Gomez Show How They Operate

U.K. outfit survives major-label limbo to bring more upbeat pop

On May 2nd Gomez will release their seventh album, How We Operate. The effort -- their first on the label co-founded by Dave Matthews, ATO Records (David Gray, My Morning Jacket) -- is another sunny effort by the folk/pop outfit, packed with Sixties-style harmonies.

"It's a don't-let-the-bastards-get-you-down record," Tom Gray, one of the five-piece's vocalists and multi-instrumentalists, says of Operate's twelve tracks, recorded over a two-month period last fall at London's RAK Studios. "All of this record is optimistic."

But for Gray, frontman Ben Ottewell, Ian Ball, Paul Blackburn and Olly Peacock -- who shot to immediate fame when their 1998 debut, Bring It On, won them the U.K.'s prestigious Mercury Prize -- the future wasn't always so optimistic.

Their last two releases, for Virgin/Hut (EMI), got caught in what Gray calls "major-label bullshit." Weeks before the release of 2002's In Our Gun, an amped album full of Gomez's signature acoustic harmonies and electronic psychadelia, EMI downscaled the label. Their last album, 2004's more pop-focused Split the Difference, was released in the wake of Hut's shutdown. "We were expected to find that entirely acceptable and carry on like nothing had happened," says Gray. "We were basically on a label that didn't exist anymore -- putting out records, but nobody is working on them and no one is promoting them." The band and label parted ways.

What followed was a period of "soul-searching." "We had to think about everything and go, 'OK, do we want to be a band still? We've been beaten up a lot over the past four years. What the fuck?'" says Gray.

Lucky for the fans addicted to the band's packed, dance-driven live shows, Gomez decided to roll with the punches. "This record is us flinging ourselves back into it, probably with a bigger head of steam than we've ever had," Gray says of Operate. "And it's definitely the most cohesive Gomez record we've ever made."

For Gomez it also marks the first time they fully let a producer take control, enlisting Gil Norton, whose past credits include the Pixies' seminal Doolittle, the Foo Fighters' The Colour and the Shape and Dashboard Confessional's breakthrough A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar. "It's always been sort of a group effort. But with [Operate], we purposefully made it somebody else's dominion to make all the big decisions, which is incredibly freeing," says Gray. "We were like, 'Shit, can you believe we're actually doing this? We told ourselves we'd never do this.'"

Among the album's tracks, which Gray says "deal a lot with relationships" are the Faces-like "See the World," and the melodic "Girlshapedlovedrug." "It's about a difficult girl who has mood swings and makes life hard for a guy, but he's completely in love with her," Gray says of "Girl." "It's a simultaneous combination of resignation and celebration of the fact."

And Gomez's sonic eccentricities are still present, as with the title track. "'How We Operate' has this strange mixture of banjo and ukulele played in it, both played in a slightly robotic style," explains Gray. "It's an interesting mix of Ry Cooder and Kraftwerk, but then it has a big rock chorus."

It's a genre-bending approach that the guys of Gomez are proud of. "We don't come from a scene. I don't mind if I'm playing in the Grand Ole Opry, in a punk club or on a ship to a bunch of hippies," says Gray, referring to last year's Jam Cruise 5. "We don't have an identity to defend. In a way, we're anti-identity."

Gray, Ottewell and Ball are preparing to hit the road in the coming weeks for a series of intimate acoustic performances. With the band on both sides of the pond -- Ball resides in Los Angeles, Olly in London, Blackburn between Michigan and Brighton, England, where Gray and Ottewell also live -- Gomez are planning a full-scale tour for late May through late June. In addition to Bonnaroo, they will open three nights for Dave Matthews Band later this summer. And Gray says that, after all their drama, the band is readier than ever.

"Once we made the decision to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and go for it properly again, we decided that we shouldn't be fucking about and get on with this -- make the best record and fight back. That was our strategy."