An Interview With Ellen Campesinos! of Los Campesinos!
  • THURSDAY, OCTOBER 04, 2007

  • Posted by:


On Hold On Now, Youngster, UK’s Los Campesinos! introductory EP released Summer 2006, the seven-piece wryly describe a band “trying to find the perfect mix between pretension and pop.” While the latter is definitely true, as exemplified on their latest EP Sticking Fingers Into Sockets, pretentiousness is the last thing the fresh-out-of-college kids have to worry about. Having all met at school in Wales, the group came together through friends of friends and weekday nights with nothing better to do than play music. Only three months after performing their first gig, the band landed a slot opening for Broken Social Scene and would eventually sign with indie giants Wichita Recordings and Arts & Crafts in the UK and US respectively. Going the Ramones approach, each band member took on “Campesino!” for a last name. Baeble caught up with bassist/vocalist Ellen Campesinos! as her band lays down the finishing touches on their debut full-length in Ontario to discuss how she helped Karen O, life after college and the burning question on everyone’s mind: what the hell is a Campesino?

Baeble: Dave Newfeld, the producer behind Broken Social Scene who worked on your debut EP last year, is working with you again on your full-length. What’s it like working with him?

Ellen Campesinos!: He’s a very inspiring person and he’s got very interesting ideas because obviously we’re all relatively naïve about everything and still growing musicians as it were. He’s got loads of ideas about what sounds we can make and different ways of playing things or “Why don’t you try adding this?”

B: What’s the progress of the album?

EC: We’re between 2/3 and “finished” and I don’t know what fraction is. Let’s go with 82.5%. We’re just finishing a couple of songs and just little bits to do and a bit of hand-clapping and such.

B: Gotcha. So I have to ask the obvious question early. What the hell is a Campesino?

EC: The accurate Spanish definition is “the peasants,” or “the country dwellers” or my personal favorite, “The ruralists.” It’s one of those names where I’m sure we’re gonna have to make up some interesting story about, but it basically looks really nice written down and [guitarist] Neil [Campesinos!] liked the sound of it rather than being some political or social reference. It’s quite a shallow name.

B: I’m sure you’ll have journalist nerds like me to try to find some meaning to it.

EC: Well, maybe someone will find some meaning to it and we’ll go, “Yep, that’ll do. We’ll have that.”

B: You guys all met in college, right?

EC: Yep, in Wales.

B: Were there auditions or was it just a bunch of friends getting together?

EC: Yeah, I met [keyboardist] Alex the first night of university but she didn’t join the band til near the end. Everyone else was friends or friends of friends. I heard Alex sing when she was drunk and she was really good. It wasn’t like, “Let’s audition people and be really, really serious.” It was more like something to do on a Wednesday.

B: When you guys first came together, did you have any goals you wanted to achieve?

EC: Because none of us had ever thought we’d be here today making an album, there wasn’t a game plan or anything. Originally, we practiced for months and months to play at the student union on a free night. That was the goal. We were all really scared. We were talking about it for so long that it was something to show our friends rather than have any ideas of grandeur. We just enjoyed what we were doing. To be in this situation we’re in now is a complete surprise and I think it’s still a bit hard to take. It’s a little bit mental.

B: Did you guys ever talk about dropping out of school to focus exclusively on music?

EC: When everything started kicking off last summer, we had a few silly conversations like, “Maybe we should just drop out now.” And I was quite willing to because I really didn’t like my degree. But we did realize that we had spent quite a bit of money on tuition fees and loans and it would be ridiculous if we had nothing to fall back on after two years of university.



B: This success was fueled, in part, by a number of bloggers championing your cause. What effect do you think that’s had so far on your band’s success?

EC: I think it’s nice because obviously you’re getting this surge of Internet support and a lot of people look to certain blogs or websites to find new music. But at the same time, it’s one of those things where a lot of people will write stuff about you and then a lot of people will expect you to be exceptionally good. There’s more pressure because there’s more people ready to knock you down because you do get a lot of Internet snobbery. I’m really bad on picking up on it because sometimes it’s just so overwhelming. It’s like, “You should listen to this. And you should listen to this,” and I’m just like, “I don’t want to listen to any of them. There’s too many!! Where do I start??”

B: Are you still surprised at the reception you’ve gotten?

EC: I’m still mentally surprised by it and I think if I ever stop being surprised by it, I’d be worried. I don’t like to think about it because I think if I did, I’d start thinking, “Well maybe people do like us because we’re good.” I want to be blissfully unaware and continuously surprised by it.

B: Do you feel any pressure to finish the album quickly because of the attention you’re getting now?

EC: We’ve obviously had to do this album pretty quickly but we’re very lucky as well because we’ve taken a while to get to actually recording it. We’ve had a chance to develop enough songs and develop as musicians to produce a good album rather than rushing something out when the hype is at its biggest. Theoretically, we could have tried to rush out an album last summer and it would have been dire. We’re really lucky that we’ve had the opportunity to understand the gravity of the situation we’re in as well as work on the songs and developing our sound, as it were.

B: How do you think you’ve grown since your first gig?

EC: We used to do the post-rock instrumentalist thing but we realized it wasn’t that good. It was quite a self-indulgent thing and everyone was looking at us quite bemused so we said, “Let’s stick to the pop songs.” We realize that this is now our job. We have to take this extremely serious and everyone has to work a lot harder to try to be as good as they can. It’s understanding that people are going to see us as musicians so we have to represent that. [But] we’ll always be shambolic live. I hope that’s part of the charm in a way.

B: Speaking of playing live, you played your first major U.S. festival at Lollapalooza. How does that compare to some of the bigger UK ones?

EC: It was really surreal. We’ve been at festivals in England. You go to Glastonbury and it’s all very hippie-ish and free love and you get to Lollapalooza and it’s quite corporate. But you get free things. It sounds really stupid, but we’re completely naïve to that thing. We got free ice cream. It was amazing. Some guy was just giving out free ice cream! I know there’s gonna be a lot of bands who say, “We don’t take free things ‘cause that’s selling out.” But sometimes it’s like, “But I do need some new jeans and I do like ice cream.” It’s quite a different vibe compared to something like Glastonbury, which is massively uncorporate and less luxurious. Oh, can I tell you my Karen O story?

B: Sure.

EC: This guy came rushing out of Karen O’s dressing room and was like, “Karen O needs some hair grips. Have you got any?” I had loads in my pocket, so he took them from me and gave them to her. I didn’t get to meet her, but she was wearing my hair clip. So I’m cool by association! - Jason Newman

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You can check out more of Los Campesinos! at their website HERE and Myspace HERE.

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