When British psych/folk/blues quintet Gomez got started nearly a decade and a half ago, the guys were all around 18 years old. They were, in fact, the personification of the title of their 2006 singles/B-sides compilation, Five Men in a Hut — living in close proximity, writing, rehearsing and recording at the drop of a hat.
After winning the Mercury Prize for their debut album, 1998's Bring It On, and their subsequent overseas successes, they took up lodgings that were slightly further from each other than their Southport, England, roots. Four of them moved within hours of each other, while guitarist Ian Ball relocated with his wife to Los Angeles. Because of the band's commitment to touring, the distance between members helped Gomez decompress off the road and increased their productivity during the rare moments they are all in the same room.
And technology — in the form of home recording and e-mail — has helped Gomez stay connected creatively, which was beneficial in the planning stages of their new album, A New Tide, the follow-up to 2006's How We Operate.
"When Ian moved five or six years ago, it was interesting, with one of us in the States and the rest of us in England," says drummer Olly Peacock. "I lived in London and the rest were in Brighton. It brought up a lot of questions about how we would carry on and how the process would work out. We tour so much, and we're together a lot of time, [so] we found our way very easily. Recording on that level of knowing how to throw songs back and forth and being far more technically savvy made it really interesting. Getting stuck and needing somebody's input meant you could throw it back over to somebody, get some feedback, get some ideas, go back and work on the song, go into the studio and bada bing — the song is ready. A while back, we would have played around in the studio, taking up time. In some ways, the space we have off tour is healthy for us, and we've found a really good system to carry on."
A New Tide began with some preliminary work at Dave Matthews' studio in Virginia, where the guys mulled over the material they had and worked up some new ideas. They chose the locale as a starting point because of its isolation and lack of distractions.
"We were there hanging out on the porch, basically five dudes with five acoustics, and there was some good stuff that came out of there," says Peacock. "A lot of it didn't actually make it. It was good for the time, but the initial process was a little too Crosby, Stills and Nash."
The band then moved to Chicago to work with renowned indie producer Brian Deck (Iron and Wine, Modest Mouse), where A New Tide began to solidify as Gomez developed their ideas into actual tunes.
"A lot of the initial songs fell by the wayside, even some of the stronger songs," says Peacock. "A lot of those initial tunes were more old-school rock, like a '70s rock album. Through trying to be more inventive and just naturally being in the studio, some of the other stuff just turned up. We never knew what it was going to sound like, which was good because it kept us entertained and enthusiastic through the entire process."
After all the standard philosophical/budgetary considerations, Deck turned out to be a great fit for Gomez.
"We heard Iron and Wine's Shepherd's Dog and loved that, and we knew he'd mixed it up a lot for that record," says Peacock. "Brian's personality came through majorly — massive amounts of sarcasm, putting you down and being ridiculous and fun at the same time. He definitely brought out a more playful side of us. And when we were going into new territory, he was there 100 percent of the way. It felt like it was a natural reaction against the last album, where we recorded things quickly and were stripping things down. Our natural tendency is to be playful and see what new noises we can make. Brian definitely brought that out in us."
A New Tide certainly displays a looser vibe, a throwback to Gomez's earlier albums.
"It's a very different record," says Peacock. "It lends itself to having more in common with the first three albums. There are some songs that we've definitely not written before. The songs hint back at good vibes we used to do. There are a lot of strings on there that I was playing around with and arranging. We've got some guests coming in and playing, which was always a feature we liked to have. I think there's more experimentation, there's more electronics and there's more of a folkier sound. It's ever-changing, as most of our albums do. And I think it's very concise. We could have added another two songs ,but it wouldn't have been as cohesive. I'm glad that we've finally figured out, after well over a decade, that we can make an album less than 45 minutes long."