Saturday, October 24, 2009
Los Campesinos! Interview
What follows is an interview with the band Los Campesinos! that took place all the way back in August when they came to Austin. It was done in three parts with Ellen, Neil, and Harriet in one, Gareth and Ollie in the second, and Tom and Aleks in the third. In order to avoid posting three similar interviews where I asked the same questions to everyone, I decided to combine it all into one giant interview and I have tried to make it flow as nicely as possible. Enjoy and I would like to thank Los Campesinos! for doing this interview with me. They are the best people in the world.
The Creative Intersection: So Aleks, why are you betraying your legion of indie rock fan boys and giving up on music to get your medical degree?
Aleks: Ahhh, that’s a horrible way to put it. Well I don’t know. At the moment, especially being out here, it’s a decision that seems very, very ridiculously stupid. But I really think education is important (said in meek tone), and I really want to complete my degree. And there’s a lot I think I can do with it in science as well as the things I’ve done in music.
Tom: (To Aleks) I don’t think it’s a betrayal, I think it’s more like your going to do what you always set out to do
TCI: That was a joke. (They laugh). I didn’t mean to make you feel bad.
Aleks: Oh, it’s fine.
TCI: You just finished recording a new album. What was that like? What made you want John Goodmanson to produce again?
Gareth: I think we worked with him the first time around, and he was an absolute pleasure to work with and it kind of felt like we had unfinished business because We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed was kind of put together pretty quickly and we felt we (had) not achieved everything we could achieve with him. And he’s just a really friendly guy that knows were we’re coming from and knows how we want to sound and what we want to do. So, it just seemed like, it has just gotten to the point were I can’t imagine us working with anyone other than him, that’s how great he is.
Harriet: Well, it was a fantastic experience because this time we managed to split it up between the tour, so we did three weeks...?
Neil: Yeah, we did three weeks in Stanford, Connecticut and then we went on tour and did some shows on the east then crossed into the west coast and we finished recording in Seattle for three weeks.
Harriet: And then the reason we choose, I mean we asked John to do it again, was because he’s an unbelievable easy going guy, but he also kind of has this character that sort of holds together seven people and holds the reins a little bit because sometime I think there is so much going on and so many ideas from us all, that we need to have someone to bring it altogether and also he’s also the funest to work with. We can set up rooms in like ten minutes flat and that’s amazing. He’s just the ultimate professional I think.
Aleks: He just makes you feel so comfortable in the studio in the studio and... that’s the best way to be when your recording because you put enough pressure on yourself when trying to get your part done. So anyone who can elevate the pressure in anyway, and just make you feel like it’s all going well, and come up with a lot of his own suggestions is a benefit.
TCI: Was there pressure when you recorded Hold On Now, Youngster...?
Tom: That was probably the most pressured record he had because that was on the back of, I guess any hype we had and it felt like we had to follow through on that. But I think we’ve always been pretty good at stepping back from that and it’s defiantly died down now and were kind of getting done with everything, so this time it was really easy and really comfortable. Like, we made We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed because we wanted to and no one expected anything out that quickly. But I do feel like... no I don’t really feel any pressure and if anything doing Beautiful, Doomed has taken any pressure of this one because even though to us it was kind of an extended, mini-record, a lot of people have seen it as our second record and so all the pressure of a second album isn’t there so going into this one it was almost like going into making a third album.
TCI: You don’t consider We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed an album?
Tom: No, we didn’t consider it, and it’s not contractually treated like an album by are record label...
Aleks: We went in to record an EP and that’s what came out...
Tom: Yeah, it came out a bit longer. The irony is or kind of the weird thing is we actually approached that as a whole more than Hold on Now, Youngster... because that was a collection of songs we had learned and write to play live, so that was sort of just put together , were as Beautiful, Doomed was written as one piece.
TCI: You described this album about being about shagging and death, famously. How is this different from your other albums, are you just being more direct lyrically?
Gareth: I think this record, I’m not going to say it’s a concept record, but there are these things running through it that completely that sort of keep the story together and make the story I’m trying to tell in the record make sense. And I think, they’re just issues that are particularly troublesome to me and found myself being interested in. So, I think both two things were explored in previous work, like on We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed, but this is the first time I really, based, completely drenched the record in it rather than hinting at it in previous works.
Ollie: I can’t really say anything because Gareth writes all the lyrics, but I like shagging and death so ...
TCI: Who doesn’t! Were you trying to do something different on this album that you hadn’t done on the previous two? I mean, what’s the mind set when you record an album?
Gareth: I think with this record we know what we want to achieve as a band and we know were we’re coming from now. I think, the nature of how we formed the band with no expectations and at a relatively young age and getting signed really quickly and touring really quickly, it was, initially I certainly didn’t know what I wanted to write about and who I wanted to be, so now that we know what we want to write about, how we want to sound, and also are better song writers and we know the different arrows we have to our bow and what makes a good record, or at least we think we do.
Ollie: I think Gareth covered all the bases. We’ve come along ways since the first initial recordings and we’ve come close to finding our sounds. We’re still challenging ourselves.
Neil: I think We are Beautiful, We are Doomed was probably more of a departure from Hold on Now, Youngster than the new record is from We are Beautiful, We are Doomed if that makes sense. I think it’s more of a continuation in a way, like kind of following the direction we were going in which is darker songs, slower songs, but there’s still that good ol’ Los Campesinos! pop quality there so people don’t hate it (Harriet laughs).
Harriet: And I think also that there’s slightly less naivety about this then compared to the first record. We had no idea that we were going to be come a touring band and moderately successful. I think were just, we’re kind of pleasing ourselves completely now really because that’s all that we thought we could really do and ignore whatever people expected of us and just do what we thought was good and obviously that means the sounds changed and what we want has changed.
Neil: I think we’re slowly becoming the band that we want to be, or wanted to be from the very onset.
Tom: Ummm, I’m in no rush to dramatically change our sound, and while it’s the same seven people making that music and I don’t think it’s going to be massive difference, but at the same time were quite ambitious and we want to try out as many things as possible and push ourselves, but I’m optimistic enough to think that we can keep going for as long as we want and there’s still so much time for us to do our funk, jazz odyssey. We haven’t done it this time, but I think it’s a lot noisier and I think it’s probably more ambitious and it’s maybe going to be a harder listen for some people but at the same time I’m delighted by it and I think it’s a lot better than the other two.
TCI: You recently played your first Mexican and South American dates. What was that like and was there any mass confusion over the name?
Gareth: No, we were fortunate enough so that no one turned up expecting something that we weren’t, but I think that we would be lying if we said that having a Spanish name has been very beneficial with exposing us to a Spanish speaking audience. And I think that I can safely say that the fans we encountered in South America were the most loving, passionate people we’ve ever played to and we’re just very, very excited to go there and it’s certainly a place we will be going back to soon.
Aleks: I think people have expectations of us when we come there to be fluent and its quite a clever ploy (bursts out laughing) on are part. In retrospect that wasn’t part of the decision in naming the band, but the shows went really well and it was an honor to be offered them and then actually go there and playing. We met a lot of great people who were just friendly and warm and it’s just really faltering that we could have such a great fan base out there.
Tom: It was surprising for anyone to turn up, and for that many people to come to the shows and to be so enthusiastic about it was great. I’m sure the name does peak people’s interest, but I don’t think that’s the only reason.
TCI: No one was expecting you to come out in farmers clothes or anything?
Tom: I sure many people were, they would have been desperately disappointed...
Aleks: Yeah, there was a mass exudes after the first song
Tom: Yeah, it wasn’t the band they hoped for...
Tom: (Laughs) No, no.
Harriet: (Laughs). It was absolutely amazing. It was probably my favorite experience with the band, especially Mexico City because the city center just blew me away, like nothing I had seen before. The way the buildings were fitting, it was just unbelievable. I think we were just blown away from the response that we got from the people because we had never been there before and I think part of it was the name. It seems to make people just get really excited and also there apparently the scene in South America is starting so that normal bands can start coming so everyone’s really excited about it. Yeah, no one really drew attention to our name in a negative way, which I think we might have thought they might do because we were pretty naive when we thought up the name. We didn’t realize the blissful implications of what we were saying.
(Neil says something inaudible)
Harriet: Oh yea! The person who said that to you, was what, interviewing you at Lollapalooza.
TCI: What happened?
Neil: We were having a beer backstage and these guys turned out that had seen us the day before. But they got around to asking a question about the name and they just said “It’s the best marketing decision you made without realizing it”. (Harriet giggles). Yeah so were going to change it now
Harriet: Japanese maybe!
Neil: Yeah so that we can get maximum...
TCI: Maximum exposure.
Neil: Yeah, just so that we can get rich!
TCI: How did the idea of the singles box come about and why did you decide to do it?
Ollie: That was suggested by Mark Bowen...
Harriet: I believe that was record label’s Matt Bowen’s idea. Yeah, he thought it would be a cool thing for us to do, to kind of involve people who read the blog and keep people updated with everything we were doing in a city and he knows that amongst us that there are a lot of people that love collecting records. Was that how it was Neil?
Neil: Sorry, I couldn’t quite hear what was being said.
TCI: She said it was the record exclusives idea to do the singles box.
Neil: Yeah, record exclusive makes him sound a lot more scary than he really is. It was his idea, so that should give you an idea of how awesome he is. It was his idea and it’s been really, really fun going to record stores and picking stuff up.
Tom: Actually there’s a bit of a debate of whether... it’s either Mark Bowen, who runs Wichita or our manager Alan; both are claiming the idea for themselves now. But, yeah it’s a really good idea and Gareth has been taking to very well, I think he’s been doing it the most enthusiastically. We bought seven 7-inches today in Waterloo Records and there are some good ones in there. It’s a pretty amazing record box now and it’s going to be hard to part with it.
Aleks: Yeah all of us want the record box now (laughs). I think were just going to have to, I don’t know, conveniently send it to (the winner).
Tom: We could actually make a lot of money of it.
TCI: If you put on Ebay that thing would sell for 10,000 dollars, I swear.
Tom: If we could get 10,000 dollars we’d defiantly sell it on Ebay.
TCI: Speaking of, your blog is really something different from everybody’s else because it’s an actual person blog rather than a standard band blog, albeit one having seven people commenting on it. What made you want to do ‘blog’ blog rather than a standard “Oh, now we’re recording, now we have tour dates” and nothing else comes from the band.
Gareth: I think it’s partly very self indulgent because it gives us a platform to talk about things we want to talk about and converse with fans in that way, but also I think not enough bands give their fans the respect they deserve and give them the attention they deserve because if it weren’t for people who liked our band, we wouldn’t be having the opportunity to be doing this. So I guess it’s an easy way for us to actually converse with fans rather than making statements and not having the opportunity to respond. So it just seems fit because we’ve always run are own myspace and responded to emails and sell are own merch and met fans and stuff so I just seems like a natural extension from that.
Ellen: I think it’s because it’s more interesting to people if we write are own personal random thoughts and also it’s really fun to do and I guess for the people reading it there’s more for them to read and get to know us better. But it’s because we’re massively narcissistic and we love writing about ourselves all the time and it’s a really fun thing to do. It’s quite cathartic to be able to write about anything and some people will read it. It’s really self indulgent but I think people like it at the same time.
TCI: What you don’t get that out in your music already?
Ellen: It’s an added bonus.
Tom: It’s something Gareth pushed for. We had a website, but it wasn’t particularly interactive, it was just like a standard web page. I think he read about Belle and Sebastian. They have a particularly interactive web page as well and they’re really sort of close with their fans and that’s something we’ve always tried to do, but it was really good for (Gareth) to put it in place with an actual Wordpress blog that we could all contribute to and sort of document are thoughts, as inane as they may be.
Aleks: I think it happened while we were doing the first batch of recordings for the latest album, actually. In Stanford, where Gareth didn’t have a lot to do so that might of had something to do with it (bursts out laughing). But we’ve all toured, it was either in the long drives that the idea came about, but the blog on the first website just... it rarely got updated, so it’s nice to know people by name and meet them at shows.
TCI: Are you worried with your blog and your music, people will find out too much about your lives?
Tom: There is really nothing interesting to know, so it doesn’t trouble me. But I think that’s how we want it to be because one thing for being in a band for us is we’ve never felt like a proper band. I mean we’ve only been like seven friends in the back of a room making recordings, and now it’s... and it’s still really surreal to be on tour...
TCI: And be critically acclaimed.
Tom: Well yeah I guess (laughs). All of that is very, very weird. I think the point of the blog shows were still thoes people and were not rock starts and half the blogging is inane bollocks and we want to share that with people (laughs).
TCI: Who doesn’t love inane bollocks?
Tom: (Laughing) Exactly.
Garath: I think if there’s anything we didn’t want them to know we wouldn’t (talk about it)....
Garath: But I think also any desire people had to find out things about us that we didn’t want them to know, we hope will be satisfied by the fact that we are open and honest in are blogs. Unless people find out were my mom lives and turn up on her door step when were on tour, then I don’t got any problems.
TCI: (To Ollie) Are you worried about protecting your mom?
Garath: Ollie doesn’t live with his mom.
Ollie: My mom would probably like the attention (both laugh).
Garath: Yeah look for Ollie’s mom.
TCI: Ok you heard it here first, stalk Ollie’s mom.
Ollie: Don’t stalk her, just wave at her (laughs).
TCI: Now lyrically, your songs are about horrible romances and life gone wrong. Don’t take this the wrong way, but are your lives really this fucked up or are they just exaggerations captured in the pain of it all?
Aleks: Um, all the lyrics are written by Gareth so it would be pretty bad for us to speak for him, but yeah he’s a very twisted individual (laughs), so that’s where it all comes from.
Tom: I think they’re semi-autobiographical, there are a lot of things that actually happen and there are a lot of things he thinks as well, like some of the darker things. But he’s not particularly a dark person, quite the opposite in fact, but I think he enjoys to write that way. I think we’ve always had fun in writing say a up beat melody and contrasting it with darker lyrics, that’s always... it’s fun to play with does contrasts. But I think he likes to... I wouldn’t say he’s an existentialist, but he claims to be very aware of his own mortality and he thinks about death a fair bit, but that’s what his lyrics suggest. I think he pores that dark side, whether it is cathartically or just something he wants to do artistically, into his lyrics. I guess it probably is an exaggerated form, but there’s defiantly autobiographical elements, so don’t catch him on a bad day.
TCI: Should I rewind to the part where you say you don’t want to speak on his behalf?
(Aleks and Tom laugh)
TCI: (To Aleks) Is there anything awkward about singing your part? I mean usually in the songs you play like the sane portion of his (Gareth’s) brain. Is there anything awkward about it?
Aleks: Um, no, not at all. That’s a really boring answer, but I’m really just grateful that I’ve had the chance to be part of it and it’s probably doing me some cathartic good as well, trying to get rid of the twisted demons in my book; I just channel thoes into his songs.
Tom: They’re pretty good lyrics as well.
Aleks: Yeah, it’s not like he makes me sing anything very embarrassing.
TCI: You said the album was influenced by B.S. Johnson and Ann Quin. Are you worried about sending the wrong message by linking yourself to two artists who people didn’t get at the time and wound up killing themselves?
Garath: I think that’s completely sending the right message to be honest. I think their both two incredible artists and B.S. Johnson didn’t get any widespread success, but he was incredibly well respected amongst his peers and I don’t think you can ask for anything more than that. But to be honest, I think your one of a very small amount of people who would even take notice of that. So thank you for making that link, but I don’t think it will concern many people.
TCI: It was meant as a joke.
Gareth: No, no. There are a great amount of trouble artists and I’m nothing of but a troubled artist.