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If you were looking to find the UK’s least rock and roll town, Portslade would be an extremely strong candidate. Once a rural haven, famed for its windmill and farms specialising in sheep-corn husbandry, today it is a grim, dilapidated seaside town on the Sussex coast, lacking even the heady glamour of nearby Newhaven or Rottingdean. And if you were looking for the least rock and roll part of Portslade, you might consider its large industrial estate. On an overcast winter day, it looks like a finalist in a competition to find Britain’s most depressing place. No one in their right minds would chose to base themselves here.

“ It’s crap,” agrees Ian Ball of Gomez, who have chosen to base themselves here, in a studio they have built behind a pet suppliers warehouse. “There’s nothing to do. It’s suburban England, it’s like a sweatbox in the summer and then fucking freezing in September. You go from Iceland to the fucking Sahara in the space of two months. We’ve got a table tennis table in the studio, but that’s about it for entertainment.”

But moving their operations to this salubrious locale has had one major advantage. “Because there’s nothing to do, it’s made us quite ruthlessly professional,” says Ball, who after a recent intercontinental relocation is presumably the only rock musician in history to live in LA and work in Portslade. “We’ve been doing the Benny and Bjorn nine to five thing.”

“ We wrote around 50 songs, then recorded most of them in a year and a half,” nods multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Tom Gray. He pauses for a moment and considers. “It has to be said, some of them were complete fucking bollocks.”

Music - Gomez - Catch Me Up Video Streams
Music - Gomez - Catch Me Up Video Streams
Music - Gomez - Catch Me Up Video Streams
Gomez - Catch Me Up
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And some of them were anything but. Gomez’s fourth album, ‘Split The Difference’, is made up entirely of the latter category: in marked contrast to the occasionally obtuse experimentation of their last album, 2002’s In Our Gun, ‘Split The Difference’ is packed with straightforward – or at least relatively straightforward – rock songs.

“ We had a bit of an identity crisis, musically speaking,” Gray admits. “Whenwe went into the new studio, we just started playing rock and roll songs. Bythe time we got to In Our Gun, we were so loaded down with the baggage of beingan experimental band, we were thinking we were making records that would makepeople think. This time, we’re more interested in coming up with somethingvisceral. When we play together, it’s just a good noise.”
“ It’s about sitting round with an acoustic and bashing out a coolriff,” agrees drummer Olly Peacock. “Not fiddling with machines.”

Helped for the first time by an outside producer (Tchad Blake, who’s worked with everyone from Tom Waits to Crowded House), Gomez have made a record that pours psychotically diverse influences – a straw poll of current band favourites features Kraftwerk, John Cale’s early solo albums and Bob Log’s I Want Your Shit On My Leg – into a concise and sweetly affecting songs. Don’t Know Where We’re Going, as Gray points out, sounds “like Nirvana writing Gimme Shelter”. The gorgeous Sweet Virginia, meanwhile, features a string section scored and recorded by an Australian friend of the band. “The girl who did it is an absolute nutcase,” says Ball. “Totally wired off her head, but she knows a lot of classical music.”

“ There are a lot of tunes on there that were written going through someshitty times, “ says Peacock. “Trying to make yourself feel a bitbetter first thing in the morning.”
Gray, meanwhile, describes the album as “a resolution of a series of identity crises we’ve had through the past couple of years. Not just musical identity, but personal identity. People from the band have been through some serious emotional shit, things have kicked off, major relationships have broken up over the past year. A lot of this music has come out of it. But no matter what happens, once we’re playing, we’re in the same place we were when we were 17.”

Indeed, the last two years have been another peculiar chapter in a relentlessly peculiar career. It began with Bring It On, an album recorded in a garage that went on to win the Mercury Music Prize (Gray , rather colourfully, describes their debut as “teenagers doing too much acid in the North West of England, listening to crazy fucking psychedelia and into doing mad shit… that first album wasn’t even a demo, because that suggests demonstrating something and we weren’t being demonstrative, we were doing it purely for our own enjoyment : we were astonished that we actually got a record deal ”). Along the way, they have been critically lauded, unfairly dismissed as blues-obsessed trad rockers (“We don’t really look the part, it wasn’t easy for people to say anything much about us. I don’t think we were that easy a proposition,” says guitarist and singer Ben Ottewell, tactfully) and, most recently, co-opted by the massive American ‘jam band’ scene that spawned Phish and String Cheese Incident. “String Cheese Incident invited us to play with them last New Year’s Eve,” recalls Ball, who, like all of Gomez seems faintly bewildered by this turn of events. “It was more like a circus than a musical, event. There were 2000 people just stood around outside in the car park, people who’d travelled the length of the fucking country. They set up stalls, like a mini Glastonbury. That was at 11 o’ clock in the morning. People were monged out of their fucking heads.”

“ They went mad for us, then String Cheese Incident came on and playeda fifteen minute bongo solo and they went mad for that as well,” says Gray. “Itwas a hippy-dippy irony-free zone. I got a bit wazzed off with it, but they werelovely people.”

Hippy-dippy or not, Gomez’ adoption by the jam bands proves the high regard the group are held in by their fellow musicians. Ball agrees: “Richard Hawley said one time that most musicians, whether or not they liked our music, would like to be in our band. I think what he meant was that there’s no one person in our band telling you what you have to do, no one’s got a predefined role.”

It’s a unique and occasionally haphazard approach, but on ‘Split The Difference’, it has paid rich dividends: it’s the sound of Gomez boiled down to its most potent form. “When we started making music, we were very much about capturing the moment. Something like Get Miles off the first album was recorded pretty much the first time we played it through properly. It was about getting summat on tape and feeling good about it. We’ve hit the master reset in quite a big way,” says Gray. “We’ve gone back to a shit-pit with cobbled together equipment. It’s like the garage we started recording in.”
“ It’s marginally nicer than the garage,” avers Ottewell. “Marginally.”



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