The Hot Rats
Live @ O2 Academy 2 Oxford
October 16, 2009
Interview & Photography: Steve Bateman

Following in the footsteps of Diamond Hoo Ha Men, The Hot Rats is the new, low-key side-project of Supergrass’ very own Gaz and Danny. Which was conceived while Supergrass were in-between record labels and is lovingly built around the idea of covering and reinterpreting some of their all-time favourite songs, by artists including, Beastie Boys, The Beat, The Cure, David Bowie, The Doors, Elvis Costello, Gang Of Four, The Kinks, Pink Floyd, Roxy Music, Sex Pistols, Squeeze and The Velvet Underground.

Billed as ‘An album of 12 reimaginings of classic rock, punk and even hip hop covers spanning 40 years’ (see Oxford Set List for most of the tracklisting), Gaz told one reporter: “Danny and I had done some DJing and a few of the tracks we chose were from there. It has this mixtape mentality to it, these are songs you put on in the car, just different versions of them, of great songs. It happened so naturally, when we got into Nigel’s studio it was easy because of the vastness of it – and Nigel’s experience – I would start drumming a song and have the finished recording in ten minutes.”

That Nigel just happens to be ‘producer extraordinaire’ Nigel Godrich, who the duo befriended many moons ago (they share the same management team as Radiohead). And after drinking wine and discussing songs with him at his home – as well as recording a version of Michael Jackson’s Beat It – they then decided to enlist Nigel as their third member, particularly as during his downtime he “wanted to get away from the pressure of making intense records.” Before any of this happened however, Gaz and Danny originally recorded a fantastic cover of The Beatles’ Drive My Car, which was later picked up by Hugo Boss for a TV perfume advertisement starring the gorgeous Sienna Miller (check it out on YouTube) – the fee for which, helped to finance The Hot Rats.

Interestingly, neither Beat It or Drive My Car will actually feature on the band’s debut album, Turn Ons, which is very much in the vein of David Bowie’s Pin Ups. Laid down live at Nigel’s Covent Garden studio in a mere couple of weeks, it saw the group hammering through a track a day, with Gaz and Danny since describing the sessions as “having a laugh, quick and fun, with an ‘up vibe’." Musically and production-wise, Nigel brought some of the more atmospheric sounds and psychedelic beats to the mix, which on stage during the two-man show, are played through an iPod.

Speaking to Sound Screen, Danny noted: “It’s weird how every track felt like a new beginning, but when you listen to the album all the way through, it does have this kind of consistency. Maybe it’s the atmospheric elements or the expansiveness of it, but there’s something that connects the songs, even though they’re originally by different bands and from different eras.” With Nigel adding: “If you just get on with it, things develop their own style and it’s fun seeing what it turns out being, you don’t design that, it turns out itself. It’s a beautiful thing how well this turned out.”

Never expecting the project to go this far, The Hot Rats were even invited to play at numerous festivals over the summer, have just completed a UK Tour and released a strictly limited edition white label double a-side 7”, Damaged Goods / Fight For Your Right. They will also be heading to the USA in January 2010 for some dates, when their debut long player is put out over there on the NYC record label, Fat Possum, and on Plug Label in Japan (an official UK release is yet-to-be-announced). If time and schedules allow, there’s even talk of cutting another album with Nigel in the near future, as well as working on some original material together!

At 4.30pm on Friday, October 16, I caught up with the affable Gaz and Danny in the dynamic duo’s dressing room at the O2 Academy 2 Oxford, a few hours before showtime. Where the audience would later experience first hand, all of the songs that have been given ‘The Hot Rats Treatment’ as part of a stomping set! We were also treated to a surprise encore guest appearance by Supergrass bassist Mick (now fully-recovered from breaking his back in a sleepwalking accident in France in 2007) on the classic, Caught By The Fuzz. And on top of this, the stage was decorated with some bizarre ephemera and a pair of female mannequins – resulting in a mix ‘n’ match audio / visual feast!

The Hot Rats may well be “A Strange Experiment”, but it’s one that is simply irresistible…

Lucy: Your band have been quite quiet for the last few months. Are you looking forward to playing gigs again?
Katie Jane Garside: I think I give very obtuse ans

1.I know that your band name is based on an old e-mail address of Gaz’s, but if you could write the perfect headline for an article about The Hot Rats, what would it be?
Danny: “Oh (laughing)…”
Gaz & Danny: (both laugh)

2.Although you’ve called The Hot Rats “A Strange Experiment”, the concept of the group is based on cover versions, but are there any covers by other artists that you think better the originals?

Gaz: “I definitely think that All Along The Watchtower by Jimi Hendrix is pretty great!”
Danny: “Yeah.”
Gaz: “It’s probably the best example in a way, because it totally kind of eclipsed Dylan’s version – the sort of iconicness of the track and the guitar solos, it had Hendrix’s stamp all over it you know? That’s the idea of a cover!”
Danny: “Yeah, I think that some of the best ones come from more shell-like songs, which were maybe written on an acoustic guitar or something, which you can then do mad stuff to.”
Gaz: “Yeah.”
Danny: “They tend to be the better ones maybe.”

3.With the songs that you’ve covered, you said: “We did it in a way where we could put our own personality and character on there, to give it a real nice angle.” But in your minds, did you know exactly how you wanted to reinterpret each track, or did this come about more through jamming with Nigel in the studio?
Gaz: “Yeah, we had to start playing them didn’t we (looking at Danny)?”
Danny: “Yeah, we just strummed them. With this album, we found the originals on YouTube, just in the studio about an hour before we did them really. We wrote the lyrics down and then thought, “Right, how can we update this, or make it a bit more mental?” Trying not to copy the song basically.”
Gaz: “We did a couple of hours work on that really and then we’d fall on the idea. For example, with Up The Junction by Squeeze, we were playing around with it for about an hour and it was just sounding a bit sort of pub-rocky, and somebody had the idea of slowing the whole thing down and tripping it out a bit. So yeah, just little ideas would come about.”
*I ask the guys if there are any songs in particular that they enjoyed recording or look forward to playing live*
Gaz: “We really enjoyed recording Fight For Your Right and I Can’t Stand It, they were a lot of fun!”

4.Some songwriters believe that “songs are already there and it’s their job to find them.” Would you agree with this?
Danny: “Hmm, some songwriters believe that “songs are already there and it’s their job to find them” (thinking). What, like in your head?”
Gaz: “Well, in a way, I sort of think that kind of makes sense, yeah! They’re all sort of stored up there – although it’s tricky, because you (pausing), well, you don’t know where it comes from, but you get that initial gut feeling to just play something and you tend to think that that’s instinctive and on the spot.”
Danny: “What like on a spiritual level? It would be quite nice to think that it happens that way, yeah!”
Gaz: “Or even in the biological or scientific sense, they’re all sort of stored up there in your mind already and you just have to sort of unlock them. So it is spiritual I suppose. Maybe so – maybe so, I’ve always wondered where they come from (smiling).”
Danny: “I’d like to think that’s true.”
Gaz: “Yeah, or maybe like the song fairy comes down (laughing)…”
Danny: “And drops one in (laughing)!”

5.If you were asked to put together a TV show in a similar vein to ‘Storytellers’ – whereby 5 musicians play songs together, talk about their music / respective careers, jam and tell anecdotes etc. Who would you ask to appear?

Gaz: “I’d say Neil Young…”
Danny: “Jack White.”
Gaz: “Yeah, Neil Young, Jack White, Dr. John…”
Danny: “I reckon Jay-Z would be good as well (laughing)!”
Gaz: “Yeah, Jay-Z and Beyonce!”
Danny: “Maybe not Beyonce. Who have we got? Neil Young, Jack White, Dr. John, Jay-Z and how about Dylan (looking at Gaz)?”
Gaz: “I don’t know…”
Danny: “There’s loads isn’t there (pausing + thinking)… Let’s go with those 5.”
*Gaz & Danny’s ‘Storytellers’ line-up in full: Neil Young, Jack White, Dr. John, Jay-Z and Bob Dylan*

6.Last year, Liverpool was voted as “England's Most Musical City” in a national campaign set up by the Arts Council – but is this the city that you would have chosen?

Danny: “Ooh…”
Gaz: “I don’t know what that’s based on really – I mean culturally and historically, Liverpool is massively on the map (pausing), I don’t know at the moment if there is a big musical city…”
Danny: “I’d probably say London, but I don’t know, that’s a question for a journalist really. With Liverpool, you have its musical history and even the accent is quite musical…”
Gaz: “Yeah. Maybe with London, Oxford and other smaller musical cities, perhaps they’re a bit more diverse. It’s kind of weird when you hear current indie bands from Liverpool, because there’s a total sound through all of them, whereas if you get 10 new bands coming out of Leeds or Oxford or somewhere, they’re all going to be quite different I think. So I don’t know, I think the scouse scene is good, but it’s all quite similar.”

7.On a similar note, a couple of ‘Blue Plaques’ were recently unveiled in Rochdale to celebrate the town’s musical heritage and impact on the Manchester music scene. But are there any places that you feel are deserving of ‘Blue Plaques’?
Gaz: “I think somewhere down the cottages, on the back wall next to the field of cows – that was probably one of our first…”
Danny: “Yeah, we all used to lived in a cottage where Supergrass was sort of conceived and we spent a lot of time there.”
Gaz: “We used to just live down the road from here actually as well…”
Danny: “Oh yeah, by Cowley Road – everyone apart from Mick actually lived in that house at the same time. So, I’d like to see a ‘Blue Plaque’ put up there!”

8.As we’re in your hometown of Oxford today, do you have any favourite haunts that you’d recommend to us?
Danny: “Well, I live in Somerset now, but we grew up here. I mean I moved out of Oxford when I was about 20, so I just remember pubs and things really, like The Lamb And Flag pub, going in there and stuff – that was a haunt!”
Gaz: “These days, I’d say Blenheim Palace. It’s not really a haunt, but it’s somewhere we go with the kids and have a wander around and stuff.”
Danny: “I suppose like the Jericho Tavern, we used to go a lot to see music there.”
Gaz: “Yeah, but I don’t really go out much in Oxford anymore, I stay in my village and go to local pubs with old men (pausing), well, I don’t go out with old men, they’re already in there when I get there (laughing)! There’s a really little guy there, he’s great…”
Danny: (adopting an old man’s voice) “Are you alright there?” He looks like Santa’s little helper!”
Gaz: “Yeah (laughing), but he sort of says exactly the same thing everytime he sees you as well (laughing).”

9.Johnny Marr has said that he feels “the greatest achievement for any band, is to be able to get through to the mainstream without ever compromising their sound or what they stand for.” Would you agree with this / feel it’s true of you?

Danny: “Yeah.”
Gaz: “Yeah, it sort of sums it up really!”
Danny: “I think it’s almost impossible to never, ever compromise yourself at all. You know, we’ve done some dodgy Saturday morning programmes and stuff (laughing), where we were thinking, “Shit, we don’t really want to do this.” But, at the same time, we were playing our own songs that we wrote you know? We weren’t doing it for other reasons. So yeah, I’d go ahead and say that I think we’re pretty good at that!”

10.Like the Foo Fighters, you’ve always been well-respected as musicians, whilst at the same time also being able to inject a lot of fun into what you do – from Supergrass to Diamond Hoo Ha Men to The Hot Rats – and still be taken seriously. Is this gratifying for you?

Gaz: “I don’t know if it’s gratifying, it’s just the way we live our lives I suppose. I think we’ve always felt or realised, that there is kind of more to life than going on tour and even writing songs and recording them. I think maybe the whole way that bands can sometimes come across as so earnest, its like a lot of great stuff in the world, you…”
Danny: “I think it’s more sort of the love of being in this band you know, through the years, it’s more than we’re just a ‘fun band’, there’s a sense that we still really enjoy what we do!”
Gaz: “Yeah!”
Danny: “And the fun or comical part of the band, it just let’s us indulge in high spirits and enjoyment.”
Gaz: “We’ve also been inspired by The Beatles, not just musically, but we used to watch their interviews and stuff all the time you know? The way that they did interviews, I still think is great, because there’s a light atmosphere, but then they will kind of interject with serious answers here and there, but it just has a tone to it…”
Danny: “I think that’s more the early years though (looking at Gaz)?”
Gaz: “Yeah, I suppose, but even later on John would make jokes and stuff. But yeah, it’s good!”

11.Do you ever look back at vintage TV clips, interviews and live performances of yourselves on YouTube?

Gaz: “Not really.”
Danny: “I try not to actually (laughing). I looked at one interview the other day and I was really hungover and I just looked awful, so I thought, “Shit, I can’t watch this anymore” (laughing). Didn’t Prince ask for some YouTube clips to be removed the other day (looking at Gaz)?”
Gaz: “Yeah, he said that he’d be grateful if crowds just listen to him and not film his shows on their mobile phones.”
Danny: “Yeah, because people can put anything up – however bad the sound is – and it can sometimes piss artists off.”
Gaz: “I don’t think it’s a good thing and I don’t really like people filming at gigs. Anyway…”
Danny: “You should live in the moment and enjoy the gig, rather than standing there holding up a mobile phone.”
Gaz: “Yeah.”

12.Over the years, have you ever met any people that you admire, and what were your impressions of them?

Danny: “Yeah, we’ve met lots and lots of people. Musician-wise, when we were quite young, we were on the same flight as Robert Smith from The Cure and he came and sat down with us in economy class, as we were on our way to Brazil. He was really sweet…”
Gaz: “He was a really nice guy, he just gave us some bits of advice – or tried not to give us advice (laughing), he said, “Don’t listen to anything I say…”
Danny: “It was really funny (laughing)!”
Gaz: “It was nice to talk to him, because he was kind of a hero of ours at the time (pausing), well, he still is now! We’ve met David Bowie a couple of times and the Foo Fighters have always been really good to us as well, both Dave and Taylor are really supportive of our band and they got us on board to play a few gigs with them. Both of them have such a great vibe (pausing), well, the whole band’s really sound. So I reckon they’ve had a bit of an effect on us over the years you know? That’s how cool an American rock band can be (smiling)!”

13.For you personally, which artist / band could you not imagine music without and what are your feelings on old groups reforming?
Gaz: “I couldn’t imagine music without Neil Young (without any hesitation)! He’s provided so much!”
Danny: “Hendrix or The Beatles.”
Gaz: “Yeah! The Stones, The Beatles, Ian Dury, Tom Waits…”
Danny: “In terms of old groups reforming, it depends, if everyone’s still around and they haven’t played for a while, it sometimes can be great to get your old mates together and play in a band again. It probably gets a bit weirder if you’re doing it for financial reasons…”
Gaz: “Yeah.”
Danny: “Which is usually the case.”
Gaz: “If there’s anyway of doing it without it coming across like that…”
Danny: “But even so, it’s people’s work you know? So I haven’t got too much of a problem with it.”

14.Of all the records you own, which have you played the most?
Gaz: “Um (thinking), I can’t think of any particular records that I’ve played more than others at the moment – how about you Danny?”
Danny: “I’d probably say Electric Ladyland maybe, over the last 20 years.”

15.Are there any records that you would like to see dissected track-by-track as part of the ‘Classic Albums’ TV Series, whereby musicians, producers, engineers etc. talk in detail about the making of an LP now considered to be a masterpiece?
Gaz: “I think we’ve seen quite a lot of those programmes actually…”
Danny: “Maybe The Stone Roses’ first album?”
Gaz: “Yeah, that would be good actually.”
Danny: “That would be quite cool, talking to Ian Brown and John Squire and the people involved with it, yeah!”

16.When you were younger and prior to actually making records yourselves, did you ever look at album credits, to learn more about producers, engineers and the equipment / instruments used in recordings etc.?

Gaz: “Yeah, I suppose we did. Like when you bought an album, it was such a physical thing – it was like YOUR album that you bought and it felt really personal, so you’d read all of the credits. I always like knowing where it’s recorded and stuff, which city it was recorded in and who played what instruments and stuff…”
Danny: “Yeah, who played what instruments.”
Gaz: “Yeah (excitedly), I always loved that on Spacemen 3 records, where it would list the types of guitar used, like a Starcaster, as well as all of the other instruments – I always really liked that, but I don’t know why we’ve never done it. We could have done it on The Hot Rats album, but we only played 2 instruments (laughing)!”
Danny: “Yeah (laughing), although I played some really weird percussion’s and things like that, and I think I was actually hitting the back of Pearl’s head with a rubber mallet…”
Gaz: “She made a good sound (laughing)!”
Danny: “Yes, she did (laughing)!”

17.Some critics have argued that in The ‘60s, music was much freer – with more melodic and harmonic surprises in songs – as there was less technology involved. What are your feelings on this?
Danny: “Yeah, I would probably agree with that. I think it’s a lot easier to iron-out mistakes now, the way you record on endless channels – to correct stuff is really easy.”
Gaz: “It’s really hard to compare as well, because I suppose you get natural backlashes from people like Jack White, where he doesn’t use anything post ’55. That’s only happening because we had The ‘80s and The ‘90s and Pro Tools and everything at your fingertips sort of thing. So in a weird way, maybe we had to go through all of that, to get a bit more of a ‘60s vibe you know? A lot of the young garage bands that are now coming out, are just really raw musicians playing live, so it probably is quite similar to back then you know? And also, it’s not even comparable, because back then it was the first time that some 17-year-old kids had ever heard rock ‘n’ roll – like proper dirty rock ‘n’ roll. Whereas now, we’ve had it for 40 years – dirty rock ‘n’ roll – so it’s nothing new. But yeah, it’s quite interesting.”

18.I read that you parted ways with Parlophone acrimoniously and are now signed to Cooking Vinyl, but can you reveal any details about new Supergrass material – musical direction, song titles etc. – and when can fans expect the next album to be released?
Gaz: “Well, we’re halfway through the new Supergrass album, which is due out in the Spring next year. The working title at the moment is Release The Drones, which is a bit of a laugh (smiling)!”
Danny: “We’ve also got a song called Hip Replacement (laughing), which is quite good.”
Gaz: “Musically, I think it’s got different elements from all of our albums – there are some harder elements, then there are some more experimental songs…”
Danny: “Its probably almost a bit more ‘60s sounding.”
Gaz: “Yeah, in a way. It’s kind of a bit more psychedelic I suppose – we kind of did a lot of recording on the fly, just going in and playing. Like we’d play a riff and then record it, so I suppose it is a bit ‘60s sounding, because we’d just get in the studio and jam and play and see what sort of turned up. So there wasn’t a lot of pre-production work you know, like doing loads of demos and stuff. It’s going alright – slowly, but we’re getting there (laughing)!”
Danny: “Yeah, it’ll be out late Spring, early Summer.”

19.Has your career surpassed your expectations, and what have been some of the standout moments so far?
Gaz: “Surpassed our expectations?”
Danny: “Probably at the time when we set our band up, we probably didn’t think we’d release as many albums and tour around the world. Maybe we did (looking at Gaz)?”
Gaz: “I mean even now, it’s definitely still a work-in-progress, there’s no sitting back to evaluate what’s happened, so it’s a tricky one to answer really, but we always feel that there’s a door that will open at some point for whatever reason. I don’t know, we’re just who we are I suppose – we might do some stuff that really connects and does really well, or maybe not. I don’t know, it’s tricky. But we just still love what we do – we’ll only stop when we start writing shit songs or we start really hating each other!”
Gaz & Danny: (both laugh)

20.What’s the biggest lesson that your career has taught you?
Gaz: “The biggest lesson? I don’t know really (thinking)…”
Danny: “I don’t think I’ve learnt anything…”
Gaz: “We haven’t learnt enough!”
Gaz & Danny: (both laugh heartily)
Danny: “It will all be alright tomorrow!”
Gaz: “Don’t do drugs and play live gigs!”
Danny: “What do you mean (looking at Gaz)? We haven’t learnt that!”
Gaz & Danny: (both laugh heartily again)
Danny: “No, I just think that it’ll all be ok tomorrow – that’s a good lesson! You know when you can’t sleep because you’re worried about things?”
Gaz: “Actually, do you know what, I have learnt that lesson – yeah! I’ve learnt not to worry so much over the years, like little things, such as looking back to what was your biggest worry 2 years ago and you look at it and you think, “Well, that just went away somewhere,” do you know what I mean? So it’s a good little lesson to have learnt.”
Danny: “Not to care about anything!”
Gaz: (laughing) “But anyway, I don’t know, we’re still learning!”

21.Returning to the idea behind The Hot Rats, if you could select any artist or group to cover a Supergrass song, who would you choose and which track?

Danny: “I’d quite like Jay-Z to do Pumping On Your Stereo…”
Gaz: “Yeah (laughs heartily)!”
Danny: “Jay-Z and Beyonce to cover it (smiling)!”

22.Lastly, chips or cream buns?

Danny: “Cream buns for me – I have a sweet-tooth!”
The Hot Rats TM Mick: “It would have to be cream buns wouldn’t it (looking at Gaz and Danny)? You could probably eat more cream buns than you could chips.”
Gaz: “Yeah, cream buns then – there you go. What a great finale!”
Danny: “It depends what mood you’re in really, because if you were like walking home pissed from the pub, then it would be chips probably wouldn’t it?”
Gaz: “Yeah, that’s true!”
The Hot Rats TM Mick: “But if there were late night cream bun shops, then you’d probably eat cream buns.”
Danny: “Definitely, yeah!”
The Hot Rats TM Mick: “As it is, we’ve only got a choice between chips and kebabs.”
Danny: “See, cakes are quite good for soaking the booze up too…”
Gaz: “Yeah, and it will give you a little bit of sugar energy (pausing), this has been the most lengthy answer in the whole interview!”
All: (laugh heartily)

*After our interview has finished, the guys kindly sign all of my Supergrass albums, as well as generously giving me an autographed copy of The Hot Rats debut 7”. Out of interest, I ask Gaz and Danny if they both have their own personal collections of all the records they’ve released through the years. Although they tell me that they don’t own absolutely everything, Gaz does say that he has “lots of unreleased studio mixes and alternate cuts of Supergrass songs.”*

A very special thanks to Gaz + Danny, to The Hot Rats Tour Manager Mick, and to Pippa @ Courtyard Management, for all of their time and help.

Oxford Set List

I Can’t Stand It
Big Sky
Fight For Your Right
Crystal Ship
Damaged Goods
Mirror In The Bathroom
Queen Bitch
Love Is The Drug
Pump It Up
Drive My Car
Love Cats
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Caught By The Fuzz
(w/ Mick from Supergrass as a surprise guest)


wers to questions...It's never about looking forward to it. Actually maybe I should change the
script, maybe we are looeir musicm the 3rd album?