Comedian Marc Maron once said, "I feel sorry for anybody who’s never been addicted to anything," [he was talking in reference to smoking,] "Because they’ve never had the experience of wanting something so bad – and getting it." In music, it is rare the band that can actually become addictive – even the best music can get tiresome when played on repeat, or at least become one note. It’s rare when a band’s albums and/or live shows can leave you wanting more, not only once but every single time. The kind of band you could listen to exclusive for the rest of your life and be happy to, the kind of band who you would go see every night. Los Campesinos! proved, once again, that they are one of those rarities when they play Brooklyn’s Music Hall of Williamsburg (QRO venue review) on Friday, October 15th.
Despite hailing from all the way across the pond in Cardiff (though no one in the band is actually Welsh), Los Campesinos! were visiting New York for the second time in 2010, even after their first visit in April (QRO photos) was delayed due to that Icelandic volcano (remember that?). But the group could set up shop in the Big Apple & stay forever, given the fervent response they got from the Brooklyn crowd. After the slow build of "In Median Res", the opener to this year’s Romance Is Boring (QRO review), Music Hall went absolutely nuts for the bands older "Death To Los Campesinos!" – the floor shook so hard with jumping fans that one might have worried that it’d give way and send them into the downstairs bar.
Though even that wouldn’t have slowed down the show. Los Campesinos! make upbeat, twee-as-fuck indie-rock that can get anyone excited, even when singer Gareth Campesinos! (QRO interview) introduces a song by saying it’s "about how you’re all going to die alone". He may have sung about the futility of love & life on "Miserabilia" and the title track from 2008′s We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed (QRO review), but no one can make it all more of an exciting anthem of lines like, "Shout at the world / Because the world doesn’t love you! / Lower yourself / Because you know that you’ll have to!" (and, as one fan said, "I’ve never seen anyone play the xylophone with such intensity…"). In fact, it becomes an almost cathartic cry, without being indulgent and even while making you happier.
Gareth also proved the jokester between songs, such as thanking special guest horn player Tim (presumably Campesinos!, at least for this night), "Tim’s obviously a proper musician, and the thing with proper musicians is that they’re often dicks. Tim’s a proper musician and really fuckin’ nice as well." When Gareth realized that the set list (QRO photo) had multiple tracks from their latest album in a row, eschewing the earlier material on 2008′s Hold On Now, Youngster… (QRO review) that made them known (and is still the most beloved), he said, "So if you like the stuff before my voice broke, you can probably go for a shit or something." He also told the crowd that their sound guy recently revealed that "…And We Exhale and Roll Our Eyes In Unison" was only song of theirs that their sound guy like, "But he’s being a right ol’ bitch." He told everyone to "raise your Buds" before the currently-being-used-by-Budweiser-in-football-commercials "You! Me! Dancing!". And when fans cried out for the band to never stop, he cheekily replied, "We’re playing tomorrow as well, so if you want to hear more songs…"
With three full-lengths, plus debut EP Sticking Fingers Into Sockets (QRO review), and non-album single "The International Tweexcore Underground", Los Campesinos! have been rather prolific, especially when you take into account that they have so many members to wrangle together (and no state subsidies like Canadian collectives get…), yet there wasn’t a song that they played at Music Hall that you didn’t want to hear. Of course, with so many great songs, there were ones they didn’t play that you did want to hear (such as "Tweexcore" or its b-side cover of Heavenly’s "C Is the Heavenly Option", as one fan kept demanding, to no avail), but Gareth promised that the set list on Saturday would be different – though probably still wouldn’t include any Heavenly…
It also probably wouldn’t include "Tweexcore", as the piece is a duet between a young couple, one a punk (the girl), and one twee (the boy) – and the girl now singing the other half would be Gareth’s (actual) sister, Kim Campesinos!. Last year, after finishing, but before releasing Romance, original female singer Aleks Campesinos! (QRO interview on her last tour) left the band to pursue her medical degree, breaking the hearts of numerous male and female fans. It’s been hard getting over Aleks, but Kim has more than held her own, especially with her live dancing. And, most importantly, like Aleks, she’s a redhead…
Los Campesinos! had experienced even more recent turnover, when drummer (and three-time QRO interviewee – QRO interview) Ollie Campesinos! left (still not sure why…). Current drummer Jason Campesinos! & touring back-up Rob Campesinos! certainly kept the beat, but no one could replace the shirtless Ollie on stage, the only Campesinos! who could challenge Gareth for twee Idol. With bassist Ellen Campesinos! (QRO interview) still stuck behind the more ‘intensely trying to make music, as opposed to dancing about like Gareth’ guitarist Tom & violinist Harriet Campesinos!, it was Harriet who received the lion’s share of the male love from the crowd (it would also be unseemly to do so towards Kim in front of Gareth…). Though Harriet has been getting prettier & prettier since the band started (maybe just ‘cause she’s played hard-to-get with QRO, the only charter Campesinos! we’ve never interviewed) – but so has everyone in the band, such as Ellen & Gareth’s new ‘dos.
But enough about how Beautiful they are – Los Campesinos! are just so incredibly engaging live, it’d be hard for anyone not to dance start-to-finish. That’s not just true for ‘old classics’ like "Dancing!" and "My Year In Lists", but also new pieces such as "Romance Is Boring" and "There Are Listed Buildings". Romance‘s sad "The Sea Is a Good Place To Think of the Future" might just be the band’s best song ever, and held up as such live – while they were still able to close with always-closer, "Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks".
Line up all the material Los Campesinos! has ever produced, album material, b-sides, outtakes, etc., and you’d be hard-pressed to find a skippable track (well, the b-sides to "My Year In Lists"…). And any night that Los Campesinos! is playing, you’d be hard-pressed to find any show that you’d have a better time at.
Los Campesinos! playing "The Sea Ia a Good Place To Think of the Future" live at Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, NY on October 15th, 2010:
In the conversation, Ollie and Tom talked about the tour, their most recent record, We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed (QRO review), releasing it the same year as their first full-length, Hold On Now, Youngster… (QRO review), their upcoming recording session, Wales, Cardiff, Mexico, butching it up, Kurts, Torchwood, ampersands, and more…
QRO: How has this American tour been?
Ollie Campesinos: Pretty successful – a bit too successful, really. [On Saturday, February 14th], we had a few problems, but overall, the tour’s been going really well.
QRO: What happened on Saturday?
OC: Tom had a few technical problems. But everything was fine apart from that. It was a good show, really nice crowd.
QRO: Did you do anything special for Valentine’s Day?
OC: Played all the romantic songs…
QRO: Did you do anything special when you were in Boston, playing on Friday 13th?
OC: Um, no, we actually had a really good show, one of the best shows of the tour there.
Tom Campesinos: Gareth lost his passport…
QRO: Have you fixed your backline? There were problems with it when you played at Maxwell’s (QRO venue review) to start the last American tour…
TC: I broke a string during “You! Me! Dancing!”, right before the riff was gonna kick in. Basically, there’s this big build-up, and then there’s eight kicks on the kick drum, and then the guitar comes in with the riff. But I broke a string right before that, so I had to change guitars or change strings while Ollie was doing the kicking.
OC: We’d gotten brand-new gear that day, so something was bound to happen.
Neil had problems with your pedal board, didn’t he?
TC: Shit, yeah…
OC: Neil’s pedal board broke. For the song we were going to do for the encore, he really relies on his peddles, and something happened, so he couldn’t use his peddles, and the song wouldn’t have been as effective.
Los Campesinos! playing what would be their last song, "Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks" live @ Maxwell's in Hoboken, NJ on May 14th, 2008:
See also them covering Pavement's "Frontwards"
QRO: How does playing the U.S. compare with playing your native U.K.? Do you think you’re better known here or over there?
TC: It’s difficult to know. We get really good reactions over here, and it always feels like the crowds are genuinely into it.
I think, one thing we notice in the U.K., it tends to be… I guess indie music is quite fashionable; you get a lot of people going to gigs as a fashionable thing, or a social thing, rather than a genuine love of music. There are genuine music lovers at our shows there as well – and maybe it’s just something we’re imagining – but here, it feels like everyone’s here to have a good time at each gig, and they tend to be really, really good shows.
It’s surprising enough having people turn up, to come across the Atlantic and have people turn up is kind of strange. And to have sold-out shows is even more strange.
OC: We played Chicago the other day (Logan Square Auditorium), and it was the largest show we’ve ever played, of our own shows, outside of London. They managed to squeeze in 950 people…
QRO: After this tour, your next two shows are in Mexico – how did that come about?
TC: Having a really good booker.
OC: And it helps having a Spanish name…
TC: It’s potential that the name could be offensive. From what I could tell, it’s quite almost ‘political’ thing. Hopefully it’s not taken the wrong way.
QRO: Have you ever played there before, or anywhere in Latin America?
OC: No, not Latin America. We’ve played in Spain, and had really good reactions.
QRO: You seem to have divided your tour of North America – the U.S. east of the Mississippi up until now, and then you’re back in late March/April for Canada and the rest of America (with Mexico in between). Why did you split it up that way?
TC: We’re doing some recording in between. The whole thing was planned semi-meticulously.
OC: Plus the management decided to exploit us…
TC: In the last tour, we built in time-off, and we’ve also built-in time to recording this time.
QRO: Where are you recording?
OC: Carriage House in Stamford, Connecticut. It’s where The Pixies recorded Doolittle.
QRO: So you’re not going back to the U.K. in between?
OC: I am.
TC: You and Gareth are.
OC: A few of us are to see family and things.
TC: If Gareth can get a passport…
QRO: You’re ending that tour at Coachella. Do you do anything differently when you play outdoors?
OC: Uh… play more of the popular tracks?
TC: At a festival, ‘cause it tends to be quite chaotic, you’re playing to people that haven’t necessarily come to see you, and they tend to be short sets, as well. You tend to throw everything in, rather than pace it and such. Just go full out, have as much fun as possible. But that’s probably the only concession we make.
QRO: Is it particularly special to play “Knee Deep At A.T.P.” at All Tomorrow’s Parties festival?
TC: I’m not sure we ever would have gotten on the bill there, but Pitchfork were the curators, and they seem to have taken a shine to us, and they picked us to play.
Was rather surreal – it was a couple of A.T.P.’s before where Gareth had met the girl that inspired the song.
Los Campesinos! playing "Knee Deep At A.T.P." live @ Bowery Ballroom in New York, NY on November 30th, 2007:
QRO: This is the last night of this tour – how do you fight ‘tour burnout’?
OC: Lots of coke and speed…
TC: Lots of uppers…
I think you get into kind of a routine. This tour’s been much easier, as well, because we’ve been staying at hotels, rather than on a bus. So we’ve actually been able to get sleep, in between shows, which I think has made a real difference. Morale on this tour has been really high. It’s been a really good one.
I think as well that your body goes into this automatic mode, where you’ve just got to continue, and as soon as you stop, your body relaxes and lets all the bugs you picked up and passed on take over.
QRO: How has it been, releasing your first and second full-length records in the same year?
TC: We don’t really know any different. It’s just what we’ve done. It doesn’t feel strange because, for us, Hold On Now, Youngster… was finished what, last September?
OC: Yeah, so like, what? Eighteen months ago?
TC: To us, we’ve had it a while.
QRO: And some of those songs were in [2007 EP] Sticking Fingers Into Sockets (QRO review)…
OC: Yeah, and those tunes we’ve been playing since – they were probably the first songs we’d ever written.
TC: December, that same year, we started writing again, and it just got to the point where we had about eight songs. We’d planned on releasing an EP in the summer, recording in Seattle, and then just decided to make it a ten-track release.
It’s still pretty ambiguous release – it’s not really a full-length album. It’s not a ‘second album’ as such; it’s an EP that’s gone long…
QRO: You seem to have a tradition of unorthodox release strategies – putting so much of Sticking Fingers onto Hold On Now, but not including single “The International Tweexcore Underground”, two LP’s in 2008, but no singles on We Are Beautiful, the free download of “How I Taught Myself To Scream”, etc. Why is that?
TC: It’s kind of just ‘see how things go’, what feels right.
We’ve got good management and label in place, but I guess we all always try to do things differently, or just in a way that’s interesting to us, but it’s mostly instinctive.
With Hold On Now, Youngster…, the two songs off the EP fitted much better on the album, we thought, sonically, than the single, “Tweexcore”. It just didn’t feel right; it was recorded in an unusual setting.
OC: We tried to fit it in, but listening to it in just didn’t work. You couldn’t fit it in anywhere.
TC: Also, I think it’s slightly a romantic idea of releasing non-album singles. I guess, in the past, singles were separate from albums. A lot of your favorite bands would do non-album singles.
And then, Beautiful/Doomed didn’t feel like a second album, proper. We didn’t release any singles off of it, just a ten-track, sort of interim release. Again, it was just what felt right.
I think also, if we released singles, it would feel like we were trying to cash in or something.
Los Campesinos! playing We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed's "Miserabilia" live @ Bowery Ballroom on February 15th, 2009:
QRO: How did making We Are Beautiful compare to making Hold On Now?
OC: It was easier, in a way, in that we’d recorded on album already, so we were aware of the whole process. And we’d just come off tour, so we’d experimented. We had a lot more ideas; we knew what we wanted for Beautiful/Doomed.
TC: I think the main difference is that Hold On Now, Youngster… was a collection of the songs we’d written up to that point. Every song we’d written, was written to play live, to play on stage, to be interesting that way, and then it was almost a collection. With Beautiful/Doomed, it was kind of purpose-written as a coherent, long piece. In that sense, it was much more deliberate, much more considered as an entire record.
And I think, as Ollie was saying, your first album, you don’t know what you’re doing. It’s all new experiences; it’s scary. You make a lot of mistakes, and so you’re aiming to correct some of those mistakes, but not necessarily all of them…
QRO: Did you feel a special ‘second record pressure’ with We Are Beautiful, different from whatever you felt making Hold On Now?
TC: I’d say not, because we weren’t expected to release anything. We were doing it because we wanted to. There was no commercial pressure. It’s not like Hold On Now, Youngster… was a massive commercial success and we had to follow it up. It was just the next step for us. We were happy with the songs, and we released them. If we weren’t, we wouldn’t have done it.
OC: And, of course, it wasn’t the ‘second album’ for us, in way. If it takes the pressure off us from bringing out the ‘official’ second album, than that’s really good.
TC: We’d be really delighted – if that’s the second album, then that’s fine. We’ll call it the second album.
QRO: Have you gotten any flack from naming your record ‘We Are Beautiful…’?
TC: We haven’t, actually… I was slightly reluctant at first, because it is quite sort of ‘earnest’, almost.
It just felt right, in the character. I guess, most importantly, it epitomized everything Gareth was trying to say, tied together all the things he was talking about.
I’m not sure if my interpretation is right, but I always interpreted it as, ‘Things are short-lived and transient, but you should celebrate them.’ And that applies to a variety of things: Gareth’s own relationship, the band itself, amongst other things.
QRO: You have the longest song titles…
TC: Yeah, that’s something he really takes pleasure in.
OC: Gareth likes long song titles with lots of punctuation.
QRO: There’s not a lot you haven’t used – the ampersand (&), the ‘at’ symbol (@)…
TC: Yeah, we haven’t done [those]…
OC: I think the @ thing we never used, because people are using that more for texting.
TC: Slightly more ‘internet speak’.
Los Campesinos! playing "…And We Exhale and Roll Our Eyes In Unison" live @ Maxwell's in Hoboken, NJ on May 14th, 2008:
QRO: How do you balance We Are Beautiful and older material in your set list (QRO photo) right now?
TC: It’s something we’re still kind of experimenting with, finding what works. We felt that “Ways To Make It Through the Wall” was an obvious opener, the way it started. Again, it’s just instinctive.
OC: At the beginning of the tour, we stuck to the same set, but mixed a lot more since; it’s a lot more exciting to play.
TC: And we can experiment with peaks & troughs more, see what songs can segue between the two, what actually succeed each other. It’s been fun.
QRO: Do you mostly do Beautiful songs?
TC: It’s kind of half-and-half. I guess it’s the balance of wanting to play new material, but you’ve also got to be respectful of people that have turned up to see you, and play the songs they want to hear.
OC: You sort of know what songs people are going to react best to.
TC: It does vary, doesn’t it? Some people have kind of particular album tracks, and they’re kind of the popular ones, but–
OC: Yeah, we had a couple of people in Memphis who reacted really well to “Minor Emotional Breakdown #1”, that no one else has reacted as enthusiastically to. Reacted pretty well, said that it was their favorite song.
Los Campesinos! playing "Documented Minor Emotional Breakdown #1" live @ Bowery Ballroom in New York, NY on February 15th, 2009:
QRO: Do you have any post-We Are Beautiful material?
TC: Not to play live, yet. I think we tend to construct a lot of songs in the studio, and write in that way. For whatever reason, we’re not really the sort of band who can play songs and then record. We do better at the last minute. Gareth writes better under pressure, I think, when he’s in the studio.
OC: He doesn’t want to write something that then he’s going to be singing in a year’s time and regret what he’s written. He doesn’t really like some of the lyrics on the first record, which he wrote as a seventeen-year-old.
TC: I guess, if we had more time, we’d play with building songs. But we spent this one concentrating on Beautiful/Doomed one, preparing everything. But I think this way works for us, anyway.
Los Campesinos! playing one of the songs Gareth wrote as a seventeen-year-old ("Hopefully for the last time"), "We Throw Parties, You Throw Knives" live @ Bowery Ballroom in New York, NY on February 15th, 2009:
QRO: Do you get annoyed when press people constantly call you all ‘cute’ or ‘twee’ or such things – have you ever been tempted to butch it up?
OC: I think I just butch it up on stage.
TC: Ollie’s pretty butch. We’re pretty secure with our butchness. It can be annoying, but just like any [label].
OC: Some people still bring it up, and we point out that we’re not as twee as what we were.
I think it’s strange for any band to be labeled or pigeonholed. You think of yourselves as this amazing, genre-crossing act.
QRO: You’re on a Canadian label that’s known for getting its native artists state financial support from the government – does the U.K. do anything like that? Or Wales?
OC: We got money from the Welsh Assembly when we went to SXSW. And the British Council is also–
TC: I didn’t know about either of those…
OC: The possibility of going to America, the British Council has now started providing for going to South America.
TC: I think the Canadian government has actually stopped funding, because of Holy Fuck (QRO album review). People complained about their name, they didn’t want money going to it.
QRO: What’s it like going home now, playing Cardiff? Are you bigger than [Cardiff-set Dr. Who spin-off] Torchwood now?…
TC: No one’s bigger than Torchwood. Dr. Who’s bigger than Torchwood, in the U.K., but no one’s bigger than Dr. Who or Torchwood.
OC: If you walked down the street with John Barrowman [star of Torchwood], if both of you walked, everyone would ignore you.
No one knows who we are in Cardiff. Nobody cares…
TC: And I think it’s better that way.
QRO: Who is ‘the other Kurt’ from “It's Never That Easy Though, Is It? (Song For the Other Kurt)”?
TC: When we finished recording that song, John Goodmanson, our producer, he was listening to the lyrics, and he related a story how a friend of his called ‘Kurt’ had a girlfriend, and the relationship ended when he walked into the room and found his girlfriend getting off with Kurt Cobain. And I think it was pre-Nirvana fame.
That particular Kurt became the image, and encapsulated whatever Gareth was trying to say. So the song is dedicated to him.
Los Campesinos! playing "You! Me! Dancing!" live @ Bowery Ballroom in New York, NY on February 15th, 2009: