As part of our coverage of Long Division Festival 2016, we Louder Than War’s Dave Beech caught up with Los Campesinos! ahead of their appearance at the festival.
When XFM’s John Kennedy gave Los Campesinos! their radio debut in the form of We Throw Parties, You Throw Knives, it was arguably my ‘Teenage Kicks moment’. A little young to have been able to truly appreciate Peel any way but posthumously, it seems fitting that another John should provide me with such a moment. That was ten years ago now, and while many of the acts I was introduced to by Kennedy have since been lost to the grey haze of memory, or imploded under their own arrogance, Los Campesinos! have successfully stood the test of time, releasing a steady stream of albums backed by annual tours.
Their longevity arguably stems from a modest but hugely loyal fanbase, something which in turn is a result of their approachability, and their relationship with those fans. Having always maintained a DIY approach has helped too, affording the band the opportunity to operate largely outside of major label influence. And while that has meant them working day jobs in order to make a living, it also means they’ve been able to carry on doing what they love, where so many of their contemporaries haven’t.
As part of our coverage of this year’s Long Division festival, and of course because we love them so much, we caught up with Gareth Campesinos! to see what the band have been up to over the last few years.
LTW:Hey guys, thanks for answering our questions. How’s it going?
GC: It’s going well thank you very much. We’ve played a couple of fun gigs lately, and looking forward to the European Championships!
It’s been three years since your last album, what’s the band been up to in that time?
Very, very little unfortunately. Real life has taken over and we’ve been immersed in our day jobs! Tom’s been on tour a lot playing guitar in Perfume Genius’ live band, and Jason and Kim have opened their own tattoo studio. We’ve had a lot of frustrations around the “business” side of the band that we’re loathe to go into, but they played a big part in slowing us down and putting any creativity on hold. We’ve trotted out for a brief UK tour each year, which is always an affirmation of how much we love being in a band, and things look to be on the up now, so we’re pumped to get a new record made and get out playing more shows.
Similarly does that mean that album number six is on the cards?
It does! We’ve stock-piled our annual leave and are overjoyed to be recording a new full-length this Summer.
Excellent news! What can we expect from [lp #6] it? No Blues was somewhat removed from Hello Sadness, can we anticipate another change in tone, rather than direction?
Yeh, tone rather than direction. If we wanted to do something vastly different to what we’ve done with LC! before, I think it’d make more sense to do it as a different band. But this new record is shaping up to be pretty euphoric. We’re so delighted to be making a sixth record after it seemed for a while we mightn’t get the chance to, and that’s reflected in the sound of it, so far.
You’re currently in the process of playing a handful of inner-city festivals, how do you find they compare to bigger, more traditional set-ups?
We play a lot more of these urban festivals than we do your typical show in a field, and have come to really enjoy them. This probably reflects how comfortably we are settling into our 30s, but it’s nice to know you’re not gonna get soaked, and there’s always a pub/Tesco Express nearby. I guess there’s far less potential for things to go wrong when the shows are taking place in regular venues, rather than some scaffold in a field. Having said that, a lot of our greatest memories as a band are from playing huge festivals like Lollapalooza and Coachella, and I’m feeling pretty nostalgic for those big outdoor gigs now you’ve got me thinking of them!
So is it a concious decision not to play the bigger festivals now, or is it that there’s more of your fans going to the inner-city events? And correct me if I’m wrong, but presumably there’d be more of a crowd at something in the UK than in the States?
Haha, I wish I could say it was a conscious decision not to play bigger festivals. But that’s more a case of having not been invited. But then again, outside of album cycles (and without a booking agent) you don’t tend to get invited to the big’ns, so we won’t take it to heart just yet. We’ve been asked to do some good-sized outdoors ones this year, but the timings haven’t worked out unfortunately.
I shall correct you! We play to bigger crowds in the States than in the UK. Or at least, we have done in the past but seeing as we’ve not been to North America in over 2 years maybe they’ve fallen out with us.
Football’s something that’s heavily influenced LC! over the years, from merch right down to lyrics, has that ever posed a problem with members who perhaps weren’t as interested as yourself?
Nah, and it wouldn’t discourage me from writing about it even if there was! Safe to say everyone in the band is more interested in football than my love life and neuroses, which are perhaps more traditional song-writing tropes. I’ve always attempted to make sure my lyrics are honest and open, and to exclude football from them, a topic which pervades my every waking moment, would be to lie.
You’ve even started the #LosCamPanini Sticker Album to celebrate your 10th Anniversary. How did that idea come about?
We’ve wanted to do a football shirt for a long time, and thought that our testimonial year was the perfect excuse to get the idea off the ground. The reception to the shirt was way better than we expected, and we sold about 5 times more than we hoped! We run our own merch store, so I’ve been very busy back and forth from the Post Office over the past weeks. #LosCamPanini was a fun bit of audience participation that Rob whipped up, and has acted as a great reminder of how fantastically attractive and athletic our fan base is…
Politics is also something that’s popped up in your lyrics and merch from time to time. How does the current climate sit with you?
Yeah we sold a lot of those ‘Never Kiss A Tory’ shirts last year, raising over £15,000 for charity. We’re in a privileged position, having this platform that being in a band gives us, so it was nice to be able to do something positive with it.
The big picture of politics is naturally something that fills me with a lot of fear and worry, but there’s a lot of encouragement to be found in many of the grass roots movements that are flourishing and that left-wing politics is seemingly back on the agenda.
I agree! How do you feel about the looming EU vote? What sort of effect would leaving have on musicians at your level, or indeed the British music industry as a whole?
Safe to say the 7 of us are firmly in the IN camp, but that wouldn’t act as a surprise to anyone. We have never had much success with touring Europe, and I’m not sure we ever will again, but the rigmarole of prepping a US tour, and the extra paperwork and expense that brings is reason enough to want to stay in the European Union for any sensible thinking touring band. That’s not at the forefront of my concerns when it comes to worries about if the UK jumps ship though, there are far greater worries.
That you’re celebrating a 10th anniversary makes me feel old! Do you find it strange that many of the band’s you started out with don’t exist any more? Or is there any resentment for those that are and are now playing to arenas or headlining festivals?
I can’t quite get my head around it being 10 years either! I’m very proud that we’ve lasted as long as we have, and I think it justifies a lot of the decisions we have made along the way, at important junctures. I don’t feel jealous of any bands that have surpassed our level of success. I would love it if we were in a position where we didn’t have to work day-jobs and had more opportunities to tour, but I don’t think we were ever cut out for that as a band. I don’t think I could write lyrics that would pack out the Pyramid Stage. We’ve got a very loyal, passionate fan base and if that group of people was substantially bigger I think the relationship between us and our supporters would become diluted, and that’d stop us from being the band that people love like they do.
Your lyrics are huge part of the band and its fan-appeal, but they have changed over the course of your records. Do you think lyrically each album is a reflection of where you were at that point in time, or has there been a more general direction they’ve taken gradually?
Yeah I think they’ve changed as I’ve changed as a person. They’re a lot less cloying these days. After the initial reaction to our demo in 2006, and how people perceived our band I played up to that a bit, writing as I thought people wanted me to. They’re pretty sickly lyrics a lot of the time. I think now I prefer to create a mood and a sense of time and scene in lyrics, rather than shooting for one liners. I can’t be sure though, I find it really difficult to be analytical of my own stuff.
What is it, do you think, that’s allowed the band to stay relevant when so many of your contemporaries haven’t?
“Relevant” is a tough one, but more generally…I think a lot of bands lose sight of what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. They are surrounded by record labels and management, PRs and radio pluggers and booking agents. Lots of people leeching off their songs. A lot of bands seem to employ all these people and then forget about who they are, why they started a band in the first place and how they can engage with people who like their band. I find it remarkable how quickly some new bands give themselves over to the machinery of the music industry. As we’ve gone through the years, we’ve done all we can to distance ourselves from that, and I think more bands will do so in the future.
Being in a band for ten years, have your writing/recording processes changed or have you had to adapt to any changes in the industry?
Remarkably that’s pretty much the one thing that hasn’t changed. It’s always been a case of Tom writing the music and recording demos (thought the quality of the demos has improved immeasurably over the years!) and myself leaving writing the lyrics until the last minute. We’ve mooted the idea of the pair of us writing more collaboratively in the past, but this just seems to be how it works best for us.
Finally, what’s the biggest thing you’ve learned from being in a band that long?
That all that really matters is that you love your bandmates, and that you like the people who come to your shows.
That if you hire a PR or a manager or a booking agent: they work for you, not the other way round!