard it again a year or so ago on the radio on 6 Music and I remembered what a cool song it was - ‘Oh fuck yes, I know that track, I’m going to listen to it again.’ I heard The Fire Engines on 6 Music recently, their song ‘Big Gold Dream’ and again I remember hearing that over the years and thinking ‘fuck, that’s really cool’, it really reminded me of early Supergrass as well and then you hear the new wave punk thing and all the bands that The Fire Engines must have inspired.

“We Did It Again’ satisfies that whole kind of throwaway feel to a song. I love the beat of this and the pace of the track. It’s my kind of drumbeat as well, that motoring, 1974 German drumbeat. I’m not really a big Soft Machine fan to be honest, I haven’t got loads of their records, but I really like the vibe of this.

“I think it’s inspiring in terms of way that it sounds and a repetitive lyric is always good, I always love a repetitive lyric. It’s the attitude of track, that’s another thing that jumps out at me when I hear something, the attitude. This is kind of irreverent and offhand and I like things when they’re throwaway. They’re not throwaway in the sense that they’ve not been worked on a lot, but this is a great one for me in that if you can deliver something that you’ve worked on and it’s finessed but it sounds a bit throwaway, I think that’s a great combo.”

“Burning Airlines Give You So Much More” by Brian Eno

“Burning Airlines Give You So Much More’ is from Eno’s solo album Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy). I love the sound of his early solo records, Here Come the Warm Jets was a massive album for Supergrass, I remember the tour manager, the crew and all of us listening to it and loving it, it was quite a defining record for us on those early tours.

“There’s something about that early solo Eno sound that I really love, he was such a sponge in terms of how he picked up on things around him and a lot of the stuff happening in Germany around that time. It was the way he could put things together and the way that he would double-track his vocal, the dirt and the raggedness of the way it was performed. There’s so much about it that I really love and then there’s the odd, skewed, surreal lyrics, it’s a good recipe. He was a big inspiration for me definitely, another one that can do that throwawayness, which is really cool.

“There’s some tracks on Here Come The Warm Jets that do a similar thing, where he could be quite tidy at times in the song structure and do something that’s almost quite friendly to listen to. It wasn’t always angular and weird and I think ‘Burning Airlines Give You So Much More’ could have sat on the Here Come The Warm Jets album really well, it’s Eno at his best.”

“New Values” by Iggy Pop

“This is the title track from New Values which is my favourite album of his. I don’t know if that’s because with songs like ‘Lust For Life’ and ‘The Passenger’ - and they’re amazing songs - I just heard them so much when I was in a young band and they were used everywhere.

“I hooked onto New Values at some point at the end of the ‘90s, just looking through Iggy’s stuff and back catalogue and then talking to Mick and Danny. When you’re in a band you talk about the albums you’re into, one of us got the others into it and we all kind of agreed ‘Yeah, that’s the album.’

“The backing band and the backing vocals sound so good on this, it’s two or three guys in the band delivering these not shouty backing vocals, it’s just such a great sounding album and the band is really on it. It’s quite a dry sounding album, all the drums are very dry and it’s a very dry record to listen to but it’s got some great moments on the whole record.

‘I’m Bored’ is an utter classic as well, but ‘New Values’ is great, it’s got a really cool beat, the way the drums are and Iggy’s delivery is brilliant. It doesn’t scream at you, which I think is cool, it’s got a poise to it that I really like.

“Nights” by Frank Ocean

“I think initially I almost had a resistance to wanting to like Blonde because of how hyped it was, but when I finally heard it I could see through all the hype about Frank Ocean, it was just refreshing to hear. Me and my wife listened to it on a long drive home and we loved it, it was the first time I’d heard him and I thought it was a really cool, really experimental record. I haven’t grown up listening to Hip Hop, I’m kind of rooted in other things, but Blonde really spoke to me and I could really hook onto it stylistically.

“It was similar with Beyoncé’s Lemonade, that was really hyped as well, but she did this quite odd record. From what I understand the way it was constructed was editing lots of bits together and that’s how I made my record, from a solo artists point of view it’s a lot more about piecing things together. I found both Blonde and Lemonade really inspiring even though on paper they’re not my genre.

“‘Nights’ is a really good song. I really like his subtlety, the way he doesn’t overcook it and I thought that was really different. Blonde is an inspiration for how to make and approach a record. He’s not just relying on a single or four big hits to sell the album or to get the point across. It’s a complete record, it’s got weird little segue-ways and tracks that aren’t particularly commercial, they’re a bit weird and that really spoke to me.”

"Sure 'Nuff 'n Yes I Do" by Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band

“I was going to go for ‘Call On Me’ from Safe As Milk but it has to be ‘Sure 'Nuff 'n Yes I Do’, which is probably my favourite ever Beefheart song. If I do any DJ’ing or I’m doing a party I open the set with this song. There’s just something about it, the groove on it was something I found really inspiring, again I guess it’s rooted in Rock and Roll, but it’s the way the beat is performed where it really helps the song to motor along.

“I first heard this song way back. We used to listen to Frank Zappa a lot and Hot Rats was my favourite record for a while. I know Zappa divides a lot of people, but I think sometimes it’s misunderstood. People see it as this really annoying, muso stuff, which I definitely think it was later on at times, but I’ve always been intrigued by the rawness of early Zappa, how he used Beefheart and how he collaborated with him was always really interesting. I always look at it as really raw, they were all really good at their instruments and really good players but not musos at all. I thought it was raw, exciting and on the edge, but then the late ‘70s came along!”

“What I love about Captain Beefheart and this track is the off-kilter rhythms, the instrumentation, the surreal, strange lyrics and the directness of it with its economic structures. This track is insane and sometimes he gets really abstract, which is cool in a different way, it’s kind of like all of it to be honest for different reasons, but ‘Sure 'Nuff 'n Yes I Do’ is like a party track, it’s just dirty and wonderful.”

“In The Midst” by sir Was

“I first heard this on the radio in the car about six months ago. Rarely will anything break my concentration when I’m driving but occasionally I’ll hear something and think ‘Wow, that’s got something’ and make a note of it to listen to later and this sir Was track sounded great. The Lemon Twigs’ record did that, when I heard some of those tracks I really liked the attitude, they’re very stylistic and retro to a degree, but the attitude was real enough to not make it all about the style.

“So when I heard ‘In The Midst’ I really liked the beat. When I listen to something I think the sound hits me first and I’ll get into the track later on, where I’ll get into the lyrics and the more I hear it I’ll know the workings of the track, but with that first instinctive listen, I normally hear a bassline or the beat.

“There’s a song on World’s Strongest Man called ‘The Oaks’ - I call it ‘The Billie Jean Beat’, it’s a running ‘Billie Jean’ beat with a loop over it - and ‘In The Midst’ has got this Al Green beat to it with these reverbed vocals that are almost like The Flamingos and The Shangri-Las. I listened to more of the sir Was record and it’s quite a weird record actually, there’s some great moments and then there’s some stuff I’m not so into, but I definitely like the attitude and the sound on this track. Sonically ‘In The Midst’ is up my street, it’s really cool.”

“Binary” by Kazino

“I’ve known this song for about ten years from when I picked up the compilation album Disco Not Disco on tour, I found it on vinyl and I just liked the cover. This song’s from the end of the ‘70s, its New York, disco-punk and that’s my other thing, like ESG and those sort of bands, it’s the sort of song you’d hear in a weird dark New York club in the late ‘70s.

“Like with a lot of these songs it’s got a groove, but it’s a slightly off the beaten track sort of groove, there’s a dirty bassline running along and a cool beat that makes it. There’s a vibe about it and it gets me going, you can put it on just before you go out, or like the Beefheart track I’ll put it on if I’m having a party.

“I don’t really do dance music or funk but that doesn’t mean that stylistically I can’t attach myself to elements of them, it’s just a case of finding inspiration in anything, even if it’s not my school. There’s no reason why I can’t hear a song by Kendrick Lamar or Kanye West or whoever and hear an element of it and think ‘Fuck, that’s great’ and relate to it. It’s similar with this song, it’s like ‘Wow, that’s not what I expected’ but I’m hearing other things in it that I find inspiring from the point of view of being in a studio and creating a piece of music. It’s like ‘Copenhagen’ by Scott Walker and hearing an element of that or the percussive element of Kazino, there’s no reason why those two can’t marry together.”

World's Strongest Man is released 4 May via Hot Fruit/Caroline International.
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