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Jon Gomm Interview.

Hello, dear reader. That facial hair is looking pretty awesome. Speaking Of facial hair, have you heard of Jon Gomm? He has pretty awesome facial fuzz.

So, unsure of when Marion whatshername week is over, I'm a bit nervous about posting this, lest the other boys want mr dead. But, this guy is too good to not show you!

He's a singer songwriter guitarist (and with some schools of thought a drummer and god knows what else) with god knows how many shows under his belt and an international reputation.

So yes, read on!

Oh, be warned. He doesn't know who Spongebob is.

What made you first pick up a guitar, and what first made you decide to start hitting and scratching it?

I got my first guitar when I was 2 years old, after pestering my parents endlessly for one. I was an odd child. It was actually a ukulele, but it was a nice one! I don't really know why I wanted it so badly. The percussion stuff has always been a natural part of acoustic guitar playing to me - my first teacher, when I was 4, was a flamenco guitarist, and drumming is commonplace in that style, and the first acoustic blues guitarist I saw in concert (I'd have been about 10 years old) was Bob Brozman, and he routinely plays his dobro like a percussive instrument. I've never seen that style as anything "new", because it isn't, although it's suddenly come to public attention recently.

Do you see the increased awareness as a good thing? What do you think of people who have taken it to a more main stream audience such as David Ford and Newton Faulkner?

I don't think anything specific about those guys: percussive guitar is not a genre of music, it's just a technique. I'm not in general into many young acoustic singer-songwriters at the moment, even though I guess they are my peers! I can take one poignant song in a major key with a husky blue-eyed-soul vocal, IF it's a really good one. Any more and I need to shower.

As for more people getting into tapping techniques, that's great! As long as it's music - if you rely on technique to compose, everything will sound the same pretty quickly.

Have you ever considered incorporating other instruments into your music? You currently make a general four-piece from one instrument, would you ever want to expand on that with other instruments, or take it in the style of such as David Ford and get other instruments and build them into one big loop, gradually adding more instruments and melodies as the song progresses?

I'm in the process of adding sax and another singer to some songs at the moment actually, but it's in rehearsal stage. I'm afraid I don't know who David Ford is! I love loopers, my favourites that are Jamie Woon, who loops just vocals, and guitar looper Matt Stevens. But I don't like looping myself, I like every sound to be made right there and then by my body and my guitar. I love playing acoustically when I get the chance - no amps or effects. Looping kinda goes against my personal ethos for performing.

Take me through the writing process of a song. Which parts come first, which parts are the easiest and hardest?

I see songwriting and guitar arranging as two separate things: melodies and lyrics come first, and some vague harmonic ideas. Then I'll think about what genre or mood or tempo I'd like to accompany the song, and start working on guitar ideas. Both are difficult things, but totally different types of creativity in my mind. But I feel lucky that because all my music is just me and Wilma - Wilma's my guitar - I can hopefully be as broad as I like and people won't get too confused. I can just stick a funk song or reggae song into my set, in a way that might sound weird if it was a band.

Other than the performing, what do you do yourself? From a song been written, how many other people are involved in that song, from getting it on to a CD in it's finished form to getting that CD to the listener, and then to being performed to international audiences?

I do pretty much everything, along with my manager. So recording, production, even getting the CDs pressed and distributed - we do it all! I'm working with other producers at the moment though; this week I'm spending a couple of days between gigs at Signal Chain studios in Leeds (

The best way to get people interested in your music internationally is to go there! The internet is far more local than most people realise. Just because anyone in the world can access your website doesn't mean they will, and the most important thing is still word of mouth.

Saying that, do you have any problems with language when playing in other European countries? When I saw you live, one of the things that made it such an engaging performance was the banter you had with the audience, do you ever lose that, or are there usually enough English speakers to cope?

I actually have introductions to all my songs translated into various languages and I learn them, and I speak a bit of Italian and German anyway. The audiences seem to love the jokes, although they often laugh in different places, which is confusing at first. Italians are just overwhelmed at the mere sound of an Englishman speaking their language, they go nuts! Some places there's no point: Dutch is virtually impossible to pronounce. Luckily everybody there speaks amazing English. We're in talks with some folks about touring in Japan in 2012, and that would definitely be the biggest challenge so far!

You do guitar workshops too, how did that get started?

I studied at The Guitar Institute when I left school, and I loved the visiting artists' masterclasses. And I love teaching them now! They're all different, kinda like gigs, except as well as playing a song I get to tell everyone all about it, whether that's how I composed it, or how I play it on the guitar. I'm doing a few at festivals this year, which is the most informal setting and it often turns into a question and answer session. I've had every question at festivals, from "what gauge strings do you use", to "what colour pants are you wearing"!

You take influences from an eclectic range of styles, from hard rock solos to country waltzes to singing in Urdu. Have you always listened to a variety of styles? What sort of music did your parents raise you on?

Yeah, I love discovering music from around the world, it's an advantage of living in a city like Leeds that I can discuss East African music in my local barbershop, or Bollywood soundtracks in the Post Office. They're obsessed in there, actually, it takes me 20 minutes to buy a stamp.

My dad used to take me to blues gigs, and the touring bands would stay at his house, so when I was a kid I was lucky enough to get one-to-one lessons from some incredible legendary blues guitarists, like Bob Brozman and Walter Trout. But I was also getting classical lessons, so my musical influences were always broad.

Were there never any influences from the modern chart side of music of the time?

When the 90s scene really kicked in then yes: Radiohead, Bjork, Nirvana, Jeff Buckley, Beck - all those guys seemed to appear within the space of a year, it was an unbelievable time, musically.

Did you start out as a solo performer, or did you start in bands? If you started out in bands, what made you decide to go solo?

The solo thing was a sideline originally, I was playing in various bands as a session guitarist, but I didn't have a band playing my own songs at the time, and I had songs I wanted to play. So I just started playing open mic nights, which I still love doing but I rarely get time anymore. And I just got into it. I love the directness of just being alone on a stage with an acoustic instrument: it's so immediate I think you can communicate ideas and emotions really clearly.

Not to mention that you can keep to your own ideas, rather than having to write the stuff you do around other folks instruments. Had you been in a standard band, would you have wanted to play the guitar the way you do, or would you have been happy to leave the percussion to the drummer? If you had the chance to start up a band like that, would you?

No, the very last thing I would do is start a guitar/bass/drums based band! There's just no reason to: I'm happy for the percussion and low notes to be provided differently, there's enough of those bands in the world!

We've touched on how other nationalities react to your banter, how do they react to your music? Needless to say, an impressive guitarist is universal.  But are any countries more into it than others?

Italians are incredible. My first gig there, there were a few old gentlemen, very smartly dressed, in the front row, they really stuck out in the crowd and looked very serious about the concert. I played a tune called Rescue Song, which I'm always conscious of how schmaltzy it is when I play it, and one of these fellas just had his head in his hands. I thought "Oh dear, this is too cheesey for these discerning chaps." But when I mentioned him to the promoter after the show he said "No no, you misunderstood, he was crying!" It's hard to imagine and old guy in Yorkshire openly weeping with emotion at a gig!

That must have been a very humbling thing to have happen. Is evoking such strong emotions from a listener one of your aims as a song writer?

No, I write to express things, not impress them on others. I prefer that approach - I'm very wary of being guilty of what I call "button pushing" - I mean going beyond just writing to please an audience, and in fact trying to manipulate them with hackneyed but effective chord changes, slow building dynamics and plodding, relentless pulses. Coldplay and Snow Patrol are modern masters of this. It's oddly affecting yet somehow emotionally vacant.

I have real things I want to say!

Do you prefer to play for new or old faces?

Both: I love the fact that people keep coming to see me year after year, and they know my lyrics and request my songs and such. And most importantly that they get my humour and will have a heckle. They always lose, but they try, bless 'em!

New audiences are great cos I don't have to worry about what songs I play: it's all new to them! Except even then I'll get requests, usually for songs which are on Youtube.

You like getting heckled? What's the best heckle you've had?

I remember at a workshop you did at Barnsley college you did you asked if anyone had any requests, and I shouted "smoke on the water" and you played the main riff.

A funny heckle can make a gig for me. Yes, heckling is great, I encourage it, as long as someone isn't just being an attention-seeker, there's only room for one of those at my gigs! My favourite heckle is probably one from a gig in Bolton - a guy stood up in between songs and shouted "Shag my wife, please shag my wife!" Which was unexpected, to say the least. I replied "I'll think about it, what does she look like" and a woman stood up and shouted "I'm here, what do you think?"

At that same gig, someone wrote on my mailing list "Jesus came to us only once, Jon Gomm came to Bolton twice." Which is a paradigm of overstatement. It's funny, in other words.

You released Don't Panic a couple of years ago, how's that doing? After the success of Hypertension did you feel that had any pressure to produce something good quality, or had you been able to road test the new songs on your relentless touring?

Oh, I have always gigged the songs before I record them. Which is backwards to most people, I realise! I don't actually worry about maintaining quality, I still have plenty of fresh ideas for songs, and I'm always pushing myself to try new things musically and guitar-wise too. I find it disappointing when a band or artist seems to find a groove, stylistically, and then lives there for the rest of their career. I want change: people worry too much about having an identifiable sound or style. That's not art, it's branding. Some people make *that* their artform, though, but I'm not that kind of musician.

So you don't mind a song that isn't maybe as strong as the other songs, as long as it's a new sound for you?

Ha ha! I don't really know how to judge a song overall in that way: the "craft" of songwriting at some point went from finding original ideas to what people refer to now as "quality songwriting", which a lot of times seems to me like following a bunch of very strict rules. I don't remember Cole Porter or Robert Johnson writing any four chord anthems. And when Paul McCartney figured out they sold the most records, he stopped being a genius. There's enough people out there trying to please the whole western world, I'm just doing my thing.

At a guess, just how many shows have you performed?

I have no idea, I've been gigging all my life, it's like asking Spock how many times he's raised his eyebrow. He doesn't mean to do it so often, it just happens. Maybe it's an undiagnosed medical condition.

You've made some custom modifications to your guitars, what have you done?

There's a mic inside to pick up the drumming stuff, and I use mega heavy strings so I can tune really low and get big fat bass notes. And I also have a couple of banjo pegs for fancy tuning tricks: you can get some lovely ethereal swoopy bends by retuning notes. Those are the only modifications, really. Except the prosthetic beer gut...

Yeah, I was going to mention that if you didn't. Care to elaborate for the readers?

Well, when I started playing guitar drumming stuff I used to find the back of the instrument would bang against my hip and make an extra noise I didn't want. So I fashioned a cushion from spongey foam and gaffer tape, and stuck it on the back of the guitar ever since. Plus it angles the guitar nicely. That along with my Courrie Y-strap makes my guitar like an extension of my body. Not in a rude way.

With the rise of the Internet, download sales, and decline of the conventional music industry, how do you feel about the distinct possibility that everything you do apart from the actual live show will be done online? I presume it would save you a lot of money from printing CDs, what would you lose from downloads being generally cheaper, if not downloaded illegally?

It's something I'm really embracing from now on. I'm going to be releasing a series of singles later this year, purely online. It's and exciting new thing for me: I'm not the kind of artist who could realistically release a chart single, and for the last few decades that's been the way singles have been consumed. Non-pop artists just make albums. But now people like to download one track at a time as much as a whole album, and I don't see why that should only apply to commercially-oriented music.

It's actually a massive step back in time to when everybody bought singles, up to the mid 1960s. Which was also when people spent more of their dosh on music than at any time since. Potentially it's a fantastic development.

Historically, people have bought "singles" since when music was published through sheet music, and folks just bought it and played it. Speaking of which, as someone who only has a grade three knowledge of music theory, would it actually be possible to put your stuff on to sheet music?

Imagine those halcyon days, mum at the piano, everyone gathered 'round singing the latest Gershwin hit.

I find transcribing my own stuff really boring, but yes it is possible! There will be tab to go with each of the single releases, and then I'll start writing out some older pieces. It's funny, I devour tab when I find something I want to learn, I love it, but transcribing all the crazy techniques is just aggravating!

What reasons would you give someone to encourage them to take music as a career? Would you even recommend it? What advice would you give them?

People have so many reasons for getting into music, it's impossible to advise everyone at once, but if you have something to offer then go for it.

But if there's no ideas inside you - if you create by trying to emulate - then you need to either learn more about music or just find something else to do. Don't be "the next" anybody.

Assuming I don't have to work, I'll be coming to the courthouse gig in Barnsley, and I'll be bringing the girl I've been dating. She's a complete Jon Gomm virgin. In my position would you loan her your copy of Don't Panic (which I JUST bought from iTunes, you'll be pleased to know) or wait and let her first experience be the live show?

I don't know: I think it's better live. I think all music is better live, though! You can never experience a recording the way you experience a concert.

After a recent gig a guy came up to me and said "I want to thank you Jon. Bringing first dates to your gigs has got me laid twice." I should charge more.

...I just want to know who's name she was calling out, all things considered.

You said earlier that it was unlikely for you to get a chart single, what if someone started a campaign to get you the Xmas number one, like with the Rage Against The Machine song? How do you think you'd react to hearing that you had a No.1 single, never mind the Xmas No.1? Would you do anything to thank the people who supported the campaign and yourself?

Ha ha! It wouldn't work, it would be impossible. I'd much rather people just recommended my music to their friends. I need all the support I can get from the people who are into my music, and I love interacting with people on facebook and twitter. I'm going to be asking my fans lots of favours over the coming months, don't worry!

What would your dream guitar be?

I own it! Wilma is perfect, I just have to keep her going. She's a Lowden, made from spruce and mahogany by some lovely people in Northern Ireland.

What would you do in the event of a zombie outbreak?

Go with it. BRAINS

What's your favourite mythical creature?

You should ask Andy McKee, he loves that stuff, he's a Dungeons & Dragons playin' fool.

Answering with only one word, if I say the word "vegetable" to you, what do you reply?

Nothing. You can say vegetable if you want, it's not my place to interfere.

You've run out of guitar strings, and the strings on Wilma really should be changed, and go to the store to buy more, but on the way you pass a shop and notice something that would be a perfect little gift for the wife. Do you get the gift or the strings?

They don't sell my strings in shops. They're made by a bearded, be-slippered man in the Derbyshire hills, called Malcolm. So my wife gets her present!

What's the most romantic thing you've ever done?


What are your opinion on onions?

Love them. Italians traditionally never use onion and garlic in the same dish. Dopiaza is Urdu for double the onions!

What's the strangest thing you've ever eaten?

I don't know: crickets? Nice with chilli.

And finally, who lives in a pineapple under the sea?

This is possibly a pop culture reference I don't get, but pineapple's are far too perishable to make adequate housing. Try a coconut.


  1. Songwriting and guitar arranging are two different true so true. I love this.

    I've been watching Jon Gomm videos on the Tube, and he is pretty rightgeous.

    Hi Jon

  2. I would love to play D n D with Andy McKee.
    He could turn any monster into tame puppy just by playing "drifting"

  3. found out exactly what I needed to know about the mans set up, background and insights. Great interview. Thx.


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