I caught up with Los Campesinos
front man Gareth Campesinos before their show at New York's Le Poisson Rouge a few weeks ago. The Welsh pop-rockers are currently on a summer tour with Yellow Ostrich. As I would later learn, Campesinos fan are serious about their live shows. Fans drove in from all over New York and even as far as Connecticut to attend their show. Gareth touched on the band's reception stateside, the band's name, their recent release Hello Sadness
, the ups and down of touring and what we should expect from the band in coming months.
Zoe: Where did the name "Los Campesinos" come from? I google-translated "campesinos" and I think it means peasant in Spanish. What is band from Wales doing with a name like Los Campesinos?
Gareth: Well when we formed about six years ago, Neil was pretty much fluent in Spanish and they took the name when there was only three of them jamming and thinking of starting a band, which is good because I wasnt in the band at that point so I take no responsibility for the name. But I think to our British cousins its exotic and it looks nice written down. I think choosing a band name is a really difficult. I'm glad that we didnt choose something that was attempting to be too clever or too profound and going with the reasonably pointless name we did. There aren't too many regrets along the line.
On that note, does everyone in the band really refer to their last names as "Campesinos"? Kind of like the Ramones, but Spanish?
Not legally, no, but we've always gone with the surname Campesinos in album liner notes and interviews and things for different reasons. I think partly because we have always been a reasonably large band in number of members. There's always been a sense of family so having the same surname kind of works in that respect. I don't know, it's been in the band as this weird thing and I think it's sort of a surname to hide behind a little bit.
So you recorded Hello Sadness with John Goodmanson in Barcelona. The band has worked with Goodmanson before, but why Spain? Just to go with the band name?
It kind of made sense in that respect, yeah. But I think weve always been lucky to record in interesting places. We've, in the past, recorded albums in Toronto, Seattle, a couple of times, and in Connecticut. So basically not places, not home really, which is nice, because I think if we were at home recording then our regular distractions would be there. And it wouldn't feel as much as an adventure. On this occasion we were actually going to record in Cardiff, but then the studio that we were going to use -- there kept being scheduling problems. So then it happened that we were offered a couple of gigs in Spain a few days apart from each other that were paying quite well and we knew of a studio. Our manager also manages for Super Furry Animals and they recorded in the studio previously. And so we knew about it and everything just sort of coalesced. We ended up spending a month in beautiful pastoral Spanish surroundings. It really made the experience of recording the album enjoyable.
When the band got together to write Hello Sadness, was there a particular direction or sound you were aiming for?
I think we kind of took stock of what we had done in the past and where we were and where we thought we could improve upon that and I think the main thing is that previous to Hello Sadness
our method had always been to throw everything into songs regardless if there was say a guitar part that we were thinking -- does this fit? Should we include this here? Our instinct would always be "let's just leave it in." Whereas in this instance we thought if there was anything that could be stripped back, if there was stuff that we didn't have to pile on to the songs, we'd leave it out and as a result we had more of a more patient approach to songwriting and I think really honed what we were attempting to do.
How would you classify Hello Sadness in comparison to previous albums, like Romance is Boring and your EPs?
I think thats really difficult, because as a musician you don't think about it. It's the sort of thing you only think about when youre asked to think about it. I don't think it's a natural thing for a musician to look at their music in that way. I think it's more focused. When we first formed the band we were all just learning our instruments really. We didn't have experience, we didn't know how to use musical equipment and we were just sort of bumbling our way along. By Hello Sadness
we had worked out as a band what we wanted to do. It's generally a more accomplished piece of work and it shows how we have developed as musicians and songwriters.
So you mentioned being a bigger band. Whats it like recording an album with so many people? It is a case of too many cooks in the kitchen?
No. The general passage has been I write the lyrics and my band mates write the music, so that's kind of the basic outline of how songs are written. But as everybody in the band has developed as musicians and as the lineup has changed, people have been able to exact their influence on the songs and we've benefited from different expertise and musical background and knowledge. In the studio, it's difficult to compare. This is the only band I've ever been in. It's certainly nice being surrounded by so many people that you're friends with and equally if you cant work with somebody or if somebodys pissing you off then theres another five people in the band that you can go to instead. I think in that environment, the nature of recording that last album, we were all living together it's was a close comfort. It was a really good atmosphere and a really positive fun time for us.
So you've had some changes in the band lineup in recent years. Has this affected the bands sound or group dynamic at all?
I think it has affected the group dynamic, but in a very organic way. The people that have joined the band haven't been strangers or people that qualified for auditions or anything. It has been people we're close to. Kim, being my sister, she has been around the band as long as I have really, just as a friend hanging out with us. It was only Rob, who joined the band the same time as Kim, which is like two and a half years ago now. He supported us before with his solo music and he toured with us. Jason, who plays drums for us, he sold our merch on tour for years before he joined the band. So it's been a very natural evolution. All the people that have joined the band have added expertise that the band didn't necessarily have before. Rob has got a lot of experience recording his own music, Kim is a classically trained musician and Jason is just an incredible drummer who has been touring for years. So all of the changes that have occurred have allowed us to I think form closer bonds as a group, but also to definitely progress in the studio and to write and perform better in the studio.
This isn't on Hello Sadness as much as past releases, but the band tends to come up with pretty great song titles. Like "I Just Sighed. I Just Sighed, Just So You Know" and "And We Exhale and Roll Our Eyes in Unison". Why all the lengthy track names? Are they a group effort? Inside jokes perhaps?
No. I think initially it was that case that I think when youre looking at the track listings- I think with a list of interesting titles it may peek a bit more interest than a list of one word song titles. More so at the beginning of the band, bands that I liked and was listening to did a similar thing. I guess its just something that stuck since and it's kind of expected by now.
The album pre-sale for Hello Sadness included a documentary about writing the album, did knowing you were being filmed effect the writing process at all?
No. Ellen did all that. Our band mate Ellen, we're kind of used to her being around with a video camera and a lot of the times the video camera was just left set up, constantly on record, capturing the secret private moments and hopefully we didn't embarrass ourselves too much. We've always, because of the nature of social media and how we use that to communicate with the people that like our band, we've always made little documentary videos and things like that. It's something that were used to and I think it's something that people enjoy as well because it gives them insight into what it's like to be in the studio and what we're like as people and how we interact with each other.
Going off the whole idea of communication with fans -- you guys have a pretty active blog. You not only post tour updates and photos but also Oscar predictions, pictures of your dinner, movie reviews, all kinds of things. So is keeping that level of communicating with the fans something the band finds important?
Certainly. I think as things like Twitter have come more popular and become an even more direct way of communicating with the people that like us the blog has slowed down a bit. But certainly one of the best things of being in a band is that you get to meet so many people and you get to interact with so many people on a one-on-one level at the shows and stuff and they get to talk about our music or preferably we just talk about something else. And that's an amazing thing that happens and we're very grateful for that. Twitter allows to us to instruct people directly, because people -- I'm quite clumsy, because I really dislike the word "fan." I try not to use it and I end up being long winded, but the fans can communicate with bands and the bands can communicate with the fans. It kind of eliminates this idea of a hierarchy, which I think any sort of hierarchy between the people on the stage and the people in the audience I think is a negative thing.
For those of us who dont know, could you explain Heat Rash- whose idea was it together?
was a 7" series that we started at the end of 2010. It's been slower than we anticipated and hoped, but we've been busier than we expected to be since the album release. Basically it's a printed magazine and 7" which is exclusive to people who subscribe to the series. It enables us to write at length about things that we might not have the opportunity to talk about in our music and it gives sort of a more illustrious platform than the blog, I suppose. It's been a great success. Issue 3 just went out and the response to that has been really good. We've picked up a lot more subscribers than we anticipated we would. It's been insanely good. This generation of music fan-zines is something they missed out on, because everything is web-based now and everything is digital MP3s. I think people were excited to see that we were offering this physical medium that is tangible and something that exists, that won't just be on their hard drive for the rest of their lives. It's something that they can hold and keep as long as they want to.
The band has released several tracks through Heat Rash as well as on SoundCloud. Do you think those kinds of websites help or hurt bands? Or is it another way for bands to share their music?
When they're being used by bands they're wonderful. I think things like SoundClound are a unique way of actually streaming music or offering it to download. It's user friendly, so it's easy to embed and to click through. It's effortless for people to use. Similar to YouTube, I think YouTube is wonderful. Obviously it is a platform for other people to sort of illegally upload other things, you know like upload MP3s to YouTube, which seems a misuse. You know, you're not really getting the most out of YouTube if youre uploading an MP3 file to the website. People are misusing them but band cant really account for that. We use any sort of web-based media as well as we can.
So one of those tracks that you guys released to the internet is "Tiptoe Through The True Bits." Do you think you'll include that track, or tracks that you release through your blog and whatnot -- do you think you'll include them on the next record?
Definitely not. With "Tiptoe," that was one of my favorite songs that we recorded during the record, but it didn't really feel like it fit within the course of the album, along with the other songs. I think it worked better on its own than within the concept of the album. So no, we offered that. We could have released it as a single, but I think it's much more enjoyable to allow people to have it for free and more people will hear it that way. And with bands like this, there isn't a huge point to releasing singles, because it's not like were gonna to like break into the charts or make any money from it. So giving it to people for free is the sensible thing to do. We're not really ones one for milking things. We like to move as quickly as possible and I think that putting a song that was previously released for free on an album would be a slightly cynical gesture and I guess it wouldn't be relevant. All our music is written sort of honestly and from the heart -- that's a terrible expression -- and when it comes time to write a new record that track probably won't be relevant in the same way.
So shifting gears a little bit. This month, you'll be touring the US with Yellow Ostrich. The band has had a kind of tumultuous tour history with the volcano and cancelled dates and such- what are your best/worst tour memories?
Actually this tour started wonderfully for good memories. We played in St. Louis a couple of nights ago and I wasn't familiar before, but there is a museum called the City Museum in St. Louis, which could be in a lot of lists of the world's best museums. And some people came to the show who had worked there and had keys to the museum and so they opened it up for us at like one-thirty in the morning after the show. And the roof of the museum is less museum, more amusement park. It's got a Ferris wheel and loads of slides and climbing structures. And so at like one-thirty in the morning we drunkenly were able to ride of the Ferris wheel and go on all these slides and stuff, with a view of all St. Louis. That was incredible. As for bad tour memories, I don't know, it's always good fun. There was an instance when we were driving up the west coast in blistering heat and this was on a proper big tour bus and one of the buses windows literally just fell out onto the freeway and that wasn't particularly fun getting that fixed. The volcano, that was a frustrating one, because we had never cancelled shows before and we had to do that because we physically couldn't get to the US, but generally speaking tour is just a lot of fun and we've been lucky to avoid any tragedy.
So is touring in the US different from back home? Do you notice any changes besides the tour bus going down the wrong side of the street?
Well the main difference I suppose is the length of the drive. Yesterday we drove for about seven hours from Louisville, Kentucky to Ashville, North Carolina. In seven hours you could pretty much drive from the southernmost part of England to the northernmost part of England easily, whereas doing that in the US you travel hardly any distance at all. I think that there's a different mentality with concert-going in the US than there is in the UK. In the UK people won't travel an hour to see a band. They'll consider that to be too far away to go watch them. Whereas in the US, we have people fly across the country or who will drive ten hours to come see us play and wont even think twice about it. I think that the sort of road trip philosophy is a lot more alive in the US. And I think also because were not from here, people are a lot more excited to see us in the US than perhaps they are in the UK. In the UK I think there's a sense that oh well these guys are down the road, so we can see them anytime. Whereas in the US it feels like a bit more of an event.
So you're touring this summer. What's up for the band next? Are you going to head right back into the studio or release more demos? What do you think is the band's next move?
We've got some festivals and then were back in maybe October time in the States for a couple more festivals, which will be really cool. And then hopefully South America is what were thinking. I think January/February next year well start to make a new record. We don't like to leave long between releasing records, because we get restless and we worry that we'll have to get a proper job.
The band's show held up to Gareth's predictions. Somehow they fit all seven Campesinos on the LPR stage, instruments and all, for one of the liveliest shows I've ever been to. The band channeled an infectious energy into their stage performance, which fans picked up on. When the band opened with "By Your Hands" of Hello Sadness
, the crowd almost rioted. The audience cheered on every song, every band member and even every tuning break. During the length-y intro of "You! Me! Dancing!", the band playfully broke off into the opening chords of "Smells Like Teen Spirit." No one seemed to mind. The crowd would have probably sat through an entire night of Nirvana covers and never complained. From there they playing older hits like "Romance Is Boring", and "We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed." Listening to selections from their entire body of work really showed the progression and growth of the band has undergone. It was an audible history of the band, culminating in their most recent songs, like "Hello Sadness" and "Songs About Your Girlfriend." It really gave the audience an idea of what Los Campesinos! really sounded like as a whole, not just what Los Campesinos! has sounded like for the past year.