Gomez’ Ben Ottewell Talks 20 Years of ‘Bring It On’ (INTERVIEW)

Can you remember what you were doing twenty years ago? The band Gomez does and they set about making a celebration about it. Back then, they were a newly formed band, recording their first album, with no idea that it would be the starting point of a two-decade career. Bring It On, experimental with cool-sounding vibrations, brought the British band lots of attention with singles such as “Get Myself Arrested,” “Whippin’ Piccadilly” and “Rie’s Wagon.” It won them a Mercury Prize Award (for best album of the year in the UK by a British/Irish artist) and got them nominated for three 1999 Brit Awards (Album, British Group and British Breakthrough Act). So why not give a big nod to a big album on its twentieth birthday?

So Gomez reconvened – Ben Ottewell, Ian Ball, Tom Gray, Paul Blackburn and Olly Peacock – and got themselves ready for a tour where they would play the album in it’s entirety, along with some other of their top tunes. They also released an anniversary edition of Bring It On, with four CDs and featuring over thirty unreleased tracks. With the tour in the US running throughout the month of June, the guys had to do a little practice after having taken a break for the last couple of years, doing their own things and spending time with their families. But once they hit those first chords, it all fell into place quite nicely.

Glide caught up with singer/guitar player Ben Ottewell near the very end of their US trek. Feeling tired was an understatement, as they had been hitting the stages with all their energy and having a blast. “We haven’t done this for a while and we’ve been acting like a bunch of teenagers,” Ottewell said with a laugh about the tour. “Anytime you get together with your friends that you’ve known for this long, played music together this long, yeah, it’s all good.”

Ottewell, who met his bandmates while studying law at university, released his third solo album, A Man Apart, in 2017, to great reviews, as he continued expanding on his folkier/bluesier/singer-songwriter side. So in reality, Ottewell has the best of both worlds: he gets to be a kid again, rocking out with Gomez, and he gets to show his adult side with the more personal, thoughtful songs he writes when doing a solo project.

And although they may not be as well known in the States as they are over in their UK homeland, they have picked up some new fans while out on this tour after hitting such cities as Chicago, Seattle, Boston and Nashville. They were in Portland when Ottewell called in for a quick chat.

When did you know that you were going to celebrate this big anniversary with a tour like this?

You know, we never split up. It was like we were going to take a break cause we needed a little time off the road. We had been working like sixteen/seventeen years, you know, so we were like, we need a break. And that break ended up being one year, two years, cause we were doing other stuff. We had offers along the way to play and it just didn’t feel like the right time. Then we were going to put together like a box set for the fans when Bring It On was like ten years old but it just seemed like more sense to do it this way and we’ve got a lot of unreleased material in the box set, demos and stuff like that, which are like twenty-three years old. So yeah, it just felt like the perfect time to do it and it’s always been, particularly in the UK, it was a big record and it just made sense to do it. And obviously, we’re going to get to writing together and make a living together again.

So it’s sparked some new songs by doing this

Yeah, well, that’s the idea, ultimately. We’ve got a few more shows to do in the UK and maybe some others along the way so this year is kind of taken up. But we’re going to get into it next year and do some writing together and see where that leads us.

Some of the songs on Bring It On seem like they’d be somewhat complicated to reproduce live. Have you had to make any adjustments?

Not really. To be honest with you, when we got to rehearsing it was almost more easier to play them (laughs). We’ve played those songs so many times but “Bubble Gum Years,” we never really played that too much, so we had to kind of revisit that. We had to relearn a few lyrics but actually playing them was actually pretty easy. A lot of those songs we’d played a thousand times.

Was there one in particular that you had never played live before?

Well, “Bubble Gum Years” is one that we only very rarely played so that was a little tricky. But other than that, “Rie’s Wagon,” we’d not played that much but all those other songs we’d been playing them. It’s remarkable how the muscles in your mind kind of remember. They just do it for you (laughs).

You guys were pretty green when you went in to make Bring It On

Oh absolutely! We were green in terms of playing live. We’d never played live, like as a band, and then we got signed, which I guess from an American point of view is quite odd. I guess in England as well, the classic kind of thing that a band gets together, you play a whole bunch of shows and get noticed and get to go and make a record. But we made the record first. It was almost like we weren’t a band, like it was just kind of a hobby, what we did when we got together. If we were hanging out, we’d be making music together and recording it and attempting to make a record, basically. So yeah, I think it’s good in a way and I think that’s one of the main reasons we sound so different to everybody else.

What was going on in the music scene around you guys when you were getting together? Were you that different from everybody else?

Oh yeah, we were different to everyone else. There was nothing really like what we did. I think we still are. I don’t think there are many bands like us, really. We’re not a rock band, we’re not an indie band, we’re not a jam band, and that’s what’s great. I think it’s been a little bit of a struggle sometimes cause people ask what kind of music we play and I don’t know (laughs). But for us, that’s what it’s all about, not necessarily being pigeonholed, cause music can be anything. You can just make really interesting music, you know.

What can you tell us about the song “Love Is Better Than A Warm Trombone” off that album? It has a really good feel to it.

Exactly, yeah! Thomas wrote that and I have no idea what it’s about (laughs). To me, it seems quite surreal but I do love that song. I play it solo when I do some solo gigs so I’m singing those lines and I haven’t got a clue! But they’ve got a great rhythm to them and it’s a great song to play live. But God knows what that is about (laughs).

When did you start writing songs?

I started writing songs when I joined the band. I had never written a song. When I joined the band, those guys had grew up together and I kind of joined a little later when I was away at college and I was like nineteen or twenty and we started playing together then. So I realized we had all these songs and I felt like I was kind of the singer and the guitar player so I wrote “Free To Run.” That was the first song I wrote and it ended up on the record. Not bad (laughs).

For you, what was a big moment for you in this band?

Ooh, there are a couple. But you’ve got to understand, those first two years were kind of like a surreal acid trip (laughs). It was so weird cause we got so successful so quick, you know. It was like we were living in this crazy bubble. But I think when we headlined Glastonbury. That must have been, I think, 1999, and the sun was going down and it was glorious and there must have been like sixty to eighty thousand people in the field. I was like, holy shit (laughs). That was pretty amazing. Then also, the first time we got to record in Studio 2 at Abbey Road. It was like, How did I get in here! (laughs).

When you were first learning to play guitar, what was the hardest thing for you to get the hang of?

Probably chords. When I started playing guitar, a friend of mine, cause I was always asked to be the singer in bands, but normally I wanted to play like rock music, Guns N Roses and shit like that. So a friend of mine taught me how to tune a guitar and it was like a blues tuning. So I learned how to play basically playing riffs like on open tunings and teaching myself and then taking a step beyond like little blues riffs and stuff like that.

Will we be getting another solo record from you?

Oh yeah, definitely. I don’t really know what else to do with myself (laughs)

When you’re doing solo shows, are you more stripped down?

Yes, it’s just me and an acoustic guitar

Is that closer to your heart than being all experimental?

I don’t know, I kind of like both. But these gigs have been great. It’s just a different dynamic.

So you’re going to Europe after you do these last few shows here in America?

Yeah, we’ve got a few shows in the UK and then we’re talking about maybe coming back over here. And I’ve got some solo shows in like Italy and Australia and the UK. So it’s a busy year.

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