News that Gomez are touring their seminal album Liquid Skin 20 years on from its release is very upsetting to a Gen X-er like me. Not only does it make it ever more obvious that I have entered my 40s (it's easier sometimes to pretend birthdays mean nothing), but it's also entailed a highly disturbing and vivid trip down the rabbit-hole that is 90s nostalgia.
Anyone who has ever used music as any kind of crutch while growing up will know the exquisite, bittersweet or sometimes painful sensation of being transported directly back to a time, place and even smell upon hearing a song many years down the track. Songs and albums are as powerful as photos.
I have very vivid memories of Liquid Skin when it was brand new, and on high rotation at the various group houses I hung out in as a uni student. It was the best kind of album - unpredictable, memorable, humorous, heartfelt and just so cool, all at once.
As Gomez have just arrived on Australian shores to tour it on its 20th anniversary, it's pleasing to note that Liquid Skin holds up incredibly well two decades down the track. After spending an enjoyable hour re-listening to the album, I send over some questions to Tom Gray, who does vocals, guitars and keyboard on the album.
Below is the enlightening (and sweary) conversation that ensued.
SP: I am suddenly hyper-aware of the passage of time. Have you guys had the same experience?
TG: Hearing my old music is akin to looking at a photograph of myself as a gawky teenager. I look at it with a mixture of love and sympathy. Yes, of course, it can make me feel goddamn old, but middle age is a great time for feeling mortality creep toward and scratch at you anyway. Going back and playing music you wrote when you were 21 (at the age of 42) could be, again, something that reminds you that life is f---ing limited, but, to be honest, going into a room of people and sharing in their absolute joy at hearing something they hold so dear, is, without doubt, utterly life-affirming. So herein lies something of a paradox. Come to the gig, you'll get it. That's where you'll feel 20 years younger.
SP: Do you listen to the album and talk about things you could have done differently?
TG: Nah. F--- that. You make art, you move on. Second guessing is no way to make anything new.
SP: Times have really changed when it comes to recording, releasing, listening, buying, promoting music. What are some of the best things about being a British band were back then, and what things are better now?
TG: Back in the 1990s we all signed these awful record deals where we essentially signed over our rights to our music for the rest of time. That's no joke - like forever. It wasn't until a court in 2001 found that it was a breech of human rights that things began to change. Unfortunately all our music is still in those contracts though... for 50 years.
So, yeah, things are much better in terms of rights and artists keeping their work, but in the meantime the new streaming model has not produced viable income for most artists, certainly not the ones starting out.
In the 1990s we got money, we did silly things with it. Now the major labels seem to simply keep all the money for themselves. I guess if you're now a "data company" simply doing deals based on your global market share, you're no longer accountable for, or indeed care, how much music anyone actually listens to. It's all a bit disturbing if I'm honest. I wish I was more hopeful, but until we break up how people get paid from streaming so more of it goes to the writers and artists, things are really very bleak.
SP: When this tour was announced, I was pretty much the only person in the newsroom who had even heard of you, let alone name and sing one of your songs. Am I indicative of the the audiences you have now? Are we all in our 40s and surreptitiously checking our phones to make sure the kids are alright back at home with the babysitter? Or are you getting new fans who weren't sentient when Liquid Skin came out? And if so, what do they hear, do you think?
TG: We did a short tour of Liquid Skin in the UK back in July and I was really pleased and reassured to see so many young faces at the shows. I have never understood other people's relationship with our music, it's not something I think I can or should really understand. I don't think it's my job.
Inevitably most of the humans at the shows are people who bought the record at the time. That they are older and wiser and still daft and beautiful enough to come along and share in our nonsense means they are as young or old as they need to be.
I've never given much thought to age, we always had older fans and I've always enjoyed their presence. It's good to know that someone older than you can like what you do, that music isn't just about time and place. Hopefully it can transcend all that. Relevancy is much more internal than people care to admit.
SP: So many artists seem to begrudge their audiences' constant demands to "play their old stuff", and get stroppy when they have to play 20-year-old singles when they're just trying to promote their new stuff. That's why your tour, and the concept of touring an old album and just playing the old stuff is so refreshing.
TG: We honestly don't give a f--- about anything like that. Not to mention the fact that all our stuff is "the old stuff" at this point in history. Last record was made nine years ago.
It's nice getting together with your old mates and doing something that people f---ing LOVE. Like REALLY f---ing LOVE. They sing every bloody bar of music, never mind the words. In Glasgow we couldn't hear anything we were playing over the crowd.
When people commit like that, it would simply be churlish to hold back the joyful catharsis. People need to have a good time. It isn't about prioritising my art at this point, I'd do that anyway. The world is f---ed enough without knobheads like me refusing to play the songs you want to hear, eh?
- Gomez are playing at Canberra Theatre on November 17. Tickets at canberratheatrecentre.com.au.