This interview was published in 2008. We interviewed Los Campesinos! again around the release of third album Romance Is Boring. Read the new interview here.
Los Campesinos! are big news at the moment. The septet have not long released their debut album Hold On Now Youngster, received with open arms by many a salivating critic, and have secured a solid live following.
To mull over their successful breakthrough and to consider their options and future plans, musicOMH met with Aleks – singer and multi-instrumentalist – who, like her bandmates, prefers the surname Campesinos!
“Yes, there are seven people in the band, so there are a lot of instrumental possibilities,” she laughs. “Especially with me and Gareth – we sing so we’ve got a free hand most of the time, and can make more free lines on the Korg, the glockenspiel and the tambourine. ‘Glock rock’ is what you could call it!”
Aleks is a cheery interviewee, slightly shy in an endearing way that suggests the band aren’t about to knock themselves out with their own publicity. Later on in our interview she makes a point of recognising the people who have already helped them along the way, saying that “Huw Stephens has been really good to us, he’s interested in new music and really helped us to get noticed initially”. When pushed for more on the list, she says “oh, the pressure’s on…I could thank so many people but I’d say there’s been a lot of Cardiff DJs who have been very supportive.”
Does she feel the band have achieved their debut album ambitions? I mention how natural they sound; refreshing, too, and Aleks is genuinely pleased. “I’m glad that’s the impression. I think above all we really wanted it to be a fair reflection of us. I don’t know if we could have ironed out all the mistakes – and there are a few – but I don’t think it would have shown people what the music is really about. When we play live we self-indulgently have fun with it, and find more important things to say.”
Is that something that applies for the lyrics also? “Well, Gareth writes a lot of the lyrics, and he puts an awful lot of thought into it. That would be amazing if I was as eloquent as him! I’m not sure it’s true what a few people have said about being pretentions though,” she says, possibly in response to idle talk of Gareth’s penchant for unusual words of the English language. “Every song has a story behind it. He says that a lot of his lyrics come from things that his friends say, and he steals them into song. One great story he told me was how one of his friends turned up at a gig wearing an ‘I Am An Accelerated Reader’ t-shirt. We thought he’d made it as a response to the song, but it turns out it was the other way round and Gareth had got the idea for the song title from that t-shirt!”
With the band currently engaged in a lot of live work, it’s talk of this that gets Aleks really fired up in our conversation – though she’s pretty laid back throughout, if truth be known. “If I’m honest it’s just again self-indulgence for us to have as much fun with the music as possible. When we recorded the album we were able to play a lot with vintage guitars, and we wanted to put as many subtly different instruments into it as we could. It was awesome getting all the different sounds together, and it’s nice to have little titbits from different instruments. We try and recreate it live where we can!”
Aleks continues to talk about the joys of playing live. “We’ve had a few really memorable experiences. One of the best for all of us was Japan, we went there and were saying to each other “no-one’s gonna have heard of us, there won’t be so many people at the gigs”. We were warned also that people were polite and don’t really react, but the reaction was really amazing, especially in Tokyo, it was absolutely brilliant. I can’t wait to go back there!”
For the meantime, Europe is the focus. “Yeah, we go to Amsterdam – I’m quite surprised that I know that! I know that it’ll be such fun as well. It’s such a great thing to be able to travel as part of your job, and especially as all the shows are really late as it’s usually part of a club night. We spent a short while in France, it was an equivalent to the NME Tour. We did four dates, and some nights in Germany and Belgium at the same time, and the reaction was good.”
“‘Glock rock’ is what you could call it!”Aleks dissects the Cardiff septet’s sound
One thing I have to ask Aleks concerns the Campesinos! MySpace site, claiming they are “the second most punk-rock band in Britain. Which begs the question – who’s the first?! She chuckles. “That’s Gallows, obviously! I think it’s just us taking the piss out of ourselves – we went to play this club night in Barcelona, and one of us kicked a plastic toy from a Happy Meal into the audience – I think that’s about as rock and roll as we get!
For the future, the band’s plans are refreshingly down to earth. “We don’t have plans for world domination, we’re really happy with how things are. We continued to be surprised by how well things are going, and we’re completely enjoying it. Thinking too hard about commercial success is damaging. We want to keep improving as musicians, write better songs, and keep developing artistically and creatively.”
Los Campesinos! debut album Hold On Now Youngster is available on Wichita, featuring the singles Death To Los Campesinos!, You! Me! Dancing! and current release My Year In Lists.