Right now, at the beginning of what seems like an excellent adventure, or at least a really good time, Gomez love everything. They’re in love with the novelty of free trips to America, of getting paid to do what they would be doing anyway, of everybody being nice to them. Some of the other things Gomez loves: coffee, cigarettes, their record labels (both foreign and domestic), big band music, their road crew, the Black Crowes (although not as much as they used to), and Toronto.
A year from now, once Gomez are road-weary and jaded, they probably won’t love anything. But now, they can’t help it. They keep asking, “Isn’t this nice?” or, “Hey, isn’t this great?” or, as they look around their incongruously nice hotel, far nicer than most bands who have sold more records would find themselves in, “Not too bad, don’t you think?”
You would love everything, too, if you were Gomez, and everybody loved you. Not only is the band almost universally adored by critics and by the handful of American audiences who have actually heard them, but all of the normally skeptical industry people surrounding Gomez seem genuinely fond of them, too.
Nobody outside of the industry much noticed the band until their 1998 debut album, Bring It On, wrested Britain’s vaunted Mercury Prize away from a field that included Massive Attack and Cornershop last year. Gomez didn’t think they’d win and still aren’t sure they should have, but the hype-making machinery has ground inexorably onward from that point to this one.
It’s now a little more than a year later. Gomez have just put out their second album, Liquid Skin, and spend virtually every spare minute thinking about their third, which is presently only in its conceptual stages. A daunting world domination schedule should keep their next full-length out of listener’s hands until at least late next year, though Gomez already has tentative plans for an EP of outtakes from the first and second records.
Inveterate studio rats who only play live because, as drummer Olly Peacock puts it, “we have to,” Gomez recorded more than 30 tracks for Liquid Skin. The EP would be “a subversion of everything we’ve done; the stuff that didn’t make it onto the records,” says singer/rhythm guitarist Tom Gray. “It would basically be some strange experiments that people wouldn’t necessarily get. We just have too much in us. It’s like we don’t even choose the songs. The songs choose us.”
Five boyhood friends from the grim northwest of England, average age about 23, the members of Gomez are ardent revivalists, record collection wonks with a love of music that is without limit or qualm: Gomez aren’t aesthetes. They like everything from Pantera to Primus to Los Lobos to the Beta Band. Their own records are both innovative and archival, jumbles of ideas and sounds that leave them as mystified as everyone else as to where it all comes from, or what it is.
“We don’t even know what to call it,” says Gray, who resists the idea that he and his bandmates are prisoners of their influences. “Creativity isn’t action and reaction. That’s physics. We can go from rock to blues to dub, and it just sort of happens, and it’s great. There can be seven or eight styles in one song and it’s crazy and we love that.”
Throw in some mid-’70s AM radio rock, some horns — Gomez love horns — some Latin influences and some sluggish, psychedelic jams, and you’re beginning to get the idea.
Gomez were too young for the Manchester scene, which they probably wouldn’t have cared for much anyway. Despite singer/slide guitarist Ben Ottewell having taken the cash to re-create “Getting Better” for Philips commercials, they’re one of the few British bands not to genuflect at the altar of the Beatles. Their records are wondrously artless, careening from genre to genre in a way that suggests they owe fealty to no one, except maybe Son House (to whom they give a shout out on the new record’s “Rhythm & Blues Alibi”), Herb Alpert, and, to a lesser extent, Chris Robinson.
They owe a different debt to Radiohead, whose storied OK Computer American tour served as sort of tactical reconnaissance for Gomez, making this country safe for pallid-faced white boys making diffident, arty British music. It’s expected, although never said, that Liquid Skin will bring Gomez into that same rarefied atmosphere, which would be just fine with them.
“You become aware that it’s not really that bad a job compared to what we could be doing, even though it does take some getting used to,” says Ottewell, one of the band’s three vocalists, about the strangeness and the circus currently surrounding Gomez. “We’ve always said that what we get paid for is doing the touring and the interviews and the travel. We play for free, because we’d be playing music anyway. That’s what we really love. You have to detach yourself from the rest of it, and sort of be amused by it, because it’s pretty strange.”
On the eve of the release of Liquid Skin, the band is on a short American hop of club dates and interviews before returning home to more of the same. “We’re already a big band back home. We’re one of the biggest bands, and it happened fast,” says Gray. “It happened really really really fast. We’re only eighteen months away from when we recorded our first single, but there’s no rest for us. It feels like we’re never going to sleep again, ever.”
A reporter from a prestigious British magazine has even flown over to document the presumptive drama of Gomez’s latest American campaign. To Ottewell, “the idea that we’re trying to conquer America is ridiculous. It’s not like we go to gigs and, like, plant the flag or something.”
If Gomez aren’t very good at drawing attention to themselves, they haven’t yet needed to be. Their success so far has been almost accidental. Record contracts and awards have appeared without the band doing much besides saying thank-you, and audiences are coming around in much the same fashion.
“Everyone who’s a fan pretty much conforms to the story that someone played them our record and they were like, ‘What the fuck’s this?’ and then went out and bought it themselves, and that’s kind of how it works,” Ottewell says. “People tell you stories about how they got into your record, like someone was traveling though Argentina and someone turned them onto it or something. We’re everybody’s own band and we know that. It’s like they found us. We’re theirs. And that’s how we feel about it as well. It’s really great fun for us to be in this situation. It’s ridiculous and it’s nice. We’re on top of a situation which is really sweet.”
How long it will stay sweet, and how long Gomez will stay on top of it, is an open question. The first time around, Gomez only had to show up and be admired. They have to actually sell some records this time, which may prove difficult for a band with a sound that’s resolutely unquantifiable, and with an owlish, unironically thrift-store look that makes Elvis Costello seem glamorous.
They swear they don’t feel any pressure, and even look surprised that anyone would ask. Though the band members have a healthy interest in things like chart positions and sales numbers, they don’t appear to think too much about how they got to where they are, or what they’ll have to do to stay there. More than most bands, they seem to be feeling their way along. They look as surprised — and as impressed — by themselves as everybody else does. They worry that any attempt at effort or introspection (even if they were prone to introspection, which they certainly don’t seem to be) would ruin everything. The minute they start trying, say Gomez, as opposed to simply doing, they’re goners.