Gomezs Rising Tide
After a number of ‘almosts’ I finally got Ian Ball, one of Gomezs two lead vocalists, on the phone for an interview. Typical of the way things panned out I catch him between a soundcheck that is running late and working on that evening’s set list. No matter. Ball is in good spirits and I’m willing to work my way around matters due to an unending curiosity of how the Brit, now living in Los Angeles, and his longtime bandmates – Olly Peacock, Ben Ottewell, Paul Blackburn and Tom Gray – created an album that sounds as modern as it does rootsy with enough melodic flair to spare. Titled A New Tide, it represents the group finding a simpatico producer in Brian Deck (Iron and Wine, Modest Mouse, Counting Crows) and getting creative while using computers. With the members living in various locales in the U.S. and Britain, this technological approach followed pre-production that involved sending work samples to each other via the internet.
*JPG:. First off, I gotta admit, Gomez slowly grew on me but the new one, I really love it. I’ve been listening to it like crazy. *
IB: (laughs) It’s very, very interesting, actually, the reception that the album’s been getting. It seems from what we’ve gathered, the people that are huge fans of our band, everybody was really disappointed when they’ve first heard it. And we were like, People are going to fuckin’ love this, like the people that really like our band.
And then I don’t know what it was, I guess, because it’s not making any effort to grab you by the balls or be really appealing in any way at all. Were making no effort to do that. You know what I mean? *JPG: (laughs) Yeah. *
IB: We weren’t even thinking about immediacy. We just wanted to make music that’s fuckin’ awesome. It seems to take people like 10 listens to really understand exactly what we are up to. *JPG: Well then, that’s a good point to bring up right now because your last album How We Operate, I didn’t dislike it, but it didn’t grab me for a while. *
IB: Yeah, that definitely wasn’t my favorite by far. We didn’t have enough time, really. The way that we were working, it was so song-based that we didn’t have enough time to really explore the more creative musical side of things, which is really what we always liked doing. But having said that, it was an interesting experience to make it. I don’t dread it, and I don’t think it’s bad. It was really more of an experience of what happens if we pretend to be like a normal band and well just write some straight songs. We won’t put too much weird shit on it. Let’s just see how we fare. It turns out we’re an alright, average band. We’re a much better strange band. *JPG: I eventually liked the results. One day, I was in a quiet mood and happened to put it on, and it just hit me more so at that moment. For whatever reason, the new one hit me at the right moment, from the first time I played it. *
IB: Yeah, exactly. I think it’s the way this new one was recorded. There’s a lot of stuff working, hiding in the corners of the album. We really went to town with the computer with this one. That was our main thing. *JPG: The funny thing is, as you put it you ‘went to town with the computer with this one’ referring to other elements and textures besides acoustic guitar, drums and vocals. But, it all comes out sounding very organic and grounded. *
IB: It’s just very strange because a lot of the songs were actually created entirely inside Logic (Apples version of Pro Tools). And then what we would do, we would literally perfect them in Logic using fake drums, fake everything, fake bass, fake guitar, keyboards, just everything was, you know, using software. And then when we absolutely honed it and perfected it, we just literally walked into the studio and played it, not live, we would make no attempt to do it live. We would just say, Okay, this is this part. Let’s do it with real drums. Bang. Alright, this is this part, lets do it with the bass. Boom. And that’s exactly how at least half of the record was done.
*JPG: So, you made an album sounding organic that is like totally… *
IB: ...totally not organic at all! (laughs) Absolutely. And it’s great. Once we realized that it worked, we were like, This is a really cool way of working because it gave people loads of time in the studio to work out exactly which part, what they wanted to do. You just leave them with the computer and you’d be like, I’ll be in the studio in the live room doing some acoustic guitar takes, and then a couple hours I’ll wander back into your room and see what you’re up to. And it worked really well for us.
Obviously, its a very good use of time because you’ve got five people being at five different computers and everybody’s working on a different thing. And if you just tinker and tinker inside the brain of the computer until you get to a point where this is ready to rock now and…like "Airstream Driver" took us two hours to actually record. Me and Olly with one crazy, drunken red wine night to do the whole song inside the computer. And then the next day Brian [Deck], our producer, heard it and hes like, Right. Let’s do it. So, we checked the guitar through a Marshall stack and off we went. You can tell it was recorded quickly ‘cause it sounds like flying out of the speakers, you know. *JPG: Do you think that all the tinkering on computers was a subconscious outgrowth of how you were throwing out ideas over the internet or was it just a suggestion that worked so you kept it up? *
IB: It was kind of both things because thats how we started by sending files across the internet to each other… but really I think it was mainly that we knew we were gonna spend a lot more time working on crazy sounds and making normal instruments sound unorthodox and the unorthodox sound normal. And really, the computer is the way to go nowadays. It used to be like you would get a whole rack load of effects pedals, but the effects inside the computer are all so fantastic these days that that’s the natural place for anyone who wants to experiment. Thats really it more than anything else. Plus, wed all accidentally, independently of each other, gotten much better at it. *JPG: I was just about ask that because you hear so much about musicians using computers and Pro Tools and I’m thinking how long did it take them to figure out how to use the system? *
IB: Yes. It’s a long, long, long learning process. But it’s like anything where you can learn 95% of it in a week, but the other 5% will take you 10 years. It’s one of those situations. *JPG: Now was there someone on hand, an engineer or a… *
IB: Well, [producer] Brian Deck is a genius on Pro Tools. We recorded the main brain of the album on Pro Tools, but the auxiliary work was all done on Logic. A lot of times things left Pro Tools, went into Logic, got fucking mangled and then went back to Pro Tools again. We had a mangling suite where all you were allowed to do was just run stuff through as many effects as humanly possible and see what crazy noise you can invent.
The brilliant thing about Logic is that it’s $500 and you get the whole package where Pro Tools, if you want the whole product, is something obscenely expensive. Logic has absolutely incredible effects and drum machines and all that stuff where Pro Tools doesn’t. Pro Tools got Logic nailed on editing. Pro Tools’ editing is wonderful. So, we would use all of them just to see. Depends on what the task was on hand. *JPG: Now, I read in one of the articles, Ollie was saying something about hearing Iron and Wine’s The Shepherd’s Dog. How much of an influence did that have on the creation of the new album? *
IB: Id always really liked what Brian Deck, how his production thing is. And now I know him and he’s a really good friend of mine. When he produces a record, you can really hear what he is doing. He has a very distinctive imprint and I think everybody fucking loves that Shepherd’s Dog album. It is mindblowingly good. We were just like, Lets go to Chicago. We’ve got to work with this guy. Because you could tell he was a drummer, and one of our things is getting really good strange grooves together. It just seemed so obvious to us, a really simple choice. So, I guess it did influence it in that sense. But, I never know what albums influence me. I can think of a few examples like we were definitely influenced a lot by a Belgian band called dEUS. The first track on the album, Mix, definitely influenced by one of their songs. The new Sigur Ros album was highly influential on several of the drumbeats. These are things people would never pick up on, you know what I mean? A lot of European music is heavily influential on this record, which is strange because you can’t really tell… *JPG: For you, were there any after effects from doing something more acoustic with your solo album and then working with electronica and playing with Lionel 6? Would this album’s be an outgrowth from those days? *
IB: Yeah! God, we actually started another band recently, me, Olly and Ben. You should check this out, actually. Youll love this. Our band only uses iPhones. The album is out. It is online if you go to thefinalkeepmeup.com. The album is on there and you can download it. It’s recorded live to two tracks in the back of the tour bus. (from the site – "Olly Peacock, Ben Ottewell, Ian Ball and engineer Graham Pattison decided to record an album using iPhones in the back lounge of the Tour Bus from Calais to KMay 2nd 2009.") *JPG: That sounds like a lot of fun. *
IB: Oh yeah. All new. All phones. *JPG: We’re heading towards a nice segue to talking about influences and the sound of Gomez. Not that I live in England, and not that I know about everything going on there, but a lot of the stuff that gets pushed to the forefront here in America is like bands derived from either Radiohead or Coldplay or Oasis/The Fratellis. Then, I look at Gomez and I’m like you may be British but you’re not part of that whole thing. *
IB: No, not really. *JPG: What would you say happened? *
IB: I don’t know what happened. I really honestly don’t know. I never really understood and it’s a topic that gets asked, Are these guys English really or what? Why are they doing a lot of our music? The only thing I can think of and it’s a brilliantly daft thing to bring up is that it didn’t used to be this way. That’s the thing. Like originally English music…and the best example is always the Beatles. God only knows, do they sound English? I don’t know. They sound like they’re from the moon. And that’s where our inspiration [comes from] and that’s our closest thing to explain it. It’s very common in the ’60s the English bands would…I wish I could figure it out, help people out, but I don’t know what happened to it. *JPG: Are there a lot of American influences within the band as well or does it just come out that way? *
IB: Everybody’s got every Tom Waits album. It’s not possible to be into music and not have 50% of your record collection been made by Americans. And even people who hate America are gonna to listen to American music. I think it’s interesting now that my iTunes library has gotta be composed of at least 50% of American music. If that’s the case, then it’s likely going to stick. You can’t stop it from sticking to you. I’m thinking that might be something to do with it. Its interesting. *JPG: Now, you’ve been together with the same lineup at least 11 years, 1998 being when your debut came out, but with the attitude towards influences and songwriting and recording, I just sense this kind of democracy within the band. Is it the idea that friendship came first rather than you getting together based on answering ads looking for musicians? *
IB: Well, it’s very casual. It’s a very casual band. And it’s like you just naturally have some people who lead the charge on certain things and other people lead the charge on other things. And you just get used to it. You get really used to how it functions like a family. You say, Alright, I don’t know where this song is going but these guys seem to be getting it, so I’ll pull out, sit back and wait. *JPG: So, there’s no ego thing because you and Ben are the ones doing the lead vocals. *
IB: Nooo, it’s always been that. It’s been really natural for Ben singing which song. Most of the time whoever wrote the melody, usually you write a melody in your own range. Me and Ben have wildly different range. So whoever’s singing probably wrote it but that’s not always the case. *JPG: I was going to bring that up how it’s an interesting back and forth where you sing a track then it’s Ben and it runs that way throughout the album. Reminds me of how the Grateful Dead in concert would switch between Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir singing lead. *
IB: It makes it a lot more interesting. *JPG: Is it planned or…? *
IB: No. (slight laugh) The honest answer is no. I don’t think we plan anything that well. It’s just the sort of natural thing that usually ends up pretty even, who’s doing what. On this record Olly wrote three of the songs. So, that’s pretty new to have Olly featured so heavily. But of course, you’ll never be able to tell which one, which is brilliant. (laughs)