Interview: Hot Rats/Supergrass drummer Danny Goffey on Impressing Ray Davies, Licensed to Ill's Harmonizing Potential, and Covering Squeeze
When Brit-rock's ultimate pleasure-seekers Supergrass lost bassist Mick Quinn to the most embarrassing run to the toilet since Slumdog Millionaire a few years ago, singer/guitarist Gaz Coombes and drummer Danny Goffey began performing as a duo. First as the Diamond Hoo Ha Men, and now, as the Zappa-signifying Hot Rats, the pair eventually collected and hastily recorded songs by their favorite artists--ranging from the Cure's "Love Cats" to the Velvets' rarity "I Can't Stand It" to the Beastie Boys' "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)"--and titled the results Turn Ons, out Jan. 19. Before gigs at Music Hall of Williamburg on Tuesday and at the Bowery Ballroom tonight, Danny Goffey explained to the Voice the lengths he, Coombes, and producer Nigel Godrich took to treat their cover subjects with respect. These guys really do revere Squeeze as much as you think they ought to.
Gaz Coombes and Danny Goffey always get excited when the power comes back on.
Hello, Danny. Where are you?
I'm just in a lounge waiting to depart on an airplane. I'm in Heathrow Airport, coming to New York. I was just in Japan the day before yesterday. Japan was great. Same old thing. Not very much sleeping. Lots of drinking sake and sushi dinners around the 11s. We played a really good gig, one gig in Tokyo.
Some of the Hot Rats cover--many originally released before you were born--could have been the first songs you ever tried to play. How long have they been in the repertoire?
When we first came up with the idea for the album, we pretty much had never played any of the songs. They were old ones that we knew, songs we'd been DJ-ing with over the last few years. So when we got into the studio, we just came up with songs each morning and then recorded in the afternoon. The first time we recorded any of these songs was on this album.
Beck has also been recording Velvet Underground and Skip Spence covers of late.
I suspect that Beck did it because [his producer] Nigel Godrich came and played on our album. That's probably why. We did a Velvet Underground song [for Turn Ons]. I don't know Beck, so I don't know why for sure.
Which of the artists covered on the album have you met over the years?
A few, definitely. We met David Bowie and Robert Smith and the Cure, a few of them. Met Paul McCartney.
Have any of these artists heard your interpretations?
I think a lot of them have heard it. We've heard back from [Kinks frontman] Ray Davies and Gang of Four and Robert Smith. We've had no word from David Bowie.
How does it feel to get that feedback from the songwriters?
It's really good. It was great to hear back from Ray Davies. When people do covers of his stuff, he likes them to bring different stuff to the song to make it sound different. We kinda did that with "Big Sky." It feels like you're getting merit marks from a teacher.
Which cover are you most proud of how it turned out?
I don't know really. I really like [Squeeze's] "Up the Junction." I don't know if I'm most proud of it, but I kinda like it because it's so different from the original.
The most recent track on the collection, "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)," deviates the most from the original. You even changed the line to say "Mom, you're just jealous, it's the Hoo Ha boys." It sounds like a harmony-rich early Who song!
Definitely. We didn't really know what to do with it, and then Gaz came up with a chord and vocal structure that made it a dizzy sort of vibe like the Who, or maybe early Cream [or Queen?]. It was all gut feeling.
Did you come across anything particularly heinous when you were researching who else had covered the songs you chose?
Mmmmm. A few. I can't really remember now. There were a few of "Up the Junction." The Lily Allen version was kind of OK. I can't remember now. There were some that really made us laugh. It was all sort of in a haze of lots of alcohol and stuff like that. Hard to remember everything.
Before you go, anything more to say about Supergrass' next album, Release the Drones?
I can't really. It's in an embryonic stage.
All right, then. Will Hot Rats do any Supergrass covers at the New York shows?
We might do one if we feel like it.