Interview: Gareth Campesino (of Los Campesinos!)

This past week, inside the poster friendly confines of Club Downunder in Tallahassee, Florida, Consequence of Sound’s Nicholas Comney had the opportunity to hang out and talk with Gareth Campesino, the front man of Cardiff’s finest, Los Campesinos!. This was just hours before he and his fellow band mates would perform; charming and warming the crowd, harbored inside, with their indie-pop sound and magical, UK accents – so magical.

The two had quite the lengthy discussion, glossing over the band’s discography, the lyrical metaphors behind some of the songs, and some albums the band has been spinning. Somewhere in there, Comney managed to squeeze in a concentrated debate on Pavement, too. So, if you have some time, sit back and enjoy what is essentially a pretty stellar interview.

Consequence of Sound (CoS): Why is the music of Los Campesinos! so damn happy? It’s the glockenspiel, isn’t it?

Gareth Campesino (GC): (Laughs) I think the lyrics on the newer stuff are not necessarily, or particularly, upbeat. They’re often quite depressive or perhaps even a little scathing or angry. I think when Los Campesinos! sound undeniably upbeat and happy would be in the live context. For our live shows, we endeavor to make it as fun and involved, as possible. Wherever we’re playing, we feel incredibly privileged to be playing there. I mean, even being able to come to Florida and play gigs for people is an awesome thing to be able to do, so we’re enjoying ourselves and we hope that sort of gets passed on to the audience.

But, I guess initially, a lot of the earlier songs are particularly happy. Songs like “You! Me! Dancing!” are undeniably upbeat, but I think at that point, when we wrote the songs, we all were just excited to be playing music and to be in a band, together. I think in these couple years, since, though, we’ve become a little bit more jaded. (Laughs) A little more cynical, so we’ll see.

CoS: Listening to your lyrics, the flow of the words in your writing style seems very much prose.

GC: Thank you.

CoS: I was curious, is that something natural for you? Is that just how you write or…

GC: Yeah, I think so. I’m not a particularly musical person. I’m not able to play an instrument, at all. I’m not a singer. I don’t have a singing voice, so when I write lyrics, I hope that they can be taken away from the music and be read, as prose, and it would still mean something. It wouldn’t’ be completely devoid of meaning, when taken away from the song. I do endeavor to make the lyrics interesting on their own, regardless of the fact that they are lyrics.

CoS: Why was the decision made to release the most recent album, We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed, just six or so months after the debut, Hold On Now…Youngsters, was released back in February of last year? Was there a sense of immediacy there, as if the creative momentum was too robust to ignore?

GC: Yeah, I think it was a case of we had these (…) Hold On Now…Youngsters was pretty much the collection of 13 or so songs that we had been playing, up to that point, so some of them were as old as two years old and we’d been playing the same set for those two years. It got to the point, where, although we still enjoyed playing gigs, playing the same set of songs every night, night after night, was becoming a little too tedious. More than anything, we came to feel sorry for people who wanted to see us play because they would end up seeing the same exact set that they saw us play, two months previous. We felt bad for that.

Now, it feels like we’re properly bedded in, since we have a decent amount of music to work with. We have more that we can do live and it’s nice. It worked out brilliantly because people didn’t expect it.

CoS: In that repetition of performing the same set list, night after night, do you ever think about covering another artist or band? Are you ever like, “I think it’s time we play some Prince or something,” when on stage?

GC: (Laughs) I wish we were capable enough musicians who could just do that. I think we’ve covered like six other band’s songs, before, though. It’s a lot of fun, but doing a version of a song that you really love entails a lot of pressure because you want to create something that’s not going to ruin the song.

One single we released, “My Year in Lists,” in the UK, had three B-sides, which were all covers, (Laughs) so that meant we didn’t have to write any new songs.

CoS: Why was We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed chosen for the title track of the recent recording? Was there an overarching theme, found in this track, particularly, that you thought best conveyed the general message of the album, as a whole?

GC: The sentiment of We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed and its running themes, throughout the album, are quite narrow in its scope. The whole idea that all good things, inevitably, do come to an end, via it be the things that are touched on in the record, like life, itself, the inevitability of death, or how the excitement of a new relationship seems to always reach that point, where one party involved realizes the unavoidable truth that for whatever reason, it is going to end.

And indeed, for Los Campesinos!, what we are doing, we enjoy doing it, so much. We get to travel the world and play gigs to people who seem to care about watching us, but we know, soon enough, we won’t be a band, anymore. We will either break-up or people will just stop caring about us and it all will be over. I guess it’s just quite self-aware.

As for it being the title track, I think it was a phrase that was there from the beginning of the process. When we started writing, I knew that We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed was going to be a big theme and there was nothing else that we could think of for the title. We didn’t want to just force something, so it just seemed natural that that should become the title track.

CoS: Following this whole idea of the inevitability of the end, are you aware, at all, of the whole 2012 prophecy?

GC: (Laughs) I wasn’t, until yesterday.

CoS: Really?

GC: Yeah, I met somebody at the gig, yesterday, in Tampa, and I can’t remember how we got onto the subject of it, but apparently it is December 23, 2012, or something like that, and that’s going to be the end of the world. I don’t know how much that means to me, but I should leave my Christmas shopping late, just in case.

CoS: (Laughs) Yeah, the History Channel, as of late, has been airing various programs, concerning it.

GC: Is this a new prophecy?

CoS: Oh, no. It’s a date that has commonly been predicted, throughout time, by different civilizations, such as the Egyptians and so forth.

GC: So, it’s a really long-standing prophecy?

CoS: Yeah, it’s the year that the Mayan calendar ends, so that’s the big significance with it. Also, the year intersects this cosmic move that occurs every 24,000 or 26,000 years, where the sun realigns itself in the middle of the Milky Way galaxy and with that shift, cataclysmic events are supposed to unfold.

GC: Oh, wow.

CoS: Yeah, it’s really disheartening. And I digress. Anyways, the case has been made that the songs, as a whole, on your albums, lack cohesion and almost seem as if they could stand alone, on their own, as singles. I know this is sort of a backhanded compliment, but I was wondering what your opinion was on the matter.

GC: In the case of Hold On Now…Youngsters, that was one of the criticisms of the album. It did lack a sense of cohesion and it didn’t really flow like an album might, generally, and now, we wholeheartedly agree with this critique.

At the time, we didn’t see this. But in hindsight, the way the album was put together, it was sort of inevitable because it did kind of feel, not like a single’s collection, but rather a song collection because it was literally almost every song we had written, since becoming a band, over the course of 18 months.

However, with We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed, we were aware of where we fell short with Hold On Now…Youngsters. The ten songs that made up We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed, came together in a really short span of time and I think that recording works a lot better, as an album. We never released any singles off of it, in the UK, or anywhere, in fact, and that was partly due to us just not wanting to. I’m not a big fan of releasing singles, anyways. With We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed, as soon as you take the songs out of the context of the entirety of the record, I don’t think each individual track is as effective, as when it is viewed as a part of that collection.

So, I think with Hold On Now…Youngsters, that cohesion is definitely missing, but I think it is something that we have remedied with We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed. With the next record, we’re at a stage, now, where we do want to write these records not as a concept records, but they almost could be, due to the fact that each piece of it really works together to make the whole album, while Hold On Now…Youngsters was lots of little bits, chopped up.

CoS: Do you have an idea of what you want the whole of these concepts to make-up or is it kind of just a thought, right now?

GC: It’s just finding the perfect mix of pace and textures, within the record. Hold On Now…Youngsters is a really difficult listen, to the extent that it is so constant. It’s like breakaway speed, all the way through. And listening back to some of the songs, now, it sounds like we played them far too quickly on the record. It was our first proper experience of being in a studio and being faced with the record button. It was just like head banging. We got to the end of the songs far too quickly. So, I think it just comes with practice and sort of knowing what making a record entails and I’m excited to see what happens with the next one, with that in mind.

CoS: This next question is being asked to sort of appease my own ignorance. The group has a unique sound that has been described as “Twee” meets indie-rock. I’m not really hip to the term, so I was hoping you could explain to me what exactly “Twee” is.

GC: When people use the word “Twee,” it’s kind of like (…) I think the word derives from children mispronouncing the word “sweet,” when they are initially learning to speak. Since they can’t speak, they end up saying something like, “Tweeeeeee.”

CoS: (Laughs)

GC: (Laughs) Good thing this isn’t a radio interview.

CoS: Yeah, exactly.

GC: But yeah, it means like sickly sweet, slightly fay, or perhaps very self-aware. If you were portraying a “Twee” individual, you’d think of someone in pigtails, a cardigan, and satchels.

We have been labeled as being “Twee,” and initially, we perhaps, slightly foolishly embraced it because “Twee” means something different to us, then what it does from that description I gave you. But, it’s an easy word for the media to attach to us and especially in the UK, the idea of a “Twee” pop-band was really missing from the UK music culture, at the time, and perhaps publications like The Enemy or something saw us as a band that they could label with that and it just kind of stuck.

CoS: Yeah, it seems that categorization is really important for third parties…

GC: Yeah, totally.

CoS: Even when you see a band in concert or listen to them on tape and someone asks you what they sound like, there’s never a true response you can give because the offered comparisons are immediately limited by such methods of description.

GC: Yeah (…) But, I don’t think you can meet seven, less “Twee” individuals, then the seven of us. We don’t really prescribe to any sort of “Twee” styling. It’s just amusing that it stuck, I guess. I don’t think it’s done us any real harm. Perhaps, some people may not listen to us because we’re being called “Twee,” but I think those people who are being put off by that, wouldn’t really like us anyways because I don’t really consider us “Twee,” but there are plenty of other things about us that are quite irritating. (Laughs)

CoS: Yeah, when I initially heard the phrase, I thought it was the word “Tween,” which kind of was birthed out of the whole Jonas Brothers and Miley Cyrus craze.

GC: Actually, I think that would be quite an interesting thing to be a part of, so I would prefer “Tween.”

CoS: I read in a past interview that different members of the group are heavily influenced by bands like Pavement and Sonic Youth, so I wanted to know, how, if at all, does this inspiration carry over into your music, since there seems to be such an apparent separation of style, between them and you?

GC: Pavement was a band that Tom and myself, initially, bonded over. They are certainly a big influence on the music. The same goes for Sonic Youth, although their effect would be far less evident in our music. I think these college rock and slacker rock bands are more evident in our live show, in that we do approach it with the primary intention of enjoyment and fun for both the audience and us. We’re not the tightest band in the world, live. It’s not like you’re going to go watch MUSE or anything.

CoS: I don’t know if you’ve heard this, but there’s a rumor floating around the mill about a possible Pavement reunion.

GC: Yeah.

CoS: So, I don’t know if…

GC: I think lots of rumors and conspiracy theories have been tagged to the possibility of it. Like, this year is the 20th anniversary of the release of Slanted and Enchanted, so that’s a reason that they might reform.

CoS: Yeah, and then it’s the ten-year anniversary from when they last played, together.

GC: But, I can’t see them reforming, at least, until (…) you know how they’ve been doing the reissues, right? I can’t imagine they’d reform, until the Terror Twilight reissue comes out. I think it will happen, eventually. It must be incredibly tempting, though, because besides Malkmus, Malkmus is the only one who is really making music, now. Like Spiral Stairs [Scott Kannberg] has had his projects, but they have never really come to fruition or gone anywhere. I know Mark Ibold owns a bar. Bob Nastanovich, he’s a horse trainer or does something that has to do with horse racing. And Steve West, I have no idea. But, it must be really tempting, though. Especially, seeing bands like the Pixies reform. That reformation was really shit, though. Like, from what they achieved from reforming. The same goes for the Smashing Pumpkins, as well. That was kind of a dump squib with Billy Corgan.

CoS: Do you think it’s just nostalgia that catches up with these artists, over time, to where it’s not necessarily a sense of obligation to the fans, but rather a last run of reassurance, just so they know that they can still do it?

GC: Yeah, I think (…) I don’t mean this in a bad way, but I don’t see much incentive for Malkmus to actually get Pavement back together because he’s making the music that he wants to make, now, with his solo…

CoS: The Jicks.

GC: Yeah, so he has that outlook and there’s no reason for him to necessarily want to be playing Pavement songs. Well, I mean, he plays some Pavement songs, live, with The Jicks, but the others, it must be (…) And yeah, that sort of nostalgia, I don’t know how well they all would get on, but (…) Our label boss in the UK is a pal of Malkmus’ and he went to Malkmus’ wedding, which was like maybe last summer and all of Pavement were there, so it would be nice.

CoS: That would be an amazing wedding band to have play at your…

GC: (Laughs) Yeah, yeah. But, if they do reform, I hope we get a support slot or two, and of course, we will be crossing our fingers for that.

CoS: Is there a specific Pavement song that you would want to play, if given the chance to perform, alongside them?

GC: My favorite Pavement release is the first EP, Watery, Domestic EP, and we actually cover the song “Frontwards” from that. That EP is just perfect. It’s amazing. My favorite Pavement song might be “In The Mouth Of A Desert.” I would love to see that. Other than that, I don’t know. There’s just too many. It would be a really, really surreal experience because I never got to see them live and it would be a treat, but then there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to. That era of mystery and me never seeing them could ruin it and I wouldn’t want that. I know a lot of Pavement fans that are really pushing for a reunion, but I’m just happy that there are those five albums and I can listen to them, whenever I want to.

CoS: To close out the interview, could you give the names of a few albums that you currently have on rotation, so the people who read this article can get an idea of what’s in your tape deck?

GC: Yeah, sure. One of the good things with how we’re touring the US, this time, is we’re driving in a van, during the day, like long five to six hour drives, so we do have plenty of chances to listen to music, which is nice. There’s an album by a guy who goes under the name, Ribbons. The album is called Royals.

There’s a guy named Jherek Bischoff who is in a band called The Dead Science and he used to be in the Parenthetical Girls and he’s played in Xiu Xiu. His debut album is really great. It is quite eerie, filled with costrel, pop songs that have some cool, glitch-y beats and stuff. Other recent stuff, we saw the Vivian Girls the other day and I really like their record.

Umm, it’s not contemporary, but one band I really love and am surprised never became more popular is a band called Ten Grand, who is not together, anymore. They were like this really awesome, post-hardcore group that made two albums, but then their singer died, so that kind of put pay to the band. They have an album called This Is A Way To Rule and it is an incredible, hardcore album. I’m surprised it hasn’t had resurgence. But yeah, they’re the sort of band that if Pitchfork did a piece on them, then people would go crazy for them. They’re really fucking good. I’m not sure where they’re from, but they are a really exciting band.

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