In 2013, Max Gomez’s debut LP Rule the World established him as a notable voice in roots music, but its follow-up was delayed when he exited his label after a round of staff departures. Now the Taos, New Mexico, songwriter has returned with Me & Joe, a five-song EP that dropped in September on the new Brigadoon Records label. A smart, sharp collection of country songs with a pop touch worthy of Chris Martin, Me & Joe sees Gomez getting comfortable in his new surroundings, and getting back to what he enjoys the most: writing music.
“Being with a record company, working around the clock, and touring all the time makes it hard to kick back and write a song. The time I used to spend was slashed into a quarter,” Gomez says of his first label stint with New West Records. He admits that expectations added to his difficulty writing. “With that being said, I don’t feel I have any lack of songs. I play five to 10 songs that I haven’t recorded at almost every show I play.”
Gomez wound up playing roots music thanks to his early days performing in New Mexico. He was only 15 when he started getting gigs playing a now-shuttered Taos bar called the Old Blinking Light. “Country music, in one shape or another, is what gave me a job playing music. Even though I didn’t think of myself as a country musician, it was just the only place paying money to perform. They were hiring music, they liked me, and they told me to play country,” Gomez says.
While in New Mexico, Gomez learned the trade from songwriters like Michael Martin Murphey and Mentor Williams, who wrote Dobie Gray’s 1973 hit “Drift Away” and frequently performed in the area. Eventually he made his way to Los Angeles, where he began co-writing to help pay the bills, sharing several credits with Shawn Mullins. Gomez has continued to co-write on his own music, with Me & Joe featuring collaborations with Greg Leisz and Keith Sykes.
“Make It Me,” the song that Gomez wrote with Sykes, is one that he believes he’ll “sing for the rest of my life.” But it was one that had to grow on him. “It was like second nature; it was an effortless song to write. The lyrics at the time meant nothing to me. They were just words. I knew they were good, but they didn’t really break my heart like they did at a later time,” he says. “A year plus down the line, I’ve been singing that song every night and living the lyrics, too. All of a sudden, it comes full circle.”
The real revelation for Gomez on Me & Joe came from working with Jim Scott, a producer brought in by label boss Gary Briggs whose credits include albums by Tom Petty and Johnny Cash. Expedited by Scott’s willingness to record live in the studio, the EP came together quickly, with recording only lasting three days. “We’d be trying to really fine tune a song and he’d yell at us, ‘You know how long it takes to make a hit record, don’t you? Three minutes!'” says Gomez. “You can do things you never even knew you could do in a studio by surrounding yourself with the right people when the stars set up just right. It’s maybe more important than just about anything.”
That lesson was never clearer to Gomez than in the recording of “Joe,” the track that gave the EP its name and the first song he’s released that he didn’t write himself. The song was written by Jed Zimmerman and Gomez was encouraged to record it by Briggs, who called it the “cocaine song.” Cut in only two takes, it was an eye-opening moment of inspiration for someone who’s always taken control of his destiny.
“That was pretty magical. I’ll probably never forget it. We didn’t even have it on the list of songs to record,” Gomez says of “Joe,” which he and the band learned on the spot. “No tricks, no nothing, that’s the record. That makes me so excited to think how that’s possible. A song we didn’t even intend to record, and about two minutes later you’ve got the best record you’ve made.”