Supergrass singer Gaz Coombes releases the strongest Man in The World, their first new music since his Mercury Prize-nominated the Matador, and address such themes as masculinity, ego and anxiety attacks.
At first glance, an album called the strongest Man in The World seems to suggest a compendium of tracks from The Rock’s biggest blockbuster films, but instead of being a celebration of all things male, Oxfordshire singer-songwriter Gaz Coombes has decided to subvert the meaning, instead of using it as a starting point for addressing issues like the ego, the mental health and masculinity.
The title was inspired by the artist Grayson Perry, the book The origin of Man and the subsequent Channel 4 series, which looked at how modern men are struggling physically and mentally under the traditional concept of masculinity.
“I thought the book was surprising and enlightening and very important for the men of reading in terms of what seems to be a way of being of some of the young people, to protect their territory and be the tough guy.
“It is difficult, in the closed world, and reduced, and in the last instance, we are all human beings. I try not to separate males and females, I know that sounds idealistic, but I try to look at it that way.
“At first I liked it in the sense that, what if I was the strongest man in the world to be a little weird and a little trash things? To be the greatest in the of not be complete, is difficult to explain, but then I thought that was really cool, the irony of these ridiculous alpha males, who dominate and cause chaos for all.”
From their latest album Matador launch in 2015, the world has changed with the election of Donald Trump, he’s Too much movement and the Time, and despite Coombes, says the current climates to help inform your creative choices, he does not want to deal with them openly for fear of the dating of his music.
“It’s always a balance, of the way that I like to write is to observe and soak things, and it is more likely that the strange events to come in the lyrics of songs here and there. I like not too deeply involved in the political statements because everything can change quickly.
“Music should be an escape for people to interpret their own way, but there are definitely lyrics on the album, [where] I can not recognize what is going on around me.
“I remember Bowie saying something like this, and I’m paraphrasing here, that Dylan could make such poetic political statements, but he was much more in the observation and commenting of your own head space.”
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One such track is their latest single from Walk the Walk, a bold funk-laden strut of a track, which imagines a dictator of stimulation around his compound, taking into account pushing your big red button.
“It’s based on any of [Pablo] Escobar to the Peaks Blinders on for the Win, that kid of thing from men, but in a fun way caricatured,” says Coombes.
Got a finger on the button, Ready to delete
Coombes supports the song and the images may have been influenced by the Triumph of the famous tweet about north Korean leader Kim Jong un and his “biggest” nuclear button.
“I think that the letter could have reached after reading this, it is an example of how things appear in my head, that is a line in a song as opposed to a whole song, but it is that I like to use the news, not an exaggeration, only the use of simple lines.”
Another track which again deals with the thorny issue of men and their view of the world and even touches on the nature of extremism is to track Wounded Ego, which sees a children’s choir sings the refrain: egos Wounded / Right psychopaths.
“My friend and producer Ian Davenport (Supergrass, Badly Drawn Boy, Stereophonics), it is to their children to school. He legs and recorded it and sent it to me, that was brilliant, you did a fabulous job.”
The children’s choir, says Coombes, was in part inspired by Pink Floyd Another Brick In The Wall, in which the children of Islington Green School in London, famous sang we don’t need no education / we don’t need no thought control.
“I thought it was beautiful for the children to sing lyric commenting on the problem of extremism, but it is presented in most of the musical form. I’m not an expert in the nature of extremism, but as hey teacher leave the kids alone, when they sing something you don’t expect, is very cool and strong message, not stop for those people who are going to try and walk all over you.”
One of the most personal songs on the album is the closing track Strange Dreams, a stream of consciousness that points in intimate detail the coming of an anxiety attack, something Coombes admits that comes from personal experience.
“The lyrics of the song kind of came on the fly, is a panic attack, a kind of describing the moment when things go a little weird and is not right. I am lucky that I don’t have many of them, thank God, but when they hit… I’m a little bit susceptible that way.
“I just let go of this and I find myself screaming the lyrics, I have to get my ******* head together, it was my way out, I guess.”
With musicians of the mental health be a conversation in the forefront, after the death of artists such as Chris Cornell, Chester Bennington, and – more recently – Swedish DJ Avicii, Coombes, says that artists should seek help if they need it.
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“A lot of people that struggle far worse than I, but over the years I have had problems with anxiety and depression. Is unlikely line of work, man, going on tour for seven months, and then goes home and twiddling your thumbs and adapt again to another life can be difficult.
“I think it is very important to talk about it, I very much love life and I am happy and have good kids and love, in the music more than ever before, but why not talk about that things are difficult? It is good to say when something is difficult.”
Coombes points to artists such as Van Gogh and Munch channeled his battles with mental health in great works of art.
“I love it when I see a painting and think, ‘They were going through some things, but who gave us this beautiful painting’. I’d like to teach my children to express their emotions through art, you do not have to be depressing, even talking about the dark feelings don’t have to be depressing, it can be enlightening.
“It is only the life of man, is the light and the darkness.”
Strongest man in the world is the Friday
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