“I remember staying at the…Oh my God, what is the name of the hotel again? Shit.”
Gaz Coombes is struggling momentarily to recall the name of the now-defunct Howard Johnson Inn on Boylston Street. Before we jump on him for not remembering Boston’s many sterling hotel accommodations, though, let’s remember that it’s easy to excuse his foggy memory. Speaking by phone just days before the start of a US tour, the former Supergrass frontman admits it’s been a while since he’s been to the States. By his own estimation, it’s been eight years since Coombes last touched down to tour American soil. Even the 2013 release of his debut solo effort, Here Come The Bombs, didn’t lure him overseas.
If the wait for Coombes’ return has been considerable, fans can take comfort in the fact that he’s coming back with might may be the best record of his career. Matador, his sophomore solo outing, finally got its American release on March 18th, this after more than a year of overflowing praise (including a 2015 nomination for the Mercury Prize) in his native UK.
“It’s kind of been a long time coming,” he says of his American touring hiatus. “It’s strange because I’ve always had a strong touring thing going with the States. There’s always been that strong link where I was coming over every year. I miss the clubs, so it’ll be an adventure, just manning up, doing the show, and driving to the next one.”
Eschewing much of the shaggy Brit pop that made Supergrass one of the movement’s best-if-somewhat-underrated exports, Matador is a swift sonic shift away from Coombes’ musical home base of cool, catchy guitar pop. He tracked and produced the record on his own, using the studio as a den of experimentation for making sense of the sorted sounds circulating his headspace. The end result brings influences into the fold that run the gamut from singer/songwriter fare to baroque chamber pop, electronica, and krautrock.
“I always have some sort of radar, you know?” he says. “I know what I want to hear and I know how I want it to sound. But when you get in the studio, there’s this realization that ‘This can be anything.’”
“I like playing with loops,” he adds about the making of Matador. “I have this weird little box, this rudimentary little looping machine. I’d just go around sampling little things around the house and turn them into little loops on Pro Tools. Then I’d get on the drum kit and play along to the loops. It was about trying all sorts of mad things and then just recording them, and pretty soon that process just sparked an idea. From there, it got a little more focused and a bit more like songwriting, I guess.”
Matador is loaded with creative juice, which is saying something for a guy who once approached the idea of launching a solo career with a healthy bit of reticence. Who can blame him? Coombes was all of 17 years old when he founded Supergrass with Danny Goffey and Mick Quinn, and he found massive success just two years later with the band’s debut, I Should Coco. Fast forward another 15 years, and the band that long-defined Coombes musically had run its course. The wide-window of opportunity that comes with wiping the sonic slate clean can be as intimidating as it is colored with possibility. But six years removed from Supergrass’ 2010 dissolution, Coombes shows no signs of awkwardness about jumping into phase two of his already accomplished career.
“I was skeptical of that move of being the lead singer of a band who’s gone solo,” he says. “But what happened is I just wrote some music in my studio and just put it out. It’s really as simple as that, man. I don’t have any sort of calculated plan of attack in that way. It’s just sort me doing some mad things and hoping that people like it.”
Having worked out his new material with a full band, Coombes has more recently tried out the songs in the form of a one-man band. When his nine-date trek through the US and Toronto hits the David Friend Recital Hall at the Berklee College of Music on March 26, he’ll juggle guitar, vocal, and piano duties, all accompanied by loops and samples. The set up is still largely uncharted territory for Coombes, save for a recent show at the Roundhouse in London (“People really seemed to dig it,” he says). But the unknown is all part of the fun, he says. Packed clubs and theaters used to be the rule when he came through town in the past, but the current run of intimate solo shows may be the most proper introduction to Coombes’ eclectic new musical vision.
“Maybe these things will eclipse what’s happened before,” he says. “Maybe they won’t. I’m just trying to enjoy it.”
GAZ COOMBES, PINEY GUR. SAT 3.26. DAVID FREIND RECITAL HALL, BERKLEE COLLEGE OF MUSIC, 921 BOYLSTON STREET, BOSTON.
8PM/ALL AGES/$25. WWW.BERKLEE.EDU/EVENTS.