Gareth Campesinos of Los Campesinos!
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The (hold on now) youngsters of Welsh band Los Campesinos! released not one but two of 2008's finest discs, the full-length debut Hold On Now, Youngster and the not-really-our-second-album We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed. (Singer/chief songwriter Gareth Campesinos calls it an extended EP.) Whatever it's labeled, there's no doubt that the seven-piece band was responsible for some of the freshest, most enjoyable songs of the year. The A.V. Club spoke with Gareth after a long year spent touring.
The A.V. Club: Are you back home?
Gareth Campesinos: I am. Our tour finished on Sunday, and then I went straight out with a friend's band, and I've just got back 20 minutes ago. I live with my mother and my sisters, and it's nice to return to complete normality after living on a bus. I just had some proper food for the first time. I've been in mainland Europe for the past three weeks, and I'm not really a fan of their cuisine.
AVC: What the first thing you ate when you got home?
GC: I just had a whole host of vegetables, which my mother had lovingly prepared already, and a lot of gravy as well, which I appreciated a lot.
AVC: You missed the gravy on tour?
GC: Yeah. I'm vegan, so a lot of European countries don't really agree with that. So countries like Italy and Spain can be quite problematic.
AVC: What's your favorite album of 2008?
GC: I've actually made a list very, very recently, and I think I've got it down to about three or four, amongst them being the Parenthetical Girls album. They're my absolute favorite band.
AVC: You wrote a song called "My Year In Lists." Would you be making a list of your favorite albums even if journalists weren't asking you for them?
GC: Probably not. I think I would be aware of what my ultimate favorites were, but I would never put them down. I think I'm too scared of missing something. I'm always too scared of hindsight and looking back and thinking, "What on Earth was I doing there?"
AVC: Do you ever worry about that when writing songs?
GC: Yeah, definitely. There are some songs on Hold On Now, Youngster that lyrically I'm quite embarrassed by, but I like that. I think a lot of bands probably stand by whatever they've written for the whole of their career, and I think that is quite unbelievable, and really there must be things that they come to dislike. Like our song "We Throw Parties, You Throw Knives," I'm incredibly embarrassed of. I'm not much of a fan of the lyrics for that at all, but I kind of like it. If I still like it completely, then that would mean that I haven't changed at all as a person in the past two years, and that would be a pretty bad place to be, I think.
AVC: You might be in danger of regretting lyrics because you're a bold lyricist.
GC: Yeah, I think I am, especially with the newer record. The lyrics on that are quite confessional and heart-on-sleeve. I'm sure there will come a time where I regret saying one or two things or mentioning some people, but I like that element of danger, and I just like being truthful in the songwriting. I really don't have the imagination to make things up.
AVC: So everything you write is based in fact?
GC: Yeah. Hold On Now, Youngster wasn't completely. But every story or anecdote told in We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed is sadly quite true.
AVC: You suffered from writer's block coming into the new songs.
GC: Right before we started recording, we were touring the U.S., and the decision to record new music was made pretty quickly, and then I found myself not really having many ideas in reserve. Touring the East Coast, I didn't really have that great a time. Then we went to the West Coast to tour and we did a couple of weeks with Parenthetical Girls, who were my favorite band before going on tour with them, and just getting to know them really made me feel excited about writing again. I had a spurt. The majority of the lyrics were written over the course of about a week, and I still remain happy with it for the time being.
AVC: So is it right to say that you're not actually calling this your second album?
GC: We said that, and some people have reacted quite badly to it, and don't like us perhaps being overly analytical about it. Essentially when we came to make it, we weren't in the frame of mind of making an album. And I'm sure a lot of people would suggest that using terms like "the right frame of mind to make an album" is incredibly pretentious or unnecessary. In our minds, we were only going to do five or six tracks. I think it's clear on We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed that there was no consideration for any singles that we could release, and I think the way that the 10 songs work together works so much better than if one is listened to out of context. Making an album is such a big thing, and we never viewed it like that. We view it as an extended EP, like an EEP. I think people that didn't like us before, they especially don't like us now, because they're hearing things like that. [Laughs.] I personally think it's too short for what our second album will be. It's only 10 songs, and one of those songs is an instrumental, and two of them are incredibly short, so if that was being pitched as an album, as a fan, I would think there should be a bit more to it. But I'm very happy with it as a document of music.
AVC: Do you worry about the chatter outside of the band?
GC: I'm becoming less worried. I used to really overanalyze it. I'm a person who spends a lot of time on the Internet. I was always the sort of person who would be posting on music message boards about other bands, and there's a couple of music communities where people knew me before Los Campesinos!, and now I'm in a band and people are discussing my band. Some people know that I'm in it, and so a lot of people attempt to incite me, and a lot of people defend me without any reason. I think people are always going to complain, and the nature of blogs—anyone can set up a blog in two minutes and write up a review, and most of these people aren't good music writers. They're just kids in their rooms who have an idea and want to write about it, which is great. If you overanalyze everything, then you're just going to be offended at every turn, and I don't need that.
AVC: When you were younger, were you in that mindset a little bit? You mentioned posting on message boards.
GC: Completely. I find it hard to specifically criticize other people's music, because if they're creating what they want to create, then they've succeeded; whether I think it's good or rubbish is no concern to them, and it shouldn't be. But three or four years ago, I'm sure I would have been talking shit about them on the Internet, so what goes around comes around.
AVC: Have you had your heart broken by a band that got too big or changed?
GC: Maybe. A band getting too big wouldn't bother me. I think definitely four or five years ago, if a band that I liked suddenly became hugely successful and my friends started liking them and I thought they were my own, then I would be outraged and I would disown that band. But now, just so long as they get bigger and retain their integrity and don't compromise what they're doing I know this is a really grand example, but a band like Sonic Youth. They're one of the most famous bands in the world, yet they've always done what they wanted to, and Starbucks aside, they've always retained integrity. You can't really argue with that. I think everybody eventually realizes that being popular as a band is not a negative thing as long as you keep doing what you want to do.
AVC: As your popularity has grown over the last year, have you been asked to do anything you're uneasy with?
GC: We've been offered a couple of interesting support tours, like some big bands playing in 10,000-capacity venues, which we've instantly said no to. Not even so much because of the bands that we would have been playing with, although on verification, they weren't acts that we liked, but just the fact that we would have been playing to 10,000 people is equally scary and ridiculous. We would just completely bottle it, and I don't think we'd transfer very well in such a big arena. Along with that, probably about 18 months ago, we were offered quite a substantial amount of money for a song to be used in an ad for a big alcoholic product, and we said no. I think perhaps it was right to say no at the time. "You! Me! Dancing!" is somewhat of an albatross—maybe not an albatross, but a somewhat smaller bird—around our neck at the moment, and if we'd allowed it to be used in an advert, that could've gotten worse. In hindsight, I could really do with some of that money, but no regrets. [Laughs.]
AVC: Is part of you curious about trying a 10,000-seat arena just to see what it would be like?
GC: If it was with a band that we absolutely adored, we would be silly to turn down the opportunity. But I don't think we've earned being in that situation yet, whatever that might mean. We are definitely not ready, and I don't think we deserve to be playing to that many people at the moment. But we played Summer Sonic Festival in Japan in a baseball stadium, which was by no means full, but there were like 5,000 people there, and that was incredible. That was such a rush, partly because the boys in the band are such big sports fans, generally. To play in a sporting arena was very exciting, and 5,000 screaming Japanese people made it a bit better still.
AVC: Do you get that a lot? You probably get a lot of sing-alongs.
GC: Yeah, we do. I guess a song like "You! Me! Dancing!" always gets people going. I guess there are other sing-along bits that do get a reaction. It's really nice to see. I think the sort of fans that we generally attract get quite into Los Campesinos! and the idea of Los Campesinos!, because we don't like doing things through middlemen. Even just communicating with the fans through e-mails or bulletins on MySpace, we always do them ourselves. We started to use YouTube to communicate with people as well, which makes people feel more of a connection with the band, and that is something I'd really like to keep going. If you look at bands like Manic Street Preachers, Huggy Bear, or The Smiths—bands whose fan base is so committed—that would be a really amazing thing to be a part of. So if we see a hint of that at a gig, it is extremely flattering.
AVC: How old are you?
GC: I am 22.
AVC: The music is so youthful. How long do you see Los Campesinos! going?
GC: I think when Los Campesinos! does stop, it won't be due to lack of creativity or ideas. Tom writes the music, and I think he is an incredibly gifted songwriter. We are demoing stuff for the next record at the moment, and I'm really excited about it. I think Hold On Now, Youngster sounds a lot more youthful than We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed largely because the majority of Hold On was written two years ago. We are more than aware that Los Campesinos! isn't going to last forever, and I think that's part of what has given us this attitude to release things quickly once we can, and really enjoy being in a band while it lasts. Los Campesinos! will stop as soon as being in Los Campesinos! stops being fun. We don't want to become the sort of band that just traipses across the UK playing shitty venues to people who don't care about us anymore. That's partly where the whole idea of We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed comes from. We are more than aware of the fact that it is not going to last forever. Since we know that, it won't be so difficult to deal with.
AVC: That line from the title track, "We kid ourselves there's future in the fucking / But there is no fucking future" seems like a big live moment.
GC: Yeah, even just playing across Europe, that has been my favorite bit of the set, because even playing to an Italian audience, there are people singing along and understanding what that means. I think the brutalness of the statement is universal. I think it translates in any language. It is nice seeing the fists in the air and the spurned boyfriends thinking, "Yeah, I know how this feels!"
AVC: As a seemingly unabashed leftie, do you have any thoughts on America's new president?
GC: I wouldn't pretend that my knowledge of U.S. politics is anything other than minimal. I used to be quite well-informed. My degree at university was in politics, but nothing could have destroyed my love of politics more than studying it. It really killed it for me. But we were on tour with Times New Viking and No Age at the time, and they were all very pro-Obama. Even on the most base level, it is clearly a very positive thing. I'm excited to see how things turn out. I'm just a lowly Brit, so I can't get really too into it. I just have to cope with our boring day-to-day politics and wait for, never mind our first black prime minister, just our first prime minister that isn't incredibly boring and a massive idiot. I'm holding out hope.
AVC: You said you were considering demoing new tracks already. Are you going to pop out the proper second album quickly?
GC: it will be longer than the gap between Hold On Now, Youngster and We Are Beautiful. This time, we want to take more time. It's going to be a lot more of a grand undertaking. We've got ideas for it, and we want it to be exciting and special again. We're going to take more time to live with the songs and go into the studio, record some stuff, come back out for a bit, live with what we've done, and then go back in and finish it off. I'm excited to do it like that. And I want a bit more time to get the artwork and stuff nailed this time. I'm happy with the way it has turned out, but I want to do something incredibly ambitious with the next one.