Music Interviews

Interview: Los Campesinos!

Los Campesinos!

Most musicians have, at one time or another, been in a band with a name they later deemed questionable, but most musicians don’t have to live with the consequences.

“We do that ego thing bands do, where we get Google alerts sent to us, but most of the time we’re mentioned it’s actually about South American peasants,” says Los Campesinos! guitarist and songwriter Tom. “They’re genuinely really poor and caught up in a political struggle, but we’ve casually adopted their name as ours.”

And it’s been brought to their attention. “We’ve had emails from a couple of Mexicans who have said they find it offensive,” he says. “We just took it to mean ‘the country folk’, but what can we do now? It’s as though we’re some sort of white colonial types! We actually had a real Campesino come to a show in the US – he said he’s seen our name and was intrigued to see what we were about. He told us all about his family history and gave us a book. It’s really interesting.”

Sitting on a bench in Shoreditch, Tom who, along with his band mates, has adopted the surname Campesinos, is animated and chatty as he talks about the band’s third album, Romance Is Boring. “I’m really pleased with it, but it’s interesting now to see the reaction to it. Generally it’s been positive I think, but we’ve had some reviews that have said ‘it’s not as good as the first album’ or ‘their form’s slipping’. It’s hard because we do read reviews and you only remember the negative ones.”

It’s certainly been far from all bad though. “When we posted There Are Listed Buildings online we got a great response from fans – we’re lucky that we’ve got fans who are really enthusiastic about what we’re doing, whether it’s what they were expecting or not. That’s given us a bit of more confidence about releasing the album.”

The indie-poppers have returned with a new line-up as well as a new record. Founding member and singer/keyboardist Aleks left the band in September. “Aleks leaving was very difficult to come to terms with. We always knew she was going to go back to university, but it still came as a shock when she told us. As a band we’ve got a bad habit of not talking about things enough, but once we really discussed it, it was no longer the elephant in the room and we could start thinking about things. It’s very brave of her – it was a big decision, and she’s really happy, so that’s good to know. She’s really driven and she did tell us she missed academia.”

Singer Gareth’s sister Kim has been drafted in, along with the band’s friend Rob. “We all knew Kim, so she slotted in easily. We got Rob to join at the same time, so that it wouldn’t be a like-for-like swap and there could be less emphasis on Kim.” So has the dynamic of the band changed – is Gareth on his best behaviour now his sister’s hanging out with them? “Not really… well, he’s having to keep his coke addiction quiet, but that’s about it,” he laughs.

“We’re one of those bands that people seem to be polar about – they love us or hate us.”
– Tom Campesinos

After releasing their first two albums Hold On Now, Youngster and We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed within eight months of each other in 2008, they retreated to the USA to record their follow up. “We recorded in Stamford and Seattle, and then went back to Wales to mix it. We spent four months in the USA, touring and recording. The recording was done in stages, which was good because it gave us chance to reflect on things, reflect on what we’d done. It meant you don’t have quite so much of that panic and frustration you get when you’ve recorded something and it’s sitting, waiting for months.”

The result is a more concise, but no less hyper, twee sound with the same girl-boy vocal duels and lashings of xylophone that made their first two releases so endearing. It’s got a youthful, punky energy also sported by the likes of Dananananykroyd and Johnny Foreigner, but there are tiny sprinklings of sadness and an edge of world weariness about them nowadays. How does Tom think their sound has changed over the past couple of years?

“It’s only really when you do interviews that you’re forced to think about the concept of the album or the sound you were going for,” he says. “I think the change from the last album has been quite organic and natural – there’s been no sharp change. To me it doesn’t sound that different. Saying that, we’re really ambitious and we almost try to force a bit of change. We’re learning how to change and how we want to sound. I was listening to a lot of American guitar bands around the time we were writing and recording Romance Is Boring – early Modest Mouse, Pavement, and I was going through a Guided By Voices phase too, so I hope you can hear some of that in it.”

Does this mean we can expect to see more of a departure with the their fourth album? “I’m really pleased with our back catalogue. Maybe there are a couple of songs I’m not so happy with, but they’re all a record of that period. I’m really proud we’ve got an identity, that we’ve got a sound people associate with Los Campesinos. We’re one of those bands that people seem to be polar about – they love us or hate us.” How anyone can hate a band with songs about stationery and listed buildings is beyond us.

Los Campesinos!’ third album Romance Is Boring is released through Wichita on 1st February 2010. The band play London’s Rough Trade East on 31st January and then tour the UK in February, stopping at London’s KOKO on 25th, before heading on to Europe and north America.

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More on Los Campesinos!
Los Campesinos! – Sick Scenes
Los Campesinos! @ Heaven, London
Los Campesinos! – No Blues
Los Campesinos! @ Islington Assembly Hall, London
Los Campesinos! – Hello Sadness