Tuesday, June 3, 2014
A Ripple Conversation with Jon Gomm; DIY and how music helps him communicate
I first discovered Jon Gomm a few years ago when I stumbled across his breathtaking cover of Chaka Khan’s “Ain’t Nobody” on one of my many YouTube binges. I’ve been hooked ever since. Whilst that cover is stupidly good, there is so much more to the English songwriter. His latest album, Secrets Nobody Keeps, was 100% crowdfunded in less than a month and he continues to blow people away with his unique guitar playing. With a long awaited UK tour underway as we speak, I was luckily enough to catch up with him for a chat…
I’ve followed your work for a few years ago and you seem to be really going from strength to strength. Would you say you’ve “made it”? If not, what do you regard as “making it”
When I was a kid I used to go to gigs with my dad, who was a music critic, and some of the musicians we saw and hung out with were household names, but many weren't. I'd go into school and tell my friends I'd seen Walter Trout and had dinner with him and they were like "who?" So "making it" for me has never been about success, only about the quality of the music you make.
You’re really active on Twitter etc and often interact with your fans on there. How important do you think social media is for musicians now?
I can only speak for myself, but I love talking with fans and other musicians online. I am pretty open, quite often the things that get the biggest reaction are just when I post my thoughts about music, art or just life!
Your latest album “Secrets Nobody Keeps” is very deep lyrically. What’s the story behind the album?
Each song has its own story. Some are from my world travelling - so there's a South African influenced tune, and a Chinese one. But lyrically some of the songs came out of quite a desperate place - being on tour non-stop for long periods, waking up not knowing where you are, if it's day or night, winter or summer - it's draining emotionally. So songs like Telepathy and There's No Need To Be Afraid come from quite a scared and lonely place. One song is a negative expression of that, and one is a positive expression. Hopefully it's obvious which is which!
What made you pick up a guitar?
I just desperately wanted to learn when I was very young. I started taking classical lessons when I was 4. I can't really remember the motivation, and who knows what motivates a kid at that age! I just latched onto the guitar as a fun thing to do and something you could never, ever truly master, which is really appealing to me.
There are people that look at your technique and are blown away, which artists have that effect on you?
In terms of technique, over the years it's been people who experiment. Because I started so young with formal, traditional playing, seeing or hearing rebels who break the rules has always been exciting to me. Some examples are Tom Morello from Rage Against The Machine, acoustic guitarist Michael Hedges, and jazz guitarist Stanley Jordan.
You’ve racked up some miles with your tours, is there anywhere on your wishlist that you’d love to play that you haven’t yet?
It changes from day to day, but currently I have a burning desire to go to Japan. I've been reading a lot of Haruki Murakami, so that's probably why.
What’s your favourite part of being a musician?
There's two things. One is the communication I can achieve with an audience. I can be so open emotionally, or so direct, or so nuanced and complicated in the way I communicate through music and performance. I could never do that in conversation with anyone, let alone a roomful of strangers. And also there's the mental peace I can find from just practicing the same thing over and over and over.
What advice would you give to upcoming bands who are struggling in the industry?
Do it yourself. There is no "industry" anymore except for the very very mainstream or the very very lucky few. You are your own industry. If your friend wanted to sell T-shirts, and he said "I make great T-shirts. People love my T-shirts. They are beautiful. I just can't get a break in the T-shirt selling industry." You'd be like "Erm, just set up a business and sell them yourself." Music is no different. If you have zero business skills, learn. You only need a little bit.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
The friends I've made. It's amazing that I have these great friends, many of whom are incredible musicians, scattered all over the planet. But it's also kinda sad, because we don't see each other so often.
If you could sum up your music in three words, what would they be?
I. Don't. Know. :)
--The Rock Fairy
Find out more about Jon Gomm: http://www.jongomm.com/
Check out the cover that got me hooked:
And some of his own stuff: