This is probably why they don’t like discussing anything in too much detail, and why even questions about their history, which they’ve already discussed a million times, make them look tired (“You know,” says Ottewell gently, “it’s in the bio”).
Suffice to say that most of Gomez grew up in and around the resort town of Southport. Peacock, Gray, guitarist/singer Ian Ball and bassist Paul Blackburn knew each other virtually since infancy (since birth, in the case of Ball and Peacock, whose mothers met giving birth in the hospital). Ottewell, who was a metal band veteran, joined after meeting Ball in a bar.
The band whiled away many happy hours listening to Nirvana and Taj Mahal and Beck, and doing rather impressive amounts of drugs. They recorded Bring It On themselves in the garage, because they couldn’t think of a good enough reason not to. A tape made its way to a well-connected friend, and Gomez found themselves in the middle of a bidding war — 20 labels in some reported accounts, 30 in others — just three weeks later.
At the time of Bring It On, they had yet to even play their first live show and weren’t looking forward to it. Their first concert was in Glasgow in December 1997. “We were shit scared,” remembers Peacock, with little fondness. “We weren’t very good at all. Finally now, over the last year we’re getting a lot more comfortable playing live, and relaxing more. You just get used to it.”
Playing live has gotten them more accustomed to playing together, at least, and eased considerably the making of Liquid Skin, which they cobbled together in brief sessions commencing shortly after the completion of Bring It On. Peacock says that playing out (which Gomez still hasn’t done very much) “didn’t make it easier, I don’t think, but it made us feel more comfortable. It kind of showed us what we could do. This time around, we know the machines a lot better, too. All around, it was a lot better.”
For Gomez, the recording is everything. Peacock says the studio is the one place they feel comfortable, that being there is “like going home.” Even the finished record itself isn’t as important as the process of having made it, and the band’s encroaching fame is valuable mostly because it allows access to 24-track recorders.
“As the dynamics of our record making get bigger, there’s a lot more area in which we feel comfortable,” says Peacock. “We’ll mess around with everything we can get our hands on, really.”
In their single-minded devotion to records and record-making, Gomez are rather freakish. Left to their own devices (and they always are; one of the privileges of being Gomez), even the singularly ridiculous can become musical. This explains the failed Underwater Microphone Experiment, about which the less said the better, and why there are parts of Liquid Skin on which the band sings through toilet paper rolls.
But nothing, certainly not Gomez themselves, can explain the unearthliness of their sound. Why they sound so Southern, so American, so old. Why they make a noise that, as one writer put it, “Should not be possible, not for five white guys from a small town in England.”
Ottewell’s thunderous rumble of a voice, which defies both description and logic, is part of it, but Gomez’s uncanny and unpracticed ability to sound like 40-year old black men from Mississippi is, like virtually everything else about them, the last thing you would expect.
“And why is that?” asks Gray. “Why is it that the expectation is for younger people to make music that is hollower, somehow?”
Gomez’s love of American musical stylings is both intuitive (several members were weaned on their parents’ ’60s folk) and clinical (Ottewell referenced Beck in his college dissertation). While anyone who calls them a roots band is missing the point by half, the members of Gomez approach American music — the Black Crowes, blues, everything in between — with a good deal more reverence than most American bands do.
“There’s so much good music that generates from here [the United States],” Ottewell says. “In Britain, people will slag us off for sounding American, and it’s like, why not? Just because we come from this little town in the northwest of England?”
Then again, once whatever American musical form the band is currently toying with is filtered through their internal prism, it no longer sounds like anything but Gomez. In doing this, they offer up a unique perspective on American culture. By taking it in and weeding it out, Gomez achieves the effect of holding up a mirror to 50 years of American music.
“That’s true,” Gray says, and smiles. “But it’s a contorted, funhouse mirror, don’t you think?”
This latest American stopover of meet-&-greets and interviews finds Gomez growing more accustomed to a country they are rapidly discovering is, as Ottewell says, “divided in two: the America in television and films, and the real one.”
Gomez love New York in particular, though recent articles that paint the band as small-town peasants loosed in the big city are a bit much. “You have to understand that even in the small town where we come from, everyone knows what a city’s like,” scoffs Ottewell. “We studied at universities that were in cities. All of this is not really very difficult to cope with.”
All of this is probably only going to get worse. Still, while Liquid Skin has already raised their profile, for Gomez to get really famous would take a minor miracle; and, given their niche as everyone’s own secret discovery, that would probably be the last thing they need. Gomez, characteristically, do not want what they haven’t got, and seem to dream only of higher-tech recording studios.
Their friendship, exceedingly close even by band standards, also seems to be surviving unscathed. They used to live together and don’t anymore, but “we’re still mates,” says Ottewell. “I think we’re all aware that a lot of the [external] stuff can cause little rifts between us, but that it comes from peripheral stresses, and not from us.”
Band members swear that although Gray, Ball and Ottewell alternate on lead vocals, this hasn’t caused any intra-band squabbling. How to decide who gets to sing what? “Everyone puts a pair of trunks on, and we have a big wrestle,” says Peacock. “Whoever’s left standing at the end get to sing. We’re going to start doing that onstage, actually. But we’ll probably have to charge extra.”
Allison Stewart lives in Chicago and writes in her kitchen so as to be nearest to the coffee pot.