Bands on Bands is a recurring feature on the 35 Denton blog that will highlight musician interviews written by none other than our own local musicians. Throughout this series we aspire to help you learn more about some of your favorite musicians playing the festival this year as well as introduce you to new and upcoming acts.
Interview by Kaela Sinclair
KAELA SINCLAIR: It’s been a busy year for you! In 2014 you moved from Denton, TX to Seattle, WA, released your full-length record “Earth Underfoot,” released an album with your duo project, Ormonde, and went on tour with Sarah Jaffe. A lot of busy musicians seem to thrive on choas, but many also need down time to recharge. Do you find it creatively energizing to be a part of so many musical projects?
ROBERT GOMEZ: I do, I also find working with great songwriters such as Sarah Jaffe and Anna-Lynne Williams (Ormonde) to be profoundly edifying. I can’t say I really work on music daily so as far as recharging goes, I guess I’m charged up and ready. These days however, I’m spending more time working on Ormonde especially since we have an up coming tour to promote our latest release: Cartographer/Explorer.
You started out as a jazz guitarist, then branched out into classical and latin music, then transitioned into the indie-rock/singer-songwriter world. Your album “Robert Gomez Trio” was an instrumental jazz record full of complex harmony and virtuosic guitar playing, while your next album “Etherville” – along with the rest of your library of work to date – presented itself as a radical departure in sound, instrumentation, and genre. While elements of those earlier genres remain, you have not explicitly returned to them. How did your experiences in all of these styles of music come together to make your unique sound, and what aspects of your earliest influences are still relevant to your writing and playing today?
Actually, the earliest form of music I ever learned was very simple folk cowboy chorded gems like “Red River Valley”. And I’m glad those days are behind me! I’ve immersed myself in quite a few genres over the years but I like where I’m at. I’m not sure how much of all that ends up in the final mix. At this point, I just try and search for what it is I’m hearing and try not to think about what I’m doing too much in regards to analysis. I like to approach music as the mystery it is and allow it to develop on it’s own. Sometimes I feel like more of a conjuror than a composer.
As a fellow jazz ex-pat (music school grad turned indie-rock), I’m curious to know how you balance your knowledge and musical training with the more emotional, primal side of songwriting. What is your writing process like, and how have you managed to write music that is challenging and intellectually stimulating without being ostentatious or virtuosic for virtuosity’s sake?
Honestly, I have very little patience for gratuitous virtuosity these days. In fact, I rarely even play a guitar solo – quite a departure from how I started. I’m sure my facility has suffered but I was not finding that virtuosity served my music very well so I tried and still try to cut out anything superfluous and boil it down to the essential. Anybody can learn how to play an instrument but the greatest challenge is to actually make music. As far as writing, I don’t have a specific process other than picking up a guitar and improvising until something worth pursuing comes out.
A lot of your songs seem through-composed. Do you purposely avoid contemporary pop song structures?
On the Severance Songs record I choose more of a through-composed approach because I was setting another’s poetry to music. Since the poetry itself had no real repeated words, or words that had the same intention of say a pop chorus, it seemed the only logical choice. In the end, I think it served the words well and it actually ended up taking me in a drastically different direction writing-wise. For me, writing the words of a song is usually the most difficult part. In a way, I thought the Severance Songs project would be easier to complete than my previous records since the words were already written; I couldn’t have been more wrong. Since the text was set and immalleable I really ended up having to bend a lot musically to make it work.
I think that project really taught me how tied together words and music is for me, that for me the music helps to create the text. In general though, besides that record, I find myself usually writing simple forms, especially of late. I have a recent song with just a few words and two chords for the entire thing; I really like that. My goal is still to write a great one chord song…one day.
Does your songwriting process change when you write with your Ormonde partner, Anna-Lynne Williams?
The process in Ormonde is markedly different. For one, we write extremely fast, at least for me – we wrote and recorded our last record in 2 weeks! Also, there’s pressure to complete what we set out to do within the allotted window and make something we can both feel good about. It can be daunting but I actually like being thrown into a situation in which I have to perform, I find it makes for good writing. Honestly, it’s both terrifying and inspiring all at once and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Word on the street is that you are currently writing a musical. Can you tell us about it?
I am. It is in the very beginning stages though and I may have to actually change the story from what I originally set out to do. All and all this is going to take a while but I don’t mind playing the long game. I was told once that Music Man took ten years to make. I’m alright with that timeframe.
I guess this question should be expected when a musician interviews another musician, but can you talk about your favorite pieces of music tech (mics, pedals, devices and doodads…)? What do you use live?
I hate gear. And I especially hate cables – they are the seething serpents nightmares are made of, plus, I really only have gear to facilitate the melting of faces, I just hope I never have to use it. In all seriousness though, I really am, as with all aspects of my life, trying to just use/have the bare minimum. That being said, If I had to pick a couple favorites, I’d say Teenage Engineering’s OP-1 keyboard and the Copperphone microphone from Placid Audio are up there. Both of these items have served me well and are beautiful both in their sound and form. We (Ormonde) probably couldn’t have made the last record without those.
You recently moved to Seattle, WA from Denton, TX, which was your home base for quite a while. Before that you lived in New York City for four years. How do the music scenes differ in these three cities? What drew you to Seattle?
Well, I couldn’t afford to love New York but I’m glad I lived there when I did. It was magic, met some amazing people and had some incredible musical experiences. I’m not sure if I can speak to the music scene in each of those cities except to say that there are great musicians everywhere, you just have to find them. I suggest leaving out a plate of PBR and organic cigarettes.
I was drawn to Seattle for many reasons, my writing partner Anna-Lynne is here, I find the natural environment inspiring and I don’t know, it just suits me, hard to explain…I’m sort of a vampire, there, I said it.
How do you define success as a musician? What are you most proud of in your musical career thus far?
I think success as a musician is being able to employ and manipulate sound to communicate something meaningful to another person in a way that defies explanation. What am I most proud of? Well, as most, I feel the most recent vintage is usually the best one so, I think I’m most proud of the music I made last year which includes my two releases, a tour with Sarah Jaffe to support her latest and a “solo” recital at the University of North Texas.
You’ve played with a number of excellent musicians, including Sarah Jaffe, John Grant, Centro-matic, Baptist Generals, Norah Jones, Omar Faruk Tekbilek, Tico da Costa/Phillip Glass, and I’m sure there will be many more. If you could choose any musician to work with, dead or alive, what would be your dream collaboration?
Abraham Lincoln, Jesus, Albert Einstein…oh wait, that’s the invite for my dinner party. Music collab? I’d love to work with Ennio Morricone. Mr. Morricone, If you’re reading this, please call me!
What have you been listening to lately?
I’ve been listening to lots of Chopin and J.S. Bach lately. I know that sounds a bit highfalutin but it’s the truth. I’ve been buying up lots of classical vinyl lately. Also, I’m really in a weird place musically. I find myself inundated with terrible music coming at me from all directions, the grocery store, the local bar, the uber car rides, etc. I guess I’m just going through a sort of musical cleanse. Get home, pump the Chopin, raisinate in the bath, ah…much better.
You’ll be back in Denton for your 35 Denton show. What do you like to do and see when you are back? Does Denton feel different to you now that you’ve relocated, or is it just a home away from home?
I’m very much looking forward to coming back to Denton. It is and will always be a magical place to me. When I’m in town I like to go to Dan’s and Wine2 where I used to practice my craft of song and bartending. Also, you can usually find me hanging out with Kevin Spacey at Paschall bar.
What’s coming up next for you this year and what are you most excited about?
Musically, Ormonde is playing SXSW and then going on a tour of Europe including some dates in Czech republic. I’m very much looking forward to going back, it’ll be our first time back since we went to the Netherlands a few years ago. In other news I’m taking my Sommelier certification exam with the Court of Master Sommeliers in a month so I’m having fun preparing for that. Which reminds me, I should probably get back to that…
Kaela Sinclair, 24 year old musician from Denton, TX has showcased her compositional skill, lush vocals, and intelligent lyrics and proven herself to be as sultry and expressive on stage as she is in the studio. She made waves with her debut album Sun & Mirror, quickly garnering the attention and affection of national and local music critics. In collaboration with acclaimed producer and drummer, McKenzie Smith (Midlake, Regina Spektor, St. Vincent).