Interview With Gomez Drummer Olly Peacock

Olly Peacock is an easy-going fellow, but come on now—don’t malign the man’s cymbals, even if you are Gil Norton, famed producer behind the Pixies and Foo Fighters.

“Gil’s renowned for being a bit—not cruel—but pushing drummers,” Peacock explains. “He’s one to have a go at you or take away cymbals if he doesn’t like them. I was always fond of the fact that when we first got together he told me he didn’t like Chinas, and I’ve got two of them. I think it was when I was playing them in the chorus [on one of the new songs] that he’d come in and start going, ‘I’m serious now, I don’t what you to play the China stuff.’ So for the next take, I’d play it twice as much, and then he’d go on the intercom and go, ‘Ol, now honestly, just leave that alone.’ So I’d give it a bit more, and then he’d walk into the room and start threatening me with a finger, with his eyes wide open. To see the cringe on his face—that was the funniest thing,” Peacock laughs. “I kind of wanted him to do it and take half the kit away, but he never got that far. It was definitely like you kind of wanted to push it to see what would happen.”

The good-natured producer prodding was probably inevitable. Peacock and his Brit-hip group, Gomez, have released seven albums over the last decade, but the new disc, How We Operate, is the band’s first with an outsider behind the boards. “I think years ago, when we were younger,” Peacock says, “we weren’t going to be told what to do. I don’t think we would have dealt with it very well, and I think it would have ended up with one of us walking out after five minutes. It took all these years to kind of get to grips with that. 

“We gravitated towards Gil because he was from the same neck of the woods from where we are in the north of England. It was all very interesting getting him involved. We did a couple weeks rehearsal before recording the album, which we had always intended to do. I think everybody else in the world rehearses an album and then goes and records it, but we generally just go in, and things get written on the spot. So Gil came down, and basically arranged all the songs, which is a really great way of doing it. We all worked quite well together. He questioned everything that we wanted, we questioned everything that he wanted, and then he told us off a few times, which was quite amusing.” 

It’s easy enough to shoulder a little cursing when you have Peacock’s credentials. Though Gomez officially began in 1996, the group’s roots formed some 16 years ago, when Peacock and guitarist/vocalist Ian Ball, who have known each other all their lives, decided to put a band together. “It was one of those situations,” Peacock says, “where we told each other what we would play. ‘You play guitar, you play drums.’ And I ended up with the sticks—unfortunately.” The freshly christened skinsman started off by playing along to pop tunes, but those soon gave way to heavier, meatier styles of music. Before he knew it, thrash metal grabbed hold of his scruffy neck, and names like Lars and, more importantly, Lombardo headed up a list of influences. At 17 or 18 years old, the young drummer got bit by the jazz bug, and that’s when Peacock felt he ought to work on his chops, though never to the point of becoming an obsessed practice-pad shredder. Because he’s always been in a band, it’s playing music—rich, textured, nuanced music—that is still very much on his mind. “I’m more of a kind of guy,” he says, “that likes to just let all the influences come in and have more of a style and more of a personality rather than one of those guys who can just play the kit well but is very standard.” 

No, Peacock’s playing—particularly on this latest batch of eclectic Gomez tunes—could never be mistaken for anything “standard.” What to call a drumming style that shifts easily from the laid-back brush work on “Notice” to the jaunty country-calypso beat of “Cry On Demand” to the blues-rock undercurrent of “Chasing Ghosts With Alcohol”? Peacock himself offers a description. “I always like to use the word fluky,” he says, warming up for a bit of old-fashioned—and endearing—self-deprecation. “Everybody else in the band always says I’m quite fluky. I seem to kind of just throw the sticks around, and I have lots of drums and lots and lots of cymbals … Yeah, I think that’s what I do: I have lots of things to compensate that I’m really bad, and hopefully something kind of good comes out of it.” 

He laughs again, and then continues more seriously (but only a little more seriously) about his role in the band: “I guess I’m supposed to be the time-keeper and all that stuff, but our bass player is usually the man that keeps us all together, to be honest. He’s the guy who’s keeping it tied down, whereas I’ll be off just doing whatever I want to do, especially live. In some ways, I think I’m more of a mediator between everything—between what the song is and what it then turns out to be. I’m usually one of the members of the band that tries to either ruin songs in some ways or make them more exciting with electronics or rearranging things. There’s always that want and need in me to make something simple a little more complicated, a little stranger.” 

Ironically, he might have met his equal for making songs a little more complicated. Though Norton generally suggested stripping down Peacock’s complex rhythms, the veteran producer could also make some limb-tangling requests, sometimes at the last minute. Take, for example, the recording of the new album’s title track (the same song incidentally in which Peacock playfully tortured Norton with those forbidden Chinas). “I was coming from the point of view,” Peacock explains, “of having a sort of German, very stringent, kind of tactile and simple beat, but cleverly done with off-beats on the hi-hat and the bass drum syncopating. This was one of the coolest beats I had come up with. We’d been rehearsing it, and I had had this in the bag for a week. And then just as we’re recording, Gil says, ‘No, I think you need to do something else to start the second verse. Just stick the bass drum on this beat as well as putting it in on the 1 and the 3 while doing the double stuff. Okay? Go and record it.’ And I’m like, “Do you realize how annoying that is? I don’t want to change it, and it’s that hard to play.” When I got to the chorus, I had this groove going that felt completely alien to the whole song, but everybody else is digging it. I managed to pull it off, I don’t know how. That was a bit of a tough one, but it came out really well.” 

Everything came out so well, in fact, that the buzz is beginning again. Gomez’s debut, Bring It On, kept critics and fans alike clapping along to its blues-tinged electro-folk rock. After the album picked up England’s coveted Mercury music award and once a well-received sophomore effort hit the shelves, the band seemed poised for global dominance, ready to reap a level of popularity similar to a Coldplay or, at least, a Keane. That kind of mass appeal, though, has somehow eluded the band, particularly—and strangely—in their own country. It’s a situation that Peacock thinks about: “We’ve got to the point where now as musicians we’re very much on our game. I think now it would be nice for just a few more people to be checking us out, especially in England, where the music culture and especially the journalism … Well, it’s just so fickle that it would be nice for people to go, as I would do as a listener, ‘Okay, hold on. This band released a good record. I might not care too much about them, but it’s good music, and I’ll just get with it,” rather than going, ‘Hold on. They haven’t got their hats on or their cool ties or their big, pointy shoes.’ That seems how everywhere else in the world works. They don’t give a damn unless you’re making good music.” 

So if you give a damn about good music, then get ready to check out Gomez. Be sure to leave your big, pointy shoes at home, but don’t feel like you have to keep your Chinas in the closet. Peacock is already dusting his off for the tour. 

Let’s not tell Norton.

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