Music: Young, single and platinum selling

Gomez are too laid back to have a difficult second album. Even if they do try to sound like Holst.
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The Independent Culture
Eighteen months ago, hardly anybody had heard of Gomez outside a small coterie of friends and the massed ranks of the country's A&R men furiously battling for their services. A year ago, their debut album Bring It On appeared to widespread acclaim; a few months later, it had won the Mercury Prize, beating out strong competition from the likes of The Verve and Massive Attack. Further awards from Q and the NME cemented their position as, if not exactly household names, then certainly one of the more impressive young bands to appear in recent years.

The thing that immediately strikes one about the band, as they relax in a swish Dublin hotel on the eve of their Slane Castle appearance supporting Robbie Williams, is their lack of pop-star airs and graces, virtually unheard of from a group with a platinum debut album. They were deeply impressed by Liam Gallagher when they bumped into him in a bar. "He's everything he's reported to be and more," marvels drummer Olly Peacock. There's no equivalent trace of attitude or machination about them, and they clearly have no time for the usual rock-biz posing: their guitarist Ian Ball has so little sense of shame about matters of style that at the show the following day, he strolls about wearing a cheesy tricolor souvenir sunhat and a T-shirt bearing the deathless legend "Frampton Comes Alive", as if making ironic sport with the band's reputation as Seventies throwbacks.

Like the rest of the group, he regards such concerns as a distraction from the real business of rock'n'roll, which is the music. That's probably why, despite having a platinum album, Gomez remain a largely undefined quantity in the public mind. They don't belong to any movement or scene, they don't play in one identifiable style, and the individual band members don't have readily marketable personalities - there's no cute one, quiet one or funny one for fans to adopt.

"No," agrees Ball with a grin. "We're all dead funny all the time! That whole mythology of rock'n'roll is certainly not what we're good at, and we undoubtedly get it wrong." In a pop scene already replete with attitude and style, though, their very unpretentiousness enables them to stand out from the crowd. This, reckons Ball, may be the underlying secret of their prize-winning appeal. "I can only assume it must have been our laidback vibe appealed to a lot of people," he muses. "That sort of drew people into listening to us, without us trying to make any point. Because there was no point to that album, y'know? No hook, no message, other than that you can do it yourself." (Not only was their debut, like its follow-up Liquid Skin, self-produced, but much of it came from the actual home demos with which they secured their record contract.) Their laidback natures served Gomez well when it came to recording the "difficult second album", particularly given the extra pressure of having won the Mercury Prize.

"Due to the way we work, there was no pressure at all, really," says Peacock. "It was just a continuation - we started recording this album a couple of weeks after Bring It On, so there are songs that are over a year old on it."

"It's weird, because the second album is supposed to be so difficult," adds Ball. "It's that old story: you have all your life to write your first album, and six months to write the second - though that wasn't the case with us. Also, after we'd spent two weeks in the studio doing the first album, we knew that was where we wanted to live; so as soon as we'd done the first album, we got back in there immediately. So before we'd won the Mercury Prize, we'd recorded 12 tracks already." A further period esconced in a mansion near Hastings with an eight-track recorder produced a further batch of material for Liquid Skin, an album overflowing with riffs, melodies and ideas, often in weird contexts.

"We'll go for the sounds that you weren't expecting to hear on any record," says Ball. "At the end of the album, we miked up a laser-beam, just because it sounds really good. We've never had a fear of using something for the wrong purpose - as long as you can abuse something, you can use it, I think. We look for things you wouldn't normally hear, and certainly, things you wouldn't normally hear together. Things like the sound of a dobro being picked in a bluegrass style, with an evil Slayer riff over the top - it doesn't sound like it should work, then you realise that it doesn't matter, it just sounds new. If there was a principle to the album, I guess that was it, just jarring sounds together like that to try to make something whole. It's like a fight between different musical languages."

"I think the closest comparison I can think of is something like The Planets by Holst," claims Ball, bizarrely. "I think that's what we were trying to do, create classical music from soundscapes. Like Talk Talk and Mark Hollis, using a song as a canvas." The results are a sizeable step on from their debut, with strings and horns appearing on a couple of tracks, and one song, Revolutionary Kind, featuring an electronic dub section which they describe as "us going on an Orb trip". With a few exceptions, it's less obviously American-influenced than Bring It On, despite their having spent a substantial part of the past year touring the USA, where audiences appreciate their propensity to get down and jam around. Not surprisingly, they attract a fair proportion of Deadheads, along with a sizeable contingent of fans of bands like Phish, Blues Traveler and The Dave Matthews Band.

"They just love listening to live music," explains Ball. "It's no coincidence that in America, bootlegging is the best way of getting music heard, because people love listening to live music, they love big psychedelic wig-outs, y'know? And that's fine and dandy by me, because that's what I'm digging too. So it's really nice to play in America, really homely." Not that playing in America is entirely free of problems for a band as young and fresh-faced as Gomez, particularly when it comes to obtaining access to clubs - even to their own shows.

"We'd be playing clubs where under-21s just couldn't get in, and we'd have fans coming up to us in tears, hoping we could get them in," recalls Ball sadly. "There were even a couple of times when me and Olly had to go back to the hotel and get our passports, even though we'd been in earlier, soundchecking. They said, `We know you're in the band, but if you're under 21 you can't be in the building, and we haven't seen ID saying you're over 21' - it took us half-an-hour to go back to the hotel, and we were on in an hour!"

You can't help feeling that this kind of thing would never happen to the Liams and Jarvises of the world. Perhaps it's time for them to start developing a few more pop star airs and graces.

`Liquid Skin' is released on 13 Sept (Hut)

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