As this has now left the shelves of newsagents across the land, I can’t see any harm in posting up my interview with Gaz and Danny from Supergrass in their current guise as The Hot Rats. Their album of swaggering, insistent and remarkably vital sounding covers, ‘Turn Ons’, is out now. They were both thoroughly lovely and happy to chat about the new Supergrass album and their departure from EMI. There are some leftover bits from this that I really should put up here sometime. For now though, have a read.
THE HOT RATS
Two-thirds of Supergrass adopt new moniker, hook up with Nigel Godrich and record twelve remarkable covers in two weeks.
Fun. That one syllable is the essence of what The Hot Rats are all about. Essentially an extra-curricular project stemming from time spent promoting the last Supergrass album as fictitious duo The Diamond Hoo Ha Men, bassist Mick Quinn having sleepwalked out of a first floor window whilst on holiday, this latest endeavour is something that shows a different side to the band. “It’s got that mixtape vibe, but done with a contemporary twist by a contemporary band,” explains Gaz. “It was just a bit of fun and it turned out better than we expected so we thought we’d have a little crack at putting it out.”
“The whole idea was to do at least a song a day, a really fast recording,” Danny explains. “We’d choose a song really quickly and then do it that afternoon or evening.” “We had four or five songs that we’d decided on at the start of the session,” continues Gaz, “and then it was a case of waking up in the morning and getting in the studio and thinking ‘right, what’s next?’”
The impeccable song choices on ‘Turns Ons’ (Gang Of Four’s ‘Damaged Goods’, Roxy Music’s ‘Love Is The Drug’, The Velvet Underground’s ‘I Can’t Stand It’) aside, it’s what they’ve actually done with them that makes this one of the first great releases of 2010. The Beastie Boys’ ‘Fight For Your Right’ is almost unrecognisable until the chorus kicks in, shorn of its not inconsiderable guitar riff. Although they initially considered sticking to the sound of the original, “we thought,” explains Gaz, “let’s just try it acoustic. So, I picked up the guitar and started playing chords over it and it just seemed to have this mid-Sixties Who feel.” Factor in the falsetto verses and you have one of the album’s stand out tracks.
Danny cheerily admits that their version ‘Love Cats’ draws on another great song: “Me and Gaz just started jamming for five minutes and we had this sort of ‘Lust For Life’ vibe. It’s the beauty of working with one person for so long, we know how we want something to sound. It was just really quick.” The inclusion of a cover of the Sex Pistols’ ‘EMI’ can’t be entirely innocent, can it? Supergrass parted ways with Parlophone, an EMI subsidiary, in 2008 and this particular song choice is sure to raise a few eyebrows. “It’s a little cheeky wink, but there’s no real animosity,” explains Gaz. “The company changed and we were happier to get out before we got really left in the shade. All the risk taking had just kind of disappeared.”
Record label politics settled and with Supergrass now part of the Cooking Vinyl family, the follow up to ‘Diamond Hoo Ha’ will arrive soon after ‘Turns Ons’ and Gaz is happy to talk it up. “There are some amazing songs on there, songs that I can imagine playing in a vast stadium somewhere. I’m really, really pleased. This record began life as a sort of free for all; we were swapping around our instruments, keeping things fresh and spontaneous. It’s like our little ‘White Album’. It’s just been tightened up week after week in terms of making it into a record that’s really powerful. It’s not as rock and roll as ‘Diamond Hoo Ha’. I think it’s just a psychedelic record. ‘In It For The Money’ was quite a psychedelic record, and I think this is probably our most psychedelic record for a good few years. It’s hard to say exactly but it’s sounding wicked.”
Far from being a way of treading water or filling a creative vacuum, it seems that The Hot Rats album actually played its part in setting the tone for the new Supergras album. “I think on this one we wanted to be pretty disorganised,” continues Gaz, “go into the studio, the live room, with great sounds and bits and pieces. Working with Nigel on The Hot Rats album was a big inspiration for me and Danny. We brought a bit of that to this record.” We are, however, getting ahead of ourselves. ‘Turn Ons’ is more than capable of satisfying our ears for the next few months, sonically sculpted as it is by a man of some pedigree.
And what about the presence of genius producer Nigel Godrich? How did he find working at such a rapid pace? “He was really up for that, he didn’t want to sit around doing huge production numbers,” explains Danny. “I think he enjoyed using his musical brain and his techniques in a different way. He’s so good at what he does. He totally propelled the energy of the session. He was very up.” And ‘very up’ is the most succinct way to describe this wonderful record. It’s clearly intended as a one-off but don’t be fooled into thinking it’s just a throwaway vanity project. Both Gaz and Danny talk of this album with genuine enthusiasm and affection. “It was just a case of exploring and experimenting,” says Gaz, “but it came out really well. I’m really proud of it.”