Interview: Gomez on New Album =”More Balls, More Swagger”

First, the history.

On November 3, 1998, UK band Gomez played their first gig in Toronto. It was free. In my diary that night I described the Southporters’ music as a “Freaky-ass weirdo, sometime Grateful Dead, Verve-y, Paul Weller, Voodoo-Hoodoo groove thang.”

At least that’s what I thought they sounded like around the time of the band’s Mercury Music Prize-winning debut, Bring it On.

Six months later, I found myself backstage (who me?) with the band at a different club, laughing our arses off. It really is a pleasure to chat to anyone from Merseyside. Even with their non-stop pisstaking.

Especially because their non-stop pisstaking.

That night I wrote: “Brilliant, tight show, blissfully groovy. I slunk backstage to find a spectacularly sweet Tom Gray, who won my heart with great conversation about tons of stuff. Like Woody Allen movies, beer messes in Denmark, cathedrals in Liverpool, electric sitars, juggling oranges (and not dropping them), having no home, Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz & Guildenstern and then had an equally brill chat with Ian Ball. Very fun, kinda sad that I seemed to have made two friends…and now they’re gone again.”

But now my “friends” in Gomez are back. Yay!

Ian Ball, GomezOf course, I’d seen the band several times whilst living in the UK – we had a mutual friend who was their sound engineer and he once gave me a backstage pass and a set of custom Gomez Shot Shot glasses – but we hadn’t hung out.

Next thing you know it’s about 10 years later and I find myself at the Biltmore Cabaret in Vancouver, watching most wonderful Danish band Efterklang together, talking utter bollocks with Tom Gray (I seem to recall feeling his cheeks for stubble and introducing him to the locals), ribbing  Ian Ball about his rubbish beard and the gropey couple in the front row at the Orpheum (where Gomez had played an hour earlier the same night as part of the 2010 Cultural Olympiad) and trying to convince serious and sweet drummer Olly Peacock about the musical merits of fellow Brooklynites, Yeasayer. And drinking beer. And laughing. Like I said, it really is a pleasure to speak to anyone from Merseyside. Even with their non-stop pisstaking.

Gomez are, it can be said, “good peoples”.

So good, in fact, that even though the band are between albums number 6 (A New Tide) number 7 (read on) on the musical totem timeline, Tom Gray took time out from his evening stroll around Vancouver to chat pre-gig.

And that’s what an interview with Gomez is like. A chat. At chat in which there is much yawning. Some offers of vodka. Pisstaking about non-alcoholic beer (“Someone’s always on the wagon”). Agreement about the current musical landscape. And how Gomez needs more balls.

Join the conversation:

BSR: You’ve had  a day or two off in Vancouver. What’ve you been up to?
Tom: Nothing really, just been really lackadaisical, sitting in the hotel room, staring out the window at the Bay. Did some laundry, went to Tojo’s, that kind of thing. Tojo’s is a bit of a ritual. We’ve been going for a couple of years…

….I’ve been meaning to do the Omakase there.
Yeah, the chef’s menu. That’s the one we do every time. We walk in and just say “hello”.

Tom Gray, GomezSo you’re now on the West Coast, but you live in Brighton. The others live in New York, LA and points beyond. When you get back together, is it odd? Being from all different reference points?
We’ve all got family and kids and lives, and once you get to that spot in your life you kinda live apart from reality anyway,  so it’s no different from running into that old friend down the pub…it just so happens you’ve flown 10,000 miles to do it.

But do you bring different influences from news, music, etc?

Oh of course, but we always did. Everyone has taken that for granted from the start, we all come from different places musically, but that’s what makes the band what it is.

Is there someone has the most renegade taste in the band or ones who are the odd ones out?
Well, there are certain things we all agree on…

Oh, you know, like Wilco. Something incredibly easy to all agree on. Or even Hot Chip, you know. But we come from different places anyway. Three of the guys are rock boys and a couple of us are indie kids and people who are into blues, and people who are into really bad shit that we had to…

Smack down?
Yeah, exactly, and so nothing ever changes and everyone comes back with “Oh, I’m really into…” and then we’re all forced to listen to it on the bus.

You guys came together a few weeks ago in Chicago and you’re starting to record a new album now?
That’s true.

What can you tell me?
We have this crazy plan in place. At the moment, we’re going to try and make a self-produced record again, which we haven’t done for a very long time. Obviously, our first three-and-a-half records were self-produced and then we’ve worked with producers for the last three years. It just seems like the right time to try again.

Ben Ottewell, GomezHow was it the first day you guys got together?
We were only there for a couple of days together and it was more about trying to work out and strategize about how we were gonna do it, rather than…well, we probably wrote about 4-5 things in the time we were there, but whether or not they’re good enough for the record…We had a lot to talk about. And what’s come out of that is a really good structure about how we’re going to try and do it. Which is helpful when you have five dudes and five songwriters who live all over the world.

How do you collaborate when you live all over the world?
It’s called FTP and it’s a genius thing.

You’ve obviously got a system in place other than the technology (you cheeky sod) to make it all happen, right?
You just do a little piece of something and put it up there and people either pick up on it or they don’t, and it either fades and dies or becomes something else.

What comes next for this new album?
We go home and we start firing stuff off to each other. We’ll have to write, like, 2 pieces a week and everybody has to stick to that. And after a month we start trying to sew them together and write whole pieces. Then you build up a reservoir of stuff of about 15 songs, of which 10 or 12 you call the album. And then you jump back on the hamster wheel…

..and then people like me start to bug you all over again…
And ask you nutty questions that you don’t really know the answers to.

Is it going to take a vastly different approach from A New Tide?
Yep, I don’t think it’s going to sound anything like New Tide.Tom Grey from Gomez, and a keytonica. Oh yes.

Great!  I mean, not in that way, but great that…
No, you’re right, that’s the idea. Hopefully – and I can’t say at the moment – but I really would like it to be a much more visceral piece. With balls. I’d like that. A bit of swagger.

But you may have to fight for that, right?
Yeah, I know, but I think that would be a good thing. There’s only so much ephemeral pseudo-folk things that you can kinda do before it just becomes…you know. We need to rattle our cages again.

And that’s what there seems to be so much of, out there. Quiet, beautiful, noo-gaze, but…quiet. And I was lamenting the other day about how there just seems to be too much…
Too much wallpaper. Yep. Too middle-class. Too white. Yeah. I’m not thinking cock rock but swagger. Attitude. I don’t know if we’ll manage to achieve it. But right now, at the outset, I think it’d be great if we could. I think there are people out there pulling it off, Spoon are pulling it off. They’re definitely a band who we have strong affinity with. Even though we’re coming at it from completely different angles.

Actors say they can’t watch themselves in films. Can you go back six albums to the beginning and what do you think?
I don’t listen to our records at all. Never have. I barely manage to listen to them past the day they get mastered. I’m not interested in the finished piece, I’m interested in the process. Don’t care. It’s a terrible thing to say, I suppose. And I think people think it should be something that you love but I love making things but I don’t love living with things once I’ve made them. It’s totally just an obsession and having things done doesn’t satisfy the obsession does it? You just get on with it.

What are you obsessing with now?
Me personally, I kind of have this feeling that a lot of music that got me making music in the first place – be it the early Beck albums, the Eels, all of that stuff – seems to have kind of gone away. That space doesn’t seem to be filled by anybody, and I don’t mean we should go back and make music like that, I just feel that kind of genre-crushing, swaggery pop is lacking. That’s what I love doing. Half the time I just write weird indie pop songs. And that’s what I’ve done my entire life.
Ian Ball, Gomez
How much do you write?
I write every day.

Even on tours?
Try to. It’s just a compulsion, it’s not a craft. It honestly isn’t. You might be doing worse at it but it doesn’t really make a difference.

Do or do not?
Yeah, you’re either in or you’re out. That’s the thing, it’s foolish to think that everything is a progression. Who cares, really! It’s a bundle of words, you’re married to it.

What do you think is the biggest music risk that the band has taken?
Being more straightforward. I think when we’ve done it, we’ve risked alienating our fanbase.

Where do you think that’s happened?
It’s obvious where it happened, but there were times when we needed to do it, just to bring some focus back to the songwriting side of it. Or because there’s been a producer in the room who just wouldn’t have it any other way, so…there’s things I regret and recordings that were made that weren’t recorded in the way I wanted them to be made, and then you’re like, well, I’ve gotta live with it. You’ve got to be happy to have it. That’s it.

What makes you ridiculously happy after so many years in the band? Besides creating something every day…
You don’t have to be in a band to do that. It’s so ridiculously easy being in a band. This life. Although it’s very hard in terms of personal relationships, it’s very easy in terms of effort. We just swan around the world being pushed around by people who are in charge of us…
Gomez Live at the Vancouver Orpheum Theatre
A very big fan of yours…
Ah, a super fan. An UBER-fan?

Yes. Anyway. She had a question. Says she’s got the sense that…
Oh no, she’s sensing things. She’s like a Gomez litmus.

…the band is having more fun now. Obviously the energy within the lifespan of a band over many years ebbs and flows, and perhaps there were times when you were more ebb?
Yeah, yeah, I think I know what you’re talking about. We’ve been doing this for so long. It’s become so incredibly easy. For a long time, we were struggling to be as good musicians as we needed to be to do this. And a lot of the time, we weren’t good enough. And that put a lot of pressure on us to be as good as people wanted us to be. At some point, it’s not something like an arrogant thing, but we just became old hands at it.

But doesn’t that bring with it its own risks?
Well, it’s so easy. You go on stage and there’s nothing to test you up there. So it’s just pure sense…you don’t have to apply lots of thought to it. You’re either enjoying it or you’re not. So maybe that comes across as sort of more…at ease, cos we kind of are. There’s less anxiety about the whole thing. We’ve been getting away with it. And it’s like, ‘how long can we keep doing this before people just sort of accept we’re the establishment?’. It’s a weird thing.

I’ve seen you described as “mainstays” in the media.
This is the thing! When do we become elder statesmen? We’ve seen it all in the music industry. We really have. We’re kinda getting to a point where this is evolving so fast, we’re literally having to change our plans every day. We’re just going to have to keep carrying on until someone just says ‘okay, fair enough, we accept them there. We’ve learned to love them.’

What, like, here’s your silver pen?
Yeah, or here’s your carriage clock.

Then is it only new recordings that can bring you out from that comfort level?
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a question of complacency. It’s just that we’re perfectly dysfunctional. We’re symmetrically dysfunctional. We know where we stand because we don’t know where we stand. \m/

Gomez Live at the Vancouver Orpheum Theatre as part of the 2010 Cultural Olympiad, photos by Brittney Kwasney, Bright Photography
Efterklang live at the Biltmore Cabaret, courtesy of Timbre Productions Concerts.

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