Not many musicians can claim to have played with Turkish multi-instrumentalist Omar Faruk Tekbilek, the Cuban “son” band Septeto Habanero and the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus. Yet while Denton, Texas, guitarist Robert Gomez still relishes the time he spent performing Middle Eastern and Latin styles, he’s not keen to repeat his life under the big top.
“It’s very much like playing on a talk show, except there’s lions, tigers and elephants around,” he says in a phone interview. “You play all the time. It’s pretty demanding. You live on a train. It was a good experience, but it was a lot more work than I thought it was going to be.”
Brand New Towns
(Bella Union; US: 20 Mar 2007; UK: 22 Jan 2007)
That was three years ago, and these days Gomez, 31, doesn’t need the traveling circus life to fill downtime. He has just released his second solo album, “Brand New Towns,” his first for Bella Union, the label founded by Simon Raymonde, formerly of the British band the Cocteau Twins.
That’s being followed by a tour of Europe, where critics have waxed rhapsodic. London’s Evening Standard declared Gomez “weaves surreal, heartbroken lullabies that defy cliches,” while the Guardian said “Beck’s softer moments, Grandaddy’s playful pastoralism and John Lennon’s melodic shifts haunt these songs beautifully.”
Being a somewhat downcast, sensitive singer-songwriter is not what might be expected from the Corpus Christi-raised former University of North Texas music student, who had been more of an instrumentalist while working in jazz, classical and world music. Gomez even had a side project called the Latin Pimps.
“I’ve gone full circle,” he says with a laugh. “My first recital (was) when I was 6 years old - I was learning folk songs and singing them. Now I’m singing and playing guitar again.”
The switch back to pop songs began when he moved from Denton to New York City in 2000. Though he paid his rent as a musician-for-hire playing everything from tango to Brazilian, his time spent with another former UNT student who had moved to New York sparked an interest in the singer-songwriter tradition.
“(Norah Jones) started doing the songwriting thing. We used to see her at the Living Room and it was jazz and songwriting put into songs with words and, after a while, we were all gravitating toward that,” recalls Gomez, whose former UNT roommate had been Jones’ boyfriend. “I never woke up and said `I’m through with jazz and I’m going to write songs.’ It was this metamorphosis.”
Realizing he could write songs from anywhere and not have to pay New York rents, Gomez and his artist wife returned to Denton in 2004. “The Denton vortex got us,” laughs Gomez, referring to the number of friends who had moved away and then returned.
Not long after, he released his first disc, “Etherville,” independently. This and a performance at the South by Southwest festival in Austin attracted the attention of Raymonde, who has signed other Denton acts, such as Midlake, Lift to Experience, Mandarin and Jetscreamer.
With his busy schedule these days - a U.S. tour follows the European trek - Gomez only occasionally longs to have an outlet for his jazz/world-music personality. He does have a label in Denton called Basement Front Records where he has signed Brazilian guitarist Tico da Costa and the Louisville outfit Liberation Prophecy, which he describes as “(jazz bassist) Charlie Mingus meets indie-rock.”
“I’m pretty into this,” he says of his singer-songwriter ambitions. “There is a part of me that always misses the other stuff. Two weeks ago, I did a Cuban show at the Silverleaf (club in Denton). That will keep me all right for a few months.”
- "Closer Still" MP3