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Cherry Pop

Gomez Gomez
‘The Noisemakers Return‘

The British band Gomez is a five-piece, consisting of Ben Ottewell (vocals, guitar), Tom Gray (vocals, guitar, keyboards), Paul Blackburn (bass, guitar), Olly Peacock (drums), and Ian Ball (vocals, guitar, harmonica). Whereas the majority of up and coming British bands are either retro-pop (à la Oasis), trip-hop (Portishead), or space rock (the Verve, Radiohead), Gomez is one of the few to contain bluesy elements in their rock. Their debut for Virgin Records, Bring It On, was praised in the rock press on both sides of the Atlantic. They also received the distinguished Mercury Music Prize for 1998 Album of the Year in England, where they edged out such stiff competition as Massive Attack's Mezzanine and the Verve's Urban Hymns. They completed their inaugural U.S. tour opening for Eagle Eye Cherry in October 1998, and then Liquid Skin became their sophomore release in 1999 followed by the rarities and B-sides compilation Abandoned Shopping Trolley Hotline in 2000. Their third studio album, In Our Gun, has just this year been released to massive recognition and so I thought it was about time that I sat down with my fellow Brits for some serious one-to-ones. Catching Tom in a rehearsal studio just outside Brighton (England) where he lives, I found him busily preparing for the forthcoming tour and even recording some new tracks for a work-in-progress fresh album.

In all your interviews you come across lighthearted and jovial, but is there a dark side to Gomez ? ”I’m sure there is, you know.”

Has it ever reared its ugly head ? ”Erm, I suppose very occasionally, yeah,” he laughs, ’When we got too drunk or something !”

Ever on stage ? ”Maybe once, yeah. There was this one time there was this gig in this shitsville outside of Paris (France) and we were playing there and it was a really late gig and we got a bit too drunk. So we went on stage and it started as kind of a joke, but we were playing all the songs, but we were just finding the songs hilarious ! Every single song was just making us laugh so hard and so we stated changing the words to the songs to really stupid things just because the joke became more and more ridiculous. And then some French people started taking offence to the fact that they thought we were taking the piss out of them and stated leaving ! But the more they left the more ridiculous we became and we nearly cleared the room. The place held about 800 and by the end there was like 200 people who thought it was brilliant and it was the best thing they’d ever heard.”

Where did the band’s name originate ? ”A friend of ours, a guy called Jason Gomez, … basically, we were playing a gig and we didn’t have a name and it was upstairs in this old club in Leeds (England) where I was at University. Most of the guys came in, we went up there and he was coming over from another town to see the gig and we wrote – because it looked like a house from the street – we wrote his name on a big sheet of paper and put it above the door. And so everyone that came to watch the gig just assumed we were called Gomez ! So, it wasn’t really by design it was a gift !”

He must be rather proud of the band now ?! ”I’d hope so, yeah.”

Do you think that it was truly Steve Fellows (Comsat Angels) that actually started the Gomez train rolling ? ”Erm, we were making music together before we met Steve, but he certainly gave us the kick up the ass that we needed to actually think that it was a serious thing that we were doing. We gave him a tape that he went mad about and he told us that it was really good and that we had to do something with it and sort of helped us out for a bit. Suddenly we were being offered major contracts and it was like, shit, you’re gonna have to be our manager ! And he was like, ‘shit’ !”

And just why did you choose ’In Our Gun’ - a bitter, twisted lullaby – to be the album’s title ? ’Erm, it seemed like the right album title for the times. The song is about being bullets in a gun; it’s written from the prospective of a bullet.”

Did this song and album get written then in the aftermath of 9/11 ? ”Well, hilariously, we wrote it before that stuff happened but it was about that whole thing yeah. Because basically, the summer we were putting it together some smaller wars were kicking off into absolute mayhem and there were race riots in England as well and there was a tangible something wrong kinda sensation. And George Bush coming in made it very, very clear that something was going to happen. It just felt even more right by then. There was a lot that happened all at once, really that was all a bit like pointed in the wrong direction. It’s always worrying when somebody goes from having a Left Wing government to a having a Right Wing government,” he laughs. ”In my opinion,” he adds.

Are Gomez a politically aware band ? ”I’d say we’re definitely politically aware, but I don’t think we really talk about our opinions. We’re not really interested in using the band as a platform. But, we’re sensitive people, I would say.”

Do you think Gomez will ever fit in with the so-called current climate of people’s musical perceptions ? ”Erm, I don’t know. I think we fit into a lot of people’s opinions of what is present, but whether you’re talking about sort of the mass media’s perception …. Well, they’re not really people anyway,” he laughs. ”I don’t think we’re ever gonna be ‘it,’ because what we’re doing isn’t necessarily very obvious for a lot of people. So, maybe not, I don’t know, but I mean I think it’s obvious enough and simple enough.”

How does your music come to be ? ”I think to an extent we see ourselves as kinda being explorers. People always talk about experimentation, but really I think it’s about exploration because it’s all there already. There’s so much music been made and you hear a lot of modern music and for me there’s parts missing and I’m thinking how come they can’t have heard that. And there seems to be bits missing about what they know about music and what they heard. It’s a weird generational thing to an extent, and I’m only 25 but a lot of my mates even don’t know who a lot of people are that I’m talking about. It’s like people’s reference of guitar music is like, their earliest memory is Bon Jovi,” he laughs again. ”It’s weird. People have a totally different paradigm about what sounds good, you know what I mean.”

In Our Gun sounds a lot more musically evolved than Bring It On. Is this a natural progression due to more equipment and such being involved or was this album always meant to be this way ? ”I think it was always meant to be that way. We always wanted to try something like what’s on In Our Gun. A more dynamic range, mixing synthetic things more in with everything else. It just took us a while to learn all of the technical side of it in order to allow us to do that, because we produce and engineer the records ourselves – a lot of them ourselves. It was just a technical thing of learning not just musically how to play together as a band, but learning how to record ourselves and how to use the technology that’s required in order to use that kind of stuff.”

In your opinion, why was this new album so different ? ”I think it was so different in so much as it was a far more direct and open record.”

How do you mean ‘direct’ ? ”Well, there’s obvious things like the songs are shorter and the sounds are more crystalline rather than fuzzy, which is something we’ve kinda gone for in the past. We’ve decided to go for something a little colder sounding. The songs just get to where they’re going quicker and what’s being said is less obscure.”

Gomez has done some soundtrack work in the past, but I never imagined you guys as a soundtrack band ! Were these decisions taken out of your hands by the label ? ”No, it’s just fine really to use our music,” he laughs, ”I want people to play our music so if it happens to be played in order to create dramatic effect that’s fine. I don’t really mind.”

Have you ever refused one of your songs for a project ? ”Oh yeah, for sure. There’s a TV show in the UK that’s just shocking !”

Well, what’s it called ?! ”Ah no, I don’t wanna name any names,” he laughs. ”I don’t wanna name-and-shame them.”

Talk quickly about the following three songs from In Our Gun:

’Detroit Swing 66’ - ”Yeah, what was I thinking about ?!,” he laughs. ”That song, when Ian first wrote it, had the word ‘Detroit’ in it and that’s where the ‘Detroit’ comes from and the ‘Swing 66’ bit is what was the swing meter on the drum machine that we were using. So, that’s what the swing factor was, ’66.’ But then he changed the words and ‘Detroit’ left the lyrics, but it kept the name. We were messing about a lot on that tune. We were really trying to do something very complicated and it was quite difficult to record really. There’s little touches all over it. It’s ultimately a happy-go-lucky kinda song, but it became deeper and more involved and more complex as it went on ! The basis of it is this synth loop that sounds kinda like a didgeridoo that we found and then the sound of a double bass being bowed really badly so that it was really screeching up in there. Then we had these rolling lines in there, where we kinda had this idea from listening to Dr. John where there were these little moments of music. So we started to write these short lines across the descending counter melodies. It’s full of counter melodies played on guitar in the moments that are quiet and then there’s this kind of break-beat thing that we just created with a delay. It was all kind of mad ideas just blasting out and then we got the brass players in and it was like well, you gotta do something because we’ve got this line. So we had these three guys going at it.”

’Ping One Down’ - ”We were recording a song called ‘Sound of Sounds’ and it was taking a long time because we had to lay a lot of vocals so we just jammed out another tune on a recording device that was sitting by us. So, someone would go over and put down a bit of guitar, and then someone would go over and put down a beat and it just kinda got written on the hoof. And we were playing lots of ping-pong at the time. So, the kinda in joke in the recording studio was ‘ping it down,’ which was to get it done, you know. To ‘ping one’ is also like a footballing term: like he’s pinged one ! It’s like Northern slang for if he’s really hit it clean,” he laughs. ”So, we were using it like that; ‘ping one down’ as in do a good take and then Ben just started singing it over the top and it just sounded good and so it just stayed.”

‘Rex Kramer’ - ”This is another ridiculous way in which a title came about,” he laughs, ”but, OK, well, that was one that was supposed to get changed but didn’t ! We basically gave all our songs names while we were recording them just so we could remember them. They could have been called anything like Bob or Tony, and then we were calling the disc names like Frank, Gary, and Freddy ! We were just pissing around ! I mean, there’s a lot of technical stuff with us running around with cables CDs and computers and shit and heaps around us that we lose things quite a lot and so ‘Rex Kramer,’ yeah, basically we were watching ‘Airplane !’ again one rainy day in some stupid mood. And we once had a B-side called ‘Steve McCroski’ who is the Lloyd Bridges character who was just a very silly character. We stole his name for a song that had nothing to do with him and had no relationship with him and was actually a song about a serial killer ! So we were watching this and Ben had these lines about needing to come down and when the other guy, who’s not Lloyd Bridges starts talking the plane down I think Ben was hearing those words and that guy’s called Rex Kramer ! I think there’s actually a Rex Kramer in another ridiculous film, in ‘Kentucky Fried’ maybe ! Another ridiculous stoner-mad comedy movie. So, that’s who Rex Kramer is and I had Rex Kramer flight bags made that were pretty good that we sold at our gigs.”

How far into this ‘under-construction’ album are you ? ”We’ve got demos for about 15 tracks now, but I dare say only about six of them will make it through.”

Does the being-recorded-as-we-speak-new-album have a name yet ? ”No, but the song we’re recording today is called ‘Suzie C. and Sister.’”

So, it’ll probably change come the final pressing … or will it say the same ? ”I think it will. I think it will stay the same. Excuse me if I insist,” he adds laughing.

Which is the cheesiest ‘80s band you can admit to loving the hell out of back then ?! ”Well, there’s quite a lot really,” he laughs. ”Kenny Loggins, erm, Whitesnake …”

What about Duran Duran ? ”No, but ‘Rio’ was a really good tune, you gotta give them that.”

Describe the band’s sound in three words ”Oh shit, that’s really, really tough,” he laughs. ”I just can’t think ! The mind boggles,” he laughs again.

There you go … ‘the mind boggles’ will do nicely ! ”Yeah, that’s not such a bad answer if you think about it.”

What’s your favorite Gomez track ever ? ”Quite a lot of them really. I think we’re all pretty proud of all of the work we’ve done. It’s when you playing them that certain songs, when they go off perfectly, any of them have the capability of being very uplifting. ‘In Our Gun,’ when that works live is just unbelievable.”

Final thoughts about what Gomez are going to provide in the future ”The same thing we provide now, really: something distinctive. Something that distinguishes itself from the crowd.”

We’re going to run a contest to win copies of In Your Gun so do you have a Contest Question for our readers ? ”Erm, sure. Where are most of us from ?”

To win a copy of In My Gun just send an e:mail to me at with the subject title 'Gomez' and the answer in the text to:

exclusivemagazine@flash.net

Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk



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