It's a Thursday afternoon and Gomez's Ian Ball is tidying
up his house in Brighton. He's also cleaning up a few tapes he's made during some
"There's a lot of really, really fucked up, deeply disturbed
shit in there," he says.
So, naturally, he's thinking of editing the tape
into something the quintet can use to open its upcoming shows. Of course, this
is not how Gomez normally records its music, Ball defends, but on the other hand,
it is. He and his mates, you see, are thoroughly digitally oriented - they just
aren't aware of it.
Singer/guitarist, Ben Ottewell, recorded some music
from a Cambodian street festival on his mini disc during
the band's 20-month vacation. It ended up--mixed with
a harmonica lick--on the new album. All of In Our Gun
(Virgin), in fact, was recorded that way--with the freedom
of digital technology. Spread out in Batsford Manor,
near Stratford-on-Avon in the south of England (or old
"Shakey's" stomping grounds, as Ball suggested), the
six-year old collective regrouped after its long holiday
and reacquainted themselves over beers and new songs.
After the break, the band had plenty of material and
as the record progressed they found themselves floating
around the studio, each one tinkering here and there,
bending and twisting the results with an array of looping
devices and samplers. The only condition, Ball says,
for creating their digitized bottleneck-and-beats hybrid,
was to make new sounds.
"When we record a song we just try as many different
things as we can, said Ball. "Anyone can try anything.
We're always trying to make music we haven't heard before.
You know, actually trying to make sounds we don't recognize
ourselves, that you don't find familiar."
Such are the operations of Gomez--the Sheffield band
that manages to play a raspy blues, tempered by nearly
effortless integration of dot/dash sensibilities. And
such are the benefits of digital technology. "Using
digital completely changes the way you work," affirms
Ball. "You can record a song, mess around with it, fly
it around, change the arrangement and see what it sounds
like, without messing it up." Sadly, few artists chose
to do this kind of exploring, despite the possibilities.
For Gomez, though, it's practically part of the band's
genetic make up.
In 1998, the band attracted attention with a self-produced
demo cut on a cassette four-track in a draughty garage.
The tape was so good they released it as their first
album, 'Bring it On'. For its next album, 'Liquid Skin',
the band moved up to a professional analogue studio
and once again helmed the controls. By 'In Our Gun',
the lanky lads from Southport had spent so much time
with their heads buried in digital electronics manuals;
they were able to manage the whole recording process
alone. At this point, Ball said, with so much of the
learning curve absorbed intuitively, the band's music
could filter through those digital processes almost
organically, as it were.
"I think it probably comes out of the fact that we don't
look at a drum machine as a different thing, and we
don't see harmonicas and trumpets and bass parts as
any different from each other, we think they're all
the same," said Ball. "They're all tools for making
music. It's not one thing is a retro thing and one thing
is modern. They're all the same. They all make sounds.
You just have to manipulate them towards your own needs."
Ball said Gomez handles the arrangements the same way.
Through experimentation and a willingness to accept
all ideas; where, literally, whoever's part is the best
is the one that stays, they manage to craft songs which
combine Beach Boys harmonies with dubby reggae bass
lines and folksy campfire anthems with mad algorithmic
beats. The net result - a compelling album that updates
more than it borrows and discovers more than it recreates.
For example, on the last track, "The Ballad of Nice
and Easy," Ball said, multi-instrumentalist, Tom Gray,
originally wrote it with just acoustic guitar and percussion
and the intent to have a few loops squalling around
in the background. A sort of easygoing ditty, he said.
When Gray finally got around to recording it with an
acoustic guitar and a drum kit, drummer, Olly Peacock,
had other ideas. Instead of treating it as a mellow
little tune, Peacock playfully attacked the song with
a faster tempo. Inspired by Peacock, Ball then picked
up the bass and added an aggressive line, which changed
the song some more. When Ottewell heard it, he came
in and put down a little electric guitar, and by the
end of it, all the mellow acoustic guitar that Gray
had originally envisaged for the song had been completely
blown away and there was no acoustic track at all, Ball
"It's just trial and error and a willingness to have
the balls to say that's shit," said Ball. "Or having
the honesty to say, 'Well, that thing that I've done
no longer works.' It doesn't matter for us because we're
all working towards the same ends. We all want a great
album and were not really sussed how we get there."
Success, for Gomez, seems to be something that need
only happen in proportion to their desire to maintain
this carefree and creative lifestyle. And who can blame
them? It does sound pretty good. A 20-month vacation
followed by weeks of recording in an English castle.
Trips to Cambodia and Australia and other exotic locales.
On the other hand, those events were preceded by four
years of constant touring and recording. Within three
weeks of handing Virgin its demo tapes, Bring It On
was on the airwaves and Gomez was on tour. The album
sold over 300,000 units that year and eventually turned
platinum. In Spring 1999, still steaming along, Gomez
found themselves touring America for the first time
and released Liquid Skin to a rapturous audience. By
the time Abandoned Shopping Trolley (a collection of
B-sides and rarities) came out in 2000, the band was
bushed and decided to go on hiatus.
"We did, like, four years of on/off touring/recording,
touring/recording, that sort of thing," said Ball. "And
then in August 2000 we just said, 'Right, that's it.
I'm going on fucking holiday for six months, I'll see
ya later.' And so, basically, we just quit for six months
and went away and didn't do anything. I went on holiday
to Australia, the other guys went on holiday to like
Vietnam and all these weird places. It was fucking great."
Refreshed and rejuvenated, Ball, Ottewell, Gray, Peacock
and bassist, Paul Blackburn, got back together in February
2001 and parsed the many songs they had written while
on their travels. Though the band was able to write
plenty of new material while on its sabbatical, if they
had to keep going on, Ball said, they would have been
fucked. "Absolutely, in a major way," he said. "We were
fucked because we had already done so much. And you
know, we didn't have any songs, we didn't have anything
left. We had just released the 'Abandoned Shopping Trolley'
thing. So it was like, 'Time to go on holiday fellas
and recharge the batteries.'"
Whether you interpret their vacation as a perk of stardom
or required rest, success genuinely doesn't seem to
be on Gomez's mind. For them making music, not cracking
new markets is the most important thing. And it shows.
When asked whether he ever imagined the band enjoying
this kind of success, Ball replied with a laugh. "It's
always completely random in this business," he said.
"There's never anyway you can tell if it's going to
happen to you. Even if you have the most commercial
music in the world, sometimes people won't buy it. And
then you can have something that's completely fucking
weird and shitloads of people go for it."
While the music on 'In Our Gun' isn't exactly "fucking
weird," Ball said he doesn't think it'll ever receive
much airplay in the U.S. However, he might be wrong.
In late March, a few tracks from the new album started
spinning in the States. So maybe Gomez will be successful
after all. Regardless, beginning in April, thousands
of people across Ireland and the UK will hear the new
songs on the band's world tour. Though Ball could only
speculate on fall tour dates in the States, if the record
continues to receive radio support, there's no doubt
they'll be here. Either way, Ball and Co. are happy
with their achievements, and Ball, at least is building
a career as a producer through his work with the Australian
psych outfit, Gelbison, among others. Nevertheless,
Ball is philosophic about the whole thing. "We're not
going to fucking kill ourselves," said Ball. "We're
not going to do like 8 million tours and 50,000 tour
dates because we haven't got the straight forward desire
to be really popular anywhere in the world. It's nice
to be successful, but the concept of breaking America
sounds like 18 months of touring and a lot of ass kissing.
We're not very good at that."
Allan Kemler for Crud Magazine© 2002