Interview with Charly Coombes

Almost 10 years after playing Wembley Stadium with his then outfit Supergrass, Charly Coombes has just released his third solo studio album - RUN. We caught up with Charly and talked about how Stranger Things inspired RUN, how life has changed since moving to Brazil and his time in Supergrass. 

So, you’ve just released your third album RUN. Whilst your second, Black Moon, was an almost organic progression from your debut release No Shelter, RUN has obviously drawn influence from elsewhere though. What was the interjection that lead to that change?

For me, RUN definitely feels like a continuation of a story, following Black Moon. This is more obvious in a lyrical and conceptual sense, in the way that Black Moon looked at space travel, the stars, the exterior - and RUN traverses the 'interior', exploring humanity's darker sides and the dirt and noise of the world around us. But also this continuation exists in the sounds and production style. Mirroring the concepts, we went from something sweet and peaceful to something altogether more brash and noisy. Orchestra to synth, 1970s to 1980s influence.

Charly Coombes

But the major difference with RUN was the lack of any limitations. It was the first time I'd sat down to record an album with no ideas in place and no sonic or lyrical concept to hold me in position. The album is a direct result of listening to my heart and creating something very true to myself and what I wanted to hear. I've always been fascinated by the ugly yet beautiful sounds of 1980s post-punk and guilty pleasures - and that long-term influence was clearly waiting in the depths to fully come to the surface for RUN.

With a stark change of direction we often find from artists that there was a single song you write you lay as the foundation for the forward movement of your project. Does that song exist, and if so, did it make it onto RUN?

There was a song that began the process, yes. But it did not make it to the finished album. In truth, the first four songs were abandoned as I began to find my feet with the record. RUN went through a number of changes and reactions, beginning as something extremely retro 80s, but quickly became something more modern and fresh. Those first tracks seemed immediately out-dated and anachronistic. The last major course change on the album came after 2016's Stranger Things. I was reminded of the intensity of those synth-based John Carpenter style soundtracks from my childhood, and that nostalgia fueled a new side to the record which was exactly what I had been searching for.

You’re now living in Brazil. How did that come about, and how’re you finding it?

Well, my wife is from Brazil, so it was always a plan in the works. I'd been quite a few times, on tour with bands and after I first met my wife. It was easy to fall in love with Brazil - it's a great country. As writing began for Black Moon, an album about incredible, terrifying journeys to the unknown - it seemed like the perfect time to embark on my own incredible journey. 

 Sao Paolo, the city Charley lives and also the city that Run was recorded.

Sao Paolo, the city Charley lives and also the city that Run was recorded.

Naturally, I miss England a lot - but I'm really enjoying my time here and it's amazing to get the opportunity to soak up a whole new culture. The music over here is not just about Samba or Bossa Nova, but something entirely different to what I expected. A varied, diverse set of music scenes with some fantastic alternative bands and artists. A real joy to explore. The foods not bad as well! Haha!

We’re not too sure how much you know about this - but a few years back a international artist radio ban was lifted in Brazil, and The Beatles and from there has been a second wave of ‘Beatlemania’ across Brazil. Is this something you’ve spotted - and perhaps even used to your advantage?

When I first arrived here in Brazil, most of the musicians and friends I was making were heavily into The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, but in equal measure, a lot of Britpop as well. Modern culture in Brazil is really only a few decades old because of the dictatorship that ended in the 1980s and the censorship that came before this. So this new wave of international music seemed quite apparent. I can't say that I used it to my advantage, but it certainly helped to meet a lot of like-minded musicians and friends with similar interests and influences, which was great.

To this day, The Beatles remain the only band or artist that I was properly obsessed with. I heard everything, read everything, watched everything. I had posters on my walls and forced my friends to give me Beatles quizzes at every opportunity. But you know, that was a long time ago now. Perhaps they laid a songwriting foundation for me - the strength of a good melody or a solid song structure - but my influences have changed so much since those days.

Your time in Supergrass gave you so much opportunity to accelerated growth in the industry. Looking back, what lessons do you take most value from?

Looking back, it's tough to take specific lessons or pointers from my time with Supergrass. It was a different time, and different place.. a different style of music. But the overall experience was invaluable. It was amazing to see places around the world I never thought I would get the chance to see outside of touring.

 Supergrass press

Supergrass press

A privilege to meet musicians and artists that I respected and was influenced by - except with Neil Young, I kind of went blank and the whole thing was a blur... too much for me! Above all, it was great to be a part of a passionate, hard working and talented band. My brothers are also my best friends and I have extremely fond memories of those tours.

Since the start of 2016 artists like The 1975 and Band Of Skulls have both taken huge influence from 1980s synth-pop, even though perhaps this strayed from their original genre. Also things like you mentioned before Stranger Things, have pushed 80s popular culture into today’s - did RUN take any influence from this movement?

Not exactly. I suppose strong cultural movements like this come about because of people feel that influence simultaneously. It was strange - the album began long before the start of this musical movement, but by the time I had finished I realised that a lot of bands, artists and facets of popular culture had also steered in the same direction. As I mentioned before, Stranger Things gave me a firm prod towards that direction about halfway through the record, but musically I was looking back like everyone else. Any modern musical influence on the album came from the fascinating production and styles of artists like Tame Impala, Black Keys and Beck - But the synth-pop elements came directly from the source: getting drunk and listening to Foreigner, Mister Mister, The Cars and Ultravox!

Stranger Things

But it's a great movement - We live in quite turbulent times, politically and financially. Modern times are beginning to heavily reflect those tumultuous years of the 1980s so for me this emerging style feels natural. It's all about that combination of something sweet and ugly - a cross between nostalgia and something fresh and modern. That's exactly what I wanted for RUN.

You can listen to Charly Coombes' first single from RUN, SPX, below.