Published Mar 08, 2010Supergrass were one of only a few bands to stave off extinction when Britpop took its historic nosedive in the late '90s. But looking at them now, they're possibly the one band left with integrity and quality intact. Though they may not have reached the peaks of fame peers like Blur, Oasis or Pulp did, Gaz Coombes, Danny Goffey and Mick Quinn gave the scene its strongest dose of spunk with their 1995 debut, I Should Coco, an album that married the hyper punk of the Buzzcocks with the classic British pop songwriting of the Kinks. After a string of six albums, the band seemed destined to stay on their roll. But then in 2008, Mick was the victim of a rushed pee break in the middle of the night that left him with a broken back (insert joke here). Hesitant to just sit around, Gaz and Danny convened and began playing cover songs together for kicks. They eventually became the Hot Rats (after a brief stint under the name of their last album, Diamond Hoo Ha Men) and after telling their friend/producer Nigel Godrich (Beck, Radiohead), they entered a studio and cut an album.
Turn Ons is what it suggests: a collection of familiar songs that sound just as good pumping on your stereo as they would screaming out of an amp in a sweaty, beer-soaked pub. Roxy Music's "Love Is The Drug," Sex Pistols' "E.M.I.," Gang of Four's "Damaged Goods," Elvis Costello's "Pump It Up," David Bowie's "Queen Bitch," the Cure's "The Lovecats" and an unlikely yet successful space-rock twist on Beastie Boys' "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)." Gaz filled us in on how the Hot Rats came together, what's going on with Supergrass and how Mick's back is doing.
I guess the first thing I want to ask is what is the status of Supergrass? I know some people are wondering if The Hot Rats is a permanent thing. Also, how does this band differ from Diamond Hoo Ha Men?
We're working on a new Supergrass album at the moment, which is sounding great and on the way soon. So Danny and I are working on both at the moment. Although the Hot Rats is really a side project, there's loads of possibilities for the future... it could be the start of a few Hot Rats projects.
Covers are nothing new to you. Was this idea sitting around for some time? What initiated it?
The Turn Ons album really began when Nigel Godrich came to a gig Danny and myself were doing as the Hoo Ha Men around the time Mick was recovering. He was with our manager Chris and he mentioned coming into his studio in London to hang out and record our punk version of "Beat It" (which we were crudely covering at the time). It was the first song we tried at the start of the session but it sounded kind of shitty! So we sat around Nigel's house over a few bottles of wine and wrote a list of about ten or so songs that would be cool to record.
Is it true you looked to Bowie's Pin-Ups as inspiration?
Yeah, definitely. More in the way that it really sounded like a valid Bowie record with no hint of novelty or filling in time between "creative periods." That's what was inspiring ― to try and make a great sounding record that had our personality and inventive ideas based around these classic songs that maybe the new generation weren't aware of.
How did you decide which songs to cover? Was it more based on your favourite songs or songs that you guys felt you could make your own?
A bit of both. We definitely wanted to do songs that weren't over covered or massive hits, etc. The original "Big Sky" for example had a great charm and almost skeletal acoustic sound to it so we could see where we could bring our psychedelic punk kind of approach to it and hopefully make it our own.
"(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)" was a bold choice, but you really strip it of being a drunken frat-boy anthem and make it work with the rest of the album. Personally, I thought it would stick out like a sore thumb and kill the flow. What made you choose that particular song?
We thought it might be interesting to try our hand at a hip-hop track (we were lacking a few songs from the '80s!) and that one just sprung to mind. It was a cool challenge as there's no melody or chords on it. I remember the chords came really quickly and then Nigel said maybe try a "Cream"-like descending melody with it, then it started to get this sort of Who-like quality to it that we thought was really exciting. It's one of my favourites!
I imagine this is a fun album to play live. Did that have anything to do with starting the Hot Rats?
Yeah, I think for Nigel ― from what he said. He wanted to get across the energy that he saw from the two of us playing those little club shows as the Hoo Ha Men. It's translated really well live, we've just gotten back from a mad old world tour. I don't know how much money we lost but it was the most fun we've had in ages! Definitely a little labour of love.
What can you tell me about Release the Drones?
Well, it's currently a working title and taken from one of the tracks. There's a strong element of musical drones throughout the record. We'd go into the live room and create these weird drones and drop them into tracks randomly for cool accidents. So the album is full of great ideas. We're still adding other songs and shaping the existing backing tracks at the moment.
You recently left EMI. How has it been off a major?
We're with Cooking Vinyl now and they seem really cool, very musical, almost reminds me of Parlophone back in the day! We just became disillusioned at EMI, as everybody who started out with us gradually got fired or left, along with a lot of the cool bands too. So we lost belief in what they were doing basically, they kind of lost the plot. I'm sure they'll be alright, there's some kind of Lennon box set coming out this year, that'll keep 'em going for a bit!! :)
Looking back on the Britpop years ― the "Alright" video, the rumours of the Spielberg show and I Should Coco ― how does that period sit with you? Good or bad times?
I don't know really, I try not to look back too much... there'll be plenty of time for all that when it's all over, eh! Although doing that SG is 10 DVD a few years back, it was great seeing all those old home movies from the early tours. I suppose as a 17-year-old, it kind of shaped my life, set the tone, gave it some direction. It's tricky to remember a lot of it. It's good we've got those films to refresh our memories!
Finally, what's the status on Mick? How's he doing?
Mickey's all sorted now. He made a pretty quick recovery considering. And he's been back touring for the last year or so. I think he should sleep on the ground floor from now on though!