Gomez never really meant to do this while people were watching. At least not at first.
"When you’re at university in England and if you don’t have any transport and money, you can’t play clubs and pubs," says Ian Ball, one of Gomez’s singers and guitarists.
"So we bought recording equipment instead of amps. Instead of petrol, we bought mics, tapes and a four-track. We’d just say, ‘I’ve got a four-track, you want to come round to record something?’ Eventually the five of us were the last ones standing."
This is a pretty casual explanation of a band whose debut album, Bring It On – a mix of American country and blues influences, eclectic recording experiments and modern indie-pop – caused the hyperbole-addled British music press to go into salivary overdrive. When the quintet of lads won the coveted Mercury Music Prize recently, one of the judges gushed about Gomez’s spacey blues-roots groove: "British music is alive and well."
Well, sure, but the irony of such a statement is that everywhere you look in the nooks and crannies of Gomez’s sneaky, eclectic sound, you find American music: from folk-blues reminiscent of Taj Mahal to road-weary takes on Eaglesish SoCal narratives and the same sense of far-out adventure shared by Tom Waits – particularly in the incongruous, gravel-throated vocal personage of innocent-enough-looking, bespectacled singer-slide guitarist Ben Otterwell.
But the rabid music fans who comprise Gomez – Olly Peacock, Tom Gray and Paul "Blackie" Blackburn round out the lineup – want fuck-all to do with such quick assessments. They rightly see their music not as a continuation of the trans-Atlantic pop music Ping-Pong that got rolling when American seamen planted Little Richard in the heads of Liverpudlian teens, but rather a much more modern, recent integration of any and every form of music. Because Gomez’s members appreciate the fact that their project started life as an outgrowth of 20-year-olds knocking around with a four-track in their garage rather than as a live product, they were able to digest whatever the hell they wanted.
"We’ve kind of gotten bored with that whole (American) thing. It‘s sort of an embarrassment. It’s just that a lot of the music we listen to ends up being American. I mean, jazz was invented in America," says Ball.
"We listen to any kind of music going," he says, later adding, "I bought (early house anthem) ‘Jack Your Body’ when I was fuckin’ eight years old."
Many of the fascinating moments to be had on Bring It On lie in the attention to detail the Gomezers gave the recordings. Found-object percussion mixes with smoldering saxophone; needle-on-the-record ambience gives a backdrop to flamenco-informed guitars; tubas and electronics add to the groove – all things a band need not worry about when there are no live dates to be played.
"You get drunk and say, ‘What do you want to play on this?’ And then if it works, great," says Ball.
Now that the band’s been out of the garage for a couple of years, Gomez has translated the inclusive sonics to the live stage. Better still, American audiences seem to be eating it up.
Ball explains Gomez’s appeal: "It’s more about creating the experience. Most concerts, you just hear the album – but louder. The main difference between American and British audiences is that American audiences are more willing to go on a musical exploration. You can feel the crowd getting more and more into it over the course of the show," he continues.
"It’s better when a band just goes fuckin’ AWOL with the songs. You know you’re going into an experience."
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