We spoke with Max Gomez about creating art in an oversaturated landscape, the aroma of rain hitting the New Mexico desert, why he doesn’t have a private jet yet and why everything’s at our fingertips yet nobody’s happy.
When you’re scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, you’ll never find satisfaction. You could scroll to the end of the Internet and you’d be dead by the time you got halfway there.
I work in the music industry in a few ways, and one of the more striking things I’ve learned about the current state of it is in how media is created and consumed in a time of nearly unlimited information. Sometimes, it worries me how editors, writers and journalist seem to superficially listen to 12 albums a day before throwing them in the heap. It makes me worried that, if something totally amazing came out today, no one would have the time to really listen or care. I might be incorrect about all of this, but how do you reconcile this idea as someone who puts a lot of thought and care into songwriting?
You know, I think back to recording technology and accessibility when I think about that problem. I don’t know that the album would exist without the evolution of the recording industry, or whatever you want to call it, to where anybody can make a record on their laptop. What’s happened is, suddenly, there’s something like 1,000 albums released every week. It’s too much to take in. On one hand, it’s a huge problem and a huge bummer, but on another hand, it’s amazing to have such a simple and accessible avenue to create records.
Do you ever feel like some stuff you have made hasn’t been given a fair shake, since there’s so much crap in the world?
You definitely can’t help but feel and realize some of that truth. For one, my whole career — if you want to call it that, or lack thereof — has been helped along and managed by industry veterans who made records when records sold. That’s how they made their fortune and left their mark. When I came along, they thought “Okay, let’s give this guy a shot and make him a record.” My first record came out in 2013, and that’s a good bit after the demise of record sales. I think we were hoping to sell 50 or 60,000 units, and that was a big deal. We didn’t accomplish that, but I don’t know what “indie gold” is anymore. 10,000 records? 20,000 records? We were somewhere in that league.
I don’t really know if there’s a question or an answer, but there’s definitely a cause and effect with the shifting industry and how many records are out and don’t get listened to. I feel like young artists who are coming up need to possibly hone in on a little bit of the business, decide where they think they fit in and try to pursue artists and folks that works with artists that they perceive as successful. That’s all I’ve ever done.
From the concept of possibly dashed — or fulfilled — expectations, I’d like to zoom out into the whole idea of dissatisfaction itself. It seems like the more connected everyone is with social media, there’s a weird growing spiritual vacancy in the middle of everything. I talked to one of my friends, Mishka Shubaly, for North of the Internet and I liked what he said about this — “There’s no dignity in emojis.” What satisfies or dissatisfies you about the annoying ultra-connectivity of everything right now?
It just goes back to how many options we have. It’s overwhelming. There’s a whole science to that, and I’m the absolute worst at having too many options and trying to make a decision. When you’re scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, you’ll never find satisfaction. You could scroll to the end of the Internet and you’d be dead by the time you got halfway there. There’s no point. It leads to this sort of emptiness.
You’re empty as you’re trying to find something. It’s like it creates this mental need to search, to continue, to keep garnishing this useless information, and it’s spiritually hollow, like you said. There’s nothing too positive to say about it, as far as I can tell at the moment, other than every once in a while you find something fun or something cool that you didn’t think you were going to find. I don’t know that the risk is worth the reward.
The other day, I had some friends in town and they invited me to this NYU-area bar. It was hundreds of college freshmen in this huge, giant, blisteringly loud place, all trying to get laid and play foosball or whatever. And I made a joke to my friend — “The combined IQ in here is about 700.” I was actually probably the dumbest guy there, but in the era where everyone’s got a supercomputer in their pocket, why aren’t we all multidisciplinary geniuses at this point?
That’s a great question, man. We live in a time where we have everything at our fingertips and nobody’s happy. It feels like there is no Nikola Tesla or Thomas Edison. My girlfriend follows business culture and she’s a big fan of some of these CEOs, like Elon Musk and different guys who made different impacts. To some degree, there’s always going to be a handful of greats and a lot of people who struggle. Who knows what the roots of those things that they’re struggling with are? The Internet has become the new everything — the new radio, the new TV and the new movie theater.
I feel like this frothing, one-dimensional culture — “You’ll be shocked when you hear this! You have to feel this way!” — might actually choke out the next Pablo Picasso. I don’t feel like it’s conducive to genius.
No, it’s not.
Imagine that it hasn’t rained in a month or two and suddenly it rains for 5-10 minutes. The smell comes up and you realize what all those candles are trying to do at the fancy department store.
Let’s talk about something prettier than that. I understand that you grew up near the Rio Grande area in New Mexico. Can you describe the landscape of that place, since I’ve never been? What elements of natural beauty surrounded you? Do you feel any connection to the natural or geologic features of that area now, as an adult?
I feel at home when I see it. It brings back childhood memories and a certain spiritual comfort that emoji-cons and Facebook don’t have. Taos, New Mexico, is where I’m from. It’s an arid, dry area at high elevation. The town sits at 7,000 feet and the mountaintop is 13,000 feet. The Rio Grande is kind of curving and nestled through there. It was a volcanic area millions of years ago, so there’s lots of rock everywhere. It’s the most southern point of the Rocky Mountains. Imagine a dry, sort of herb-rich desert, and imagine that it hasn’t rained in a month or two and suddenly it rains for 5-10 minutes. The smell comes up and you realize what all those candles are trying to do at the fancy department store. It’s a magical place, it’s enchanting, it’s beautiful and open to anybody who wants to come and see it.
I really like your song “Senseless Love.” It seems to kind of stare at the topic of romance, and not in a “I Want to Hold Your Hand” sort of way, but to say that love is incomprehensible. It’s an ever-shifting thing you can’t really grasp, and maybe it’s not even what it seems to be. Do you think love is something you can hang your hat on, as it were?
It’s constantly shifting and evolving in whichever relationship it chooses to exist in. People obviously feel it differently and go about it in different ways. The lyric just kind of hatched out of nowhere. Sitting there and trying to write the thing — I knew it had kind of a groove and a feel that the recording companies would possibly like, and I was just lending them an up-tempo rock song. There I am writing this thing, and…
What’s that like? “We need a hit, Gomez!”
A little bit. I get told all my songs are a little too slow from time to time. I’m not at the same pace as everybody else. But, we’re sitting around trying to decide what this song’s about and my friend said “It’s like a senseless love song,” and we kind of ran with it. There’s a lot of beauty in some of those lyrics. “You could have it in the palm of your hand, in your vision all along / Seek it if you dare to be so cruel, then it’s gone.” It seems simple, it seems real, it seems true to me.
I just imagine an infomercial — “Experience this 6-disc set of the most senseless love songs… throughout history!” Anyway, I want to go way back in time now. I’m really into the first thing people create, the first evidence that there’s something really cool going on with them. Can you describe the first song you ever wrote, but in the context of how I would play it on guitar and sing it myself? Do you remember the chord sequence and the words?
I can’t remember the first song I ever really wrote, but I can recall the first song I wrote that I recorded with a little home studio that later was recorded here in Manhattan in a big studio. It was a song that sort of grew, but the music didn’t make any sense. It’s just a G-shaped chord that you’re just playing the entire time, but the rhythm was really different and the only thing that moved was the bass. It was sort of off-tempo. It would go [mimics bass line] bom, bom, bom, bom. At the time, I was probably 19 or 20, and I was trying to sing what I envisioned going out and falling in love would be like. You’re in line to see a show, and you see a girl and she catches your eye and vice versa. You go in to see a concert, and you end up sort of singing a love song about this girl that you met in the ticket line. That’s what I wrote about, and in the chorus, I came up with a tiny little metaphor — “Chasing two hearts through the night,” and called the song “Two Hearts.” That was just about the first song I ever wrote, and it did a little damage for me, too.
I never sang it, really, but I had a little band together in L.A. We did one gig at Molly Malone’s, the Irish rock pub, recorded the show and got a record deal offer from the one show we ever played. The song wound up in New York City in Avatar Studios, and the big hit record producer put his stamp on it, so in a way, that wound up some trouble just from that little song. I remember writing the song in this 500-square-foot apartment we had while my girlfriend was taking a nap. I wrote the song and recorded it in all the time she was taking a nap. It was like a 30-minute ordeal. That was kind of a notable little piece of history for me, I guess.
Since you have a lot of experience in this realm of “the business,” I’m curious as to how your life in music today can be compared or contrasted with what you thought it’d be, what your dream of being a musician might have mentally looked like for you. Is there a big difference between what you expected as a child and what the outcome was?
Well, we haven’t gotten our 747s yet, nor our three limos to take from backstage after the gig. When you’re a kid, the sky’s the limit and you dream of this and that. Slowly, it evolves into what’s more realistic in your economy to take care of what’s yours and make a living. I think that’s probably true even for the guys who do have the 747s. It’s all about evolving and finding your own place. I never really had a consistent job as a musician. One night, we could be in a big theatre playing a nice show in front of a few thousand people, and the next night be in a little bar someplace performing in front of 20 or 30 people. It’s always been a roller coaster, and I’ve sort of learned to accept it and focus on the more important things in life, like my home, how I’m going to get back there and what I’m going to write my next song about.
Maybe I’m, to put it politely, emotionally stronger and a little better at keeping at bay some of the more challenging feelings that come up.
Are you a patient or impatient person? Regardless, can you relate any personal anecdotes in which you acted in either of those ways? What was the consequence?
I think I’m both, in certain situations. In situations of importance, I can wait a year. I can try and endure the problem and the pain of waiting and having to exercise patience, but on the other hand, I can be very impatient as well. The only thing I can think of right now is how much work I’ve gotten myself into. There are a lot of things we’re working on that sometimes take forever. To be honest with you, I think I’m pretty reasonable and patient.
When I’m dealing with my own backing band — which sometimes shifts from show to show — I like to trust peoples’ ability to figure things out on their own. I’m like “Figure it out, I don’t want to explain this arrangement…”
Oh, I hate rehearsing. The guys that I’ve been playing with are really great, but there’s one guy in particular, he’s so busy that he doesn’t really have the time to rehearse. He just shows up to the gigs and wings it. On one hand, it ticks me off, but on another, I completely understand and he’s really a great guitarist and I feel lucky to have him, even if he doesn’t know what song we’re playing.
Finally, can you describe the first memory in your childhood where you witnessed somebody acting in a senseless or destructive way? This can be on a personal or global level. I realize this is an insane question.
As a child?
Yeah, just something that was transgressive. Not part of the program.
I grew up in a house with five boys. We were all young — I was the youngest — and at any given moment, all hell could break loose. We could be beating each other up or fighting or something, but that was part of the program. That didn’t stand out to me. Something that might stand out is kind of personal stuff. Like, someone in your family fighting or becoming upset. An adult fighting or becoming upset. As a kid, you’ve never really been around somebody who’s furiously pissed off. When a parental figure can no longer keep their frustration with the other in the bottle, you get a little-pitchers-have-big-ears scene at the top of the stairs, where your folks might not be getting along. That’s probably my first experience in life with beginning to understand that not all is well in the world.
I guess it pertains in my life in a current manner. Maybe I’m, to put it politely, emotionally stronger and a little better at keeping at bay some of the more challenging feelings that come up. Trying to be diplomatic. Walking away from something that can’t be resolved.
Curated by: Morgan Enos
Conducted by: In-person conversation
Published: December 1, 2017
Total questions: 14
Word count: 2535
Reading time: Ten minutes
Indie gold: Unknown
Next Tesla: Nonexistent
747, Avatar Studios, band, candle, childhood, cruel, culture, diplomacy, elevation, Elon Musk, emoji, emoticon, freshman, gold, guitar, heart, history, Ireland, league, Los Angeles, Max Gomez, Mishka Shubaly, New Mexico, New York City, Nikola Tesla, NYU, ordeal, Pablo Picasso, private jet, program, pub, rehearsal, Rio Grande, songwriting, Southwest, Taos, Thomas Edison, transgression
About the curator
Morgan Enos is a songwriter and journalist originally from California. His curatorial work for North of the Internet aims to strike a deeper place in his conversation subjects — the dreamy subtext to the linear everyday. Morgan also frequently writes power pop records as Other Houses about joy, outer space, frustration, chess and spiritual light. He resides in New York, where he continues to creatively fire on all cylinders.
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