Setlists are hard, especially when you've got 7 studio albums (and 15 years' worth of B-sides and rarities) to choose from. British rockers Gomez are particularly aware of this, which is why they've turned the keys over to the fans on their latest tour.
“We all just thought that after however long it's been — 15 years! — you can get stuck in a rut with the songs you play,” affable Ben Ottewell explains from his home in Brighton. “We just thought this was an opportunity to let the fans help. You know, people are constantly saying, 'why didn't you play this one, why didn't you play that one', so we thought, well, alright, we'll do it properly. We'll find out which tunes everyone wants to hear and play them.”
It seems like a simple strategy, but there's still something novel about this approach, which allows fans to help choose the setlist for the show in their city via the band's website. It's a frightening degree of control for Ottewell (and bandmates Ian Ball, Tom Gray, Paul Blackburn and Olly Peacock) to give up, especially when you consider democracy's spotty track record.
“I mean, you know, they might pick tunes we can't play,” Ottewell acknowledges. “To be honest with you, most people want to hear the same stuff. It's been pretty easy so far. But there's been one or two clangers so far, where we've thought, 'wait, how do we play that?'
“The voting literally closes the night before the show. If some B-side from 1998 shows up, and nobody even remembers how it goes, we have to learn it that day. We don't have three or four days to rehearse it, we have to get our shit together in soundcheck and figure it out. But most of our popular stuff's really easy to play anyway, since we wrote it when we were 20 and didn't know what we were doing.”
As is often the case for observers of an election, Ottewell's not sure what he wants to win, but he certainly knows what he wants to lose. At least, he used to.
“There used to be a few,” he admits. “'Tijuana Lady' used to be a bit of a drag, but I kind of enjoy how silly that song is now. When you've played something 2000 times, it's like, 'oh, right, this one again'. And there is a bit of that with this tour. A lot of the top tens have been identical, particularly in the States. But sometimes something gets thrown up, like 'These 3 Sins', and it's like, 'oh, great, we get to play that again!'”
When pressed, Ottewell reveals there is one song you can vote for if you want to make him smile — and, fortunately enough, it's quite a popular choice.
“I still really like playing 'Get Miles',” he says. “That's the one tune I've never really gotten sick of, for some reason, even though it can be a bitch to sing. It's almost like a blank canvas, you know? You can do whatever you want. So we have a lot of fun with that live these days.”
'Get Miles' is, of course, the first track on the band's first album, 1998's Mercury Prize-winning 'Bring It On', and a significant amount of water has flowed under the bridge since then. Most bands of Gomez' vintage would claim they had no idea they'd still be here 15 years later, but Ottewell isn't into false modesty.
“Yeah, we did,” he laughs. “If you go back through those early interviews, we would always talk about longevity. Not for its own sake, but there was just a lot more we wanted to do. I think that's still the case. We still enjoy making music together, and I can't really see that changing.
“I mean, we'll probably take a little break after this tour. We've all been busy; I've had this solo record out, Ian's done solo work, Tom has been doing a bunch of TV stuff, so I think we need a little bit of time to clear our heads again creatively before the next Gomez record. But I can't see us stopping.”
Despite 15 years of accolades and (mostly) glowing reviews, the band's goals remain much the same for their next album as they were for their first.
“We still want to make great music,” Ottewell says, “and we still want to make great albums, you know? People don't make music like that anymore… it's just the way people consume music these days. You know, iTunes and Spotify. People make their own playlists and do their own thing. And that's fine; I think our tracks stand alone, anyway. But there's still something to be said for making a piece of work, you know?
“I think we're always going to think like that. Even to the point of where the record splits on vinyl: 'That'll be a great closer for Side A!' That's still how we think about things! We really drill into making a record and sequencing an album. We want to make a set of songs that stand together.
“At the same time, we've also got lives now. We've all got kids. There's that element of it, of keeping everyone fed. It's surprising how much has changed in our lives, these past 15 years. Some of the guys are in the States, and we all have our different lives now. But it's also surprising how much has stayed the same, when we all get together and start playing together.”
Ottewell began forging his own path when he released his first solo album, the stripped back 'Shapes & Shadows', last year. But in a testament to the strength of the band's personality, he thinks it's unlikely they'll follow his new acoustic direction.
“It's a different thing,” he says. “We're a rock band, you know? We're a weird rock band, but we are a rock band. For a start, our drummer's fucking awesome. Even if I do write acoustically, as soon as Ollie gets hold of it, it's not going to be an acoustic track anymore. It's fun to have that release, that rock'n'roll stuff.”Gomez play THE COOLY HOTEL SAT OCT 13 AND The Tivoli on SuN Oct 14. Vote for your favourite tracks at gomeztheband.com