An old story on Gomez

Continuing the theme of digging up old work, this story was from October 2004, but I don’t remember which paper ran it. I think maybe it was the Omaha City Weekly.

They were a band without a country.

And now they’re a band without a label.

After winning the prestigious Mercury Prize for the best album of 1998 with their debut, “Bring It On,” the members of the experimental blues-pop band Gomez found themselves fighting a bit of an uphill battle with the UK press.

“Initially it was very good when we got a whole load of press when we otherwise wouldn’t have,” explained Ben Ottewell, singer and guitarist for Gomez, referring to the instant attention from winning such a prize. “But it kind of dooms you in some way.”

The British music press is notorious for building acts up only to knock them down, and Gomez was no exception.

“There’s definitely some resentment there (within the UK press), and I think it boils down to the fact that we make music, we have fun doing it and we don’t fit too neatly into the scene-based East-end fashion,” Ottewell said.

Ottewell and his four bandmates from Southport, England literally recorded their debut album in a garage in 1997. After a little studio tinkering and strong singles, “Bring It On” was an unexpected response to the dying Britpop movement of the mid-late ‘90s.

“We kind of happened without their say-so,” he said. “The NME (New Musical Express, a British music newspaper) likes to appoint people to their top position, and they didn’t really have that stake in it with us.”

Critics seemed to avoid discussing the music and instead derided the band for their popularity with Americans – achieving success that other appointed media darlings attempted and failed.

The NME’s review of early single “Get Myself Arrested,” for example, didn’t even discuss the song, and instead taunted the band by suggesting they wished they were “dirty Americans.”

“I don’t think we’ve ever really recovered from the press in Britain,” Ottewell said.

Gomez is in the middle of a US tour, stopping in Omaha on October 5 to play Sokol Underground in support of their fourth album, “Split the Difference.”

Ottewell said this album is more live-sounding than their previous three, partially because it was written after a long stretch of touring, but also as a bit of a reaction against their previous work, which drew comparisons to Beck and the Beta Band for its studio-based experimentation.

“I think we needed a little bit of a release from all the bleeps and bloops we were putting all over the place,” Ottewell said. “I think in the end we got a little bogged down with using the machines. We could’ve made an entirely different record with the material we had, but the stuff that’s getting us most excited was kind of the live sound, the more straight-forward stuff.”

So they took their new live sounding material on tour. But unlike many national tours – particularly from overseas bands – it’s a tour with no label support.

“We were having a lot of problems with our label, Virgin” Ottewell explained. “Normally what happens with a British band is, you get tour support to come out here and play. They wouldn’t do that for us.”

While not exactly fitting the jam-band genre, Gomez has found its greatest success with the jam-band audience – an audience that has defied record company logic for years – for their creative and energetic performances. Trevor Hall, the host of The Shakedown, an improvisational jazz, blues and rock show on 90.3 KRNU, explained that the jam band audience isn’t as interested in the recording as the big labels would like.

“The people who support jam band music support live shows – they’re usually just not interested in the albums,” Hall said. “They’re interested in the show as the art versus the recording as the art.”

Being without that connection to their fans left Gomez with a dilemma.

“We thought, ‘What are we gonna do?’” Ottewell said. “Our agent out here said, ‘Come out and play anyway.’ So we’d been supporting ourselves over here, which is unusual.”

Then to complicate the situation, two weeks ago Virgin dropped Gomez from their label.

“It sounds like a bad thing, but it’s great,” Ottewell explained.

Hut, a Virgin subsidiary that originally signed them, closed down earlier this year, “…so we just got put on Virgin UK and they hadn’t signed us, so they didn’t really know what to do,” he said.

“But it’s good,” Ottewell said. “We get to make a new start and do a lot of interesting things in the meantime.”

Some of those interesting things they’ve been doing include exposing themselves to even larger audiences at several summer festivals including Bonnaroo and Austin City Limits.

“I think we – and people around us – always had an idea we’d do well over here,” Ottewell said. “A lot of that stems from just playing and being over here and getting people to see us.”

Gomez was asked to join the lineup for this summer’s Lollapalooza tour, which Ottewell said was quite a big thing for the band. The excitement turned to shock when they heard the news that the festival dates were canceled. Fortunately the band was able to schedule a tour in Lollapalooza’s absence, so they still found themselves with the opportunity to play for audiences all summer and explore new parts of the country.

Hall believes that bands like Gomez who have built their fan base on the road understand where they came from and do their best to return the favor.

“They want to go out there and perform for the fans,” he said, “and they want to make each show different and better than the one before.”

Ottewell is excited to play in Nebraska. Gomez has passed through the state between dates on previous tours, but their Omaha show will be the first time they’ve played here.

He is especially excited to bring their music to a new audience.

“It’s gonna be great,” he said. “You tell ‘em that.”

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