Supergrass Catch Fire

ATN "Music News Of The World" Editor Jaan Uhelszki reports: I knew it was

going to be a little dicey when I found out that Supergrass, the latest super

sensation from the British isles, were in their hotel pool at 4:00 AM, the

night before we were due to meet, clutching half-empty bottles of champagne.

What was the occasion? Their single "Alright/Time" got to the top spot on the

UK top single charts, and just everyone was sending them bottles of bubbly. A

little too much excitement for a band who just a year ago was playing local

gigs around their native Oxford, England--home to older pop sensations

Radiohead and Ride--and supporting Shed Seven. As they told me when we met up

, it was still a little unreal to them. Their manager had rung them up to

say, "You won't believe how big you are over here." And they don't. That's

the good news. They are friendly, refreshing candid and effervescent--even

when they're sporting man-sized hangovers. A terrible burden on the interview

process. Their indulgence was so hideous that the drummer Danny Goffey didn't

even make it to the "in-store" at Mod Lang, the very cool Berkeley, CA record

store where the band were to perform. According to singer/guitarist Gaz

Coombes, Danny was still praying to the porcelain god. Enough said.

So over pancakes and avocado burgers, Gaz and Mickey Quinn bared their rangy

chests and contemplated ordering the "the hair of the dog," as I sipped ice

coffee and tried to see behind Coombes wrap-around-sun glasses. The jury

seems to still be out on Gaz. A Calvin Klein photographer spotted Supergrass'

picture on the cover of NME and wanted to take some test shots of Gaz

because he liked his face, thinking he'd be perfect for the next Calvin Klein

underwear campaign (he did say Gaz's face didn't he?). Gaz declined because

the band was so busy with their rigorous touring schedule, and when I ask

about it, he seems rather bemused by all the attention he's getting. On the

other hand, there are Gaz detractors, who accuse him of being a refugee from

the ape house at the zoo, mainly because of his wrap-around sideburns, that

meet up with his facial hair somewhere around the region of his chin, and

does give him a rather simian quality. He is on the odd side, certainly, with

mongoloid-like eyes, but I was unprepared for his rare beauty. The eyes are

more almond-shaped than mongoloid, and are an unearthly hazel-green, and

twinkle with playfulness, albeit a bit weakly today. He is slight and

soft-spoken but exudes an undeniable charisma.

Like the Beatles before them, one is tempted to assign Supergrass

designations. Gaz is the cute one, Mickey Quinn, the bassist is the

intelligent one, and drummer Danny Goffey, well I suppose Danny is the drunk

one. Mickey looks like a fresh-faced university professor, peering behind his

Elvis Costello horned-rims. He's thoughtful, wry, and a bit of a

shit-stirrer. But I for one, like my pop stars a little on the difficult

side.

After lunch, we trundled through the noonday heat in the direction of Mod

Lang. They went in the back, and I used the main door, and tried to edge my

way towards the make-shift stage. I was unprepared for the transformation

that had taken place when the two hit the stage. The patina of stardom

hovers around Gaz's every move. He picks up an acoustic guitar, and the

gentle plains of his face become edges as he digs into "We're Not Supposed To

Be Here" with a ferocity unsuspected during our interview. Mickey underscores

the melody with a muscular bass line, and adds depth and complexity to what

could be tossed off as simple pop. But Supergrass aren't simple. They are

pop, but it's the raw-boned edgy variety of the Beatles on Revolver

or Mott The Hoople during their All The Young Dudes period. They pull

much out of rock's past, raiding the vaults but reinvigorating it with their

own youthful energy and enthusiasm--but also giving it a bit of dangerous

undertow. "Alright" is the Kinks at their best, and "Caught By The Fuzz" is

both contagious and startlingly autobiographical. The refrain, "I want to

know where the strange ones go," that threads through two of their songs is

both compelling and intriguing. What you see, isn't what you get with

Supergrass. You get much more.