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Gomez Interview

| April 28, 2006

Bringing It All Back Home

The moniker Gomez has always been a cause for mystery. As the band is from Southport, England and not one of its members — Ian Ball (guitar/vocals), Paul Blackburn (bass/keys/vocals), Ben Ottewell (guitar/vocals), Tom Gray (guitar/vocals), or Olly Peacock (drums) — is, noticeably, named Gomez, it’s a quandary that comes up with some frequency. The answer is as follows: At one of its first shows, the as-yet-unnamed band hung a sign outside the club to direct a friend (Gomez, natch) to the gig. People coming to see the show mistook the sign to be the band name. The band went with the flow.

Appearing: 5/11 at the Vic Theatre (3149 N. Sheffield) in Chicago.

That story illustrates the basic modus operandi of Gomez: Things happen and the band goes with them. In our interview, drummer Olly Peacock uses the word “accident” repeatedly to describe assorted points in Gomez’s history. But it’s more than accident. From their Mercury Prize-winning debut, Bring It On, to their soon-to-be-released fifth studio album, How We Operate, Gomez’s laissez-faire approach to the business of being a band is inversely proportionate to its focus on the music. Gomez makes music without regard to orthodoxy. Whatever sound or style it likes goes onto an album, whether it be blues, rock, pop, electronics, dance, or any other niche (or part of a niche) that crosses its transom. More than that, Gomez tosses it all together with a sense of joyful abandon. While that makes its music original, often exciting, and always fun, it also makes it darn hard to pin down.

“We’ve always been undefined much of our career. Initially, at least, in England, we’re always very separated as well from any kind of scene in particular,” says Peacock. “I think some people, maybe more in England, get pissed off ’cause they can’t label you. As a journalist, you want to tell somebody what something sounds like. If you have to use 10 adjectives, then it starts to annoy people. We’d end up with descriptions like, ‘Oh, Gomez is a rock, blues, swampy, kind of English, rock and roll, dance band.’ Who knows what that is? As a reference for other people, it doesn’t really help.”

How We Operate is a more cohesive album than some of the band’s earlier records. It gives up the playfulness and sometimes mind-spinning sleights of sonic hand that characterized In Our Gun and Split The Difference and replaces them with tighter songwriting and a more focused vision. That’s due, in part, to the fact this is the first time Gomez has used a producer, Gil Norton (Pixies, Foo Fighters, Dashboard Confessional).

“[It] was a fairly big decision,” says Peacock. “We’d always enjoyed doing it ourselves. We were into recording and engineering and getting new sonics that nobody’s ever heard before and playing around with things. But I think it got to the point where we concentrated so much on playing around and having so much fun that you forget to concentrate on the actual song. It’s great, but it’s very unrehearsed. This time around, having Gil Norton involved means it was considered to the point where everything was refined. Everybody was concentrating very much on their own instrument for this record. Everything was kind of standard in terms of being a five-piece band. There’s a defined rhythm and the guitars complementing each other and the vocals are very, very strong. It’s a bit of a departure from the last couple of albums. It was good for us to do it.”

Like most things that are good for you, however, it wasn’t particularly easy. “Gil is a perfectionist to the absolute max, so much so it’s annoying really. With guitar tuning, for example, you’d play a bar of a song and he’d have to stop the song because he could hear the A string was slightly out of tune. And we’re all like, ‘I don’t know how he could possibly hear that. That’s inhuman!’ Over and over and over again he’d be stopping to check the tuning and we’re like, ‘What do you mean check the tuning? There’s nothing wrong with it.’ He’s renowned for pissing off drummers as well,” Peacock admits, chuckling. “We were coming from the sloppy recording school where there’s big shifts in songs ’cause of speed or tempos, or there’s mistakes but they sound good, so we would leave them. And Gil was like, ‘No. That can’t happen whatsoever.’ That kind of meticulous recording was a little bit stifling at first, but once you had to adapt to it, it raised your game. It brought out the best of us. It made us more professional as musicians.”

This comes at a natural point for Gomez. Formed in 1996, there have been no personnel changes, and the band members remain friends. Yet, although the personnel has stayed the same, its status in the industry has fluctuated. Gomez has hit both ends of the industry spectrum, from darlings to virtually ignored. Once championed by Virgin Records, then dropped, then picked up by Dave Matthews’ ATO imprint. Through it all, it has toured nearly continuously, finding a second home on the U.S. jam-band circuit. (“Touring. Oh, God it’s difficult. For the most part we were running around getting very drunk a lot of the time. It helps to be a bit blurry.”) Given all that, it would be unusual not to take stock.

“For this one we took a step away from ourselves and looked at the picture, looked at our careers,” says Peacock. “This record is about redefining us in terms of being a serious band. So many bands nowadays disappear after two albums. That’s the way it works, especially in England. The last couple years in the States, we’ve been touring and it has been working to the extent of more and more people showing up. That was all without a record label and having no money being thrown at any promotion and no radio — basically no support at all. It was just us carrying it off our backs. Hopefully now with having that backing there, having people going into radio, telling them how good it is, and people being interested about writing about us and everything we’ll start creeping into slightly larger venues. As things build better over here, they will translate back into England and people will go, ‘Hold on: Gomez is still going. That’s unusual for starters. Plus they’re doing really, really well in the States. Let’s get involved again, you know.’ That’s always a big issue for the U.K.”

Gomez, it turns out, is one of a small number of British bands that is better known in America than England, and its newest album isn’t just a musical departure. More is riding on it than career stock-taking. As much as they like America (Ball, in fact, relocated to L.A. to join his wife), How We Operate is also a bid for renewed recognition in the home country.

As Peacock explains, “A lot of people in Europe have forgotten about us or don’t even know we exist. For us, writing the fifth studio album was like two fingers up to them, to say, ‘We’re still really good. We’re getting better all the time and we want you to take notice of that again.”

That’s a seismic change for a band that, a decade ago, played gigs without a name. But that was then. This is how they operate, now.

M.S. Dodds

Category: Features, Monthly

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