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GOMEZ Ragged glory

When Southport five-piece Gomez released their debut album Bring It On back in 1998, they didn’t fit neatly into the mainstream musical narrative of the 90s. With three vocalists (Tom Gray, Ben Ottewell and Ian Ball), a penchant for eclectic instruments and an ability to weave together disparate musical genres, they rose from the Britpop-fatigued UK music scene with irreverent charm. The album went on to be a surprising success story, winning the ’98 Mercury Prize, beating out tough competition in Massive Attack’s Mezzanine, The Verve’s Urban Hymns and Pulp’s This Is Hardcore. Despite a recent six year hiatus, Gomez thought the 20 year anniversary of their breakthrough record was something to be celebrated. And with a massive world tour ahead of them, including hitting Metro City next Wednesday, April 4, fans seem to agree. BRAYDEN EDWARDS caught up with singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Tom Gray ahead of the show to reflect on the legacy of the album, vinyl hunting, and how the digital age is homogenising music.

So why is Australia so lucky to be the first stop on this national tour?

Australia has always been a brilliant place for us with fans always showing us a lot of support. Gomez just works in Australia. I don’t know why though, you might know better than me why that is?

We do pride ourselves on being down to earth and don’t think too highly of pretentious people. Maybe that fits the mold with Gomez more than other places in the world somehow?

Maybe that’s it. We’re a little bit silly and generally unpretentious. Hopefully the artfulness comes through too but I think you’re on the mark there.

Tom Gray Gomez
Tom Gray

This album in particular is still clearly very popular and resonates with a lot of people so many years later. What is it that you put that down to?

It’s a mixture of things. On the one hand it was the first time anyone had heard Gomez. You never really beat the first time you hear something or get away from that. I think the music is actually as relevant now as it was then with what it was trying to do. To be mildly pretentious for a moment the album was trying to break down genre in music. We were trying to wilfully and in a fun way dismantle ideas together. I’d suggest people still don’t think that idea has gone as far as it could.

If anything the internet and mass marketing has pushed people the other way. It’s still fun to listen to some naive kids taking all the toys out of the box and throwing them around and going, “wow, music is fun isn’t it?” Music is joyfully fucking fun. It might not always be great and you might fall down the stairs trying to make it sometimes but it’s always worth it.

The internet has given us a bigger selection of music to choose from and made it cheaper and easier to get. Are you saying this is having a homogenising effect on music or does the access to more diversity counterweigh that?

Well we know the answer to that don’t we? The algorithm tells people to listen to stuff they’re already listening to. It doesn’t say “hey you like interesting and adventurous music why don’t you listen to this completely different fucking thing that’s nothing like anything you’ve heard before.” The algorithm doesn’t do that. It wants to make you feel completely safe and feel like every decision you’ve made was a good one.

And everyone around you agrees with you…

Yeah it’s like “hooray you’ve found your way into an indie cul de sac. Good on you!”  It’s not great and it’s not expansive. I always felt, maybe wrongly, that music is about community and bringing people together and not just giving everybody their individual headphone moment. I do disagree with people who say every song should be for the “everyman”. That’s just philosophical bullshit. But I still feel people should still be having a party together with people that they don’t know and don’t necessarily agree with. Because otherwise how do we change and progress?

Bring It On didn’t fit neatly into the musical narrative of the 90s coming out when Britpop had recently just taken the world by storm. What were you guys listening to at the time of writing the album that made it sound so different to a lot of music coming out in the UK?

We did listen to some Britpop acts but they were more on the fringes of the movement or even incorrectly associated with it like Radiohead or Supergrass. But house music was also massive where we were from and bands like Massive Attack, Portishead and Beck were very influential as well.

Gomez 1998
Gomez in the late nineties

I can definitely see the Beck influence, maybe not in sound but more in spirit. Mixing up genres but in a fun and irreverent way…

Yeah it was like “here’s a guy who is just taking it apart and putting it back together again!” We weren’t borrowing from him but yes it was more the spirit of what he was doing, using hip hop beats but in his own way. We were all total musos then and spent hours listening to Tom Waits and Beefheart and those early nineties Talk Talk albums and Tim Buckley and just losing ourselves in it.

It wasn’t all super cool. There was plenty of Paul Simon and Randy Newman and all these things. We’d go to record shops and try and find the rarest records we could. It took us like three years to find a copy of Starsailor by Tim Buckley on vinyl. It was almost an unlistenable album but we were so desperate to find it. Back then there was no streaming anywhere and it wasn’t available on CD. We were total music geeks and the recording was the same. We listened to jazz and Miles Davis and Prince and Talking Heads and just absorbed everything. Even though people might hear The Byrds or 10CC or blues in our sound, in terms of actual philosophical manifesto of what the band was it was influenced by things that weren’t from that area at all. We were ruthless about not being copycats.

So do you have to get yourself back in the same kind of mindset you were in at the time now when you play Bring It On live onstage? Is it a challenge capturing the feeling and the spirit of things when you wrote the album?

Well everything’s a challenge but it’s still going to be a lot of fun. It’ll still be the same old ragged glory that is Gomez. It’s a celebration. I’m not putting pressure on us to replicate the album note for note, its more about enjoying who we are and these songs and giving the fans a special experience. We’d rather let the personalities shine through rather than worry about the technicalities.

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