In the past five years, the local Dallas music scene has cranked out some incredible talent. St. Vincent, Sarah Jaffe, and the Baptist Generals have all been drowned in music critic acclaim, along with their more silent partner Robert Gomez. Gomez is no stranger to critical acclaim, having been given a thumbs-up from everyone from NPR to Pitchfork, but he certainly is less-hyped than his Denton-based contemporaries.
Gomez, who was signed to Simon Raymonde's Bella Union label in 2007, has been quietly making some of the area's most subtly beautiful music ever since. I sat down to talk with Gomez about his upcoming album Earth Underfoot, his upcoming move to Seattle, and whether or not he'll continue working with Denton musicians after he splits.
DC9 at Night: How was making Earth Underfoot different than making the Severance Songs EP?
Gomez: It was quite different in that the Severance Songs was a work of poetry that already existed that I put to music, which ended up being a very unusual process for me in that the words were not malleable, so I had to keep the integrity of the poetry. As where when you have your own songs, like the new record, the songs can develop even when you're recording them. I figure out that some words work better than others, cut out sections, add others... It was just a totally different process.
And what about musically?
This record is more of a live record. We're just in the studio as a band playing with each other and just recording the first few takes. The other record was mostly me playing all the instruments and recording track by track and layering them on top of each other.
What drove you to create a more live album and to collaborate with other artists?
I've been a solo artist for some time and I've been sort of always working in that way. Where, in order to create and play the song, I have to layer track after track. Which, it becomes a bit restrictive in a way... When you play with other people, they play differently, and that's what makes a band sound like a band.
How did this group come together for you?
[It] was really just to play the Severance Songs music live. After we played a few shows, I was so taken by them and when I decided that I wanted to make a record, I wanted them involved. I did write all the music, but they developed some parts on their own and we worked on the songs together as a band in the studio. It was more of a collaborative effort.
What specific sound were you trying to achieve with the album? Is it an evolution or a continuation of what you were doing in the past?
For me, I grew up a lot playing jazz. I was kind of always working on my ability to react musically in real time and I think having them there and having them play different parts and things that I wouldn't think up because we're different people coming from different places with different experience. We're all in our 30s, we're all older, we've all played in a bunch of bands... They just don't play a bunch of bullshit, which I love. No one's trying to show off.
Do you find a lack of subtlety in music that is commercially popular?
Yeah, I could see that. It's hard to really tell because there's always really good music. To me there's no good or bad music. When I think of subtlety, I think of the way Sarah sings. She says so much in a very subtle way, and I think people really react to that. People are still doing it, and it's not like it never was there. But for the most part, most music is pretty transparent and that's probably what does the best commercially.
One thing I found especially interesting in this album is the mix of instrumental tracks and music with lyrics. What made you choose to combine the two?
On previous records, I've had maybe one very short intro or outro instrumental track, but there are actually two instrumental tracks I wrote that didn't even make it onto this record... I had it in my mind that I would do an instrumental record one day, but this is a song record, and maybe one day I'll do a jazz record. The more I get familiar with the process, I think that I should just throw it all together because those different sides of the way I write can make the record more interesting.
How do you make that cohesive?
It was recorded with all the same musicians, all in the same room, all in the same week. We were playing together and realizing these songs together. The songs are quite different, some of them anyway.
It's like baking a cake: You put in all these ingredients and hope that it tastes good, but you can be surprised when it comes out. It helped having a producer on this one; I usually just produce the music myself. But I did have another set of ears that was kind of steering the record.
Last week, you played Homegrown with Sarah Jaffe and the Baptist Generals. Was it fun to reunite?
Oh yeah. I actually finished my music degree, so it was really awesome. Instead of walking across the stage at commencement, I played with Baptist Generals at Homegrown. I wouldn't have had it any other way. Baptist Generals is one of my favorite bands of all time; I wouldn't even say local bands. All time. I've been wanting to play with them for years, and when I was invited this year, I was really excited about it. It was a great way to go out for the month of May. And playing with Sarah is always awesome.
Word is you're planning on moving to Seattle. Is that because of the album or do you have other reasons?
I had moved to Seattle before, and then came back to Denton. I'm not going to be playing with Baptist Generals anymore, but I will be playing with Sarah. I'll still sort of be back and forth between there and Dallas, but it's different with Sarah because she's going on tour to promote her new record.
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I have a duo project in Seattle called Ormonde with Anna-Lynne Williams, a songwriter there. It's a very 50/50 collaborative effort. We put out a record on Hometapes, this Portland-based label in 2010 or 2011, and we have a new record as well that isn't finalized yet but it's recorded, so a lot of this decision is just getting up there and being able to see that to fruition.
Are you working on any local projects? Will you continue to stay involved in projects that you've been working on in Dallas?
No, not really. Just my my solo stuff. I'll probably do some dates to support the release of the new record in Dallas later in the fall, but none of that is decided yet. For now I just have the local release party at Dan's Silverleaf where local people can get the CD before it comes out on June 10th.
ROBERT GOMEZ plays at an album release show with Moonbather tonight, Friday, May 16 at Dan's Silver Leaf, 103 Industrial St. 10 p.m. $7.