“You’re wearing an Elastica T-shirt, I trust you implicitly.”
Los Campesinos! singer Gareth greeted me outside Sheffield University by acknowledging the Elastica logo beneath my hoodie, which he had noticed walking around the venue earlier. It sets the tone for my time with them. Thanks to pretty shoddy organization on my behalf, I hadn’t expected to be talking with the band. After missing their tour manager’s phone message suggesting an early afternoon interview, they offered to meet me in the evening. Later, when labouring the point that I’d try not to misquote them, Gareth responded with the line above.
They are touring after completing debut album, Hold On Now, Youngster with Broken Social Scene producer David Newfeld. Armed with some fairly generalised and hacked together conjecture, I didn’t really have any expectations as to how many Campesinos! I would interview. In the end the four blokes in the band sat in for the questions. They were a friendly and fairly sensible bunch, and I’m very glad that their music is receiving deservedly increasing acclaim. Unsurprisingly, for a group who succeed by combining social and trivial reference with pretty eclectic indie rock, they wanted to talk about music and impressive inanities. Much of my audience with Los Campesinos! follows below…
Treble: What are you listening to at the moment, is there any new or old music that you’re currently excited by?
Gareth: My most exciting new music at the moment is a band from Birmingham called Johnny Foreigner who are just releasing a mini album on Best Before Records.
Neil: I just listened to it today. I love it. It’s amazing.
Gareth: They’re like this three piece band a, female bassist and two guys. The drummer plays drums and keyboards at the same time. I think they are the 21st century Huggy Bear. Their lyrics are about living in Birmingham and verge on social commentary without being naff. They’re a really great band. Other than that, I’ve been listening to the Wedding Present a lot, again. They’re one of my staple bands that I’ll always come back to. I feel really out of touch. When we got back from Canada there were all these British bands that are being talked about…and not necessarily bands that I would listen to, just bands that I would like to moan about…and I’m like “who are these people? I’ve never heard of these.
Tom: I’ve been listening to our album over and over and over again to determine how long the silences are between tracks. But other than that I’ve been listening to Menomena. I got into them earlier this year and really came back to them.
The band members ask me what I’m listening too, and the conversation turns to music and miscellany for a while. Amongst other things, they reveal that they are “sticklers for pronunciation, when we can manage it” and “football (soccer) fans in general.” They also talk about the incongruity of receiving media coverage in a way that seems fairly sane.
Tom: I find it really weird when people start comparing other bands to us.
Gareth: …nobody knows who we are…We find it really hard to guage any sort of…we just don’t know what’s going on
Tom: I think we’re losing perspective. It’s kind of good.
Gareth: We never had perspective
The assembled members of Los Campesinos! greet my Sticking Fingers Into Sockets press pack like it’s some sort of comedic Martian, as anyone without an imbalanced ego would, and return to asking about bands.
Treble: The new single states that “getting my lap top fixed by a professional doesn’t make me a pawn.” It seems slightly more polished and immediate. To what extent have you recorded the new album with an eye on chart and music television success, and has any change in sound simply been the result of increased resources?
Gareth: With regard to the whole radio play thing, it really doesn’t trouble our band at all. If we were going for that we’d be idiots because we know how fickle and frivolous, especially mainstream media can be. If we were gunning for that, we can only end up looking like idiots. So would say the album does sound like a big pop record, but that’s because we now have…the original demo was recorded in twelve hours in a youth centre, so that’s all we could sound like, but we have ambitions.
Tom: Do you mean compared to the EP? (I clarify yes) Well the mixing was eventually done by someone else on that track and I think that’s probably why it sounds more polished.
Ollie: And also probably time as well
Tom: Yeah, we were quite restricted with time. We had this very small envelope.
Gareth: It was done over like two weekends? I can’t even remember…
Ollie: We did it in five days
Neil: and it was mixed two months later
Gareth: It’s difficult to know but I think the album is a massive sounding pop album.
Tom: I think we’ve got it right with the album sound wise. We’re really happy with the way it’s ended up. I think to a certain extent we’ve not really known what we’ve been doing. I think with the album, we’ve not overworked it, but we’ve known what we wanted it to end up like. I don’t think we’ve completely achieved it but we’ve got close.
Gareth: One of the things I find really difficult is that up until when it came to the album we were writing songs rather than a collection of songs, which is why I’m really excited for the future…because it’s difficult to know how you want to sound like when you don’t know how many songs you’re going to release.
Tom: I don’t think we’ve ever been that self conscious about how we want to sound. It’s kind of; a lot of it’s been trial and error. We just kind of started writing songs. It suddenly falls into a position, maybe at interviews, where you get asked about the direction of music, and I’m not sure that we really have a big direction in sound. If we like how it sounds, that’s what we aim for. With the radio thing we refused to do a radio edit of “You! Me! Dancing!” and that worked out really well because Colin Murray played all six and a half minutes of it on radio one, like a few times. That means so much more because he’s stretched his radio limitations to accept us rather than us shortening ours to try to squeeze our way on the play list.
Gareth: I think as a proper song it’s never been shorter than that. I think the original demo was seven and a half minutes long and we trimmed it down. I think if you made it any shorter than that it wouldn’t be the same song.
Treble: You’re signed to Arts and Crafts in North America. I can hear parallels with several of the bands on the label, (I mention Stars and the Hidden Cameras,) in terms of the slightly symphonic, multi-layered and intimately referential sound of your music. I’ve read interviews and your Myspace profile where you acknowledge that you’re fans of several of these bands, and you’ve played gigs with Broken Social Scene. How much did this influence your decision to sign to the label?
Ollie: A lot
Tom: It was all a series of strange co-incidences, and kind of a mutual appreciation between labels and us… There was working with Newfeld, there was…Wichita have a connection with Arts and Crafts, and there was just this series of coincidences that landed us in the situation where Arts and Crafts looked at us and said “you’ll do.” It’s nice to be compared to the Hidden Cameras, we haven’t had that before. We like them a lot.
Gareth: With regards to the bands on that label, it’s really, really nice and really flattering to be in good company… knowing that also on the roster of Arts & Crafts and Wichita are really awesome bands…it’s just really complimentary.
Tom: It’s quite daunting, but at the same time it does fill you with confidence that they’re willing to put you alongside them. At the same time, I’m still sort of weary of hard core Broken Social Scene fans who might think, “Who the fuck is this?”
Gareth: These British kids, with their haircuts, and their trainers…
Tom: We do have haircuts and trainers.
Treble: Do you have any preferred fizzy drinks? Has touring internationally exposed you to any favourites in that department, or any other miscellaneous stuff that you particularly enjoyed?
Gareth: Mountain Dew was the big hit in North America. There was one day especially where, I think it was post Harriet’s birthday, which we celebrated in Canada whilst we were doing the album. I got incredibly drunk, woke up the next morning, feeling like death…went and bought a Mountain Dew which I drank in a very quick space of time, and it’s just pure sugar, and I felt like the bionic man. It was unreal.
Tom: That’s a good advert for Mountain Dew.
Gareth: It’s pure sugar.
Gareth: Generally on this tour, up until about five days ago where I’ve not been drinking much, I’ve been like, first thing every morning…a Coke. A can of Coke, not a line, and I’m ready to go. I know it’s a cliché, but Coca Cola.
Neil: We tried Twinkies for the first time…
Gareth: Not technically a drink.
Neil: But then he said anything else…so I enjoyed that.
Tom: Tim Horton’s won you over briefly.
Gareth: Yeah Tim Horton’s, are you aware of Tim Horton’s? It’s a big, primarily Canadian brand. In the Northern States of the USA they have them. It’s like a Subway…
Neil: …With Donuts.
Gareth: Yeah, big time on donuts and hot drinks. I’d say there’s a more home made element to the sandwiches. I was a big fan of them, getting off at any stop. But then when we moved into Trenton (Ontario), where we recorded the album, there was this not so good one. We had a couple of bad Tim Horton’s there.
Neil: They weren’t very nice.
Gareth: But it was. It upset me, that’s all I’m saying.
Tom: I’m sorry I brought that up, I can tell that it’s still quite a sensitive subject.
Tom: Fran’s yeah, in Toronto.
Neil: The ultimate breakfast, diner place.
Tom: Their pancakes with breakfast is brilliant…Maple syrup and everything.
Neil: We went there quite a lot. Probably too much.
Gareth: Let’s go back! At the end of November! Let’s go back!
Neil: Keith Allen’s.
Gareth: Oh yeah, there’s some nice Canadian beers as well.
Neil: Alexander Keith’s.
Gareth: One called Alexander Keith’s which in a moment of drunkenness Neil referred to as Keith Allen’s beer, and that stuck. (Keith Allen is a comedian, actor and generic celebrity in the UK. He is also the father of Lilly Allen)
Neil: Yeah. That was nice.
Gareth: Yeah we really embraced North American culture.
Ollie: Twinkies, Tim Horton’s and Keith Allen’s.
Treble: Listening to the EP, there are non-musical references, for example to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. This is going to sound like a real stock question (I couldn’t find a better way of phrasing it). Do you have any non-musical influences that you would like to recommend which have particularly shaped your sound or outlook on life?
Tom: Probably not the Bronte sisters.
Gareth: That song is half based on the Jeanette Winterson novel Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, which is one of my favourite books, and that “don’t read Jane Eyre” lyric is sort of influenced by that. But generally, lyrics wise, most things are just stolen from things that my friends have said, and then they forget they’ve said it. I think, “Oh that’s quite witty” or “Oh that’s deep, I’ll write that down” and then I just make a collage of them. There’s a few authors that I maybe share a similar outlook too. Douglas Coupland, I like a lot of what he writes and says. But it’s mostly just friends and people I talk to that give me ideas and stuff. It’s not very exciting, but I’m just a thief.
Tom: I think it would be hard to say you’re inspired by art as well…
Gareth: I’m nowhere near intelligent enough to say that.
Tom: I think we just nick other peoples music and fob it off as our own.
Gareth: So honest.
Tom: Aye. They’re going to find out soon enough…
Treble: There’s got to be some Canadian fast food influence in there.
Tom: On the album, it’s just about Mountain Dew and Tim Horton’s.
Gareth: That’s what gives us the motivation to get up in the morning so that’s the influence in there.
Treble: Do you have any favourite records or bands which you would like recommend that you feel aren’t mentioned enough elsewhere?
Gareth: What time are we onstage again?
Neil: We could literally do this all night.
Gareth: Obviously there are places that do mention the music we like, but generally as a mainstream thing, nothing very good is particularly spoken about.
Tom: I’m always surprised that the Life Without Buildings album isn’t…because everyone that I play it to says “this is amazing,” and I listen to it I think “this is amazing.” It just seems really strange. I guess there is a bit of a cult thing with the live album recently.
I admit total ignorance to Life Without Buildings.
Gareth: Life Without Buildings? One studio album called Any Other City.
Tom: Are they from Glasgow?
Gareth: Half Glasgow. It’s like, I wouldn’t know how to describe it, but the vocals…There’s a girl called Sue Tompkins who sings and her delivery and singing style is like nothing you have ever heard in your life.
Tom: It sounds almost sort of improvised. It’s kind of almost making up words sometimes and it’s kind of more rhythmic than anything else.
Gareth: But yeah, definitely get that album.
Gareth: I’m a massive Xiu Xiu fan and they don’t get mentioned…
By this point, in no small part due to the interviewer’s lack of focus, proceedings descend into conversation. With regard to playing the U.S, Gareth beams that “next year we get to do a full month tour and looking at some of the States we’re going to visit, it’s really exciting…everywhere a band should go.” I ask if there’s anything that they haven’t been asked which they would like to talk about in an interview. The other members seem to have no objections to Gareth’s “fast food and bands we like.” Tom mentions that “it’s really obvious when an interviewers thought about the questions, and it’s refreshing to have questions that make you think a bit…even though when they do make you think it’s like, have I actually got an answer for that?” Gareth reveals that “all I talk about on Drowned in Sound is football, wrestling, in jokes and Kenickie” in response to Ollie’s accusations that he is “the king” of the UK music themed procrastination site. He also drops in a recommendation in response to my Britpop fixation:
Gareth: You should get hold of a comic called Phonogram. It’s a six part series written by Keiron Gillen who writes for Plan B. It’s like a comic rooted in Britpop, and there’s loads of Sleeper, Echobelly, Kenickie and Blur references. It’s brilliant- really good.
Tonight, Los Campesinos! headline Sheffield University’s Fuzztival, an all day event that sees several of the Union’s bar and club venues opened up to live music (and includes an amazing set of drive time alternative covers on a game boy by Glasgow’s Kid Quaalude). The atmosphere is very relaxed and receptive building up to their set. The crowd are fairly enraptured. Recent single “The International Tweexcore Underground” sounds thunderous with bells on top, and older numbers like “We Throw Parties, You Throw Knives” and “Don’t Tell Me to Do the Math(s)” are already being treated like indie-disco anthems by the audience.
There is little more to Los Campesinos! than fairly brilliant off-kilter pop songs played by people who love what they do. Nothing else is needed to abet this. Aleks and Gareth’s vocal’s create a joyous tuneful ranting mixture, and each member is endearing in terms of audience interaction and reaction. In twelve years time, there’s a good chance that my equivalent will wear a Los Campesinos! T-shirt to interview someone.
A big thank you to the members of Los Campesinos! for their time, and huge thanks to tour manager Tom Rogers for setting up the interview.
Hold On Now, Youngster… is released February 25th on Wichita in the UK, and on Arts & Crafts in April in the US.