'98's Best: Gomez Bring It On With Debut Album

British buzz-band of the moment turns four-track experiments into a potential career.

[Editor's note: Over the holiday season, SonicNet is looking back at

1998's top stories, chosen by our editors and writers. This story originally ran on Tuesday, July 7.]

For vocalist and guitarist Tom Gray, the realization that his band,

Gomez, officially has arrived came during one strange night a month

or so ago.

It was the night that the British quintet appeared on former Squeeze

keyboardist Jools Holland's live music-television show in England. It

was also on this night that former Led Zeppelin members Jimmy

Page and Robert Plant (now of Page & Plant) were in the audience --

dancing.

"It was funny, because Jimmy Page and Robert Plant were dancing

while we were playing," the 21-year-old Gray said from his dressing

room in Paris, where Gomez just had finished a performance on yet

another

television show. "And it was like, 'OK, we're playing on national

television, and half of Led Zeppelin is dancing to our music.' And then

we got drunk with Natalie Imbruglia, which made the whole night

even funnier."

"All these very famous people have Gomez records," Gray continued.

"I think the word about Gomez has spread among musicians faster

than it has among [the general public] so far ... What we're doing is

very musical, very interesting, and people weren't expecting that

from a young British band."

A far cry from Brit-pop, Gomez's music has one foot in psychedelic

rock and the other in modern alternative rock, fortified with

elements of the blues, funk, folk and whatever else that exists

beyond and between. At least that's how they sound on their

promising debut, Bring It On, which will hit American record-

store shelves Sept. 8. Those living stateside have to wait until then

for Gomez to premiere their brave new world of noise.

On Gomez's first single, the hummable

HREF="http://www.addict.com/music/Gomez/78_Stone_Wobble.ram"

>"78 Stone Wobble" (RealAudio excerpt), three bandmembers

sing at different points, a creative decision that fits the song's

stylistic shifts from hip-hop to pop to blues. The tune is also an

example of Gomez's thriftiness in their home studio -- Gray's vocals

were recorded as he spoke through a telephone that was stuck up

against an old monitor.

"We're just five guys from a garage in Northern England," Gray said.

"There isn't a style; there isn't an image; there isn't a philosophy.

There's just a whole bunch of sounds. Hopefully ... Gomez will become

like a brand name. Hopefully, people will just buy our records. They

don't know what the hell's gonna be on them, but they buy them

anyway, because they know it's going to be weird and wonderful,

and they know they're going to like it."

The band, which has yet to even perform in America, has already

begun making a name for itself in the U.K., where the album was

released in April, according to Sig Sigworth of the band's Virgin

Records label.

"Something like 20 labels [in England] were trying to sign them," said

Sigworth, director of product management at Virgin. "We feel very

strongly about this act -- that Gomez has definitely got it. It's going

to be a long-term act for us, and we want to take it by each step and

build them into their career."

Recorded before Gomez ever played a live gig, Bring It On has

sold 40,000 so far in the U.K., debuting on the charts at #26, Sigworth

said. Often as hilarious in spirit as it is adventurous in sound, Bring

It On has a spontaneous, roaming quality to it, as Gomez explore

their sonic terrain and recall such distinctive artists as the Grateful

Dead, Beck, Tom Waits and Jeff Buckley in the process.

Gray is joined in Gomez by bassist Paul Blackburn, drummer Olly

Peacock and

fellow guitarists and vocalists Ian Ball and Ben Ottewell -- all of

whom are in their early 20s. More than a third of Bring It On

was recorded on a four-track when the bandmates -- who were

attending different universities in Northern England -- would get

together on holidays, jam and put the results to tape.

As Gray said, they never thought they were making what would

become their major-label debut.

"The album is pretty much the record that we were going to record

and pass off to our friends, and that's really the only place it would

have gone," said Gray, who was studying politics at Leeds University

when the band was signed. "It was totally, ridiculously surprising

that it happened the way it did."

Not only do Gray, Ball and Ottewell swap instruments throughout

their material, but they take turns on the microphone as well. "It

depends on what we're aiming for," Gray said of deciding who sings

what. "If you want a real clean pop sound, you get Ian to do it. If

you're going for a bluesy, soulful sound with a bit of dirt, you go for

Ben. If I do any singing in my talky, lazy voice, it's usually because

no one else wants to."