Interview with Danny Goffey, of Supergrass
It’s funny how a lack of mainstream success can be a good thing. Supergrass was one of the titans of England’s Brit Pop scene in the mid ‘90s, but while their peers went on to varying degrees of stardom in the States (Oasis had the big album, Blur had the big single, Elastica had the big beer jingle), the closest Supergrass got to mainstream success in the US was the inclusion of “Alright” on the “Clueless” soundtrack.
Call it a happy accident, then. Where those other bands have either imploded or become a shell of their former selves, Supergrass are still going strong. Their newest album, Road to Rouen, is one of their best yet. Bullz-Eye had a chat by phone with ‘Grass drummer Danny Goffey, who was at his home in merry old England, making dinner for his kids.
Bullz-Eye: Well, let’s get right to it, and talk about the new record. This is the album that I expected you to make the last time around.
Danny Goffey: Uh huh.
BE: It just seemed like a more logical progression from the third album than the previous one.
DG: We weren’t really too sure what we were doing (when making Life on Other Planets, the band’s previous album). Maybe if we didn’t have a producer last time, we may have been more accustomed to making an album like this. Um, we just wanted to do another kind of pop album rather than a straight-ahead album.
BE: That’s interesting, the comment about the producer. Was he forcing you to do more I Should Coco kind of stuff?
DG: Not really. I think at that time, we were more up for playing some hectic songs, the faster kind of songs, you know. I don’t think he forced us to do anything, we were just in a certain frame of mind.
BE: The songwriting on this album seems a lot different to me. Your songs have always been really direct in the past, but the song structures on this album felt a little more exploratory. Was that a conscious decision on your part, or did it just kind of happen?
DG: It was a kind of conscious decision to make an album that didn’t have a three- minute single, something that had more of a mellow vibe about it. There have been those obscure tracks that have been on the album that no one probably had heard, because people just buy our singles or see just what’s on the charts or on the radio. So yeah, we wanted to make sure that that side of us come out of us a bit more, you know, and that we didn’t just pick some radio friendly song to release.
BE: Were you surprised at the reaction that the third album (2000’s Supergrass) received? I’ve read other people’s reviews of it, and I think they missed the point.
DG: I don’t know, what reaction did it receive?
BE: Allmusic, for example, gives all of your albums four and a half stars, except for the third album, which got three.
DG: I dunno, because there’s some really good stuff on that album. To us, we just try to do albums that are fairly different from the previous album, we try to change it a bit, you know. So, I dunno, maybe there were songs there they didn’t like.
BE: Well, where I was going with that was I wondered if people didn’t want to let you guys grow up. They want you to remain this brash little pop band, even though you have much bigger plans.
DG: Yeah, well, we’ve felt that a little bit in the past, but we don’t really care that much. If someone doesn’t “get” the record, we don’t really bother worrying about it too much, because I’m happy playing those songs onstage. There might only be three, four songs off the album that we play live, sometimes more. I saw a program on TV the other day, it was about the mid ‘90s, and when it mentioned our band, it just talked about “Alright” and that was all, that was our main, memorable thing. I think people kind of hold on to stuff, and you really have to make a quite conscious effort to change the style of music in order to get through this barrier of how you’re perceived. But if you actually sit down and think about it, I think it’ll really do your head in, so we tend to just kind of go with it, and if people don’t like it, cool. There’s a lot of people who do like it.
BE: I’m glad you mentioned the mid ‘90s, you’re actually feeding right into my next question: You guys had a lower profile in the US than the Brit Pop bands like Oasis and Blur and Elastica. Do you think that having that low profile has benefited you now?
DG: I’m not sure, I can see that it would benefit us in the way that more people can actually get into our band without loads of hype around it. But we were quite easy going people, we didn’t shout about our particular style, or in what fashion the band was really portrayed. We got caught up in the Brit Pop thing a little bit, but we never really championed Britain as a sort of musical force. Music is just kind of worldwide. There were great bands in America at the time, stuff like Beck was coming out. We just wanted to be a band that can grow and change…I dunno, I don’t think we ever really tried to cash in that hugely on our first general success. I think we thought the whole thing was quite funny, and we were kind of embarrassed by the way that we had sort of become pop stars. So we played it down a little bit. But yeah, I think it’s helped our band, generally. I would say that we are one of the last bands around from that time, with Oasis and a couple of others.
BE: I’d say you’re the last band from that time that’s worth a damn, to be honest. I was really disappointed with Blur’s last record, and Oasis hasn’t made a good album in ten years, in my opinion.
DG: Sorry, I missed that part.
BE: Nothing, I was just making fun of Oasis.
DG: Oh, all right. Oasis is cool at what they do, you know, and I hope that they come out with another great album. The songwriting has kind of dried up a little bit. I think a lot of other people in the band are writing songs now. I’ve known (Oasis guitarist) Andy Bell for years and years, since I was about 12 years old. And I know that he can write tunes.
BE: I think that’s hilarious that you’ve known a guy from Oasis since you were 12. I think it’s hard for Americans to wrap their heads around that, that people from two very big bands can be friends since childhood.
DG: Well, we grew up in the same area, and England is a lot smaller place than America, so if you live in one area, you bump into people a lot, and you play gigs. Andy Bell used to be in a band called Ride, you probably know about that.
DG: Yeah, well they were the first band that we actually did a gig with when we were about 14, 15. It’s really amusing now that he’s in Oasis, because he’s a really hard boy. He used to be a right wet blanket, you know.
BE: (laughs) Okay, what about the current wave of UK bands? Who are some of your favorites?
DG: I quite like the Arctic Monkeys, a new band that’s got some hype around them, but (the lead singer)’s got a really cool, individual voice, and they’re quite honest about what they do. I really like the Magic Numbers, there’s a band called the Dead ‘60s I quite like. There’s a new band coming out called the 747’s that could well be quite a big band in a year or so. Yeah, music’s pretty good at the moment.
BE: I agree. I think this has been one of the best years for music I’ve seen in a long time.
DG: Yeah. I really like this Madeleine Peyroux album, this French girl. Has that one gotten big in America?
BE: I haven’t even heard of it, to be honest. (Shows what I know: her last album was a Top 3 smash on the jazz charts.)
DG: She does covers in a kind of jazz style, it’s really good instrumentation, and she plays with really good musicians.
BE: This is something I try to ask everyone: if people a hundred years from now were to ask about Supergrass, which five songs would you like them to hear?
DG: Well, hopefully some more from the future!
BE: Well, of the ones that exist right now.
DG: Probably “Caught by the Fuzz.” Maybe “Wait for the Sun,” (B-side, released only on the limited edition 2-CD set of In It for the Money) that’s one of our favorite early songs. “Moving,” um, I don’t know, really, there’s quite a lot (I like). Let me think, what was on the last album… “Tales of Endurance,” that’s a really cool song, once you get your head around it. How many is that, four?
BE: That’s four.
DG: Okay, um…”20 Ft. Halo.” That’s an old B-side. (Also on the In It for the Money bonus disc)
BE: I don’t know how familiar you are with MySpace..
DG: With who?
DG: Uh, okay. No, don’t know it.
BE: It’s funny, I’ve been contacted by a slew of British bands because I’m “friends” with you guys.
DG: Oh yeah? You’re friends with me?
BE: Yes. I’m friends with Supergrass on MySpace.
DG: Oh wow, cool. Is that true?
BE: Yeah, I have been contacted by at least three or four bands who have found my name because I’m one of your friends.
DG: Oh, cool. That’s cool, well done.
BE: You and the Delays are the most influential bands in England, from what I can tell.
DG: Yeah, there are a lot of bands coming out at the moment, and I’ve only read a couple of interviews, but we do get mentioned a fair bit. I don’t know if that just means we’re getting older, but…