A Brief History Of Supergroups

James Mercer is the lead singer of The Shins. Brian Burton (AKA Danger Mouse) is one half of Gnarls Barkley. Together, they are Broken Bells. Ahead of the release of their second album, After the Disco, the dynamic duo talk us through what it takes to be a supergroup 

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1| The First Supergroup:

Brian Burton: When I grew up, I didn’t know Cream was a supergroup. I didn’t really know what Jack Bruce did. Maybe I’d heard of Ginger Baker. Eric Clapton was a big collaborator himself – Derek and the Dominos. I don’t know who else was in that though, just Eric Clapton. That’s about it.

 

2| The First Supergroup We Both Got into:

James Mercer: Handsome Boy Modeling School.

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DM: I was a college radio DJ at the time. That was one of the first projects where I remember the genre bending – singing, rapping, rock and hip-hop together. It was all over the place. It definitely would’ve been influential for me because I’d started making music already, and it was very ambitious in that it just didn’t care about genres – it just made its own thing. I really loved that. I knew Prince Paul more because of De La Soul, but Dan the Automator at that time, anything he did, you paid attention to, you know. And the Unkle record – DJ Shadow, Kool G Rap, Thom Yorke. Did you ever listen to the Unkle record?

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JM: No.

 

3| The Half-Remembered Supergroup:

JM: Remember Asia?

DM: Asia?

JM: They did that song “Heat of the Moment”. That was the first time I’d ever heard the phrase “supergroup”. I remember it as a little kid. I thought – is it like Superman? It was the dude from Roxy Music, the bass player; Steve Howe, the guitarist of Yes; Geoff Downes, who had been in The Buggles; and the drummer from Emerson, Lake and Palmer – Carl Palmer.

DM: Asia?

 

4| The Inverted Supergroup:

JM: Broken Social Scene is a a band that became a supergroup because all its members went on to have bigger careers.

BB: Like Wu-Tang Clan.

JM: Exactly. Now Wu-Tang have come back together, they’re even more impressive. How do you luck out in that way that you have so many talented people together? Who made Wu-Tang Clan happen?

BB: RZA.

JM: Props to him to think of that – that he could recruit that well.

BB: And GZA to some extent. I guess… And NWA: Ice Cube, Dr Dre, Eazy-E. They were like The Beatles.

 

5| The Friendly Neighbourhood Supergroup:
BB: Atoms For Peace. I liked the way that worked out, Thom [Yorke], Nigel [Godrich], Flea, Joey Waronker…

JM: Joey’s super. That qualifies.

BB: I know those guys. I’ve worked with Joey and Nigel. I haven’t worked with Thom or Flea. I don’t think I’ve worked with Flea. But he’s my neighbour – I run into him.

 

6| The Best Supergroup:

JM: Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young! It’s obviously a supergroup, but you don’t really think of it as a vanity project. It’s just a thing.

BB: All of them together is probably their biggest thing. That first Crosby, Stills and Nash record is one of my favourite records. The second one’s great – that’s the one that has Young on it – but the first one is still the one. I only got into it about four or five years ago. Crosby was in the Hollies, right?

JM: The Byrds.

BB: Stills was in The Hollies, and then Buffalo Springfield was Young and Nash? Graham Nash, what was he in?

JM: I don’t know. [Nash was in The Hollies; Stills and Young were in Buffalo Springfield]

 

7| The Collaboration:

BB: Jay Z and Kanye – they didn’t have a name for that. They just put their names together. I guess that’s what Crosby, Stills and Nash did.

 

8| The Supergroup Brian Was in:

BB: The Good, the Bad and the Queen really was a supergroup. You had Simon [Tong], who was playing in The Verve at the time. The last record they made, that was him on guitar. And of course Damon [Albarn] and Paul [Simonon] and Tony Allen – yeah, that was a supergroup for sure. It was very different [from Gorillaz]. With me and Damon, our relationship was similar, but definitely different. It’s weird.

 

9| The Supergroup Brian Is In Now:

BB: If people ask if I have a band right now, I say Broken Bells, and that’s it. It’s definitely not a side project. If I do other stuff, it will be around this. That’s until we make another record, too – that’s the way it is.

 

10|  The Fantasy Supergroup:

JM: It would be fun to put people together that you know would fight. Like you know you see those things on YouTube where some kids will put a spider and a scorpion together. 

BB: I like the idea. My ultimate supergroup would have a line-up of damon [Albarn], Liam [Gallagher] and Knaye [West]. 

JM:  And they have to make a fucking record. Or the studio will fill with gas and will kill.  It would be brilliant. If anyone survived.

After the Disco (Columbia) is out 13 January

 

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