GOMEZ////TOM GRAY////MARCH 2009
If you regard yourself as a fan of great music and you were old enough to indulge this passion back in ‘98 then I’m convinced the name Gomez will be etched firmly at the front of your minds filing cabinet. Formed in 1996 and hailing mainly from Southport, their debut album ‘Bring it On’ created a massive stir across the country with its innovative and uniquely composed plethora of songs. It did in fact win the highly prestigious Mercury Music Prize that year, which sky-rocketed the bands popularity. What was to follow wasn’t quite so good for Gomez; the week their third album was released, their record company disbanded and the band found themselves re-locating to America to continue a journey which had, up until this point, gone from strength to strength. After being signed to Dave Matthews’ ATO label in 2005, the band have been busy beavering away, touring and releasing albums and are now big business in the good ol’ US of A. Currently, they are set to release their sixth studio album, the beautifully constructed ‘A New Tide’ and are due to take it on the road across the UK in April to support this release. Outline managed to grab a Tom Gray (Vocalist/Guitarist/Keyboards) on an off day somewhere in inner city Baltimore…
Thanks to the virtues of modern technology, or more specifically your Twitter account, I’ve just read that you guys had quite an eventful night after your show last night?
Yes (laughs). Fortunately, I missed the lot of it. I was just in my bunk happily asleep, but I woke up at six o’ clock this morning and there was a whole pile of drunken baffled men who had just climbed out the rear window of the bus after being trapped in the back lounge for several hours. Luckily for them there was an ice bucket full of beer back there, but they had no way of taking a piss so their bladders were rather full…
And you slept through threw the whole thing?
Yep, the door was still locked this morning; we had to take it off its hinge pins. Apparently they phoned everyone around twelve times but I had my ear plugs in, so that was that (laughs)…
Gomez have just finished a stint at SXSW in Texas, which as a festival has really taken off in recent years. How was it for you?
That went great. It’s a strange process, SXSW. It’s a music festival which behaves like a movie festival and it’s all business, business, business. You play the shows and you meet people and then you walk away from it. There’s no real way of knowing how well you did. I suppose the real ramification of how it went will emerge in around six months from now. It’s one of those things really. You don’t know who you’ve made friends with or whose eyes you’ve opened…
Did you manage to manage to catch anyone who managed to open your eyes?
It’s hard to make it around ‘cause you tend to have so much stuff to do, but I managed to check out Elvis Perkins and some young friends of mine called Shwayze – I also saw M. Ward. I usually have between three and five shows a day to do. Like a few Radio shows, then a meeting, then a lunch and then a gig at night, they really put you through the ringer.
Can we talk a little Gomez Geography? I believe nowadays you are all based across two continents? Is this right? And how does that work?
Three of the guys are in the United States – Los Angeles, Brooklyn & Detroit, and Myself and Ben are still based in the UK. Just around the time we released our third album, our record label (at the time EMI) had jumped into a spiral. I suppose that’s when it first started going horribly wrong. I think they sacked one fifth of their workforce in one day. On our label there were seven people, so two of them had to go. So we were thinking ‘this is great’ as it was also the same week as the album release, so we knew it wasn’t going to go anywhere. We had a sit down and decided we were going to go to America and become a touring band. People were saying ‘don’t do it’, ‘you are mad’, ‘what are you thinking of’. But we decided to stick to our and guns and went for it. We had a couple of friends who helped us out in the States. So since 2001 we’ve been hitting it hard over here.
Was there a fear when you all first started to disband to your various abodes that the band wouldn’t continue?
Oh God definitely. There were pivotal moments between making the last album we did for Virgin ‘Split the Difference’, I mean, for them to close down the week we released it… if we had have had that information before hand we might have thought differently. Fortunately, ATO (Dave Matthews’ Label) found us. Ever since then it’s been up and up really. Although with the last record, which unfortunately not many people got to hear in the UK, in the States there were songs on it which were big Radio hits in the US. There was a song called ‘See the World’ on that record which was THE most played record played on American Triple A Radio last year.
Wow, I didn’t realise that. So would you think nowadays you are a better known band in the States than over here?
I don’t know if that’s the case, it’s just one of those difficult things. There are still over 1 million people in the UK who brought our first record. For me, that’s pretty crazy in itself. To sell a million copies and then wake up ten years later and no-one knows who the hell you are?
Surely that has its advantages too… like when you’re er, hung-over and you have to go to the supermarket to get a shop in…
Ah, no-one’s ever known what we looked like anyway (laughs). It’s kinda funny really. The only place it really stayed at the same level from start to now has been in Australia. Only recently has it become a thing in America. I mean it took up until our last album, which was the biggest seller in the States by quite a long way. I think it’s hard for a lot of people in the UK to understand that, because they know us from winning the Mercury Prize and shit like that. But that’s a long time ago now. For me, it’s a shame that people have missed out on some of the music from then until now, because some of it I think is pretty good.
Your next record, ‘A New Tide’ is out on April 6th. I’d read that it was written online and you’d all worked on it separately from your own homes. Is this true? And if so, how did that work?
Well that process has existed for quite a while with us. I mean even from the very start when we first began to make records we lived in different towns. We would always send something over, or meet up with a guitar and say, ‘I have this idea’ and then take it to one other person and see what they thought and then try to develop it from there. These new fangled ways of doing it are really just an extension of that organic way of doing it, where by you knock out a tune, post somebody an mp3, wait to see what they do with it, get it back and the pass it to somebody else. It’s pretty simple really…
It must be quite exciting…waiting for an email to see how your idea has evolved?
Exactly…like what the hell is this going to be…
After this, Gomez officially convened in Chicago with producer Brian Deck (Modest Mouse, Iron and Wine). Why did you decide to use him?
We’d all been listening to those Iron and Wine records for years, so it was undoubtedly that. So we were like ‘let’s go in the room with that guy’ (laughs). We knew he makes things sound great, we knew he was very tasteful and we knew he was very musical. So that was it, it was a bit of a no-brainer really.
Was it more like a rehearsal when you eventually got back together in the studio. I mean if you all knew the songs already?
No not at all. I love this idea that you think we all rehearse the parts in advance (laughs). I know with most bands that’s probably how they do it, but with us… no, no, no (laughs again). That’s not the Gomez way! We tend to just fling stuff at the wall and see what sticks. We tend to find more interesting layers by doing it that way. What sounds good in a room isn’t necessarily what sounds good on a record, especially when you are trying to do something which might seem paradoxical. We all just try and muck in until we have the beginnings of a song and then see where it goes from there. It’s not brain surgery, but it’s not as pre-determined, as anything can happen really, which is a good thing. I also believe you need to be able to hang on to your right to fail, and to be able to make big horrible mistakes in order to be able to do something cool.
You’ve got a few special guests in to lend a helping hand as well – bassist Josh Abrams (The Roots), cellist Oliver Krauss (Paul Weller/Beth Orton) and Stars/Broken Social Scene vocalist Amy Milan. How did you manage to get her involved?
We’ve known Amy for a few years now, and she’s a fan of the band. We had always said ‘we love her voice’, and asked her would she do something, and she’s always been like, ‘yeah, no problem’, and then we’ve never done it. So this time it was just a case of us all managing to get around to it. She’s got a really great voice and she’s a lovely girl…
The first single from the record will be ‘Airstream Driver’ which is a really cool and breezy one for the summer. Did the band decide this would be the first single or is that a decision for your record company to make?
A bit of both really. I tend to stay out of these things really. From both within and outside the band there was a feeling this should be the single. A lead single is a different thing as well. The first single off a record has to do something different than the following singles have to do. Singles are a weird thing anyway, I mean, who really gives a toss nowadays anyway. Really, all you are thinking is will this stand a vague chance of being played on the radio? It’s not even meant to be a big representation of everything you are doing. It’s like, have we got anything on this record which is going to give these poor bastards who are having to go to radio stations something? What can we give them that’s a tool rather than a hindrance?
Currently out in the States on quite a big tour… are there any ‘on the road’ traditions or rituals you go through when you all meet up again?
Apart from being sarcastic to the point of irritation with each other constantly, not really. We just talk blithering shite non-stop. We manage to say nothing and everything all at the same time. I suppose that’s better than not talking to each other at all.
Last October, you celebrated the 10th anniversary of ‘Bring it On’ (your Mercury Prize Winner) with a small tour, did you just play the whole album each night?
Yep we just played the whole record start to finish; I mean we came back on and did anther couple of things. It was a really good laugh and the crowd absolutely fucking loved it. People just sang from the start of each gig until the very end. It was pretty fantastic. It seems it’s a record that people still have a lot of love for. I don’t know; it’s just one of those things. Because it won a prize and stuff like that, people sometimes forget the relevant merits of the record. They think oh, its won and prize and that’s why we all remember it…
Did you find you all became a little reminiscent about that time period?
It was definitely a nostalgia trip. With some of the songs on that album, some of them were recorded as early as 1995…
Would you want to go back to those days again?
There are certain decisions I regret from over those years but they are pretty few and far between. There are certain mistakes we made, but really they are just ponder-ables really.
As a band, you seem to multi-task on the instrument front. Do you mix things up on stage and swap and play the others parts?
There’s more of a formula, but you certainly see myself and Ian moving around an awful lot. We take keyboards from either side of the stage and I switch between electric, acoustic and bass. We no longer have our old percussionist with us, so I’m taking all that as well. Some nights I’m honestly losing track of what I do in some of the songs, “is this the song I start with the shaker, then play the piano, then pick up the guitar, or is this the song where I pick up the guitar, then put down the shaker”… it’s a little bit of a head fuck to be honest with you, but its fun.
Right, you are back over here soon, is there anything particularly that makes it special for you to bring Gomez back to its rightful home?
Erm, well English people… sanity!
Finally, Gomez have graced the shores of Norwich on a number of occasions in the past…do you remember your time here?
Actually my uncle teaches at the Norwich School of Art, so I have in fact frequented Norwich more times than you might actually think. It’s a lovely place really…
And are there any fond drunken memories of being here?
(Laughs) Isn’t that the ironic thing about drunken memories…???