Saturday, 4 August 2007

You! Me! Los Campesinos!

It was just over a year ago that Los Campesinos! had their first ever gig, but things have come a long way for them since. A seven-piece band that formed at Cardiff University, these guys are really something special. Listen while you read so you know what I’m talking about.

Listening? Good. Theirs is a freakishly energetic and chirpy form of indie pop, so catchy that it threatens to lodge in your head and make you dance like a crazed loon, while you find that their well thought out lyrics are uncontrollably flowing out of your mouth. They leave you feeling overwhelmingly happy, if slightly unsatisfied which leads to you replaying the song.

 It was, I think, in August last year that I first discovered them; back in the days when I wasn’t much of a MySpacer (yes, believe it or not, there was such a time). They were on the main music page, and so I decided to check them out. The first song that played began with a slowly playing melody on guitars, building up with the sounds of other instruments- was that a violin I could hear?! And so it began; a growing sense of excitement like that of a rocket taking off, vaguely similar to the climatic build-ups of The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life”, if a modern take on them. And suddenly a fantastic riff began on guitars and a glockenspiel of all things, while a drum played out a steady beat; this was crazy, and I loved it. It was then that the vocals began; a clear, distinct voice unlike any I had heard, telling an interesting lyrical tale. And then suddenly a female voice joined him, and they told me that they could never confess not being able to dance a single step.

And that was when the chorus started, the entire band singing; it was immediately catchy, almost chant-like. What followed from there was, needless to say, amazing, both musically and lyrically. That was the first time I heard ‘You! Me! Dancing!’- The demo version- which immediately became my profile song. Since then, the song has been rerecorded to become an even greater single. This is not to say that they are a “one trick band”, however, as every one of their songs I have heard (and since, downloaded) has been lovely to listen to. Their debut single ‘We Throw Parties, You Throw Knives’, which seems to be a respectful salute to band ‘You Say Party! We Say Die’, with the B-Side ‘Don’t Tell Me to Do the Math(s)', are similarly infectious and manage to show off each band member’s talent.

Their cover of Pavement song ‘Frontwards’ is brighter and livelier than the original and the addition of other instruments - the violin in particular - and female vocals make for a great listen. And the thing is, I could go on and detail each of their songs and praise them, because that’s really how good they are. ‘It Started With a Mixx’ (about making mixxtapes in order to get girls to love him, an apparent homage to the Hot Chocolate song “It started with a Kiss”), ‘Sweet Dreams Sweet Cheeks’ (not been able to fathom what it’s about) and ‘Clunk-Rewind-Clunk-Play-Clunk’ (I’m not sure it’s about anything really) are all very good songs. I’ve just realized I’ve not even told you who “they” are; not really. So here it goes, Los Campesinos! are (as copied from their MySpace) : Aleksandra Campesinos! Singing/Keyboards/Melody Horn Ellen Campesinos! - Bass/Singing Gareth Campesinos! - Singing/Glockenspiel/Keyboards Harriet Campesinos! - Violin/Keyboards/Singing Neil Campesinos! - Guitar/Singing Ollie Campesinos! - Drums/Singing Tom Campesinos! - Guitar/Singing

With such a wide range of instrumental capabilities, it is no wonder they sound so unique. I think I’ve bored you all with my rambling about the greatness of the band, but if you’ve been listening to them you’ll know why. So without any other nonsensical rambling on my part, here’s an interview done about 2 months ago (apologies about the lateness, will be explained later) with the lovely Gareth:

 Describe for us the band formation; how, why and when did it happen? “Well”, he starts, “as I write, tomorrow is the one year anniversary of our first ever gig. We completed the line up as a seven piece a couple of months before that through a mixture of friendship and coincidence, all at Cardiff University; its Halls of Residences and its dingy indie clubs.” A random piece of trivia: despite all being from Cardiff, none of the band are actually Welsh.

 So, how on earth did they come up with the band name “Los Campesinos!”? “Neil takes the credit for that. He used to be fluent in Spanish and liked the sound and aesthetic of the name. It means very little to us when translated to English though.” It means “the peasants” or “the farmers”, hence the lack of relevance. The exclamation mark is the clear eye-catcher. Who are their main musical influences? “It differs from member to member. And we’re very lucky that because there are so many of us, all with different tastes, we have a lot of different reference points to draw from. We all love great pop music and I guess we just try to create big pop songs with plenty going on in them. My favourite avenues of music are riot grrrl, and great lyricists. Like Darren Hayman, Aidan Moffat and Owen Ashworth etc. And Kenickie. Mostly Kenickie.”

I’m ashamed to admit that rather than the band, I thought of the character from “Grease” first. Let’s forget that, and ask Gareth to arrange his ideal music, “This is hard. And I’m sure it would differ greatly for each band member. It’d also be hard ‘cause lots of our favourite bands are broken up now, and I don’t think we have the clout to encourage them back together. Sadly.” I’m not so sure; if Adam and the Gants think they can get The Smiths together again, I’m thinking Los Campesinos! could work their magic.

 So what gigs are they particularly looking forward to this year? I’m afraid that due to the time delay, they’ve already played a lot of these. “I can’t wait to do the festivals [they played what I’ve heard were brilliant sets at the O2 Wireless Festival and Glastonbury]. And we’re touring America, so that’s stupidly exciting too [they’ve just embarked on this tour]. Our next couple of gigs are in Newport and Bath and I’m looking forward to them a stupid amount too [also already played]. I think we all look forward to playing shows no matter where they are or who they’re with. We meet some lovely people and get to play our songs to folk who clap, and there’s not really any more we can ask for than that.

Who. Is. Their. Muse? (Yes, it’s still written like that) “It depends from song to song. But I’m lucky to have many intelligent friends that make me want to write lyrics and stuff. Of course I wouldn’t want to give the credit to any one person. Let’s just say that it’s all me. I am so great and nobody aids that.” That's some nice modesty from Gareth there.

If you look on their page, there is a long paragraph which begins, “Hold On Now Youngster…”. I decided to ask Gareth where this stemmed from. “I like this question.” Why thank you, I do try. “It’s from a Daniel Clowes Eightball comic. One of the characters is really downhearted and whining about something, and this other guy starts off with “Hold on now youngster, this is a good thing to look into the maw of the void, but let’s not be excessive…”, and then he goes on to list some reasons to be cheerful, or something. Daniel Clowes is one of my favourite Comic Book writers, and I really like the sentiment…and so we stole it.” And on their page, what have they listed as the reason to stay happy? Los Campesinos! of course!

 So where does he reckon the happy septet be in two years time? “I would hate to even guess. I hope we’ll have released a kick-ass abum that all our friends will enjoy listening to. And that people will continue to want to watch our shows, and I’ll have met some of my heroes. Just nice stuff like that really. We have no illusions of grandeur, we’re just enjoying what we’re doing at the moment, and hope it continues for as long as possible.” Illusions of grandeur - I feel it’s time to give my full story and apology about the lateness of this. Other than me being too lazy to get it typed up, I sent them the questions at an extremely busy time, right when they were getting ready to do an insane amount of gigs. And instead of taking this into account, I accused them of becoming too big for little things like my site - coursework and exam stress can take part of the blame, but there’s no real excuse for how utterly rude I was. And it turned out, after all that, he’d already done it, just forgotten to send it, making me feel even more embarrassed. That I’ve been able to interview one of my favourite bands is amazing, and I’m really grateful to them for taking the time to do this. The fact that Gareth was apologetic about the entire thing just made it worse, as the one apologizing should have been me. They are really a very lovely band, and I’m extremely appreciative. Sorry about how cheesy this is, I just felt it needed saying at some point or other.

Right, back on topic, which bands would they hate to be likened to? “Well, there are lots of bands we wouldn’t enjoy listening to, so wouldn’t want to be told we sound like, but I wouldn’t want to name them as it’s no fun slagging off other bands…at the moment. But, once somebody said we sounded like a mix between Boards Of Canada and The Kooks. Needless to say they were an idiot.” Seriously, am I the only person who likes the Kooks?

When people hear them, what does he want them to be feeling? “It depends on who the person is.” If Gareth was a fruit, what would he be and why? “I would be a Fruit Salad because I’m rubbish at answering questions like this and would happily just become some sort of nondescript mush of everything rather than say something vague about Pineapples being spiky.” Fair enough.

Worst gig they've ever played? “I don’t know. The first time we played London the occasion got the better of us and we played really crappily, but I still really enjoyed it.” Next we find out which of their tracks Gareth likes best: “I like all the new stuff we’re coming up with. We have a ballad called “Knee Deep At ATP” which is really nice to sing, and a newer one called “…And We Exhale And Roll Our Eyes In Unison” which is also really, really fun. Tom surpassed himself when he wrote the music for that one.” I think I speak for us all when I say, looking forward to hearing it!

 If you’ve watched their videos or seen their singles, you’ll have noticed the crazy artwork- who’s is it? “The first couple of singles and videos have been done by a guy called Monkmus. He’s really talented and has in the past done stuff for Playstation and Mogwai and Death Cab For Cutie. We really liked his style of animation and the fact that he was into the music. We’ve not even met him yet, ‘cause he’s from the US, but hopefully he’s gonna come watch us when we play in Chicago, so it’ll be great to meet him.”

 How does it feel, looking back to when they first started and comparing it with how they're doing now? “Ridiculous. Seriously. We never expected any of this. And it’s unbelievable how lucky we have been to be in the situation we are now. It’s almost embarrassing.” Told you they were lovely. Do more people recognize them because of the band? “Nah, not that I’ve noticed. Everybody knows each other in Cardiff anyway. It’d feel really awkward being ‘recognized’ as well.”

Any regrets so far? “Nope. None. We’re in far too exciting a situation to have regrets I think.” It must be crazy seeing their video playing on MTV2, having their own merchandise, playing high profile gigs, and having people wanting things signed by them. Is it? “I don’t believe anybody actually wants anything signed by us. Not for any reason other than its eBay value. Yeah, all those things are really surreal. I don’t understand it, and I hope I never will.”

 So, how does Gareth come up with his great lyrics? (Sample: And I always get confused because in supermarkets they turn the lights off when they want you to leave, but in discos they turn them on, and it's always sad to go, but it's never that sad, because there's only certain places you're guaranteed of getting a hug when you go.) "By feeling sorry for myself and getting angry about things, mostly."

I ask him about advice for young bands that are just beginning their quest. “It seems ridiculous that we should be offering advice to anyone. But I think that any band starting out has to have the right intentions. Play music that you enjoy playing and play it because you want to have fun. Any band that forms with the intention of getting a record deal is in it for the wrong reasons.”

Well said. And any final words of advice about life? “Now that I would be useless at. Perhaps…just be nice to your parents.”

 Thank you so much to the band, especially Gareth, for putting up with me and all this hassle. They’re currently touring America, but will be back for a UK tour so check out the dates on either their MySpace, as linked above, or their website: You need to listen to these guys.

Comments with your thoughts on the band and the interview will, as always, be appreciated. And from here on, the interviews will be less obscenely long. Promise.

1 comment:

The Scot said...

First comment..
I'll make it a "scarily long" one.
Or not.
Interview was great, as per usual. Probably my favorite one yet, actually.