How many times have you heard an unfamiliar album, with no preconceived notions of its contents, and found yourself immediately devoted? It may not have been since you were a child, when you rummaged through your parents’ records and discovered your first Beatles LP. Or perhaps it was when you first moved into your college dorm—that guy down the hall was playing something completely foreign but somehow great. You had to know who it was.
Gomez is like that.
From a back room of Stubb’s Bar-B-Q in Austin, Texas, guitarist/ keyboardist/ vocalist Tom Gray takes a post-sound check break for a phone interview. It seems the native Brit appreciates the respite from the Texas heat.
“Thanks for letting me enjoy the air-conditioning of the office,” he says.
With ashen mugs and everyday garb, it would seem that the five young men who comprise Gomez are your run-of-the-mill twentysomethings. The lads from Southport, England, look like a cross between your best friend from high school and the cat who buys Slim Jims and Zig-Zags at the gas station. There’s no evidence of affectation. They don’t rely on stilted personas for their appeal.
“They should open their minds, shouldn’t they?” says Gray of the average American radio listener.
For their relative anonymity in the States, Gomez has received its share of critical acclaim. Some may unwittingly recognize Gomez from the band’s cover of the Beatles “Getting Better” heard on a Philips electronics television commercial.
Gomez’s first two albums, Bring it On (released in 1998 on Virgin) and Liquid Skin (1999), met with unpredicted success. Both albums — heavily suffused with Delta blues and the sounds of the Beach Boys, accented with hues of electronic noise — careened headfirst into the British realm of accolade and famedom. Bring it On bagged British Mercury and Q Awards, and Liquid Skin emerged as a piece of sonic pop art.
The group’s next two albums, Abandoned Shopping Trolley Hotline and Machismo, both compilations of B-sides and experimental opuses, met with mixed reviews and confusion, yet seemed to solidify Gomez’s spot in the upper echelon of creative modern music.
“It’s not about mindless creating,” says Gray. “It’s more about creativity.”
You might think that with such status, Gomez would be smug. You might assume a certain British stoicism to them. You might — if you could ever see them.
While many pop stars are nothing without the support MTV and commercial radio, Gomez thrives despite the manufactured hoopla.
“It’s always been shit, hasn’t it?” says Gray guilelessly of pop culture.
“But isn’t that what it’s there for?”
When it comes to a visual image, there really is nothing definitive about Gomez. All four albums sport minimalist paintings for covers — no band photos here. There is no costume to imitate, no haircut to grow. Gomez is the faceless alluring voice on the other end of the speaker, and if you must know what they look like, you will have seek them out.
Gomez’s vocals are as distinctive as their songs. The most asked-about voice is that of Ben Ottewell, whose gruff, on-the-verge-of-tears presentation borders on the elegiac. Ottewell’s vocals — interwoven with the work of Gray, guitarist/ harmonica/ vocalist Ian Ball and bassist/ guitarist/ vocalist Paul Blackburn — have trademarked the Gomez sound.
“I hate to use the word ‘organic’ again, but that is what it is.” says Gray of the band’s sound and no-front-man ethos. Olly Peacock, Gomez’s drummer, is a rare bird as well.
“I think that Olly is the one with his own sound,” says Gray admiringly.
Gomez’s latest album, In Our Gun, is a foray through its electronic oeuvre, and has garnered mixed reviews. While some critics suggest that the departure of In Our Gun may have isolated some true bluers, it seems that this sort of indifference toward what “sells” is precisely what put Gomez on the map in the first place. In Our Gun might require a couple of thorough listenings to be completely absorbed, but it’s another a feather in the group’s cap.
There is no master plan, no holy grail, Gray says. And no plans to change anything.
“I don’t see why we’d stop,” says Gray.
For Gomez, writing songs is gift — a five-ingredient recipe that is still in its pre-heat stages.
Gray explains that if Gomez has a mission, “It is an insidious one. It’s slow.”
Gomez is scheduled to perform at St. Andrew’s Hall (431 E. Congress, Detroit) on Monday, May 12, with Ben Lee. Call 313-961-MELT for more information.Eve Doster is the listings editor of Metro Times. E-mail [email protected]