If you think of your impression of Gomez, it is probably a bunch of care free teenagers running riot with guitars slung over their shoulders, singing songs about urban piss-ups, and getting arrested while falling around student union pubs. When the band arrived onto the British music scene in 1997 with the explosive debut, Bring It On, (for which they received the Mercury Music Prize) beating Pulp, The Verve, and Massive Attack in the process, fame, fortune and flogging a few more million records seemed like the inevitable path the five young kids from Southport would take.
However, like other bands that have scooped the prestigious award (Primal Scream being a perfect example) the success seems to have hindered the band’s success from that moment on, and Gomez, although having made some very decent records since their initial debut, have become the sort of band that will release an album every couple of years, with just a few loyal fans noticing, and with little coverage from the mainstream music press.
Now Split between Brighton, Brooklyn, and L.A, 14 years on from their impressive Bring It On album, Gomez released their seventh album to date Whatever Is On Your Mind this summer. Over a pot of tea in a hotel off Piccadilly Circus, Tom Gray, one of the Gomez’s three songwriters, who describes himself as a laid back worrier, tells me that becoming a huge band was never Gomez’s intention and how prizes for bands are a ridiculous concept in the first place.
The trajectory of Gomez’s success as band seems to have almost worked backwards. You reached a stunning level of success initially with your debut album, Bring It On, and for the rest of your career you have been burdened with that initial success, would you agree with that?
Tom: The thing is that we always thought we were doing something really niche in our music, and that nobody would be really very interested in it. We knew that we weren’t making music for a market. Still to this day, we haven’t got a clue who we are making the music for. We’ve kind of got this old fashioned idea that you can kind of just do it. I suppose when we initially set out we were trying to make records like people did in the late ’60s. We weren’t trying to make music from the late ’60s – far from it – but we were trying to make music in a kind of free atmosphere of creativity, sort of just like, lets do what we want, whenever we want to do, and see if we can get away with it.
If it’s a problem that we sold like a million records on the first try, it kind of just made us think, ah we should just keep on doing this, and we kind of have I suppose.
But I imagine if you are not selling the same levels of albums, particularly in the current climate in the music business, you don’t have the same luxuries you once had when you were more successful?
It’s not enormously different. The thing is when you are 19, and someone shoves a 100 grand in your pocket, you don’t really know what to do with it anyway. We still make money doing this, and that’s not really the issue. The gigs are still big gigs, the only thing that’s changed is we probably don’t do as many interviews as we used to when we first started out, and that’s not a bad thing to be honest. I don’t take it too seriously. As a band, we’ve always tried to make interesting and entertaining music, but we’ve never over-intellectualised what we do, we still just want to be a rock ‘n’ roll band really.
When you won the Mercury Music Prize for Bring It On, you guys almost seemed like you didn’t acknowledge the prize?
Well that’s it. It’s just a silly prize. All prizes are silly. What’s that about, here’s a prize, I’m not five years old, what are you giving me a prize for?!
Bring It On came just after Britpop had sort of withered away, was this a help or a hindrance for Gomez?
Well when Bring It On was released, we were sort of dancing on the corpse of Britpop merrily, so that didn’t bother us. We were jumping up and down saying yes we are going to sing blues music. But having said that, there is a lot of music in Britpop that I do like. I mean it’s hard not to like the first Oasis record, and some of Pulp’s stuff is fantastic.
Some of the tracks on the new album Whatever Is On Your Mind have quite a beefed up production sound and a kind of Phil Spector ’60s feel to them. Were you listening to a lot of that music and did it inspire you to write some of the tracks, for example the track, ‘Our Goodbye’?
When I was writing ‘Our Goodbye’, I was trying to write, like a, Guy Clark Song, a Nashville early ’70s song, just to see if I could do it, because I just love that music. I feel like I have a really strong bond with that music, I didn’t feel like I was pastiching it, which is a danger in the musical world.
What stuff are you listening to at the moment?
Most of the stuff I listen to at the moment- in terms of contemporary stuff- tends to be electronic music. I’m a big fan of people like Caribou; I like a lot of minimalist House music as well.
So you aren’t listening to a lot of contemporary bands then?
A lot of contemporary bands to me today are very pastiche, and I’m not into that idea. It really bothers me that we are living in an era of pastiche, and that’s a strange thing for a culture. You see someone like Bjork, and what she is trying to do and you think, good on her, that is somebody there that is generally trying to rethink the whole paradigm. I think American bands are stuck in 1974: Crosby Stills and Nash world, and then it’s the ’80s thing, we’ve been reliving the ’80s for 20 years now. It’s funny how things influence people. Like now you have yacht-rock coming through in things like Bon Iver. People listening to that aren’t aware that this is remarkably similar to like a Michael McDonald production, or a Steely Dan record, but there is a lot of that in the music. It’s to do with musical education, people just not knowing what they’re listening to. It’s easier to recycle things when people don’t know what they are listening to. I mean you can’t copy The Beatles, because everybody knows what The Beatles sound like, right? But it’s quite easy to copy for example, an early ’80s Glaswegian art rock bands without getting noticed.
What genre would you put Gomez in so?
For us, it was always about trying to be original, to take genre, and fuck with it. We were just bored with genre. If you are going to make music into a product, finding your market is your key, of course we never really understood that, and maybe we should have done. It probably would have been a much more sensible and prosperous career move!
What other bands have influenced Gomez over the years?
I think the two biggest influences for us starting out as a band were probably: Beck and The Eels. These were people trying to rethink what contemporary music is, taking what everybody else has done and putting it in a new place. Tom Waits would have been a huge influence as well, as was early ’90s hip hop, and Wilco. Also things like Led Zeppelin, and AC/ DC are liked by some members of the band. See this is the problem, we are a total mess, and a chimera.