Gomez Bring It On And Soak It In

British quintet's debut album, Bring It On, beat out The Verve, Pulp and others to win England's Mercury Music Prize.

NEW YORK -- It all began for Gomez in April when their lo-fi, debut album landed on the British chart at #26, despite its notably un-trendy, psychedelia-mixed-with-roots-rock sound.

It culminated in September when their disc, Bring It On, won the prestigious Mercury Music Prize for "Best British Album" of the year, beating out albums by such established acts as Pulp, Massive Attack, The Verve and Cornershop.

Unquestionably, it's been a banner year of activity for the relatively unknown British band. Its members -- who all are under the age of 23 -- still are wallowing in the attention.

"We were blown away, we were staggered. We got surrounded by hundreds of people, a swarm of people who were all jumping up and down," said singer/guitarist Tom Gray of the night they won the Mercury Prize. "It was fantastic; it was great. We got up there and didn't really give a speech of any sort, just sort of garbled something."

Their unbridled enjoyment hasn't stopped. It plainly was apparent in a recent stopover in New York City, where Gray and fellow Gomez members Ben Ottewell and Ian Ball could be found at the Millennium Hotel chain-smoking cigarettes, sampling deli sandwiches and bursting into songs from the musical "On the Town."

Regarding their U.S. jaunt, which included performances at New York's CMJ festival and on NBC-TV's "Late Night With Conan O'Brien," the bandmembers' memories are a little hazy.

"We can't really remember much of the tour," Gray said with a laugh," so that must have meant that we had fun."

But their hopped-up, kid-in-a-candy-store attitude belies the mature sound of the disc that got them where they are.

Bring It On, released in September, brings to mind such legendary American musicians as Tom Waits, the Grateful Dead and the Band -- acts that are decades older than the members of Gomez and an ocean away. Much of the album was recorded on a four-track machine, giving it that raw, lo-fi sound.

"This is an album that's hard to categorize," wrote the Mercury Prize judging panel, "an intriguing blend of swamp blues, barroom rock, and eerie power -- a stunning and accomplished debut."

With not one, but three vocalists -- Ottewell, Gray and Ball -- complemented by bassist Paul Blackburn and drummer Olly Peacock, the quintet has an uncanny ability to handle varied musical styles and sounds, sometimes within a single song. "78 Stone Wobble" (RealAudio excerpt), for example, employs all three singers and shifts from hip-hop to pop to blues.

Ottewell, whose gravelly, Waits-like vocals anchor the band, opens the album with "Get Miles," a burst of psychedelic rock and funk. The beautiful "Make No Sound," backed up by cellos, has a melancholy folk flavor. "Whipping Piccadilly," showcasing Ball's sweetly thin vocals, also has folk elements. "Tijuana Lady" (RealAudio excerpt), featuring all three singers, is tinged with flamenco.

The band's eclectic mix of American-sounding blues, rock and folk is a far cry from the British pop-rock and electronica that has long dominated the U.K. music scene.

"We're influenced by a lot of different American musical styles -- that's the truth," Gray said. "That's what we like. I like rock 'n' roll. Some people have been critical of that aspect. I find that odd.

"There's a long tradition of British musicians taking on American sounds and trying to do their own thing with it, and that's what we did," Gray added.

The band, whose members all grew up near Liverpool in Southport, England, derives its name from the surname of a good friend. "We have no imagination," lamented Gray. Gomez began their tinkering traditionally, in a garage, and subsequently recorded songs in whatever spaces they could find, from bedroom to bathroom to stairwell.

Now that they've prospered in their mother country, Gomez have set their eyes on their musical motherland: the U.S.

"We're not expecting people to get it more instantly here," Gray said. "Some people like it; [for] some people, it [might be] over their head a little bit. It's kind of what we expect."

Gomez will round out 1998 with an extensive European tour and will head back into the studio to work on their second album, scheduled for release by June 1999. Eight songs, recorded before the band won the Mercury Music Prize, already are written for the new album, and the bandmembers say their follow-up LP will be in the same vein.

That sounds fine to Gomez devotee and North London student James Charnock, 17, who runs the fan site "One of Those Rare Gomez Sites."

"I know we're supposed to be all for progression in music. But to be honest, I'm looking forward to more of the same," wrote Charnock via e-mail.

As for the 15 minutes of fame that the Mercury Prize has afforded them -- and that the band busily is extending -- Gomez said suddenly being in the limelight, interviewed by journalists and touring is everything they expected and more.

"It's allowed us the license to be asses 24 hours a day -- just talk crap at cameras," Gray said. "It's a fantastic job! Oh yeah -- then there's making music as well, which is basically what we did for fun before."