All My Little Words

Interview with Gomez

Posted in Music by nickchristian on June 24, 2013

This one is from the same summer as the Pipettes interview and again, first published on the online magazine Subculture. 

 

To say that, with their fifth and latest studio release Split The Difference, Gomez have “returned to form” would be an injustice. Nearer the mark would be to suggest that, in the wake of the indie resurgence, their music has become more palatable to the not-so-discerning British public. Having emerged in 1997 with the album that would win the Mercury Music Prize, Bring It On, Gomez have been one of the most consistent British bands of the past decade. With a quintet of studio albums, a collection of B-sides and rough-cuts and a live album to their name the band have faced the slings and arrows that come with the outrageous fortunes of the music world and remained as strong as ever. Subculture caught up with bassist Paul Blackburn shortly before the band’s recent performance at Latitude festival.

Subculture Magazine: Your first album, Bring It On came out in ’97 and you guys have been together for about ten years. How would you sum up the last ten years?

Paul Blackburn: It’s been a bit all over the place really. A lot of travel. Everybody says “rollercoaster ride” and that’s kinda true but it’s been said so many times before that it’s that old one again. So yeah, it’s been life.

SM: And, looking back on them, how  do you feel about your earlier albums?

PB: To be honest with you, I’ve not listened to Bring It On for a long time because we go around playing the songs anyway you kinda hear it when you’re playing it live. I remember the last time I did visit it, it was quite interesting after playing it live so much it sounds a lot slower and a lot more…. I think we rock it up a bit more live.

SM: Are there any tracks that you play live because you’re obliged to, because they’re fan favourites, that you’d rather avoid?

PB: Definitely. I guess there’s a couple of songs that people won’t play. We’ve not played Tijuana Lady for a long time. People definitely like it – I wouldn’t mind playing it – it is what it is I guess. To be honest I don’t really because it’s all stuff that’s your material. Obviously you want to play the new stuff and get people into the new stuff. It’s always going to be a balancing act of new and old, trying to keep all sides happy.

SM: The summer festival season is upon us, you guys are playing Latitude this weekend, and Gomez always seem to be doing the rounds. How do you feel about playing festivals as opposed to your own gigs?

PB: Just this past weekend we played Oxegen in Ireland. It was great actually. We’ve done a tour recently around the UK and had a really good reaction and good crowds for that. Then we went to a couple of festivals and didn’t really know what to expect obviously cos there are lot of other bands who people are far more aware of at the minute and who are in the public eye a lot more than we are. But we had a packed tent both days and people really seemed to be up for it. That happened about two weeks before the record was out and then the record after that, Split The Difference.  Unfortunately at the time that one came out our record label was closed. It was a bit of a series of disasters really. The timing of it was unbelievable: it came out and then a week later the record label was closed down.

 SM: So the word didn’t necessarily get out as vociferously as it would have done otherwise?

PB: Exactly. We got taken in under the bigger umbrella of Virgin but when you’re working with people who haven’t signed you and don’t really know what you’re about, they don’t really know what to do with you. It’s one of those situations . It’s a bit of a strange one cos sometimes labels can just close down and not do anything with a band. It’s when you’re working with people who haven’t signed you in the first place it’s kind of hard to know what to say because they’ve ended up with a band that they weren’t planning on working with in the first place so don’t really know what to dowith. If that’s the case it’s just the situation you end up in really.

 SM: So being on Independiente – and this is going to sound trite – but do you feel like you’re getting more personal care and you’re there because you’re wanted rather than with people who may feel like they’ve been “lumbered” with you?

PB: Yeah, that’s it definitely. It’s just being back with somebody who understands what you’re doing and how to put it out there to people, how to go about it. We’re kind of back to some of the old crew as well because when we went with Virgin they started doing everything in-house . We had good radio people and press people before that and we’ve got some of those people back. So yeah, it’s just a better team together.

SM: You’ve been in the United States for a while: It seems that, certainly for the last two albums and this one as well, it seems that American audiences give you more attention and that they appreciate your music more than their British counterparts. Have you noticed that? Why do you think that might be?

PB: I think that in the UK it’s a lot about what the new thing is and that the live scene in the States is a lot more of an ingrained thing. People go to shows all the time. It doesn’t matter where you are, it could be any level of show. It’s just a massive part of the culture I think over there. For us it’s been partly a matter of survival really. In terms of records it’s been pretty rough and it’s just been through touring over there that we’ve actually been able to carry on making money and keep doing this. Without that we would have had to finish some time ago.

SM: Is there possibly a shared connection with the blues that possibly give you a closer relationship with American audiences than British ones? You’re often described as “indie-blues” and there aren’t too many other UK acts that could have fit into that category.

PB: I guess partly it’s probably because of that. I think a lot of it is just that as a result of touring over there we’ve become a pretty solid live band. I think that’s it’ Over there you’ve got to be, in order for people to get into you in the States you’ve got to live up to being a good live band. I don’t think you can just have the record, you got to be able to back it up in person. They’ve got so much live music to go and see that you’ve got to live up to that standard.

SM: You’ve got to be able to compete?

PB: Exactly:

 SM: It’s interesting you should mention that actually because I saw the Arctic Monkeys over there on their first US tour and they didn’t receive quite the rapturous media reception that they have over here. It does seem that Americans maybe do expect more from bands while perhaps British audiences are more content to just hear the tracks off the album that they’ve already bought. There’s no incentive for bands to sell themselves through their live shows over here. American audiences expect a bit more. Is it the fact that you’ve been prepared to graft that’s earned you the attention over there?

PB: I think it’s partly that. Over here it seems that media is more powerful; a few papers write about a band and they are automatically the big thing: all the shows sell out and it becomes all about the buzz. Someone says “these are a great band” and everyone goes “oh, these are a great band” and they’re on the radio all the time. In the UK you can become big in a couple of weeks and everyone knows about you and you’re going to the shows and everything. It’s such a different situation in the states. ON the two coasts there’ll be a certain level of crossover. The things that are big and happening over here become well-known on the coasts but that’s such a small part of America that when you get out into the mass of it it’s something different all together. It’s funny when you hear people talking about English bands “breaking it in America” because they’ll have had a couple of sold out shows,  one in New York and one in LA and it’s just not the complete picture at all. I think part of the problem is that, if you go over there as a new band thinking that you’ve made it because you’ve played New York and LA. Then you start hitting the middle of America and you suddenly realise, like “Holy Shit!”, that’s only about 5% of the country.

SM: Right. These are places where they’re not getting the cable music channels and all the magazines and radio stations found on the coasts.

PB: That’s it. There are very few bands from the UK that have actually done very well in the States. I mean, Radiohead have obviously and Coldplay . People constantly write about bands having broken the states but I’m not sure quite what they mean by that.

SM: Yeah, certainly it seems that the UK media only really pays attention to the East and West coast and anything that happens in the middle, which is still 150 million people, it  does get somewhat overlooked.

PB: Yeah, definitely.

SM: Your music comes across as very compositional, distinctly layered and sonically very detailed. Is the songwriting and production process a communal effort like that?

PB: I guess in the end it becomes a communal effort but it will kind of stem from, usually, either Ian(Ball), Ben(Ottewell) or Tom (Gray). Ollie (Peacock) wrote a couple of songs for Split The Difference as well. Usually it’ll come from one person and then be expanded on  by the group and everybody else’ll throw their ideas into it.

SM: Speaking of your latest album – which we probably should – how do you feel about it, now it’s done and now you’re touring it?

PB: I really like it. I’ve been enjoying it. It’s probably, for whatever reason, I think I’ve been playing it more than any other record we’ve done. Driving around I find I can listen o it and put it on again afterwards. I’ve been enjoying playing it. I feel it’s a very strong record. I think it probably is one of the best things we’ve done for a good while. That’s a funny thing to say because then you kind of feel like you’re putting down your previous work and obviously you stand by the stuff that you’ve done because you wouldn’t have put it out at the time. How do you feel about it?

 SM: Personally I think it sounds exactly like it should sound: A progression but not a departure from the previous work. Each album you’ve done has a strong relationship with the last one not changing drastically but not stagnating either. It’s a very considered album, not overly complicated and well-filtered I think. That’s a terrible choice of phrase but d’you know what I mean?

PB: Yeah, right, right. People seem to think that the new one sounds simpler. I think that’s kind of true because we’ve left off the extra bits to an extent to give what is there a bit of space to breathe and I think that’s the main difference. Lyrically it’s probably a bit stronger. One of the funny things is that when you’re creating stuff it’s almost easier to come up with things to put on it than to know when to stop I think. You can keep writing little lines for it and things that work and then you start over-clustering what’s going on. It’s kind of more difficult to work the other way and remove the stuff that doesn’t need to be there.

SM: Here’s a dangerous question for you: Do you think there’s any chance of another Mercury Prize? Would you even consider the possibility? Would you even want another one?

PB: Obviously it was very nice getting the initial one but I think the point of the Mercury Prize should be to recognize something different each time? I don’t think anyone’s ever won it twice and I think that’s part of the philosophy behind it.

 SM: There’s a phrase I’ve just discovered which refers to the act of “doing a Gomez” have you heard about this? It seems a little unfair….

PB: I dunno. I just thought  it was quite funny when I heard about it. It’s something to do with having it all and managing to rescue defeat from the jaws of victory. It’s the self-fulfilling curse of the Mercury Prize I suppose. Because there is that belief that there’s a curse there people react to it afterwards in a way that corresponds to the fact that there’s a curse there. For us for example it put us into a position without the help of magazines or anything like that and people like to feel responsible for a band becoming well-known and when that doesn’t happen I think they go off and look for other things to a certain extent. Obviously there were certain things that it did help us out with, like getting on the cover of Mojo and it certainly helped sell us a hell of a lot more records at the time.

SM: Long-term, do you thing it’s made a difference to the trajectory the band has taken? Has it helped sustain you in a way? You mentioned earlier about there being a time when you considered calling it a day….

PB: I think there have been times when we felt that we might have to. Last year was a particularly stressful year where we weren’t sure what was going to happen. It’s never been through wanting to give up, just the fact that if we’re not making any money then how the hell are going to carry on going? But I think obviously  [The Mercury] gave us the reputation  in the first place There’s always the question of how many people would have known about us without that but since then the main impact it’s had is when people mention it in interviews.

SM: Umm, yeah. Sorry about that. Now moving away, swiftly. Is now a particularly good time to be in a guitar band?

PB: For over here to be honest with you I’ve absolutely no idea. I’ve spent most of my time in the States I the past year and pretty unaware of what’s been going on. There are some really good bands coming out. I think the Magic Numbers are a very good band – we did a show with them  in the States – very talented bunch. I don’t think there’s ever a bad time to be in a guitar band but it all seems to be going pretty well at the minute. You go down to the festivals and people are definitely out for them. I think the only thing is, when a band gets a big start then you just hope that people aren’t going to turn on them but will give them a chance to develop. Sometimes when somebody is built up so much it’s difficult to satisfy people with your second record. We’ve seen it happen to so many bands over the years. Year after year there’s this band who is “the next big thing” and then they get forgotten when something new comes along. It’s this throw-away society . It’s a bit of a shame. It becomes about fashion and not about music. This idea of being part of an exclusive new scene. I just hope that the Arctic Monkeys, when it comes to their second album, the expectation isn’t too much for them. Bands need time to be develop.

SM: Paul Blackwell, it’s been a pleasure. Thanks very much for your time. Have fun at the dentist and with touring the album at festivals this summer.

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