The Men Who Fell to Earth

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upergrass survived Britpop and came out almost as good as they went in: no mean feat, especially when you consider the other alumni from the class of ’95. (Wherefore Cast? Whither Kula Shaker?) Back in the heady days of Cool Britannia, Supergrass’s rowdy pop nuggetry attracted the attention of Steven Spielberg, who offered the Oxford quartet their own Monkees-style sitcom. They declined. Around the same time, singer Gaz Coombes was offered a Calvin Klein modeling contract. It was also turned down. The band has always taken itself seriously, sometimes to their detriment: with 1999’s self-titled third album, a dullish attempt at maturity, they seemed ready to renounce the prospect of world domination altogether. How un-Britpop can you get?

Perhaps chastened by that album’s failure, perhaps encouraged by Oasis’s complete descent into Steve Millerdom, the band has released a new LP, Life on Other Planets, which is a symbolic return to the glory days. The mood is upbeat; the trademark “la-la” Chipmunk harmonies are in place. There is electricity (“Never Done Nothing Like That Before”) and primordial rock swagger (“L.A. Song”) to spare, and the dreamy album closer (“Run,” which sounds like Air reworking the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun King”) hints at a world beyond the Glastonbury mainstage. While in NYC to promote the new album, Coombes and bassist Mick Quinn sat down for a chat, and I promptly alienated them with blatant self-promotion and questions about porn. — Grant Stoddard

So do people come up to you after shows and give you CDs of their own bands?
Mick: If they’re cool, yeah.

Here’s mine. [hands over package]
Mick: I was about to say that we don’t listen to them that much.

That’s what I thought. Use it as a Frisbee or something.
Gaz: You end up putting them in your pocket and you sort of carry on the night and you get really pissed1 and you wake up the next day and pull your wallet out and you just sorta put it down.

How was your recent Conan O’Brien experience?
Gaz: It’s just a TV show.

You’re going on Carson Daly too, right?
Gaz: Yeah. I’m not familiar with him.

It’s his job to knob2 young pop starlets.
Gaz: I don’t think I’d enjoy that much. Is he going to knob me?

He might. What’s it like coming from the smartest town in the world?
Mick: What, Cambridge? [laughs] Oxford is kind of a weird place because the other end is very rough. At one point I think Oxford had the biggest car-crime rate in Europe.
Gaz: Yeah, there’s a huge drug scene in Oxford. It’s really quite a schizophrenic place, I think. I mean, we went to school and stuff, but we didn’t go to Oxford University. We didn’t even have friends who went to Oxford. It’s kind of weird. When we were first coming to America, on the plane people would say to us, [outrageous American accent] “Oh, you went to Oxford. Oh, greeeeaaat, so you went to the Univerrrrsity.” But it’s a good place. One of the most beautiful cities in England.

So who has the smut on the tour bus?
Gaz: What?

Mick: Smut?

Jazz rags3. You don’t dabble in that?
Gaz: [flustered] We all . . . er . . . I’d get a weird vibe if someone’s . . . y’know . . . on the bus.

Well, I only ask because you’ve all had girlfriends since the bands started, right?
Gaz and Mick: Yeah.

And you’re away from home so long . . .
Mick: Actually, once we sort of looked at stuff in German petrol4 stations for a laugh. We can’t all sit there and, y’know, have a muscle party 5 when everyone on the bus is there. It’s kind of weird, isn’t it?

Muscle party?
Mick: You learn restraint. I mean, we’re not ten years old, y’know.

Yeah, totally. I’m so over it too. So do you regret turning down Steven Spielberg?
Mick: Not for one second.

If he came back now, would you have a different response?
Mick: I don’t know. It’s more likely that we’d go for it now, just because we’ve sort of laid down what kind of band we are. When he first approached us, we just had one record out.
Gaz: At the time, we were making In It for the Money. That was where our heads were.

Supergrass’s Life on Other Planets
(Island/Def Jam)
is out now.

buy it here

So you were making In It for the Money, but you weren’t actually in it for the money.
Gaz: Even if everyone thinks our record is pants6, at least we’re doing it on our own terms, and we’re putting our personality across rather than somebody else’s idea of what we should be doing. And that’s more important than anything else.

There’s a lot more joy in this record than there was in the last one.
Mick: I think generally the songwriting is more optimistic. I don’t know if we’re happier people.

So you wrote the latest album in France . . .
Gaz: We just got a nice villa sorta place, a nice big house. Yeah, it was good, like wine and good food, a few guitars. We tried to write some songs. We got a few done, but we spent most of the time drinking.

Was it just the four of you?
Mick: Yeah, but Mark [the band’s manager] came down too. He acted as our live-in maid, scrubbing the floor, cleaning up puddles of sick . . .

Which brings me to my next question. When was the last time you threw up on yourself?
Gaz: You mean, getting a bit on your shoulder or something?

No, full-on chunder7 down your shirt.
Gaz: I’m quite restrained.
Mick: I’m very accurate.

Is the British music scene healthy at the moment?
Gaz: I think it’s definitely a little bit healthier than it was a year or two ago. There’s a lot of good stuff out there. It always surprises me: you can get jaded about the music industry or music in general, and the next week an album will come out and it’ll actually get you back into it.
Mick: It’s quite diverse as well. There’s nothing more annoying than seeing the same kind of bands come out and they’re all like Oasis. That’s when it gets destroyed. When I first heard the Strokes and the White Stripes, it was really cool, really fresh and different from a lot of the absolute rock stuff of the mid-to-late ’90s. It just gets a bit weird when there’s too many of them. Some of them have really good songs, but I just don’t like to hear too much of it.

Have you ever done karaoke?
Gaz: I have. In Japan, with little middle-aged Japanese businessmen. The whole time I was imagining how stressful it would be to work until eight or nine in the evening, six or seven days a week. They would go mad if they couldn’t sing Gloria Gaynor songs at the top of their lungs.

You know David Lee Roth from Van Halen?
Mick and Gaz: Yeah.

He always comes to New York and does karaoke, but he sings his own songs. That’s a bit shit, isn’t it?
Mick: Well, it saves flying the backing band out.  

1 Drunk
2 Fuck
3 Porn magazines
4 Gasoline
5 Circle jerk
6 Bad
7 Copious stream of vomit [origin: Australia]


© 2003 Grant Stoddard and Nerve.com.