Tuesday, 19 July 2011

An Old Way Of Doing Things

Published in Inpress Magazine (Melb), 20th July 2011


For the past 14 years, British indie rockers Gomez have weaved their infectious tunes into the tapestry of the global music scene, garnering along the way an adoring, and ever growing, fanbase.  They’ve filled a niche occupied by very few, and as time has gone by, their canon has grown, their music has expanded and they’ve matured as musicians and people, and yet they’ve never lost that gleeful edge to their music that is so evident after even a cursory listen to either their records or their live shows.

These days, little has changed.  The five members of the band no longer share a house, as they once did, but are scattered around the globe – some in the US, some still in the UK – and they are of course, older and wiser, but aside from that, Gomez is still Gomez, and this is something that’ll remain as constant as their music is uplifting and free.  This month the band will release its seventh studio record, Whatever’s On Your Mind, and yes, it reeks of the ethos they’ve spent the past decade and a half adhering to.  But despite the fact little has changed there, there are some key differences, ones which have contributed mightily to how this record has turned out.

Firstly, as mentioned, the five members of Gomez no longer reside in the same city, let along the same country or hemisphere, and as such, Whatever’s On Your Mind came about in quite a different fashion, helped in no small amount by the continuous growth of technology, as guitarist Ian Ball explains.  “Well, this is the best way of us working to be honest,” he says simply, the band writing the entire record remotely, posting ideas, lyrics and music online and via email to each other.  “On the last album [A New Tide, 2009], the song that everybody liked the most was the ‘Airstream Driver’ song, and that was written in this fashion… and we thought, ‘Lets just do a whole album like that’, because it’s really good to work like that.

“And the main reason is, as you can imagine, in any kind of collective and creative environment, I mean, can you imagine five people sitting together in a room?  ‘OK, now we’re going to try this’, ‘No, lets try this’, ‘I don’t like that’, ‘Well fuck you’,” Ball goes on with a laugh.  “So it’s difficult, it’s really difficult, and we’ve never been the kind of band that sits around a campfire writing songs, it’s always been someone will come up with an idea then they’ll go to the pub with someone else and flesh it out.  So this is the same principle, it’s just a lot more effective because you have a lot of time to formulate your idea, a lot of freedom.”

So perhaps not that much has changed then, the addition of writing via the web just an extension of what the band have done in the past whilst living in the same country.  However, as Ball says, the band members found it an extremely effective way of writing, the result of such a decision garnering a collection of around fifty songs – not necessarily full songs, but parts of – ideas flowing in from the five members, slowly but surely forming the base for what would eventually become Whatever’s On Your Mind.

“We put limitations on it though, where we had to get two songs each into this magic bucket in the sky for three months straight,” Ball explains.  “So it was a concerted working period… and if you put something up in the bucket and nobody liked it, who cares, it stays in the bucket.  And the things that people started to work on, started to exchange ideas on, obviously became the album, without anyone saying a word to each other.”  This is perhaps where it gets a bit grey; it seems writing remotely suited the band down to the ground, but the total lack of human contact?  Surely not a good thing when it comes to crafting something as deeply personal as music.

“No, I don’t think so at all,” Ball exclaims.  “I mean, certainly the way we’ve always worked, we’ve always used technology to help us as much as we can, it didn’t take any of the humanity out of it at all.  It was just like, we all had the same ‘tape player’, we were just all sending it to virtual tape.  So I don’t think so, I think the whole idea of the computer as a soulless thing is probably flipped on its head, most people live their entire lives on there, so it was cool, it was a real good way of doing things.”

It certainly worked for the band; they came out of the process with ten solid tracks, the bounce and the fun and the faint commercial edge prevalent all the way through, as is their MO.  However, despite the online format utilised whilst creating the album, they did of course need to convene at some point in order to record, as they did over two ten day stretches in the States, a time when the human element was once again introduced.

“It was really great when we finally got together,” Ball smiles.  “Most of the songs [then] changed quite considerably when we first got together.  The first few days, there was a lot of whittling and narrowing down and combining this song with that song, as you can imagine.  And then when we had chosen the songs we were gonna record, it’d be like, ‘Well lets get into a room and record it and if it works, we’ll go with that’, but most of the time it was getting the map of the song perfect and then recording that, it was full on pre-production so when we got to the actual recording, we didn’t have to think anymore.  It was great, there was a lot of cool interaction between everybody.”

Another core difference in the making of Whatever’s On Your Mind was that it stands as the first record the band have produced themselves since 2001’s, In Our Gun.  Yes, they did recruit long-time friend Sam Farrar to lend a hand, but production duties were almost all down to Gomez.  “Well we’d kinda done all the producing ourselves before we even got to the studio,” Ball says on this decision.  “We didn’t need anybody to come in, a new brain.  We just needed someone there to see if what we had was any good, and Sam was the obvious choice, we’ve known him for so long.”

So with Whatever’s On Your Mind, Gomez have undergone some changes, but they’ve also stayed the same.  No mean feat, but one the band have embraced and made their own, the result being as strong an album as any of their earlier material, and one which will see them continue to go from strength to strength, garnering new fans along the way, continuing to expand and grow.  Just listening to Ball speak about this record is indication enough that the five of them are still enjoying the process, Whatever’s On Your Mind backing that to the hilt, and beyond.

Samuel J. Fell

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