Right at the end of the first half of their latest North American tour, Los Campesinos!’s drummer Ollie & guitarist Tom sat down to talk to QRO. 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: