The Hair bare Bunch!
They're still young, they're just as free, and yes, they've been keeping their underpants nice and clean!
Supergrass are back. And after a hectic year out spent chilling, smoking and (blimey!) having haircuts, they've even got a new self-produced album to talk about...
On the one hand, there's this... "I was in Selfridges the other day and I saw Michael Eavis. So I went up to him - he was with his wife - and I said: 'Alright?' And he went: 'Oh, hello,' and he shook my hand. So I said: 'How's it going?' And he said: 'Fine, fine... D'you work here?'"
This is Danny from Supergrass, by the way.
"So I said: 'No, no, I'm playing at your festival'. And he said: 'Really, who are you?' And I said; 'I'm Danny. I'm in Supergrass.' And he said: 'Supertramp?' And his wife said: 'No silly! Supergrass!'"
The point being: a year's a hell of a time to be out of the frame.
On the other hand there's this...
"He was young, he was free, he'd got hair - but now
he's a baldy... Gaz is caught with a bit of fuzz." - The Mirror.
Tuesday, November 7, 1996.
"It's fuckin' stupid innit? All that fuss over a haircut! The thing that I couldn't work out, right, is that a couple of weeks ago, Liam had his hair cut and it was on the front cover of The Mirror! And on the second page, it had something like: 'IRA Massive Ceasefire', or whatever it was."
This is Gaz by the way.
"I'm not saying that I was pissed off that I wasn't on the cover and Liam was..."
"You were! You were fuckin' gutted!" That was Danny.
"No! No! I'm saying that I was pissed off that I was even in the papers at all because I thought it was total bollocks. This is the news? My fucking haircut in a paper? What is that? It's not news! It isn't news that someone has their fucking hair cut! And it's a total fucking sham that, on the second page, there's real news!"
"I think it's shocking!" This is Danny again. "I'm more interested in Award Winning Hair, like that Wella advert. What's all that about?"
"Pantene," says Gaz. "It's Pantene."
"Whatever the fuck it is, how can you have Award Winning Hair?"
"Yeah," says Mickey, "Can you imagine the conversation: 'Have you seen my Award Winning Hair?' 'No, go on. Please show us your Award Winning Hair!'"
"No, the point is, I think it's a disgrace, man. People's haircuts have no place in fucking newspapers!" Gaz just won't let it lie.
"Yeah, I'd rather have tits or something like that," says Danny. "Did that Geri Spice ever make it to Page Three?"
"I don't really give a fuck!" Gaz is steaming...gently, in a Gaz kind of way. And... OK, so we're a bit off beam here. There is a point though. We'll get there in a minute.
"The Spice Girls," says Danny, excitedly "They're all pretty Spice, aren't they?" Have you noticed I've started saying that about really cool things? Like: 'Hey man, that's Spice,' or 'Hey man, you look Spice!'"
"Your winter evenings must simply fly by!" Mickey's getting sarky.
"Fucking hell man," says Danny, "this beer's really fuckin' Spice!"
We will get to the point in a minute. Honest! But while we're all Spicey we may as well ask: OK, come on, who's your favourite Spice Girl?
Danny ponders. "Dunno man, probably the kick boxer."
"No man!" says keyboardist Rob. "The black girl's got all the talent. She's a good dancer... What's her name?"
"Melanie C," answers Danny, confidently and , as it happens, incorrectly.
"How the fuck d'you know that?" ask Gaz deeply flabbergasted, unaware of the error.
"Well, there's Victoria," says Danny. "And Emma and Geri, Melanie B and Melanie C."
"Fuckin' hell!" says Gaz, well impressed. "I wouldn't know 'em from Adam, mate!"
"Well wake up man, smell the Spice!"
"I like the second single," says Mickey. "That was alright."
"Yeah, that was good," agrees Gaz. "It had a mental fucking harmonica solo."
That's typical Gaz, that it. Talking harmonica solos in the middle of a Spice conversation.
"Don't mention any of that will you?" says Danny to the journalist.
Anyway, to the point. The point is Supergrass have been away or thereabouts for a year or so and, as Blur will tell you, a year is a very long time in pop. So it can go either way for the 'Grass right now. Anonymity or celebrity. Rags or riches... well, not quite that dramatic, but you get the drift.
The last time VOX spoke to Supergrass, Spice was something you chucked into curries. Now the new 'Grass single, 'Richard III', will be duking it out with the next Spice Girls single (something to do with Mothers' Day, apparently) in the bid for chart supremacy.
So what have the 'Grass been up to since they took VOX to Brazil two January's ago? Well, they played a tent at Irvine Beach, did an Internet thing at the London Astoria, previewed a couple of new songs at the Chelmsford Festival, and headlined at the Pilton Village Fete as a favour to Michael Eavis.
By the way, Gaz, who is sitting in a lunchtime pub in north London, has an anecdote about that: "D'you remember that really mad bloke who played football with us at Pilton? You know the one! He came up to me with this massive bottle of cider and said: 'Bruce Willis - is he here?' I said: 'What?' And he said: 'Bruce Willis. I saw him. Is he here?'"
Danny: "And then these two women at the end started insulting everyone..."
Mickey interrupts: "...And sexually assaulting people..."
Gaz: "There were terrible scenes at the Pilton Festival. It was OUTTA CONTROL!!!"
"I just remember sitting on the roof of the bus and knocking over this bottle of beer and it was all falling down the side of the bus," says Rob, Gaz's brother as well as keyboard's played. "And I went downstairs and Michael Eavis was stood in the doorway saying 'Alright?' and there was all this beer dripping on his head."
"Yeah," laughs Danny. "We were all leaning over and gobbing on his bald patch! Oh, what fun times we had! Total rock'n'roll, eh?"
Indeed. And what else of the last year? Well, the 'Grass chilled out, had babies, smoked a lot of dope and, oh yeah, they recorded an album. But more of that later. Right now, let's just put this hair thing to bed. Was Gaz attempting a singleheaded suedehead revival or what?
"Nah. It's just you have to cut it sooner or later, don't you?"
"Tell him the truth." This is Danny. "It was a bizarre lawnmower accident."
"Look, I just felt like it, OK. The story is my girlfriend bought my dad some clippers for his birthday and it just gave me the idea. I thought: 'Clippers! Why not just get rid of it all?' Because I'd never done it before."
"And then you regretted it, didn't you?" Danny again.
"I did, yeah. At first I thought it was really mental and then I just got really pissed off. I'm quite happy with it now because it's growing back to a good length..."
Not exactly front page news, is it?
"Not as good as my haircut story," says Mickey, who proceeds to relate how, during a boring spell in the studio, and in a terrible moment of weakness, Mickey let Danny cut his hair.
"It was all short everywhere with just a little fringe down here. It looked like a Flock Of fucking Seagulls."
"Nah," says Danny, "it looked more like something out of Duran Duran."
"Nothing wrong with that!" says Gaz in admiration.
"Fucking is," says Mickey. "You didn't have to spend time walking around Tescos with people laughing at you!"
A few weeks after this conversation takes place, VOX will call the 'Grass at the studio where, having just returned from touring Australia as part of the Big Day Out Festival ("More like the Big Day Off!" according to Danny), they're recording B-sides. Danny will come to the 'phone to reveal he's been up all night for a couple of days and, as some sort of mad consequence, he's gone and had a Mohican.
What the fuck is it with Supergrass and hair?
Supergrass started recording their second album, the follow-up to the chart topping 'I Should Coco', in April last year. Working at Sawmills Studio in Cornwall - a converted millhouse in idyllic estuary surroundings - Gaz, Danny and Mickey produced it themselves, taking occasional advice from Mystics man Sam Williams, who produced their first LP.
"This is why I don't really care what the album's gonna do," says Gaz. "I'm not really bothered if it doesn't do amazingly well because I just know that we produced it and, not blowing our own trumpet here, we saw it as a massive challenge and it's a good feeling now for us to know that we did it.
"I mean, it's quite early for a band to produce a record. It's only our second!"
"This time around it was just us and it was more adventurous," says Mickey. "The only problems were the little things like, 'Get the fuck outta bed', and, 'Get off the Nintendo', but we sorted it out."
The 'Grass talk excitedly of a studio stuffed with instruments which they swapped if and when the fancy took them. Mickey played some keyboards. So did Danny. Gaz played everything on a track called 'It's Not Me' except something they call, "the shakers".
"It's a really healthy way of going about things," says Danny. "Like auditioning for each part of each song. Y'know: 'You're shit at that bit, I'm gonna have a go...'
"We built this outside studio in this massive tent on the lawn at the Sawmills," he continues. "It took us about two days to do it. We wanted to sound really big so we started playing outside. It was so hot, the height of the summer..."
"...And you'd get the creek as the ambience..." sighs Gaz wistfully.
"The worst thing about that was you had to play at a certain tempo," says Mickey, getting all muso, "...so you'd get the delay off the mountain. And it was really weird when we were mixing because you could hear a plane flying over and ducks quacking..."
"But we didn't have too many difficulties," Danny adds. "We're all into the same sort of music, and we all knew what we wanted it to sound... musically, there were no difficulties. The problems were all personal..."
When they argued, it was over the mixing. They brought 12 tracks back to Konk Studios in London, the studio owned by Ray Davies of The Kinks, and suddenly cabin fever got the best of them. Too close to their own material, they farmed it out, but to no avail.
"We just listened to it all too much and I think we lost what we thought it was about," admits Gaz. "That sounds really serious. It wasn't. The songs still sound great, but, at the time, we just forgot what it was supposed to sound like."
Mickey picks up the story: "We decided to give it to someone else to mix, to see what would happen. And what happened was, basically, it got different but it didn't get better."
"It was quite interesting to hear what they did," says Gaz. "But, after hearing it, we knew our mix was better."
All this mixing malarkey repeatedly delayed the album's release. It's now due out in May.
"It's hard to say what we were after." says Mickey. "It's like 'I Should Coco' - we didn't have any theme in mind when we released it but now, when we play it back, it's got a kind of story, like there's strange ones running through nearly every song. We didn't consciously think about that so we'll probably have to listen to this album for about six months before it'll start to emerge what it's about."
Gaz agrees: "Right now, it's just 12 different, quite diverse songs, which is the way I like it. In the middle of mixing this album we put on 'I Should Coco' and it was just like whooom! Nothing on the vocals, no effects or anything. It really freaked me out because it was just so fast. It was like the whole album was on speed or something.
"People might get freaked out by not hearing that same Supergrass sound on the new album, but I think it will always be that way. We'll always be moving on, trying something else. We have a wider sound now. It's bigger because... well, we've got bigger."
So what's the album called?
"Dunno..." says Danny. "We've got till Wednesday to think of a title..."
"No, we ain't," Gaz corrects. "We've got six hours..."
Surely you must have some idea of what you're gonna call it?
Mickey: "Nope. We were gonna call it 'Hold On To The Handrail' but..."
Danny, mischievously: "What about 'Children Of The Monkey Basket'?"
Gaz: "Or 'Sperm Burping Mattress Monkey'?"
"Either that," says Mickey, "or 'The Best Supergrass Album In The World... Ever. Pt II..."
"What about, 'Ladies And Gentlemen... Supergrass'? That's quite cool," muses Gaz. "That's quite groovy."
"We could call it 'Dica And The Psychedelic Hiccoughs' 'cos, like, 'dica' is 'acid' backwards!" says Danny proudly.
"Wow!" says Gaz, totally impressed. "That's really cosmic" Hey Danny, you're onto something there mate!"
"I used to do a cartoon character called that..."
Well you could do the cover then, couldn't you?
"Have you seen the front cover for a while?" Gaz asks Mickey.
"No," says Gaz. "I hear he's started doing the insects."
"The insects," he says. "The ones on the album cover."
How can you do a front cover for an album without a title?
"Easy!" says Danny. "You just do it, don't you? You don't think about it!"
But then it might not have anything to do with the title when you finally think of it...
"Exactly," says Gaz. "That's part of the charm, innit? We don't want any logic to it. Everything's too meaningful these days...
Weeks later, VOX discovers that the 'Grass have settled on 'In It For The Money' as the album title, which is also the name of the opening track. On the phone to Danny at the studio, the story unfolds thus:
"We were in a taxi cab, talking about it, and we told the taxi driver that we were thinking of calling the album 'In It For The Money' and he started laughing for about ten minutes," says Danny. "Then he said: (this delivered in a Blakey-from-On The Buses voice) 'Well, if nothing else happens son, you've made my day with that title. That's wicked!' So we went: 'Right. That's it!"
Frank Zappa And The Mothers Of Invention released an album in the late '60s called 'We're Only In It For The Money' which, from the cover artwork to the musical contents, was a wry pisstake of what Zappa saw as the hypercritically commercial hippy sentiments behind The Beatles' 'Sgt Pepper's...' Spookily enough, Supergrass' 'In It For The Money' also owes its inspiration to The Beatles. Or, at least, it sounds pretty Beatles-esque.
If Blur have taken the snidey side of Lennon and reworked it into 'Beetlebum', the 'Grass have come into the story somewhere around the zany pop psychedelia of 'Revolver', a direction suggested by last year's largely and mistakenly overlooked masterpiece of a single, 'Going Out'.
In other words, 'In It For The Money' manages to sound simultaneously wide-eyed and cool, young and old, cheeky yet clever, timely and timeless - everything the 'Grass are great at. From the funky 'Cheapskate' ("Kool And The Gang," according to Gaz) to the weird, snorting, speeded-up nonsense of 'Sometimes I Make You Sad', 'In It For The Money' is Supergrass stretching out. It makes 'I Should Coco' sound like a spliff-behind-the-bikeshed - which is exactly what it was.
Still, 1997 is a big year for the comeback. Oasis, Blur, U2, Prodigy, Primal Scream, The Charlatans, Pulp and Radiohead are all expected to deliver albums. That's mighty opposition to contend with.
"Shit!" laughs Gaz. "Maybe we should have done ours last year!"
There's a lot of hopes riding on 'In It For The Money'. 'I Should Coco' was a chart topper, after all. Is that a hard act to follow?
"Well, maybe," says Gaz. "It was quite nice when it went to Number One, although I think it had just the right amount of success actually. It didn't go too mental, it was never too hyped. Still, most people are probably expecting the next single to be 'Alright Pt II' which is bollocks really..."
"Yeah," says Danny, "with 'Alright' it was every flippin' bus driver going: 'Awright son? How are you then? Awright?' Didn't get that with 'Going Out', though. Didn't get: 'Awright? Going Out are ya?'"
Despite the celebrity cool-off following 'Going Out', Gaz still found it necessary to move house. He recently quit Oxford for the coast, because he felt like he was living his life under a microscope.
"When it started it was mental," he says "Y'know, local boys make good and all that. Quite nice really. But then it got too much. The Cowley Road went a bit sour, got really violent. It always was a bit dodgy but there's really bad shit all around up there now. I just had to move really.
"And anyway, I thought I'd like to see something different. It's good for my girlfriend because there's more job opportunities down in Brighton. Plus, I've never lived by the sea before so... I bought a house down there and it's really nice. Nice little quaint house, little cottage sort of thing."
Mickey: "I'm still living in Oxford... hiding. Someone got murdered up the road from me the other day."
Danny, who had a baby last year with his girlfriend Pearl, lives in Camden where he fits in pretty well with all the other Britpop 'celebs'. This is the first time since the band formed that they've moved apart and, despite the relief of not living in each other's pockets, they actually admit to missing each other.
"We'll be back on tour soon so we'll be together again - just like Happy Families," laughs Mickey. "Great, eh lads? Back to smelling my pants!"
Mickey, the most long-standing family man, has always been the most reluctant to tour.
"Well, everyone else has got a family now so I'm not in the minority any more. But it's always hard going away. If I worked on an oil rig it would be the same sort of deal.
"It's harder of the missus than it is on me," he says. "Because she's the one with the kids and stuff. I'll just have to run up a huge phone bill and try to make it home as often as possible, just so the kids recognise me."
The upcoming tour, which will coincide with the release of 'In It For The Money', will, Gaz promises, be a 'Grass extravaganza. "Horns, percussion, dancers... little rabbits running around onstage..." "Mandolins and stuff," says Mickey, "with Roger Daltrey making a special appearance. Looking forward to it. Where was it that we had the policeman introduce us?" he says to Gaz.
"It was one of the balls..." the singer remembers. "It was the Leicester University Ball or something, the warm-up for Pilton. The one we did for lots of money.
"This bobby just came into the dressing room and we'd just got a joint going and he goes: 'Alright lads? Don't mind what you're drinking. Don't mind what you're smoking... As long as you give me a bit of it!!!' I got his number as well. His number was 2156!" he says. "No, I just made that bit up. Anyway, he goes: 'I like a bit of blow myself lads. Everyone does back at the station!'
"So we got him to go onstage and he went: 'EVERYONE SHUT UP!!! Or else you'll be caught by the fuzz and I'm the fuzz!'
"And everyone in the crowd thought there was something wrong. Y'know, they thought there was gonna be a stage announcement like: 'Your attention please. There's a little girl back here who's got pains in her stomach'. Then everyone realised and went mental. We came on and went straight into 'Caught By The Fuzz' and it just kicked in really hard."
"That was the adrenalin," says Danny. "I mean, we thought we were gonna be arrested. how about getting the drinks in? This beer's fucking Spice!"
VOX - April 1997