Gomez on the 20th Anniversary of “Liquid Skin” | Under the Radar - Music Magazine

Gomez on the 20th Anniversary of “Liquid Skin”

Bringing it On, Again

Sep 13, 2019 Photography by Scarlet Page Web Exclusive
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"It's just joy, revisiting that joy and what we can do as a band. It's a really great feeling," says Gomez's vocalist/guitarist Ben Ottewell.

The reaction in venues to the band's revisiting of their 1999-released second album Liquid Skin has certainly been joy-filled. The "in-full" performances of the album come off the back of lavish reissue complete with 19 unreleased tracks, that dropped in July.

Out of step with the death-throws of Britpop, the Brit-Americana vibes of Ottewell and his bandmates—Ian Ball (guitar, vocals), Paul Blackburn (bass), Tom Gray (guitar, keyboards, vocals), and Olly Peacock (drums, synths, computers)—caught a wave of popularity but was misunderstood and maligned by the UK press, leaving them to be seen as a footnote to the late-'90s era instead of a unique proposition that brought experimentation to the mainstream.

"My voice lends itself to Americana almost immediately, it has that kind of feel to it. Totally unintentional, it's just the way I sing," says Ottewell on the line from his Brighton home accompanied by his dog.

"[There was] the pop writing and there was my voice. If you had Steve [Mason] from The Beta Band singing a couple of our songs it would have been seen in a very different way."

In the wake of the Mercury Music Prize winning debut Bring It On (1998), the five-piece were caught up in a wave of momentum and given the freedom and tools to build on their bedroom aesthetic. Although, many of the tunes came from the same process as the debut, Liquid Skin is a more ambitious, more eccentric, "less pop and less innocent" take on their blues-influenced sound.

With Liquid Skin Gomez was the same band but thrust into a different world, building on songs written at the same time as the debut. The bedroom "communal" songwriting amongst friends became untethered by possibility, which can be heard in the album's world of sound.

"I think the other thing that informed Liquid Skin was travel," explains Ottewell. "You know, we were travelling for the first time. We'd been down to Australia, America, we'd been all over Europe. A widening of our horizons, I guess. I mean, my first trip abroad was a press trip to Paris when I was 21. So, all from a writing point of view I think they helped."

The songs certainly span the globe. Opener "Hangover Girl" brings in Eastern mysticism, "Bring It On" has a Cajun, classic Americana vibe, and "Las Vegas Dealer" a Latin flavor, all combined with Gomez's quirk. Ottewell openly reminisces about the band's compulsive imbibing of influences in the '90s.

"In the early '90s a lot of music was being reissued on CD, all this music. We were vinyl people and we'd try to find things like Greetings from L.A. by Tim Buckley, stuff like that, and all of a sudden, all of that, very much like it is now I suppose, it was all available for the first time," he says. "You could go and get some Tom Waits, or Paul Simon's first solo record, on CD very easily. Me and the guys were listening to this 'new' music. It was a kind of treasure trove and it was immediate for us.

"We were able to get them and process them all at the same time. I think that had a lot to do with how we approached music. We were just great consumers of music basically, and we had the opportunity to listen to all this stuff."

Because of this, Gomez were always hard to categorize, a fact that, despite their popularity, gave the UK press pause to go on the attack. The backlash was immediate, persistent and, at times, vitriolic.

"My favorite line, I forget where it came from, was that I had 'a voice like a buffalo being back ended into a woodchipper,'" remembers Ottewell. "I took that as a massive compliment."

Ottewell continues: "The Americana thing gave the likes of the NME and Melody Maker a way in to be critical, which was good. It was really good when we won the only award in the NME that was voted by for by their readers. We won, which was funny after they slagged us off for over two years."

With popular momentum pushing them forward, Ottewell claims, the band never really felt the pressure from press negativity.

"It was amusing because it wasn't really felt by us, other than it's just something that some frustrated musician has written. The whole point was that I was based on their idea of what was cool. The fact that we had been students was supposed to be some kind of problem, but every single band going had been to art college or university or something. Hold on a minute, what is the problem here exactly?

"To be honest at the time, we were making in-roads in the States and Australia and then we won the best live act award in NME. They had to invite us to the ceremony, and we were like, 'Sorry we are playing the Fillmore in San Francisco that night.' That was amusing."

And why would they feel it? In the UK, they were popular, and they were making waves in the U.S. and Australia, places that embraced their globe-trotting genre-hopping. Their music also collided with another massive cultural event in 1999, with the track "We Haven't Turned Around" featuring in Oscar winner for Best Picture, American Beauty.

"It certainly helped. I think it was a bigger deal back then as well, "says Ottewell. "It was pretty ground-breaking for us in a lot of ways.

"On the fringes of America geographically, the Mercury Awards, people were aware of that—in New York, LA, San Francisco. But having something like a song on a major movie like that opened the door to other places in the States that weren't so aware of British music."

While positive vibes may well have been felt across the pond, the album still achieved its highest chart placing in the UK at number 2, with it reached number 9 in Australia. In that end of the millennium moment Gomez were a big band.

As is often the way, diminishing returns on releases since then has, maybe, put the five-piece out of mass consciousness. They haven't released a record since 2011 and touring has been sporadic at best. Nostalgia has brought the excitement of old back around for both fans and the band, starting with the lavish reissue of debut Bring It On in 2018 and a subsequent tour. The same treatment for Liquid Skin has built further on the nostalgic momentum. This has manifested most at their gigs.

"With Bring It On it worked so well and people genuinely were overjoyed for us to be playing that record. I think it meant a hell of a lot to a lot of people. It was nice for use to revisit it. I think it's rekindled something," ponders Ottewell. "Just getting together over that music and remembering those times a bit, was an overwhelmingly positive thing. Those gigs were some of the best that we have ever done and we've done probably, upwards of a thousand now together.

"It was just a positive experience all round. There were certain gigs, like Barrowland [Ballroom] in Scotland where we really didn't have to play, the crowd would just take it on for you. The sound guy was struggling to get the PA loud enough so he could hear it through the mixer. People, particularly now, need that sense of commune. Everything is so bloody polarized, you know. Just that sense, maybe nostalgia is not the best way to frame it, coming from there in a way, but that it of people just getting together and having a good time when it is overwhelmingly positive."

Although our conversation pre-dates the run of full-album performances for Liquid Skin, the sheer joy and communal love for the music could be felt at every gig. People getting together to reminisce about a simpler time or discover what this is like live for the first time.

But this moment for Gomez isn't just about the past, it is about giving people something new as well. The reissue has put some old cuts out into the light of day for the first time. Tracks like "Someday," which sounds very much of that late '90s time, and skronky percussive track "Nobody's Girl." With these additions, I'm always curious. Have the band been sitting on these for years to release later or are they tracks that should stay hidden?

"Obviously, there is a load of shit that hasn't been released and will never see the light of day," Ottewell responds. "There has been a certain amount of cherry-picking going on. But I think people are genuinely interested, especially from these first two records. The birth of the band almost. My thing is, it is good enough to be out there."

"[Vocalist/guitarist] Ian [Ball] is the archivist in a way, because he has all the tapes. His dad had them in a box, all the tapes with the old demos, even pre-studio. So, he has a whole wealth of stuff and he has just gone through it. To be honest, there's a few things, like the song 'Throwing Myself Away' that I had just forgotten about. I listen and think, 'That's a good song,' with no recollection of ever doing it, not even halfway through the song. We were just producing so much stuff," Ottewell adds, speaking of the wealth of material they had.

"We were just writing all the time, we'd be dealing with 24 songs for each record and on another day those songs might have made the record. It's part of the bigger picture of what that is."

Leaving Liquid Skin in the past, the bigger picture involved a revitalized band looking at future material, buoyed by the recent response but feeling no pressure to deliver until the time is right.

"We're just getting the songs together first," says Ottewell. "There are so many options that it is a bit bewildering to be honest. We're just going to concentrate on the music and then see what happens, I guess

"I think more than that, we just missed each other, I think. A lot of the old issues just aren't there anymore. We are all a bit older, got a load of experience behind us. You realize what a knobhead you were."

www.gomeztheband.com

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