Unsure how much time he had left, Seattle producer Brandon Gomez composed his most honest work to date while undergoing chemotherapy.
In some ways Brandon Gomez is the stereotypical bedroom producer. The local beatsmith has amassed a modest, if diffuse, online following over the years, releasing music as Ark Patrol, while going virtually unknown in his adopted city.
During the three years the Hawaii native has been here, he’s performed in public only twice, both times reluctantly. The third comes Friday, March 1, when he opens for Baynk at Barboza. Constantly feeling he was capable of more, Gomez had been hesitant to put too much of himself out there in the past.
“Back in Hawaii, I was like, I won’t make a single move until I’m ready to talk to, like, Diplo. Just pure Christmas-land, fantasy stuff,” says Gomez, hunkered down in a South Seattle coffee shop during the recent snowstorm. “I’m slowly letting go of that and just trying to accept myself as I am.”
It’s something the affable 24-year-old, who dropped a strong self-titled album last week, is still working on. Though, last year, life-threatening circumstances radically altered his perspective. An otherwise healthy guy who biked to the cafe every day to write music on his laptop, Gomez discovered a lump last March he figured was just a bug bite, maybe an abscess that would soon go away. Nothing to stress over.
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But it didn’t go away.
“I remember being in the shower at one point and it went from zero to a hundred,” Gomez says of the moment he knew he had cancer. It would be another few weeks before he’d get the official diagnosis, although by then he had already accepted it. Gomez immediately had surgery to remove the tumor but would need three rounds of chemotherapy over the summer to hopefully keep it from spreading.
The diagnosis halted a goal he’d set of releasing a string of singles every three weeks, not to mention put a giant question mark on his future. Time was no longer a luxury Gomez could count on and he set out to mold the “shards of whatever songs I had” into a finished, and possibly final, product — whether it was Diplo-ready or not.
“It was a declaration,” he says, staring out the window over the snow-coated street. “Whereas before it would’ve been premeditated concepts, instead it became a snapshot of the present. … Emotionally, I was freed, but I was also neutered, just because there’s no future.”
Chemo came with the expected side effects — hair loss, exhaustion — and at one point Gomez lost articulation in his fingers, rendering him incapable of playing guitar and piano. Headphones and a laptop allowed him to continue creating, though working the trackpad to arrange previously recorded bits was the most he could do for some time (many of the guitar parts were recorded when Gomez began recovering). “The whole time I was like, ‘Well, I don’t know what the hell’s gonna happen, so better play my cards while I still have a hand,’ ” he says.
The resulting 10-song set, with a central theme of honesty, is comfortably adrift in a sparkling constellation between indie-electronic, bass and ambient music. With the new album, the former jazz pianist who briefly studied film scoring at Berklee College of Music embraces more downtempo urges and subtle alt-rock influences than in the past. While coolly booming tracks like “Kraken” could keep a festival tent throbbing, others are instilled with a calmer surreality.
Music gave Gomez something to focus on, rather than “just languishing” during his treatment at Swedish Medical Center. The deft producer recalls struggling to compose the airy “Entropy” — a minimalistic highlight — in his hospital room with his mother, who flew in from Hawaii, sketching birds beside him.
“They say chemotherapy will put you in a certain head state, it’s called [brain] fog. It’s hard to concentrate,” he says. “I was putting together beats, trying to make something coherent — just fighting — really challenged to keep my concentration.”
As of his last checkup, Gomez looks cancer-free and good things are happening for the artist who previously abandoned long-term planning. The first day he was able to run again, Gomez connected with his now-manager and he’s joining Baynk for several West Coast dates, including Friday’s sold-out Seattle stop. Gomez says he’s still reluctant to dream too far down the road, though he’s resumed goal-setting — improving his singing voice, maybe do some film scoring one day.
As we part, Gomez is off to prep his nascent live sets he’s both nervous and excited for. After all, there could be many more shows in his future.
“Just the other day I was like, ‘Did that really happen? That didn’t really happen,’ ” he says of his battle with cancer. “It’s hard to believe, but it can happen to anybody.”