banner image

:: Spotlight :: Gomez - Split The Difference

By: Sally Stratton

British experimental rock nerd-geniuses Gomez are back with another sensational album, Split The Difference. This time it’s all rock, straight from the garage. Sally Stratton caught up with the band in London.

Gomez has just returned from an “extreme weather” tour of America. It was cold, bitchin’ cold. When the British quintet hit Minneapolis, home to Prince and his beloved Jehovah¹s Witnesses, the mercury had plummeted to minus 35 degrees. “They warned us to cover our mouths because our lungs might freeze if we go outside and breathe the air," recalls guitarist and singer Ben Ottewell.

But after eight months without a gig while they were recording their fourth album, ‘Split the Difference’, Gomez were ready to ignore the weather and goof off a little. “Playing in America is a lot freer,” says Ottewell. “I think we were rocking out a bit more as well than we usually do on a lot of occasions.” “We just spend most the time trying to make each other laugh,” says drummer Olly Peacock.

Back in London, Gomez are now talking up the release of the new album Split the Difference. They all agree that recording just after coming off a major tour has influenced the sound. “That¹s probably what the big difference is about this album, having a lot of live stuff on there as opposed to the last ones being only a couple of things,” says Peacock.

Recorded in a studio built behind a pet suppliers warehouse in the rundown seaside town of Portslade on the Sussex Coast, Split the Difference, boasts five live tracks: “3 Sins”, “Nothing Is Wrong”, “Extra Special Guy”, “There It Was” and “Where Ya Going”.

“I think there was some anger on the record but it was frustration being taken out,” says multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Tom Gray. “It’s just all about energy this record, isn¹t it? It¹s really just energy pulsing through it.”

Vocalist and guitarist Ian Ball, who now lives in LA, describes suburban Portslade as “crap” and the mice-ridden studio as “a sweatbox in summer and f**king freezing in September”. But the s**tty conditions forced the band to write over 50 new songs. “It made us quite ruthlessly professional,” says Ball.

Helped for the first time by an outside producer (Tchad Blake, who’s worked with everyone from Tom Waits and Crowded House to Pearl Jam), Gomez has made a record that pours psychotically diverse influences. A straw poll of current band favourites features Kraftwerk, John Cale’s early solo albums and Bob Log’s “I Want Your S**t On My Leg” - into concise and sweetly affecting songs.

“All our songs are about escaping, they always have been,” says Gray. “Rock and roll is all about running away or just locking yourself in a very small space you know.”

The album’s opener “Do One” sounds like a record from the early ¹70s. “It¹s that dirty guitar sound,” says Gray. “It’s just very loud. It’s an enormously loud record that is great for starters. Yes, and then it goes into a skiffle tune. There’s not much more British in rock than skiffle.”

Gomez asked an Australian string section to play on “Sweet Virginia”. With no time to fly the Sydney players to the studio in Portslade, Gomez gave them free reign to record something and simply send them a tape. “It was a good experiment that worked out really well,” says Ball. “The girl who scored and recorded it is an absolute nutcase. Totally wired off her head, but she knows a lot of classical music.”

The band moved away from any electronic parts preferring to stick to what Peacock describes as “normal instruments” and Blake kept “adding dirt at every opportunity”.

“This is not an experimental record,” adds Gray. “It’s a rock and roll record, you know. So it’s more just about enjoyment of energy and songs you know and just playing – that is kind of what the record’s about.”

Gray says “Don’t Know Where We’re Going” sounds like Gomez mixed with the Smashing Pumpkins and the Rolling Stones. “It’s like Nirvana writing “Gimme Shelter”,” he adds. “Catch Me Up” is about “a couple trying to escape from s**t, from whoever the s**t is, whatever the problem is”, and “Silence” is about being pissed off and “wanting to make a loud noise where people don’t like loud noises”, Gray says.

The final track, “There It Was”, was written in one day. “Tom just wandered into my bedroom with a guitar playing this sweet little guitar line,” recalls Ottewell. When they came to recording the song, the band set up one big mike which took in the whole room and played it live in one take.

“It was actually the first time we’d all played the song together properly,” says Gray. “It’s just a nice thing to close the album with - a live take of something that was just totally organic.”

Gomez say this album is a reflection of a series of identity crises they¹ve gone through in the past couple of years. “People from the band have been through some serious emotional shit, things have kicked off, major relationships have broken up over the past year,” Gray explains. “A lot of this music has come out of it. But no matter what happens, once we¹re playing, we¹re in the same place we were when we were 17.”

Back then Ball and Peacock, born two days apart and living in Southport near Liverpool, were sharing an obsession with metal which grew into a love of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Hendrix and beyond. Meeting up with Gray and Paul Blackburn (bass, guitars, and vocals) and finally the Sheffield-based Ottewell, the young members of Gomez began recording in their now legendary Southport garage home studio.
British music paper NME dubbed the unsigned Gomez, “the band that the entire A&R community has been salivating over”. Twenty labels all wanted in, but Hut Recordings won out.

The band’s 1998 debut album, “Bring It On”, which basically comprised the band’s original demo tapes recorded in the garage, went on to win the prestigious Mercury Music Prize competing against Massive Attack and The Verve. (Gray, rather colourfully, describes their debut as “teenagers doing too much acid in the North West of England, listening to crazy f**king psychedelia and into doing mad s**t”.)

The band’s second album Liquid Skin followed in 1999 and the third, In Our Gun, in 2002. Along the way they have been adored by the critics, accused of being blues-trad rockers and sometimes mistaken for Americans. “Most people think we¹re American,” says Ball.

“Yeah, it comes up from time to time, people think we’re influenced by America,” adds Gray. “But everything we’ve done has been of the British rock tradition. By its very nature, that’s what we are and what we do.” (The band have done a piss-take publicity photo shoot in traditional English bowler hats to ram this point home. “It¹s so utterly ultra archetypical British or even English that it’s comical,” Gray says.)

But for now, the “generally friendly blokes” from Gomez are just trying to live normal lives, talking s**t and laughing, says Gray. “We all stay light-hearted about most things and treat it like it’s a bit of a party most of the time. For this album we’ve gone back to a s**t-pit with cobbled together equipment,” Gray adds. “It’s like the garage we started recording in.”

“It’s marginally nicer than the garage,” avers Ottewell.
“Marginally,” Gray says.

Split The Difference is out now on Virgin Records.