Rat's tale as Supergrass pair cover their favourites

HotRats is a side project for one of British music's most famous acts. Andy Welch talked to one half of Supergrass.

It takes a fairly established music act to even attempt to make an album of covers, let alone make the songs their own.

But when you're one half of Supergrass, the prospect is pure child's play.

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Turn Ons is the debut album from HotRats, the side-project of Supergrass's Gaz Coombes and Danny Goffey, which features the duo playing some of their favourite songs.

But the album wouldn't have come about were it not for production wizard Nigel Godrich, who worked with his long-time friends to create new, fresh-sounding takes on modern standards, and most importantly, make them fun.

"I saw Danny and Gaz playing a gig together when they were doing some covers," begins Nigel. "I was drunk, with their manager and they were doing Beat It by Michael Jackson. I was pointing at them on stage and laughing, but then I said how much fun it would be to record that song.

"Of course, when we went in the studio to do it we thought it was a bit cheesy so we thought of lots of better songs to do instead."

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Tracks on Turn Ons, a homage to David Bowie's similar collection of covers Pin Ups, include Roxy Music's Love Is The Drug, The Doors' Crystal Ship and Fight For Your Right by The Beastie Boys, which is virtually unrecognisable from the original.

"I remember coming in one morning and playing the guitar, trying to work out chords for it.

"It's only really got that beat and the riff," explains Gaz, sipping a glass of wine.

"You know I'm A Boy by The Who? I was hearing that vibe for Fight For Your Right.

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"The Who had that amazing ability to sound heavy even when they were doing an acoustic song, mainly because Keith was still going mental on the drums.

"I wanted to put some real sixties harmonies in there too," he adds. "It's fun watching people listen to it because around 1.40 they realise what the song is and you see them go 'My God this is the Beastie Boys!"'

"That's the one that's really pleasing for me on the album, it makes me chuckle," adds Danny, also pouring himself a large glass of wine.

Wine is a common theme mentioned during our chat. Admittedly, we are sitting in the small roof garden of Nigel's central London recording studio. If ever there was a moment to have a glass of something cold and soothing, this is it.

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Part of the album's charm may also come from the volume of booze being consumed either side of the sessions too.

"The earliest stages of the album was just us sitting around a dining table, drinking wine at each other's houses and talking about what songs we wanted to do," says Danny.

"The idea was just to really have a good time, rather than making a really long laborious album," he adds, also mentioning the trio, with the addition of their manager Chris, felt like a little gang during the two whistle-stop recording sessions – one three days long, the other 10.

"Chris is a bit of a phenomenon," says Nigel of their mutual friend. "I'm pretty sure everyone in the music industry has come across him at some point. He's a bit old school and looks like Ian from Spinal Tap. I suppose this album is like his bastard children getting together to make an album. And he's there serving the drinks."

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"The songs were great hangover cures though," says Danny. "What'd happen is we'd go to the studio for about 11am, have a classic smiley face breakfast, lie on the floor feeling awful from the night before, then come up with a song idea. Everyone would jump up and feel much better."

Smiley face breakfast?

"Yeah, you know, eggs as eyes, tomato as a nose, sausage for a mouth, that kind of thing. I had a beard of beans once," he says, prompting fits of giggles from the three of them.

It's clear they had a blast making Turn Ons, and fortunately, it passes on to the listener, each of the songs offering something different from both the previous one, and the original. "We were thinking of a mix tape," says Nigel. "But, more current, so like a party playlist on your iPod," adds Danny, reaffirming there isn't one song he's not proud of.

There's one song Nigel's not pleased with, however. Their cover of Squeeze classic Up The Junction. If you've heard it, you'll know it's a slightly sad tale of boy meets girl only for it to end with a baby, boring nights in by the fire and having to sell the telly to make ends meet.

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The HotRats version is much slower than Squeeze's, and eschews its New Wave roots in favour of something much more gentle.

"It's a great song, don't get me wrong," says Nigel, "but it's a ballad by a pub rock band. We got rid of the pub rock elements, so it's essentially just a cheesy ballad."

Gaz and Danny then fall about laughing, clearly in disagreement with the Radiohead producer but enjoying hearing his opinion for the umpteenth time.

Despite having so much fun making this album, Danny and Gaz haven't forgotten about their day job with Supergrass, however.

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Their bandmates Mick Quinn and Rob Coombes, Gaz's brother, are quite fine with the diversion and are busying themselves with their own things.

"Mick finds all this amusing, more than anything," says Gaz. "Well, he wasn't crying last time I saw him, at least.

"We've nearly finished the next Supergrass album, so that will be out later this year," he asserts, referring to Release The Drones, which is pencilled in for May.

"Albums like this are basically what we do for fun," concludes Nigel.

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"We're not going to drive cars or climb mountains in our spare time, we're going to record more music."

Rat facts

The HotRats take their name from Frank Zappa's second album, Hot Rats.

Gaz, 33, and Danny, 35, along with their friend Mick Quinn, formed Supergrass in their hometown of Oxford in 1993, releasing their debut single a year later, and their first album I Should Coco in 1995.

Danny and Gaz first started performing as a duo, The Hoo Ha Men, while Mick was recovering from a broken back after falling off a hotel balcony.

Nigel Godrich, 39, has produced every Radiohead album since their 1997 classic OK Computer. He has also worked with U2, Travis, Beck, REM and Air.

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