In spite of itself, the rock quintet Gomez has become a hot commodity in Great Britain.
The Sheffield, England-based band won the coveted Technics Mercury Music Prize on Sept. 16, beating out The Verve, Massive Attack, Cornershop and eight other artists for the year’s best album, as picked by a panel of judges.
Gomez’s Virgin debut, “Bring It On,” has sold more than 85,000 copies in the United Kingdom, a sizable amount for a newcomer there, and the Mercury win undoubtedly will give it an even larger sales boost. The group didn’t stick around long after the awards show; it jumped onto a plane for a promotional tour of the United States, where the album was released Sept. 8.
Guitarist Ian Ball, one of the band’s three vocalists, isn’t buying into the post-Mercury frenzy.
“There’s lots of people in England who are into our stuff, but 99 percent of the people don’t have a fucking clue who we are,” Ball said recently. “It’s like for one day, the day after (the awards), you’re like all over the papers and stuff and people maybe get to know your name, but that’s about it, really. There’s not much more to it.
“In Britain, without exception, the album reviews were really good, which was really strange because we recorded the album with not any real intention of it being released. We recorded the foundation of it before we got signed, before we even knew you could get signed. We recorded it on our own, at our houses, on a four-track. To get all this critical acclaim for what amounted to pissing about, really, in bedrooms and garages around England is kind of weird. It’s not what you normally expect.”
Ball and his band mates – singer-guitarist-keyboardist Tom Gray, singer-guitarist Ben Ottewell, bassist Paul “Blackie” Blackburn and drummer Olly Peacock – teamed in late 1996 and began recording their freewheeling, unpretentious mix of blues, country and The Band/Grateful Deadlike excursions.
“We were all in various places in England, some of us at university, some of us working,” Ball said. “We were bumming around, drinking all day, and we’d get together whenever anyone had a free week. We’d take a week off from work or whatever and just get together and record. It was basically doodlings.
“We didn’t play live at all till we got signed, just because we had no money, we had no transport, we had no equipment. We had no way of getting together and rehearsing, because the time we did have to play music, recording’s what we wanted to do, so we never played live. We couldn’t really tailor our music to any specific people, because you don’t know how it goes down live. You don’t care, you just want to put something down on tape that’s really interesting.”
Copies of their demo tape were handed to friends who passed it on to other friends and even more friends until somehow it ended up at several record companies in London.
“That demo tape brought all this interest from the record companies,” Ball said, “and we got sort of freaked out by this interest, so we just hooked up with the best record company for us.
“Then we went into the studio after we got signed for two weeks and did a few more tracks and polished up what was on the four-track. It’s more of an introduction than a statement; the album is like the very, very beginning of the group. If this hadn’t happened, lord knows what we’d be doing. We’d probably all just be on the dole, whereas now we drink all day and get to make music, the perfect job.”
“Bring It On” has an odd, authentic feel, and Ottewell’s white-knuckled rasp, in particular, is startling, and yet Gomez almost defies description.
“Different press people have judged things in different ways,” Ball said, “and some people say that the influences are completely obvious and some people can’t tell at all. The thing is, we have no idea what influenced that record. Alcohol and marijuana influenced this record, that’s blatantly obvious. It’s drinking music.
“I don’t know what people are going to make of it over in America, actually. I don’t even know what people make of it in England, really. I just hope it gets around word of mouth, and if people get into it, they’ll tell their mates, ‘Check out this album and their vibe.’ ”
ON THE WEB: www.virginrecords.com.