Interview: Neil Campesinos! (of Los Campesinos!)


November is quickly shaping up to be Official Los Campesinos! Month. Not only has the seven-piece Cardiff band released its fourth LP, Hello Sadness, but they’re also traversing the East Coast as a preview for next year’s bigger tour. While 2010’s Romance Is Boring used up every inch of sound with arrangements, the latest album strips things down some. At least as stripped-back as you can be with seven to eight band members.

Guitarist Neil Campesinos! joined us over the phone for a chat about recording Hello Sadness in Spain, writing poppier songs, and how Los Campesinos! refuse to take themselves seriously.

You wrote Hello Sadness in Spain earlier this year. What was that experience like, both in and out of the studio?

In terms of recording in Spain, it was pretty exciting. We’d been planning on recording earlier in the year in Cardiff, but we couldn’t get the studio dates that we needed. So, we thought, “Hang on, if we’re already in Spain, why don’t we just find a studio and record out there?” Basically, that’s what happened. It was amazing. It was just so much fun. There was a swimming pool, a pool table, and table tennis, which all sounds very decadent. Believe me, that’s not the kind of style we’re used to.

Any cool stories from your time in the country?

A lot of watching football (soccer), drinking beer… had a nice barbecue. We didn’t go swimming too much because it was a little bit cold. It’s all kind of a blur. We were there for about a month. Four weeks’ worth of booze, sex, drugs, and stuff. (laughs) That’s not true.

What were this record’s influences?

We just really wanted to write a direct kind of pop record. It’s a lot more stripped back than our previous work. On that record [Romance Is Boring], there’s a lot going on. Tom (Campesinos!, guitarist) especially was trying to do a lot with arrangements and trying to cram a lot in. It worked at the time, but we just wanted to strip it all back and record something that had more space to breathe.

Yeah, I noticed that “By Your Hand” is definitely one of the poppiest, most straightforward songs Los Campesinos! have recorded to date. Can you tell me how that song came about?

When we rehearsed and recorded it, we weren’t sure if we needed to try another tempo. It was really laid-back. It wasn’t until Gareth (Campesinos!, vocalist) put the lyric to it. We were adding things in and bringing things out. It’s not until we heard the lyrics recorded in the studio that the song took its final direction.

The hook line was not how we imagined it when we were rehearsing the music. It’s quite interesting. It’s one of the first songs we’ve had a very dominant keyboard going all the way through. We played it live a few times, and it feels really good.

You’re working again with John Goodmanson. Why does the band feel comfortable with him as a producer?

He’s just a really nice guy, regardless of his amazing production talent. He’s so laid-back, and he knows how to get the most from us and the best from us. We all look forward to spending time with him and hanging out. He’s got lots of good stories about being in the industry, back in Seattle in the early 90s. I could gush all day about him. After working with him for four records, he’s a friend now, not just a colleague. When we started to look at recording options, we didn’t even consider anyone else.

Harriet left the group amicably earlier this year. Did you know she was leaving before recording, and if so, what was the impact on the album?

We didn’t, actually. She decided to go back to university after the summer to continue her studies. As far as recording went, no impact really. It’s a long time to be in a band when you start in your early 20s and now you’re pushing your late 20s. A lot of people think we’re younger than we are, but we’re all on the wrong side of 25. I think she wanted to do something else and take her life in another direction, which is obviously a great thing to do.

Romance Is Boring was very abrasive and aggressive at times. Hello Sadness seems much calmer, albeit melancholy, musically. You mentioned before that you wanted this album to be more straightforward. Was that a conscious decision, or did it happen naturally?

I think probably both. It was a conscious decision in that we knew we wanted to keep it stripped back, but it happened naturally in that the songs felt complete with the arrangements being fairly limited. It didn’t feel like we needed to cram a load of stuff in there or add anything. The songs just felt good as they were. We’re really proud of them. I don’t think we’d go back and change anything. It just feels like there’s so much more space in the songs. I really love that. It feels like a record we’ve been trying to make for a long time.

In a statement about the album, Gareth said it’s about all of you growing up. How do you feel you’ve grown since the group started?

We started when we were still at university in 2006, so I’ve grown upwards and outwards. I’m a lot wider. I’ve got a bigger stomach than I did then.

That’s a really hard question to answer. It’s the kind of question that if you asked someone else to answer about me, they’d be able to give you a more honest answer. I’ll probably make myself sound really great. I think we’re just all comfortable with what we’re doing. We’ve done it for a few years, and it’s been amazing. Hopefully, we’ll be able to continue. I don’t know how I’m different. I’m older. I’d say I’m more mature, but that’s not true. I’d say I’m more intelligent, but this rambling conversation probably suggests otherwise.

los campesinos hello Interview: Neil Campesinos! (of Los Campesinos!)In your previous albums, humor and sarcasm have played a heavy role. How important is that aspect to the band?

I think it’s really important. A lot of it’s so tongue-in-cheek and off-the-cuff. We’re really not a band that takes ourselves particularly seriously. Like on Twitter, comments are made as jokes, and people go, “Ahh! I can’t believe you said that!” Come on, it’s a joke. There are so many bands that take themselves so seriously. They’ll hop themselves on platforms and have the fans below them. To us, that’s completely ridiculous. We’re just music fans at the end of the day.

What’s your favorite song off Hello Sadness and why?

Every time we recorded a different song, it became the favorite. I really like “By Your Hand”. It’s such a pop song, and it’s really amazing. I might have to say “Hello Sadness”, ’cause it’s my mom’s favorite. She just thinks it’s great. We’ve never really written a song like that before. It’s an epic pop song. I think it’s really cool. Jason’s drumming in that is just really exciting. We were really wary of doing that high-hat kind of work.

In previous  interviews with CoS, Gareth has come out strongly against albums leaking ahead of release. How do you feel Los Campesinos! and the music industry as a whole can fight against this?

It’s really hard to control leaks. They happen as soon as albums make their way into the hands of some journalists, but obviously not every journalist. Some people are far freer and not very careful about whom they give it to. It’s a really hard thing to actually stop. You can watermark CDs. You can give people private listening parties. But within a month of an album coming out, it’s in so many different places, you can’t keep track of where it is. It’s really bizarre because it’s become such a major deal. It really kills momentum.

What are the band’s plans for next year?

I expect we’re going to be touring a lot. We’ll be playing more shows in the U.S. next year. We’ve got a provisional routing through, and it’s big. In November, we’re only playing a handful of shows on the East Coast, and people are saying, “Why aren’t you coming to the West Coast?!” Trust me: We’ll be there next year. Hopefully, we’ll get to play a lot of festivals. This year’s been really quiet for us. I think we’re all quite excited to get back on the road in November.