A lot of things go into making a debut as sure-footed and keenly crafted as Max Gomez' January release, Rule the World, which has earned him positive reviews in USA Today and Esquire. First, there's Gomez' effortless croon, which on tracks like the single "Run From You," recalls the sonorous strut of Neil Diamond. And then there are the arrangements, an intriguing blend of Laurel Canyon warmth and parched Texas country amble, combined with lyrics that convey a wisdom beyond his years.
Gomez was all of 15 when he got his first gig, playing a tiny honky-tonk bar in Taos. He spent years there studying performers like one would textbooks, studies that continue today on tour with artists like Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale.
"I'm always kind of a wallflower, but always observing everything that's going on," the 26-year-old singer says. "Touring with the people I get to tour with, there's no shortage of good things to pick up on."
Before signing to revered Americana indie New West, a 21-year-old Gomez tried his hand at co-writing with Shawn Mullins, an artist best known for his hit, "Lullaby," which reached the Top 10 back in 1998. Gomez wound up with three songs on Mullins' 2010 release, Light You Up, and picked up a few songwriting tips along the way.
"Shawn Mullins ends a lot of songs on a four chord, which I picked up just from hanging out with him," says Gomez. "So a while later I wrote 'Rule the World,' and I end the song on the four chord."
The song, he says, came to him in a flash, so it was really just a matter of capturing it. "You just want to keep the pen flowing. I feel like the hardest thing to do is not stop. Because if you stop and think about it, you get into a whole other world of crafting a song. I tend to get my best thoughts when I'm channeling freely, rather than really thinking things through."
With its melodic hooks and earnest spirit, the song suggests a cross between Joshua Tree-era U2 and Eagle Eye Cherry, a prospect that Gomez finds a little embarrassing at this point.
"It was a different time, and now I've been hanging with Steve Earle and all these great songwriters, and I'm kind of looking at things differently," he explains. "When I was working on 'Rule the World,' I was in this place where I thought I had to have a radio single. That's how you get their attention."
After bouncing around New York, taking meetings, interviewing big-name producers and looking for the right deal, Gomez finally lost patience.
"I went out to L.A. and made the record with my friend Jeff Trott. I got to make the thing over the course of 3½ half months. We took our time and did things old-fashioned," he says. "When I started doing things myself, that's when everything kind of happened."
Of course, being on a label like New West — which is home to highly acclaimed artists like Earle, Miller, Patty Griffin, John Hiatt, Dwight Yoakam, Jason Isbell and Patterson Hood — he's already feeling nervous about his next release.
"The company that we keep can be very intimidating," says Gomez. "The majority of their artists put an album out about every year, which is definitely foreign territory to me. I've only put one out in my whole life."