Interview and photos by Alberto Pazzi.
If I had met Danny Gomez a few years back I would probably have written “most likely to become a star” in the high school yearbook. The frontman of the rock and roll band Native Sun has been busy recording and playing shows with the band, which just released their first EP Songs Born From Love And Hate.
When he agreed to do an interview at my place, I felt like I caught a hummingbird from the wilderness of the New York streets to have him over for coffee and cigarettes. We talked for hours, the following is an extract of our conversation. As soon as we sat down, he offers me a hippie speedball.
What’s a hippie speedball?
Growing up in South Florida some of the slacker kids they would call smoking a joint and drinking coffee a “Hippie Speedball” I thought that phrase was the funniest thing ever, so stupid but at the same time so on point.
Caffeine and weed, that combination would make me paranoid. It’s that a part of your everyday ritual to start writing?
Yeah, but it’s also relaxing. I try get at least one idea down daily, but I can’t force myself to sit down and start writing songs. If the mood’s right, I can sort of feel when the idea it’s coming and then usually something comes out. There’s also moments where you’ll be at your shitty job or just walking down the street and suddenly you hear something that can be two seconds of a guitar riff, so the cool thing about today’s technology is that you can just grab your phone and do a little voice recording.
Do you think It’s better to have life experience or writing experience?
It’s a balance of both. You can comment on things that you might have not experienced but other people are experiencing. Some of our songs are about people that I don’t know, that’s being aware of your surroundings and what’s going on. It’s also about the ambiance and the mood you want to set, so for example, it could be like I want this verse to sound like you’re in a church in Alabama in the early 60’s, and you want to groove and to have soul. Or the same way, you want a song to sound like you’re driving in a car in California or freezing in your apartment in New York.
Yeah, just as you could write a song about the Civil War…
The Band’s, “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” that song’s about the Civil War. Actually, speaking about The Band…
[Danny puts on the “Planet Waves” album by Bob Dylan]
So Planet Waves is the first time that he goes back to playing with The Band on a record after The Basement Tapes, and its so crazy how this album is so underrated and lesser known but so universal. A song like “Going, going, gone” which is covered by Richard Hell, speaks of the beauty and the strength in the songs on this album, and Robbie Robertson is in this record, and he kills it. He’s one of my favorite guitarists.
This is right before Blood on the Tracks so you can see that his relationship is going down, right before his divorce. You know, we play all the Dylan albums to death so much and still love him, and now I found myself hearing the random ones that I never went to.
Right, when you’re a teenager you want to hear like Highway 61, but as you grow up you start listening to his more mature stuff…
Yeah, the public perception of Dylan changed from rockstar/innovator to just “artist.” And It’s like, OK guys, it wasn’t just the 60’s, now he’s doing more mature stuff.
If you had to pick just one Bob Dylan album, what would that be?
That’s a tough one. But if I had to pick one, it would probably be Highway 61. That’s the first record I ever bought on vinyl when I was like 14 years old.
Is that your first recollection of spending money on an album?
Thats legit the first record I ever owned. I didn’t even had a record player, I just wanted to have it, didn’t listen to it for like 2 years.
Wow. His records also always have iconic covers…
That’s why I respect him so much, truly everything about his music he cares about and wants to make a statement of it. So, lyrics are good, music is good, covers are good. There is effort behind everything. It may seem like he’s too cool to care but he really does care. That’s something respectable, to be able to put out like you don’t care but you really do—everyone from James Dean to Godard, you can say that about.
When he came to New York in the early 60’s there was an amazing generation of artists that blossomed during that era. Now we have a music scene that is sort of making a comeback, some people say the scene is dead, but I think It’s bullshit. What do you think?
What they say today is probably what they said in 2001 and in 1965. There’s always gonna be nostalgia for the past, but I think what creates individuality is when these things are filtered through people with different experiences that are bringing a new outlook on it. I think it goes in waves so it’s only natural. If you we’re always at the top good things wouldn’t be special.
I noticed you storm off the stage every time you finish a set, like you’re in a rush to go backstage, what’s going on back there?
I think our live set is the kind of show that you don’t know what you’re gonna get every time. There have been times when as soon as I finish I just walk straight out the door of the venue and people think it’s weird. But our shows take out a lot energy from me, in the best kind of way of course, there’s so much adrenaline during the show and it goes so fast that it feels like a flash of light.
Some artists I’ve seen on stage have this quality of looking straight into your eyes, making you as an individual, a crucial part of this experience. Are you aware of the audience when you’re performing?
It happens naturally cause I believe a good Rock’n’Roll show should be a confrontation between the audience and the performer, that’s my favorite kind of art. I definitely feed into that—as I said, every show is different and definitely the crowd influences what can happen. It might not be that I’m targeting someone specific in the audience but to everyone in the audience I want them to feel like it’s being given specifically to them. During one of our songs, towards the end there’s a line that repeats “The Revolution is in your mind.”
That’s right, It’s a simple and very strong phrase that if you kind of repeat it to yourself it becomes a chant, and the music is building up, so I always like to point at everyone in the audience so it seems like I want you to listen to what I’m saying and take it home with you. That’s the one phrase I want you to take away from the show, it’s all that anger put together.
Do you use anger to write songs?
Yeah, without songwriting I’ll be fucked. It’s where I let everything out.
Is that a painful process?
The realization that you were being honest about something, I think that’s the painful part. You need it to get it out and you grow as an individual and learn from it. Some songs take for ever, take Leonard Cohen, for example, for him the song had to feel right and finished so he didn’t care if it took him 10, 15 years. Some songs are not meant to see the daylight.
Man, I just found out that the French Roast Café on Sixth Avenue recently closed, did you ever go there?
Yes! 11th and Sixth, thats right. I don’t know how much of this I want my mom to read [laughs] Let’s say we used to go fast when we we’re studying. And we always knew that place was 24hrs so it would be open when everybody was sleeping and it was all you can drink coffee, so we would show up around 3:00am. It was great to have a place to hang out outside the college environment, so we’d go there and leave around 7 or 8 in the morning.
It used to be a Jewish Cemetery and then they built it on top of that…
It was a dark and beautiful place, we used to leave poems on the receipts.
I was reading the other day about this eccentric producer Joe Meek who used to leave recording devices in the cemetery to capture the sound of the dead, are you familiar with him?
Yeah, you don’t have Rock’n’Roll without Joe Meek. He was very crazy dude but also a genius, for example, he pioneered delay and so many other sounds in the studio that that nowadays are essential.
Sort of what Link Wray did with “Rumble”
That’s right. That one was banned from the radio cause it sounded like the devil. Also, he invented the power chord with that song! It just goes on, and on, and you never want it to stop. It becomes kind of a trance and you feel possessed by it. I think that’s what people heard and they were scared. What can music do if it consumes you, how can it change the world. And people started seeing those things at the moment.
It makes sense now but it all developed in the sixties. There was all this lust and sexual energy in rock and roll and it never happened before until this things opened the door. That’s music changing the world.
Totally. The lyrics on albums like The Velvet Underground & Nico really changed the course of songwriting in Rock and Roll
That’s why Lou Reed is my favorite. Because he brought music to a realness and sincerity at a point where he was able to express that ugly things can be beautiful. You know, songs like “I’ll Be Your Mirror” where he says even though you are twisted and unkind, let me stand to show that you are blind. That’s literature right there. It transcends from being just pop music to an art form. He grabs these broken characters, like prostitutes, and tries to tell them they are beautiful, the same way that beautiful things can also be ugly on the inside. Reality is weirder than fiction.
I like how old country songs speak about twisted shit, like killing another man or doing some time in prison
It’s great storytelling. And it goes back to what we we’re talking about, Literature. They become stories telling themselves.
There is a Hank Williams song called “Too Many Parties and Too Many Pals” where he goes on defending this girl that committed a crime and at the end you find out that she’s his daughter.
I haven’t heard that one but today I was thinking about country music in general, what it means to me and why I love it and why I hate what it has become. It’s just a genre of music that is so rich in ways you can analyze it. First off, why do I love it so much? I think it portrays heartbreak in a beautiful way that makes it okay but at the same time it makes it sound like it’s the end of the world. As you were saying, the stories about crime, from a sociology point of view, it’s history. These culture tales of outlaws are real stories of real hillbillies in these areas.
I often think about how music comes to you exactly at the right time. How different would my life be if I have heard that album when it just came out, etc… Is there any artist that you recently discover that you’re like, man, where have you been all my life?
How did you come across his music?
Growing up watching Toy Story, in spite of not knowing it was him—shout out to him, he won an Oscar for that [laughs] He’s got some beautiful songs, his thing is writing these pop songs with a very dark twist. You have a song like “Rednecks” that’s written from a point of view of southern people, but he’s a jewish man from L.A. That’s the complete opposite, but he’s making fun of it, while offering commentary about these people and how they think. He makes it sound so funny and so simple.
Right, the audience want to relate to what you’re talking about. They want to feel like it could happen to them, not just to a group of privileged people
Rich privileged people have problems too, and that’s okay. But when you have privilege you forget that there are problems like not having food, not having a job—which are more serious and unmanageable. That’s the thing that pisses me off of the most about the state of the country and the ignorance of some white people. No one is trying to steal your jobs, if anything, they’re doing the jobs that you don’t want to do. These people, it’s not like they want to leave their homes, that man coming from Puebla, or Colombia or Venezuela, is leaving his family behind and it’s horrible. Literally it comes out to life and death, and that’s why they have to do this. For privileged people, when you’ve been given something, it’s hard to live without it.
Plus, if someone that doesn’t speak the language and doesn’t have papers comes and “steals” your job you must really suck, dude.
Why is it that when someone is not white and they go somewhere else they’re called an immigrant? When an american or white person goes somewhere else they’re called an expat? These expats, they were a bunch of fucking crazy low-life white people, invading other countries.
Louis C.K is kind of infamous now, but has a great bit about how being white has always been awesome. It’s the only race that can go anywhere back in time, and It’s always great.
(laughs) You want something controversial? Why was Jesus was put on the cross?
Because he wasn’t white. Sorry Michigan, sorry Kentucky, he wasn’t white—he was Middle Eastern.
Being originally from Colombia, do you come from a catholic household?
Yeah, It’s been a part of my life even if I don’t consider myself a religious human being. I definitely believe in spirituality. I remember a night out when was about 20 and I was pretty trashed, it was one of the first times that I ever experienced guilt about all these things I was doing. And I pictured myself opening the doors of these huge cathedral and you’re staring straight down 20 aisles, thinking about it. It quickly faded away but it was catholic guilt that hit me for a few seconds.
There’s catholic guilt since the beginning of our lives. Even when you’re born you’re already guilty of the original sin.
There was nothing more scary to me when I was a kid than religious art.
Yeah, Jesus looking at you with all this blood and shit, evil babies on fountains…
And there’s all the history and the killing, and the mystique about it. All the weird shit that went down. Because of all of that I’ve been able to draw from it in a positive aspect. My uncle always said that the bible is the greatest book of all time, not because of the religious aspect of it, but because it’s got every single story. Everything is drawn from there. Obviously the world was not created in seven days, it’s a metaphor. But everything is in there, betrayal, love, lust, dreams, everything…
The most epic adventures…
And when you think about that, you start listening to Dylan and you go, oh wait, that verse is a biblical reference. Just like in “Perfect Day” Lou Reed sings “You’re going to reap just what you sow” that’s a line from the bible!
Can we expect a Danny Gomez gospel album in the future?
Yeah! It’s gonna be called Speaks with Whales.