Although they hail from England, Gomez does not sound like a typical British pop band. Melding blues, folk, country, classic rock, and sometimes psychedelia with a bit of techno, Gomez actually creates music that sounds more American. Admittedly, their influences include 1960s-era heroes like Joni Mitchell, Jimi Hendrix, the Doors, Marvin Gaye, and J.J. Cale, as well as present-day stars such as Beck. Because of their uniqueness, Gomez, a five-piece act featuring three singers, immediately caught the attention of the public and the press. Their self-made debut, Bring It On, earned favorable reviews and surprised many by winning the Mercury Music Prize in 1998, beating out records by acts such as the Verve, Massive Attack, and Robbie Williams. The quintet solidified their reputation with a second album, Liquid Skin, in 2000.
“We‘re trying to carve our own little what do you call it—our own niche,” Tom Gray said in an interview with Rolling Stone‘s Pat Blashill. “The music press here is all about This week! This week!‘ And we don‘t really care about This week!‘ This week!‘ A friend of ours said, ‘Every day‘s the best day for music, because today someone‘s just going to add something else to the great mass of all that is good.‘ And we really like that thought.”
Most of the members of Gomez—vocalist and guitarist Ben Ottewell; vocalist, guitarist, and keyboardist Tom Gray; vocalist, guitarist, and harmonica player Ian Ball; bassist and vocalist Paul Blackburn, and drummer and percussionist Oily Peacock—were born in the mid to late 1970s and raised in or close to the seaside town of Southport, a fading vacation destination for residents of Liverpool, England. Ball and Peacock first met each other literally at birth. Both were born on the same day in the same Southport hospital, and their mothers became friends. They formed Gomez with Blackburn, Gray, and Ottewell in their late teens.
The group says that missing out on the punk invasion and the rave scene helps to explain why they adopted influences from progressive rock and folk as a foundation for their alternative, art-rock music. Their greatest inspiration came from the music their parents listened to or through other second-hand sources. Ball‘s father, an accountant and fan of rock from the 1950s through the 1970s, introduced his son early to artists ranging from Chuck Berry to ELO. Ball discovered his all-time favorite artist, though, by chance. One day in a Manchester record store, Ball heard the Tom Waits album Jockey Full of Bourbon. Intrigued by the surreal, hazy sound, he went out the very next day and bought every album Waits had recorded.
Ottewell, the son of a psychology professor and a nursery school teacher, grew up in Derbyshire, near Southport. One of his earliest memories is that of his mother singing the Joni Mitchell song “A Case of You” to him at the age of five. During his adolescent years, Ottewell went through a phase of liking heavy metal, and as a teen, his favorite bands included Nirvana and Pearl Jam, until the day his mother introduced him to the songs of Nick Drake, another of Gomez‘s primary influences. Now, Ottewell‘s present day favorites include the Beta Band and Beck. In fact, in college, Ottewell wrote his dissertation on post-modern culture and cited Beck‘s Odelay album to illustrate his point.
In 1996, Ball started recording jam sessions he had been hosting at his home with the other members of Gomez. Before long, the sessions took on a more serious tone, leading to a decision to make an album. Still, Gomez never thought much would come of their home-made productions recorded in garages and bedrooms on four-track equipment. “We were making an album,” recalled Ottewell to Mark Jenkins in the Washington Post, “but it was never an album we thought would be released. Then our manager got to hear it, and he really liked it.”
After re-recording some of the tracks, Gomez shopped the album around to various labels. They ultimately opted to sign with Hut, a Virgin Records imprint, out of a concern about retaining artistic freedom over money. Released in April of 1998, their self-produced debut entitled Bring It On, featuring the opener “Get Miles” as well as the single “Get Myself Arrested,” ignited an unanticipated success story fueled by rave reviews. Without ever having played a live show, Gomez was immediately thrust center stage. Over the course of a couple of months, they honed their skills at smaller
Members include lan Ball, vocals, guitar, harmonica; Paul Blackburn, vocals, bass; Tom Gray, vocals, guitar, keyboards; Ben Ottewell, vocals, guitar; Oily Peacock, drums, percussion.
Formed in Southport, England, 1996; released Bring It On, 1998; released Liquid Skin, 1999.
Awards: Technics Mercury Music Prize, 1998.
Addresses: Record company —Virgin Records (U.K.), 553-579 Harrow Road, London, England, W10 4RH, website: www.virginrecords.com.
venues, then played major summer festivals such as Glastonbury, V98, and Reading.
On September 16, 1998, Gomez won Britain‘s prestigious Technics Mercury Music Prize when Bring It On was named the Album of the Year. Subsequently, the band earned the Q Magazine Award for Best New Band, as well as three BRIT Award nominations for Best Newcomer, Best Album, and Best Artist. Upon its introduction in the United States, Bring It On continued to impress. Rolling Stone declared Gomez as “brazen, earnest stylists,” while Spin called the group‘s debut a “damn beautiful record.”
Gomez also came to the attention of mainstream America via a television advertisement for Philips electronic products, for which they performed a snippet from the Beatles tune “Getting Better.” While Gomez‘s own music does not sound very Beatlesque, the band recognizes the legendary group as a significant inspiration in other ways. “I think that‘s the mistake these Britpop bands made,” Ottewell told Jenkins. “They consciously took what the Beatles did and kind of missed the point. For me, and I think for the other guys, the great thing about the Beatles was the way they experimented. And the fun they had, basically. There‘s a certain freedom that‘s kind of gotten lost.”
In March of 1999, Gomez commenced work on their sophomore effort, Liquid Skin. They recorded the eleven tracks for the self-produced album in studios in Liverpool and London, in their home, and in a fifteenth-century mansion in the English countryside. Released later that year in the United Kingdom and in the spring of 2000 in the United States, Liquid Skin met expectations with its denser and more ambitious quality achieved through various, sometimes unconventional, means. Some of their experiments included singing through a toilet paper roll, employing an underwater microphone, using a fire extinguisher as a percussion instrument, and recording a drum machine through a small guitar amplifier. The resulting album featured the free-jamming opener “Hangover,” the single “Bring It On” (sharing the same name as Gomez‘s debut), “Rhythm & Blues Alibi,” which combines an unconventional drum machine with guitars, the waltzing “Fill My Cup,” the organic tune “We Haven‘t Turned Around,” and the epic closing track “The Devil Will Ride.”
Bring It On, Hut/Virgin, 1998.
Liquid Skin, Hut/Virgin, 1999.
Billboard, August 8, 1998; September 26, 1998.
Boston Globe, April 15, 1999; March 23, 2000.
Guitar Player, October 1998.
Los Angeles Times, April 28, 1999; October 4, 1999.
Melody Maker, March 21, 1998; April 4, 1998; August 22, 1998; June 19, 1999; September 4, 1999; October 27-November 2, 1999.
Rolling Stone, September 2, 1999.
Village Voice, October 5, 1999.
Washington Post, March 10, 2000.
Virgin Records, http://www.virginrecords.com (May 29, 2001).