Los Campesinos! Drop Not-So-Boring LP; Gareth Holds Out Hope For Covers EP
Los Campesinos! consist of seven musicians. But they are more than a band. Los Campesinos! are flying up the totem pole of indie stardom because of their spectacular concerts. But they are more than a spectacle. Los Campesinos! evoke joy, celebration and fun in the purest sense. But they are more than a feeling.
Los Campesinos! are the ultimate union between musician and fan. The Welsh assembly has obliterated the third wall to smithereens. And it might even be helping to change the rock landscape itself, hyperbolic as that may sound.
Los Campesinos! are, simply put, the real deal.
“We’re just music fans who formed a band and got lucky,” Gareth Campesinos! told me in late August. As warm, eloquent and amicable as you’d hope he would be, the ochre-haired vocalist/glockenspiel-ist was more than happy to kill some time during soundcheck at Los Angeles’ El Rey Theatre.
“We don’t like the idea of people seeing us as pop stars or in any different position than they are as music fans,” Gareth said.
While he won’t approve, there’s a strong chance that more folks will be viewing Los Campesinos! through that lens following this week’s release of Romance Is Boring. Buzz for the band is reaching a crescendo, and its third album has seen virtually unanimous praise.
It took about three years for Los Campesinos! to get to this place. At first, they weren’t even Los Campesinos! at all, really: The germ for the group materialized during loose jam sessions between just three of the Campesinos!: Neil, Ollie and Ellen. From there, the Cardiff University students attracted lead guitarist Tom, who picked up the songwriting ball.
“I heard the demos that Tom was writing,” said Gareth, who later entered the fold. “It was a post-rock-by-the-numbers sort of thing. As a lot of post-rock is, I guess.”
Even so, with U.K. ears ever-attuned to the NBT, it didn’t take long for them to catch on. A mere two months after Los Campesinos! begun actually formulating songs, they booked their first gig. Sometime in that pivotal year of 2006, the players came up with their quirky appellation.
“It’s literally just a word that we felt looked nice written down and sounded nice,” Gareth said.
Seeing “Los Campesinos!” on paper, any Spanish teacher would be compelled to take out the blue pencil and write an inverted exclamation point – which is to say, a “¡” – before the “Los.” Right?
“We were aware when we formed the band that it should have [been there],” Gareth maintained. “The reason we have a Spanish name is that Neil used to be fluent in Spanish. But we have enough trouble getting people to remember the second exclamation mark, so if we had one upside-down in the front … it’d be a nightmare. It’s mostly just the fact that we couldn’t find that key on the keyboard.”
Actually, even the meaning of the word itself – which translates to “peasants” – has no importance to the group.
“We’re not using it as a Spanish word,” Gareth insisted. “It’s just the name of our band.”
The goofy name certainly didn’t do much to hurt the gang, who – still in their first year of existence, mind you – won an opening slot on a tour with Broken Social Scene and signed to Wichita Recordings.
The following year was another whirlwind too. February saw the release of the first Los Campesinos! record: a single that featured the tracks “We Throw Parties, You Throw Knives” and “Don’t Tell Me to Do the Math(s),” and set the table for many more wacky song titles to come. After that, they signed a North American deal with Arts & Crafts, put out an EP and 7-inch, and staged their first tour of the U.K. – all in ’07.
Between then and now, Los Campesinos! have put out three albums – Hold on Now, Youngster …; We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed; and Romance Is Boring. They’ve also earned buckets of love from the press; toured with No Age and Times New Viking; and played to a 1,300-person crowd in Bogota, Colombia. Amid all that activity, the band’s pudgy roster stayed pretty much intact, save the no-drama departure of one Campesino! – Aleks, who went back to school – and arrival of her replacement, Gareth’s sister Kim.
With all that in mind, it’s remarkable that Gareth is as modest as this: “We write music that we like, and we get the opportunity to record it and release it and get to see people react to it.
“People say, ‘Well, what bands are you influenced by?’ Well, I honestly couldn’t say, because I think there’s a part in every musician … that wants to think that everything that they’ve come up with is completely unique. … Obviously, I know it’s not, but I don’t want to analyze it to the extent that I am realizing exactly where I’ve written this before.”
Influences aside, it’s pretty easy to finger the bands that Los Campesinos! adore: Pavement, Black Flag, Bikini Kill, Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, Deerhoof and Cat Power. We have the almighty cover song (and a wicked-cool box set) to thank for that.
“We always talk about, perhaps before a tour, recording a tour-covers EP or something, but we always run out of time,” Gareth revealed. “There’s so many songs I want to do renditions of, just because it’s always so much fun playing covers. And then, if you do the cover, and somebody who likes the original likes it, then that’s sort of the ultimate reward.”
While Gareth was quick to point out that Los Campesinos! don’t model their sound after any of the bands they love, he did say that they aspire to become an entity with the same far-reaching impact as some of those artists.
“A lot of my favorite bands created something where they became more than a band,” he said. “I guess Manic Street Preachers had that total thing where all their fans were really into it. And other U.K. bands like Huggy Bear or Bis or even stuff like Belle & Sebastian and the Smiths, where their fanbase really did feel a part of something.
“Beyond the music, I really like the idea of us sort of bringing people together,” he continued. “That sounds really cheesy; not in a peace-and-love way, but just meeting people that they like.
“I certainly like to think that there’s more to Los Campesinos! than us just being a band.”
In and of itself, being a band requires a hell of a lot of work. Being something greater than that can be all-consuming. It takes time and effort. Gareth is aware of this fact, and he isn’t sweating it.
“I really like being in direct contact with people who like our band,” he said. “I really like the fan-interaction side of things.”
LosCampesinos.com voyeurs have no doubt noticed his authorship of many of the posts, and fans might have even rubbed elbows with him at Los Campesinos! shows.
“A lot of people are really surprised when they meet us, or when they see us,” he said. “Yesterday in Tuscon, when [opening band] Girls were playing, me and Neil were still out watching [them, and] people would come up to us, like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe you’re just out here with us!’ It’s like, ‘Well, of course.’ But then, you sort of remember, I guess a lot of bands do keep to themselves and don’t like to interact.
“At the end of every gig, we go and sell our own merch and meet everyone,” he continued. “And I think people really get into that and enjoy that. This is one of my favorite bits as well: meeting new people and thinking that people care about us as much as we care about them being at their shows.”
Los Campesinos! are indeed much, much more than just a band. But as Los Campesinos! look to the future, even that would be enough to satisfy the humble Gareth.
“At this time where everybody’s in a band and there are so many bands, the turnover of bands is so quick, I don’t know what a band like ours’ legacy could be,” he said. “But if it is just that we brought some people together and made some friendships that’ll last for a long time, then I think that’s pretty rewarding.”
Don’t miss the second part of this Los Campesinos! interview, in which Gareth guides a tour through the band’s unsurpassable box set.
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