This was a big thing for me: lots of recording off the radio. I’d wait for the chart show, and I’d know that Madonna’s Into the Groove was currently at No 3. I remember that pressured feeling of trying to hit record at the right time so you don’t get too much of the DJ introducing the track, and I’d build up these compilations. I did my own best-ofs – the Cure: 79-82 – or call them things like Dark Trip. I’d draw stuff and then go down to my dad’s office to use the photocopier and cut it all out, and print out homemade covers, getting the tracklisting really nice on the back.
Making a mixtape for my girlfriend was a way of subliminally sneaking in things about love. When you can’t say what you want to say, but there’s a JJ Cale track or a Beach Boys track that does. You don’t make anything of it, you just pop it in there and it’s like [sings]: “I lurve you!” I also remember getting a microphone for the cassette recorder and being able to do bits between songs, little customised stings. I’d make some noises, or go: “Right! Next!” I suppose they were inspired by Monty Python.
I was an 80s kid, definitely a chart kid, Madonna and Phil Collins and all that stuff was massive for me. So my early teens were kind of that transition, when I was ditching chart music and discovering these bands through my older brothers and older mates. Bands like the Darkside – a really cool record, sprawling and psychedelic and discordant and a bit weird – Chapterhouse, Dinosaur Jr, the Cure, the Smiths, Pixies, Inspiral Carpets. I was only 12 when the Stone Roses’ Sally Cinnamon came out, that was a massive track – it didn’t sound like anything else. And I was rooting out records from the 60s and 70s I hadn’t heard yet. I remember feeling a massive kind of awakening, going from Pet Sounds to Spacemen 3 to Inspiral Carpets to some obscure Frank Zappa record.
This was a row of four little houses across the way from my parents’ house, five minutes from where I lived [in Wheatley, Oxfordshire]. An eclectic bunch of people lived there: a doctor, a guy who’d just come out of the army, a couple of dealers, a few other stoners we got on well with. The sort of place where, if there’s no one in, you just push the door open, let yourself in and light the fire. Doc would arrive back from his shift, and we’d all be sitting in his living room watching A Clockwork Orange.
Mick [Quinn, Supergrass bassist] lived there for a few years, and we were working together at the local restaurant in the kitchens, washing up and mopping floors. We’d do late shifts, finish at one in the morning, go back to the cottages to play guitars for hours and watch movies. It’s kind of where Supergrass was born – any opportunity I’d sneak out of my parents house to go over and have a smoke or listen to some Zappa, or watch the Woodstock movie. We’d listen to comedy records: Cheech and Chong, Monty Python, Derek and Clive. We ended up rehearsing there and did our first four-track demos in the living room, for what ended up being [debut album] I Should Coco. It was a catalyst to open myself to all kinds of different things, and people. I was 15 and these were all working adults – I thought they were all 40 but they were probably 23. My folks weren’t too happy, there was a bit of weed around, but it was cool … one of those creative awakenings.
The guy who had come out of the army ended up being our tour manager for a short time. He was quite a big bloke and super confident, and we thought: yeah, you’re the guy to drive us around and fight our battles against promoters who wouldn’t give us any money and thought we were too young. We’d get laughed at when we went into a venue – “Can I help you?” – and we said we were there to play a gig, because we looked about seven. We needed someone to have our backs.
School was really dull as a teenager and I grew up in a pretty sleepy village, so life was moving at a snail’s pace for me. I remember that feeling: needing to find some excitement, something faster, a bit of buzz. It was cool discovering things in the cottages and having that freedom. It felt good that life was speeding up.
Spacemen 3 – Revolution
A massive, massive song. I used to have this terrible Alba midi system – the record player used to destroy all the records with this horrible scratchy cheap needle. But I’d play it every night. It was big inspiration for getting into a band.
Coming out of the shiny 80s, it was exactly where my head was at during that time – the album this is from, Playing With Fire, had beauty, danger and discordance, and brilliant tracks. It had that mixture of 60s Velvet Underground vibes, but also the contemporary sounds of 1989 and 1990 where guitars got a lot filthier again, more aggressive. Me and Danny [Goffey, Supergrass drummer] used to wander around going “it takes just fiiiiive seconds …” – this brilliant part of that song where it builds up at the end. “To realise that the time … is right!” It really spoke to us, a really powerful record.
It was very word of mouth then – I suppose you’d have Melody Maker or NME or something to say “this band are cool”, but other than that it was what your mates were into, being handed a cassette. It felt like our record, much like when I first heard Sally Cinnamon or Fools Gold by the Stone Roses. You just take ownership. That’s what I love about music: that record belongs to you for your own reasons, completely different from someone else’s, and completely different from the songwriter’s.
I caught the tail end of rave, and managed to sneak off to one when I was 15. It seemed like if people were really into raves, they were really into Spacemen 3. I find rave and psychedelic rock’n’roll go hand in hand, because, y’know, you’ve got to listen to something on the comedown.
Oxford pubs and charity shops
In my later teens, when Danny and I first moved in together, these seemed to be places where we’d formulate our plans to be the next Inspiral Carpets or Dinosaur Jr or Spacemen 3. Danny and I would often frequent the charity shops, trying to outdo each other: who could buy the most wild flares, or velvet suit or wizard’s cape? I must have had a few years at around 16 and 17 where I looked like a 70s children’s TV presenter.
We’d spend the afternoon in the Gloucester Arms, which had the best jukebox in town: you’d walk in and you knew it would be Brass in Pocket, or Free Bird, or All the Young Dudes. It was kind of a rockers’ pub. I remember working in a shitty cafe-kitchen in town, and then after my shift, heading towards the Gloucester, stinking of a mixture of ice-cream and grease, really pissed off. I’d arrive and they’d all be hammered, having a great time.
It wasn’t staying in the pub all day and getting really trashed and bingeing, it was just hanging out somewhere for hours, and we’d talk about ideas and play pinball. Weirdly quite innocent. We’d talk about the next gig – or the first gig. That was really as far ahead as we were looking. We’d had a little taster of it, in a school band, playing in the drama studio. Just loads of cover versions, and then the headteacher came in and broke up the kids because they started moshing. That was the moment where I thought: I like this, this is cool! That gave us a taste.
I remember playing the Jericho Tavern at 15 years old, and I think that’s where we signed our first deal, with Nude Records – actually, my parents signed it, because I was too young. We all wrote weird little comedy songs when we were kids, but nothing serious until we got past the school band stage. We were doing a few cover versions – a couple of Cure songs, Freak Scene by Dinosaur Jr – before we dived into writing, so our own stuff was influenced by what we’d been playing. We had a track called You Keep Punching Me which was a punk song with the same chords as Spacemen 3’s Revolution, but loads faster.
Speedball 2: Brutal Deluxe
We were playing this a lot when we first went down to Sawmill Studios in Cornwall to record the very early days of I Should Coco, around 1993. They had a Sega Mega Drive there – we’d do loads of sessions and recording, and at the end of the day we’d just play Speedball for hours.
There was something really addictive about this game. It was set like 100 years in the future, and was a cross between American football and ice hockey; you had to build up these insane characters with armour and skills, and create these Mad Max-esque players. I think it was inspired by the James Caan film Rollerball. It was ridiculous, very violent – although the graphics were very 16-bit, so there was no real sense of it. It was a bonkers, fast-paced game. Other people dug Sonic the Hedgehog, but we were crazy about Speedball.
The Twilight Zone
As a kid, I saw the 1983 Steven Spielberg and John Landis movie adaptation. The opening story, with Dan Aykroyd, freaked the hell out of me. I was a massive fan of his, always so warm, friendly and funny – and at the end he turns into this monster out of the blue, this jump-scare, shocking moment. It stayed with me for weeks, I had nightmares about it. The other three stories are brilliant: there’s a reworking of Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, the original William Shatner one, with a monster on the wing of the plane.
Then in my teens I got into the old Rod Sterling black and white ones from the 50s, and got all the box sets. It was an obsession for a while, and I still go back to them now. There’s one I always remember about this guy, where nuclear war had broken out, he was alive, the last man on Earth, and he was an avid reader – all he wanted to do was read. He found this library … and he tripped and smashed his glasses. “No! I had all the time I needed!” A classic Twilight Zone twist.
In the UK, we had Tales of the Unexpected, which is great, but super dry, no particular tension, just odd Roald Dahl Englishness. With The Twilight Zone, the subject matter was out there, a bit more sci-fi and weirder stories – and I always liked the twist, that’s what I connected with. A moment when it all changes, when you realise what it’s been leading up to is not what you thought it was. Being a young teenager, when it’s the awakening of everything, I thought that was really cool. You can take that idea into lots of areas, and we did it in music – weird time changes out of nowhere, or like making those mixtapes, putting a weird bit in between songs. There was something dangerous, odd, unsettling and surreal about it, and surreality in humour was something we connected over as a band.
Supergrass play Crystal Palace Bowl, London, on 20 August as part of South Facing festival, which takes place 5-31 August. They also perform at Latitude festival, Suffolk, 24 July; Tramlines festival, Sheffield, 25 July; and Victorious and Camper Calling festivals, 27-29 August. In It for the Money (Remastered Expanded Edition) is released 27 August on BMG.