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Gomez Interview/Allan Kemler interviews Ian Ball


Raspy blues, tempered by nearly effortless integration of dot/dash sensibilities - that's Sheffield band Gomez. The lanky lads from Southport and South Yorkshire release the non-too digitally enhanced 'In Our Gun' album to a bullishly hi-fi public.


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 recent rehearsals.

"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 said.

"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."

more info:
Gomez Official Website
Gomez Biography

Allan Kemler for Crud Magazine© 2002



2-4-7-MUSIC.COM 2009

STILL refusing to dumb it down.

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