artist: Zemog Otrebors
featured track: "Go Go"
Disclaimer: I am not really a writer–not a writer of bios anyway. I’m writing you now to share with you my music and the story of how it got here. No, no publicist or professional was employed for this purpose, in fact, my former publicist told me that this new record “…doesn’t scream Massive Moneymaker” and I can’t say I disagree! All things considered though, moneymaking potential or lack thereof, I do think this record is still worth a listen.
This record, the self-titled Zemog Otrebor, is a debut of sorts. Previous to this, I went by my given name, Robert Gomez. As said Robert Gomez, I technically had my first show as a 6-year-old tiny man in a piano store in Corpus Christi, TX playing a rendition of “Red River Valley” but no, thankfully things did not start there. You could say things started for me when I released a record on Bella Union Records in 2007 entitled “Brand New Towns”. I did make a couple records before that, a jazz record followed by a much different record, a recording of songs
entitled “Etherville” that was what initially got UK label Bella Union’s attention.
What I consider to be my sophomore release, ‘Brand New Towns’ did get some praise. Andy Gill of the Independent called it the “first truly great album of the year”, and Pitchfork Media failed to fully eviscerate me, even said some nice things, all and all, the album was well-received. I went on to do a few European tours, some American dates, played festivals (La Route du Rock, Les Nuits Secretes, SXSW), radio (world café live, npr), Daytrotter, had some songs in tv/film (one in an Elijah Wood movie (no, not the one with the wizard)) and put out a few more records every two or three years or so.
While pursuing this solo track, I was lucky enough to join up and make music with a few others over the years. I did some recording and touring with some beautiful musicians: John Grant, Sarah Jaffe, South San Gabriel, The Baptist Generals, performed alongside Phillip Glass with the late and truly great Tico da Costa, and even did a tour with the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus rocking metal guitar solos in a sequence vest complete with bowtie (yes, fun fact, I once lived on a circus train). I also did my fair share of fun random-ass gigs; sang for a Singapore dish detergent commercial featuring a cute but soiled pig, recorded riffs for Guitar Hero’s World Tour, made music for Jack Daniel’s commercials, played the Corn Utilization and Technology Conference in Dallas, TX and so on and so forth.
I should also mention, around this time, give or take, I started a very special collaboration with Anna-Lynne Williams (of Trespassers William and Lotte Kestner) who can be heard lending her beautiful and ethereal voice on “Arp Moves” (track 9 of this record). Our duo, Ormonde, born in the Chihuahuan desert, in Marfa, TX in 2009, began with a chance meeting while recording for John Grant’s Queen of Denmark album the year previous in Denton, TX (my home at the time). I was very taken with her work and presented her with an idea of finding a remote spot somewhere and making an album from absolute scratch. I had been hearing about Marfa for sometime and thought it’d be ideal. She agreed and although we barely knew each other, we decided to embark on a musical experiment and hole up in a rented adobe for a month and try to write and record an entire album there. Somehow, it worked out well and we repeated that scenario a second time and made two records: Machine (2012) and Cartographer/Explorer (2014) released on Home-Tapes (US) and Gizeh Records (UK) respectively. I think in a way it was creating music in that desertous expanse that started to mark my path towards this record. If that was the first piece of the Zemog Otrebor puzzle then surely the next was my return to Denton, TX in 2011.
After some years bouncing around and between solo, duo and other band tours I found myself homeless and living in a van outside a friend’s house in Seattle, WA–don’t join a band, kids. I got a call from my good friend, label-mate and touring partner from the band Midlake, Eric Pulido. They were opening a bar in Texas and wanted me to tend it and help them get it off the ground. I couldn’t say no and so back to my home base of Denton, TX I went. I’m reminded of how my friend, percussionist Joe Cripps used to say, “Denton, TX sucks…it sucks you right back”. Yes, it does and did.
While happily getting sucked back and settled in Denton yet a third time, I finished work on a concept album I had been tracking on a laptop for what had been a couple years, Severance Songs (released 2012)–a collaboration with Pulitzer Prize-winning author Robert Olen Butler in which I scored his Severance decapitation poetry to music. I was tending bar, studying wine and touring a lot less which gave me some time to pursue other things. With this break in the clouds, I decided to go back and finish my Bachelor of Music at University of North Texas, one of the colleges in this college town. It was in that second successful attempt at music school I met Marion Powers whose angelic and graceful oohs and aahs are thankfully a part of this record. Consequently, it was there, during my first failed attempt 15 years earlier that I met virtuoso keyboardist/pianist Evan Jacobs who played synthesizer for this record. And while preparing for a college of music recital, Evan, Marion and I worked up Ennio Morricone’s “Matto, Caldo, Soldi, Morto…Girotondo” which sparked a new musical desire, the second piece of the puzzle, the piece that made me want to explore more of these sonic possibilities. After wrapping up my studies and releasing my last record under my own name, Earth Underfoot, I relocated back to Seattle. It would be there that I would find the final ‘Zemog Otrebor’ puzzle piece.
Back in Seattle, in 2014, I became more consciously focused on my other non- touring/non-performing life–less musician and more day job or in this case, night job (bartender/wine professional). I became a certified sommelier, improved on my skills behind the bar and at the table and spent most of my evenings making dreams come true. At this point I really had no plans of making another record–did I really want to end up living in another van?–but as time passed I was still compelled to write music. Over time, I collected some short instrumental pieces that I had recorded on a four track just for kicks. A year later I was asked to be the GM of a new restaurant concept by Seattle restaurateurs and all around bad-asses, Brandon Pettit and Molly Wizenberg. It was to be called Dino’s Tomato Pie and I was to take care of this baby, actually help it be born and all that. As a reward/bonus for my work getting Dino’s off the ground, Brandon gifted me a vintage Fender Bass VI (it’s own thing for sure but basically a twangy six string bass guitar). It was life-altering. I couldn’t put it down. I began to play it exclusively. Sometimes the right instrument at the right time can be the most profound inspiration. All the musical sketches I had started earlier naturally came together; It wasn’t difficult to quickly compile an album’s worth of work. I didn’t know what to call this new direction but I knew it had to be something different.
Some front story:
After a successful kickstarter campaign for “work, untitled” (what I called this new animal at the time) I was able to go into the studio independent of label or loan shark. Yes, I could’ve continued on my four-track, track by track, but this music warranted more than that–a higher fidelity. I wanted to record this new material in the studio, live, 2 inch tape, analog, screenless, you know, the good ole days! I wanted the depth of older film soundtracks, not only the instruments captured but also the sound of the room/space the musicians are playing in. I called engineer and drummer Matt Pence with whom I recorded with quite a bit in Denton, TX and asked if he would help me make this record, and he agreed and even wore multiple hats of engineer, drummer and mastering engineer. The puzzle pieces came together, took shape and these talented three musicians (Evan Jacobs, Matt Pence, Marion Powers) and I, went into the Echo Lab Studio in 2016 and made Zemog Otrebor.
All and all it’s hard for me to put into words what this record has become. Some of the beauty of instrumental music is that it’s by and large abstract. What I can say is that it is more a true culmination of all my musical experiences, the history which you’ve just endured in the previous paragraphs, than anything I’ve made previous. No, this is probably not the money maker but I was never that good at making those types of things. Instead I present this debut and I hope you enjoy it.