“It seems like there is a sort of private club that everyone who likes Los Campesinos! is a part of”
February 14th…Valentines Day. What better way to celebrate then to sit down with one of my favorite bands and have a chat. So in one of the little nooks on the balcony of the Bowery Ballroom in New York City, I met Neil (guitarist) and Gareth (lead singer), two of the seven members of the UK indie pop outfit, Los Campesinos! We talked about issues ranging from their newest album to Kurt Vonnegut, to throwing up by football pitches, along with the insecurities we all feel about how all good things will eventually come to an end.
Baeble: Firstly, let’s start off by telling me your names and where you are from?
Los Campesinos (Gareth): Cool. My name is Gareth.
Los Campesinos (Neil): I’m Neil.
Los Campesinos (Gareth): And we’re in a band called Los Campesinos! From Cardiff, Wales…Europe.
Baeble: I’m sure you’ve heard this question a million times, but where did you get your band name?
LC (Neil): A million and one. [laughs] No it’s ok. I used to be able to speak some Spanish which I have long forgotten pretty much and it’s just a word that I was aware of. So I just thought one day “sounds pretty cool”. It doesn’t really mean anything to us. Just sounds nice, looks alright.
Baeble: What does it mean?
LC (Neil): It translates to the peasants or the farmers, but we’re neither and we represent neither of those. It’s just a word.
LC (Gareth): I think to a British tongue it’s reasonably exotic. And it looks nice written down. And it works.
Baeble: I especially like the exclamation point at the end.
LC (Gareth): Book ends. The Capitol L and the exclamation point nicely book end the rest of the word. I think it looks nice written down. That’s important [laughs].
Baeble: What are some of the differences you have found between playing shows in the UK and playing shows in North America?
LC (Gareth): We much prefer playing North America to the UK. I think the main difference is the audience. Audiences in the UK kind of stand back and wait to be impressed. I guess it could have a lot to do with the that fact that we’re slightly more exciting (to audiences around the world) than to people who we live an hours drive away from, but the audiences that we played to on this tour especially have just been so receptive and dancing and sort of wanting to have fun from the start whereas in the UK it always feels like, and this is from watching other bands play as well, it always seems like it’s the crowd versus the band and nobody really wants to enjoy themselves, but the US is completely the opposite in our experience.
Baeble: Let’s talk a little bit about the new album. How did the name We are Beautiful, We are Doomed come about?
LC (Gareth): We are Beautiful, We are Doomed is kind of a recurring theme throughout the record and what it’s based on. It’s intended to mean a slightly pessimistic also sensible view maybe, that all good things come to an end inevitably. There’s quite a lot of talk about the end of things, be it death or…a new relationship is often exciting and fun but I guess, more often than not is doomed to fail. And also Los Campesinos! itself, what we’re doing is the best thing to do in the world and we get to travel the world and we get to play to people and it’s so much fun but inevitably, eventually it’ll stop. So it kind of seems to be a slogan that can cover a fair few aspects of Los Campesinos! and of what I was writing about at the time.
Baeble: The lyrics to “Miserabilia” are kind of perplexing. Could you tell me a little bit about what that song is about?
LC (Gareth): The song “Miserabilia”…the made up word Miserabilia is a mix between both misery and memorabilia and it kind of alludes to the thought (that) throughout relationships inevitably you acquire lots of mementos and things that remind you of that person and that relationship and then there’s also a tendency, from my experience at least, to cling onto them for longer than is necessary and to keep them after the breakup and then they just become bad memories. And that song is about that; about how people do cling onto these things and these memories that plague them and mess with them.
Baeble: Being Canadian, I have to ask about the lyrics of the song “We are beautiful, We are Doomed”. The lyrics read, “Charlotte says, It’s more constructive than the one in Canada, when you got drunk, ate loads of crisps and threw up by a football pitch”. Could you tell me a little bit about what happened in Canada?
LC (Gareth): That was just one of my many slightly, well incredibly unoteworthy miniature minor breakdowns that I’ve had since being in the band. And Charlotte is my friend. One of my best friends who for better or for worse has kind of become a cancer for me. I do spend an awful lot of time emailing her at home and just whining and complaining about things and she’s always very understanding and at least pretends to care. That was just…I can’t even remember what it was about, but I went a little bit nuts one night and got really drunk and then went to…this was when we were recording our first record Hold on Now, Youngster, I went to a shop and bought loads and loads of crisps and just gorged myself on them and then ended up…I found a soccer pitch…I think that was intended to remind me of home because I’m a big soccer fan. So I found a soccer pitch and proceeded to be sick.
Baeble: I like how you say soccer. Is that for our benefit?
LC (Gareth): It’s kind of gotten to the point now where being in North America for four and a half weeks, the first two weeks we kept saying football and then being like, “oh soccer”. So now I’ve been practicing. But if I still call it soccer when I get home then I’ll be in for some trouble [laughs].
Baeble: One of my favorite tracks on the album is “Between an Erupting Earth and an Exploding Sky”. It’s the albums only instrumental track. Could you tell me how that song came to be?
LC (Gareth): That was one morning Tom got up earlier than the rest of us. We got up at about two in the afternoon, walked into the studio and Tom had recorded it.
LC (Gareth): [laughs] Yeah just on his own.
LC (Neil): It was all his work. He probably had an idea about it a few days before, but yeah, it’s pretty good.
LC (Gareth): And “Between an Erupting Earth and an Exploding Sky” is a quote from a Kurt Vonnegut novel. He’s one of my favorite novelists.
Baeble: Which novel is it?
LC (Gareth): It’s from Timequake is it?
Bable: I’ve read a few of his novels but not that one.
LC (Gareth): Yeah. It’s one of his more difficult ones. But yeah it’s from that. It’s early on in the book.
Baeble: So is it safe to say there is no chance that the next album is going to be all instrumental?
LC (Gareth): [laughs] I don’t think so. If we sleep in every day then we might have two albums worth.
Baeble: What is the song writing process like for you guys besides waking up early and recording all on your own?
LC (Gareth): [laughs] Tom writes the music and I write the words. And then we’ll go into a practice room and people will learn their parts and then we’ll play it and see if the song develops, what changes and doesn’t change. Yeah it’s a pretty simple process. It’s not as confusing as the seven people muddling their way around and trying to work something out.
LC (Neil): We’d never get anything done.
Baeble: Gareth, are you always carrying around a notebook in case you think of a line?
LC (Gareth): Yeah. I’ve got a notebook. But more often than not I’m sat at my computer anyway. So there’s just a hundred million text edit files with embarrassing bits in them and occasionally I have to go through them all and delete everything because I’m just horrified to read it back.
Baeble: You could release a poetry book.
LC (Gareth): I could. I don’t think anybody would release it. [laughs] But yeah.
Baeble: So how have you guys evolved as a band since you all got together in 2006?
LC (Gareth): I think even in the past year, as a band, we’ve all improved so much as musicians, like actually playing our instruments and songwriters. Certainly we are a lot more able than we were in 2006. Even the beginning of last year I think we have improved an awful lot.
LC (Neil): I think for me We are Beautiful, We are Doomed really captures kind of when we got more mature and when we stepped a bit further forward. If you had to put a date on it that would be when recording really changed a bit.
Baeble: I think you can definitely hear it in the music.
LC (Gareth): I hope so, yeah.
Baeble: What would you like listeners to take from your music? Whether it be seeing you live or listening to your albums?
LC (Gareth): I think if you would have asked me that a year ago I would have had a very definite answer. I’ve kind of come to realize that you can’t dictate what people are going to take away from it. I think playing live or listening to the record there are two different ways to go about it. There will be a lot of people that will come to shows and will enjoy how excitable we are and how into it we are and will enjoy the sonic noise of it and that aspect. And they might not listen to the words and they might not read any further into it than that, and that’s great. But equally there are people that will probably stand back a bit and will sort of listen to the record on their bed with headphones taking in every word and trying to read some meaning into everything, reading the lyrics sheets and stuff. Either way, anybody listening and enjoying our music at all is incredibly flattering. I think if we tried to dictate what people take from it then we’d be a bit ungrateful.
LC (Neil): It kind of defeats the object as well.
Baeble: You guys are from the UK, which is an amazing place to find new music. So many great bands have come out of the UK. Do you have any tips regarding new bands from the UK that you think more people should know about?
LC (Gareth): We’re really lucky. There seems to be, not a scene as such, but that there are a group of bands all at a very similar level who are all friends and play with each other and go to watch each other’s shows and support each other and it’s a really healthy environment and a healthy scene. Bands that we’ve played shows with, like Johnny Foreigner. A band who is coming to the US for the first time for SXSW called DANANANAKROYD. They’re incredible. Label mates of ours, bands like Lovvers and Sky Larkin and countless other bands. A band called Pens who are very new who are from London, who are great. It’s a really really healthy musical climate at the moment in the UK. A couple of years ago there was a pretty bad time where everything was just really lack-luster and repeating it self and really pretty bad.
LC (Neil): I think finally everyone who was trying to do something to go against that has finally come to the surface and it’s paid off so to speak.
LC (Gareth): It’s an exciting place to be.
Baeble: I know it is. I was just there actually.
LC (Gareth): Where did you go?
Baeble: Just to London.
LC (Gareth): Did you get to see any shows?
Baeble: Yeah, we went to Rough Trade East and saw Noah & the Whale. We saw Holly Thorsby who’s an Australian singer/songwriter and Daniel Johnston which was amazing. Personally, I enjoyed those shows much better than some of the shows I’ve seen here. The audiences here a lot of times won’t even listen to opening bands and just keep chatting away while they play.
LC (Gareth): I think we’re lucky then because it seems like in the U.S. we’ve kind of…I really like the idea of Los Campesinos! being something that transcended just being a band writing songs and it does seem like we’ve got people that like our band and that are really into it and kind of buy into the things we’re encouraging and it seems like there is a sort of private club that everyone who likes Los Campesinos! is a part of and often looking out into the audience, the front five or six rows are just full of people who seem like they’ve been friends forever and are really enjoying it and are looking out for each other and protecting each other if it gets a bit rough or whatever. And that’s something that we’ve kind of cultivated in the U.S. that hasn’t really happened in the U.K. So I guess our U.S. crowds are nicer.
Baeble: What is the craziest thing you have ever had happen at a show?
LC (Neil): Some girl did a back flip off the stage in Paris.
LC (Gareth): That was good.
LC (Neil): Nearly hit me in the face.
LC (Gareth): We played in Paris and this girl got on stage and ran at the monitor and sort of just flipped off the monitor and ended up in the crowd. That was incredible. And then she just crowd surfed out of the way. That’s probably the most crazy.
Baeble: That sounds a little dangerous yet exciting at the same time.
LC (Neil): We probably wouldn’t retell it in the same way if she had kicked me in the face. [laughs]
Baeble: So what’s next for you guys? Are you going to go straight back to work on the next album or are you going to tour some more?
LC (Gareth): We are back touring North America in April. We’re playing Canada, we’re playing the west coast. We are lucky enough to be going to Mexico as well. And as soon as we have the time we will be recording again. We’re writing new songs at the moment and I think we just want to do as much as we can in the shortest amount of time possible. Because it would awful if we had songs that we never got to release because people stopped caring. So we want to strike while the iron is hot and just keep going. If we didn’t then we’d just be at home bored out of our head.
Baeble: Well I hope you guys keep at it because we love hearing it.
LC: Thank you very much