Somewhere in the United Kingdom, Gomez drummer Olly Peacock is attacking vocalist-guitarist Ben Ottewell. There may have been some mention of the word “fag.” Maybe now is not a good time for an interview.
“Sorry … Olly was just attacking me,” laughs Ottewell, the friendly scuffle ostensibly settled. “He wanted a cigarette. He’s got one now.”
Gomez (Ottewell, Peacock, vocalist-guitarist-keyboardist Tom Gray, vocalist-guitarist Ian Ball and bassist Paul Blackburn) are in the midst of a press day, corralled for a cluster of phone interviews to promote their upcoming U.S. tour, the first in two years. Ottewell, whose speaking voice is like honey compared to his sandpaper-smoke-scotch vocals (ironically, these are more appealing), sounds as if he’s had his fill of flack duty and would prefer to hit a pub straightaway. “It’s my job,” he says resignedly.
It goes unsaid, but understood, that his and Gomez’s true job is making music. The band’s junior disc, In Our Gun (Virgin), says as much in its architecture. Only the finest materials (Brit-pop—the good sort, less-is-more electronica, Americana and blues; top-shelf musicianship and songwriting; three distinct and supremely gifted lead vocalists) are used in crafting their blue-collar songs of life. The care and attention Gomez affords its music is such that even a 9.2 Richter shake couldn’t disturb the groove. This ethic has earned the band a solid U.K./European following as well as a devout congregation stateside. Critics worldwide sing their praises, often with a variation of this accolade: “The greatest band you’ve never heard.”
“It’s a nice honor to be called that,” says Ottewell, aware of Gomez’s substance, but not overtly prideful. “What we try to do is make good records. We’re not interested in making records with two or three songs and the rest is complete filler. We’re not singles fans, we’re all album fans. We try to make an album that sticks together.”
Amazingly, considering Gomez features five songwriters and three vocalists, In Our Gun is such an achievement. As with prior releases Bring It On and Liquid Skin (1998 and 1999) and the 2000 B-sides comp Abandoned Shopping Trolley Hotline, songs rule and everything else is dressing. The effect is that of the classic albums most of us have cut teeth on: Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon comes to mind, as does the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper.
Ottewell opines that Gomez function as a matter of different tastes, backgrounds and personalities blending well; respect and open-mindedness are held in high esteem. “We’ve picked up on an idea to complement things and not get in their way; and use what we have to do that. That doesn’t mean we don’t make some awful music. There is some shit … we just don’t release it.”
Hard to imagine “shit” coming from Gomez, given its nearly impeccable discography, much less the fact they were signed to Virgin’s U.K. subsidiary Hut Recordings on the basis of their demos. “We were a recording band long before we were a live band—we hadn’t played a show before we got signed. But we’ve played plenty since,” he laughs. “They kind of knew that [we could do it ourselves], rather than sign [us] on the basis of our live show. We kind of showed them we could do it, produce ourselves, and that they’d get the best out of us just by leaving us alone.”
Evidently, even to the point of taking a two-and-a-half-year break. The band, after touring Liquid Skin, went on hiatus, playing scant few shows and releasing the stopgap Abandoned Shopping Trolley Hotline. The trust, one gathers, is immense, considering this industry, where some labels whip bands like indentured servants. “We needed a break and we had a break,” Ottewell says, adding that Gomez are happy to be back at work. “We spent a while making this record and we’ve toured it here and in Europe and we were offered some shows in Australia and then these U.S. dates came up.”
These dates, he affirms, are the ones Gomez are looking forward to.
“[We’ve] not been over to the states for two-and-a-half years. The crowds are different. American crowds are far more appreciative of the long jam sessions we indulge ourselves in. I think you’re more used to seeing live bands in America.”
Wait a second—Gomez is a jam band? Don’t they know about the recent U.S. backlash against jam bands? Well, it might explain Ottewell’s dead-ringer vocal resemblance to Widespread Panic’s John Bell, although he claims he’s never heard the band.
“They were playing at the Paradiso recently, but I never heard them. I’ve heard of the band, but I have no idea what they sound like. They don’t really do much over here. I wouldn’t really say we’re a jam band. We try and keep it interesting and keep it up at the right moment, down at the right moment … stuff like that. But when the mood takes us, we really like to go off.”