Gaz Coombes on “World’s Strongest Man”

Weight of the World

May 04, 2018 Issue #63 - Courtney Barnett Photography by Steve Keros Bookmark and Share


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Gaz Coombes' grin is unmistakable. The one time frontperson for Supergrass, arguably the most effervescent group of '90s Britpop, is taking a break from rehearsals for an upcoming tour supporting his third solo album, World Strongest Man. Coombes doesn't look all that different than he did in 1995 at the time of Supergrass' debut, the perennial I Should Coco. Sparkly eyes, facial hair mingled with that growing from his head, polite demeanor are all in place, but "world's strongest man?"

"I don't mind if things have to be questioned or looked at or interpreted," Coombes chuckles at the skepticism his album title might generate. "It's this preconception about how one should be, what one should talk about, what one shouldn't talk about. It's all sort of loose. Scott Walker had a song with the same title about when you can't find that strength and I know exactly what he meant."

Coombes takes this approach to his lyrics as well, preferring the listener to come to their own conclusions rather than presenting them with a complete idea. "They're all transient, working thoughts that maybe I don't feel I'm knowledgeable enough about," he clarifies. "I like to put things in little couplets in the track. Things can date really quickly if you talk about a current idea or view. The world's changing so fast. I'm just going to comment on it as I see it, open up about the weird stuff that goes on in my head."

World's Strongest Man has the hurdle of coming after Coombes' extremely well received and Mercury Music Prize-nominated sophomore album, 2015's Matador. "It's been a while since I've had to follow up a successful album," acknowledges Coombes, whose 2012 solo debut, Here Come the Bombs was partially made up of songs that were a continuation of his writing for Supergrass. Matador is the most reflective of who Coombes is as a person and as an artist, the album where he is the most natural.

While World's Strongest Man is still very much Coombes being himself, its contrast to its predecessor is more in its ideas coming from the outside whereas Matatdor's ideas were coming from the inside. This is not to say World's Strongest Man doesn't have its introspective moments, particularly in the title track, the slow grooving "Shit (I've Done It Again)," and the gentle movements of "Slow Motion Life." But it also has some very lively moments. "Deep Pockets" is a rabble-rouser while "Wounded Egos" recounts a weed-fueled adventure in California. In many ways, World's Strongest Man has a lot of the lo-fi homegrown qualities of early Supergrass, replacing the youthful urgency with mature consideration.

"I see it as a case of we need to be a little more perceptive, a little more intuitive, and it all fits together," Coombes says, speaking about what it means to be a man at the current point in time. "It all comes down to being a good human being. Trying to be balanced, patient, tolerant, and understanding people. It's not a massive effort."

This attitude is not a new one for Coombes. "When I was 15, 16 and we started touring, we had a lot of fun and we went a bit nuts," he says. "It sounds quite simplistic, but I always remember thinking, 'What if my mum heard I was being a dick in any sort of way-forgiving the odd brush with the law or a bit of drugs here and there.' And it was always instinctive to treat people well."

[Note: This article originally appeared in Under the Radar's Spring 2018 Issue (March/April/May 2018), which is out now. This is its debut online.]

www.gazcoombes.com

 

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