It happens for a reason: British power-pop quintet Gomez ain't no damn jam band.
By Alan Sculley
Going into the making of How We Operate, the latest CD from Gomez, the British band had legitimate reason to feel it was an important record in the group's decade-long career.
"I guess it's kind of a re-establishing ourselves, because people haven't been hearing about us in the way they should have been," drummer Olly Peacock says. "There's been a kind of unfortunate loss of contact with a lot of people, so it's got to be something that kind of stands out and grabs people by their collars and maybe pulls them back in." Gomez work to pull us all in when they play the Mystic Theater on Feb. 19.
Creating a buzz for How We Operate would be a welcome development for Gomez, considering that, as Peacock suggests, the band has had to fight an uphill battle to get its CDs heard lately.
In September 2004, Gomez split with their American label, Virgin Records, over frustration with what the band members perceived as the label's indifference over the band's music. The situation turned sour in spring 2004, when, just before the release of the group's fourth CD, Split the Difference, Virgin and its parent company, EMI, closed Hut Recordings, to which Gomez was signed in the United Kingdom. The move essentially left Split The Difference dead on arrival--not a new experience for Gomez, unfortunately. The group's previous CD, Under Our Gun, had also suffered when Virgin had major layoffs around the time the CD was released.
Such setbacks have undoubtedly stunted the momentum of a band that made a major splash at the outset of their career, particularly in England. The band formed in the late 1990s in Southport, an English town near Liverpool, when lifelong friends Ian Ball (vocals, guitar, harmonica) and Peacock teamed up with guitarist and singer Tom Gray and bass player Paul Blackburn. Guitarist and singer Ben Ottewell completed the lineup a short time later.
The band's first CD, 1998's Bring It On, immediately put Gomez on the map. It went platinum in Britain and earned the prestigious Mercury Music Prize (Britain's equivalent of a Grammy) for Album of the Year, besting such respected counterparts as the Verve, Massive Attack and Pulp.
How We Operate has a markedly different personality than Split the Difference, which has a more rootsy and organic overall sound, as the band strip back and emphasize acoustic instrumentation on songs like "Notice," "Hamoa Beach" and "See the World."
According to Peacock and Blackburn, some of the musical direction came from wanting to simplify the instrumental treatment of the songs and concentrate on making sure they were strong at their core. "I think we've always written good songs," Peacock says, "but sometimes it's been a little bit hidden away; there's too much going on."
The songs on How We Operate have been finding their way into Gomez's live set. But the band figure to draw from their entire catalogue live and rework and improvise songs on a nightly basis as well. This, Peacock says, keeps the shows alive for both the band members and fans. "It's always just nice to reinterpret songs to freshen it up," he says. "If you've got a song from the first album you like, we've played the song a lot. Let's do something different. People are always pretty accepting of it. There's nothing worse than to go to a live show, and it's just exactly the same as the CD."
Gomez keep it fresh on Monday, Feb. 19, at the Mystic Theater. 23 Petaluma Blvd. N., Petaluma. Singer-songwriter Joe Purdy opens. 8pm. $25; 18 and over. 707.765.2121.