Near the start of their North American tour, Cardiff’s Los Campesinos! sat down to talk to QRO. In the conversation they discussed touring, their upcoming first LP, Hold On Now, Youngster, their latest single, “International Tweexcore Underground”, working with producer David Newfeld (Broken Social Scene), not actually being Welsh, the most punk rock band in Britain, the glockenspiel, and more…
QRO: How has this North American tour been going?
Ollie Campesinos: So far, so good. We’ve only played two dates so far.
Gareth Campesinos: We played two gigs on the West Coast, and that was the first time we played San Francisco, and it was really, really awesome. Really pleasantly surprised at the turnout, seemed to know who we were…
[note: yes, drummer Ollie and singer Gareth asked to have their last names listed as ‘Campesinos’]
QRO: Was that your first time in California?
QRO: How does this tour compare to your previous tour in America, during the summer?
GC: I’ve enjoyed this more, I guess.
OC: Bigger venues…
GC: Bigger venues, yeah.
It just felt a little bit disjointed last time, because before we were doing it while we were recording the album, and this feels like it’s a proper tour, it’s been planned out. I think just the fact that we’re playing both sides of the country… It’s gone really well.
QRO: Last month, you had your first full U.K. tour. How was that?
OC: Pretty good, we played places we’ve never been to before.
GC: It was the first time we done a full tour, it was the first time we’d done more than like, five gigs in row. Really intense, but kind of has us as a ‘proper band’.
OC: I think, because we’d been at university before, and we’d never been able to do the band full-time, it really did seem like a transitional period. And we improved so much as a band, from playing that many shows intensely. We improved dramatically, so a really great experience.
QRO: How do these headlining tours compare with last year’s opening gig with Broken Social Scene?
GC: It’s difficult to view that Broken Social Scene show objectively, because it was our first massive gig. Like, we hadn’t played a gig for three months, and then to do that gig, and to be in awe of the fact that we were playing with Broken Social Scene, that we were playing to like six hundred people or something, when previously, we’d played to like sixty people, max.
But, I think I prefer playing headlining shows, because you know that you’re playing to your audience. You even behave differently: you know that you’re not stepping on anyone else’s toes; you don’t have to worry about your set length and things like that.
We’re at the situation now that, when we do play supporting gigs, we’re supporting bands that we like, so it’s an honor to play with them. So, in that respect, supporting shows are really exciting.
QRO: Last year, you played Glastonbury and Wireless festivals in the U.K., and Lollapalooza and Hillside in North America. How do American and British festivals compare?
Neil Campesinos: American ones aren’t as rainy, muddy…
OC: I think the weather helps, a lot.
GC: I think, even down to the organization seems to be better. Like, we’re a small band, and we were playing Lollapalooza. Obviously, they’re used to bands who’ve sold loads of records. You don’t really get that so much in the U.K. In the U.K., they cram as many bands onto a line-up as possible, and that doesn’t really allow each band to get a chance to settle into a set and do themselves justice.
At Lollapalooza, you have Ted Leo playing a set at half-past two in the afternoon, and he got to play for an hour, whereas if he was playing at a U.K. festival, he’d have thirty-five minutes, just play the hits and get off sort of thing.
QRO: Was Lollapalooza your first American appearance?
OC; Yeah. Quite the baptism of fire. We were asked to play Lollapalooza before we got asked by any of the U.K. festivals.
GC: We were asked real early. I think we were the first band who confirmed that they wanted to play it, because, obviously, if you ask seven university students from Cardiff, “Yep! No logistics, we don’t care, we’ll just play.”
QRO: It’s funny to hear someone saying, “The weather’s better in Chicago…”
OC: It was supposed to be unusually hot…
NC: Practically melted.
QRO: During the day?
NC: Like two P.M. or something.
OC: And the crowd, there were some dedicated people out in the sun, but lots of people watching from the shade.
QRO: Where are you on the new album, Hold On Now, Youngster…?
GC: It’s all done, ready to go in February. Artwork’s being worked on at the moment, and then, yeah, early February, it’s going to be released.
OC: There’s no point in releasing it any earlier. This gives us plenty of time to prepare for it, and like, to do these gigs in North America.
GC: It’s really exciting to have an actual album to hold and cherish soon. Really excited to hear it.
QRO: Is the new single, “The International Tweexcore Underground”, representative of the album?
GC: I guess that’s not representative, as it’s not even on it.
QRO: It’s not going to be on the album?
GC: We just felt, sonically, the mix didn’t sit as well with the rest of the album, because it was recorded and mixed at a different time, it was a slightly different sound. It didn’t fit, track listing-wise, and because we did it, as almost a single, with “Police Story” and “Heavenly”, we liked the idea of leaving it as a separate entity of work.
I think the album works better for it not being on there. It just means there’s one more new song before the album.
QRO: How was making Hold On Now, compared to making Sticking Fingers Into Sockets EP (QRO review)?
OC: Four of the tracks on the EP were actually singles, released in the U.K., put onto the EP with two others. Four of the tracks were recorded in August 2006, whereas the other two songs were recorded in another studio.
That was very, sort of, not like, ‘rushed’, but we didn’t have a lot of time. But, whereas with the album…
GC: I guess, essentially, the album was always intended to be an album, and the songs that were recorded for Sticking Fingers Into Sockets were initially singles, so, the album was a case of us going to Toronto to record it, sort of ‘set up camp’, put everything into this album. Because it happened after we finished university, it was just this all-consuming project that we did, and we got to put a lot more into it than we were able to, with the EP tracks.
Recording the album was a really enjoyable experience, and it felt ‘proper’.
QRO: You went all the way to Canada to make Hold On Now. Why? Specifically for David Newfeld?
GC: I guess it was just easier to take us to Canada than it was to bring David Newfeld’s studio to the U.K., and we knew we wanted to work with David Newfeld.
And it was just so much more interesting to record in Toronto, rather than to record at home in Cardiff. It was great, ‘cause we were able to do the shows, it just made complete sense.
QRO: And did you meet him through Broken Social Scene?
GC: No, we met him through… Our manager asked us, hypothetically, ‘If we could work with a producer, who would we work with?’ And conveniently, our manager also manages Super Furry Animals, and David Newfeld was in Europe to record their album, so he just came over a week earlier.
QRO: Is there any special, added pressure, when you were making your first full-length album?
GC: I think the only pressure we feel is from ourselves, because we wanted to create something we were happy with, and we did that, so, personally, I feel, the pressure’s off now, ‘cause we know we like the album, and we’re one to be driven by commercial success, what music magazines say…
Now that it’s recorded, mixed, and mastered, it seems like the pressure’s off.
QRO: Live, how much do you play the new album?
GC: We probably play about fifty percent of it.
QRO: Do you play anything from the EP?
GC: Oh, yeah, we play five of the six tracks. And “Tweexcore Underground”.
QRO: Why the extra ‘x’s, with “Tweexcore” and “It Started With a Mixx”, or the ‘(s)’ in “Don’t Tell Me To Do the Math(s)”? Why all the funky spelling?
GC: I guess we’re all educated sorts, and big fans of punctuation.
I think the bands I listen to all quite happily use punctuation in song titles. So many people limit themselves by one-word song titles that just make any song less interesting. People may think, ‘Oh this song title looks interesting, I’ll listen to the song.’
QRO: Did you ever think of having the ‘¡’ to start your name?
OC: We considered it–
GC: No, we never considered it!
OC: Well, we said–
GC: No, that’s the thing, we never discussed it! It was always just ‘Los Campesinos – exclamation mark’. The meaning of the name has no significance, so the fact that it’s Spanish has no significance. It’s just a word, and we speak English, so…
QRO: How was it, working with David Newfeld?
GC: Really good. He’s a genius, and he’s such an interesting personality, and has such great ideas, and he’s so laid-back, he just made the recording experience great. He tried to get the best out of us.
He had all this amazing equipment that we could never… that you can’t buy: all these old compressors, all these amazing guitars that Todd and Neil made the most of, crazy peddle boards and things. He was certainly amazing to work with.
QRO: Do you think your large ensemble and sound is more akin to the Canadian-style ‘collective’?
GC: We’ve never really considered it an issue. Again, I think, so many three, four-person bands, many of which are good, but… the more people you have, the more you can do as a band, the more hands you have, the more ability, the instrumental ability that you’re likely to have.
It was never a conscious thing, it was just a case of adding members, ‘Oh we could do with, strings would be nice.’ So it just came to seven.
QRO: Are any of you actually Welsh?
OC: None of us are, no.
GC: Six of us are English, one of us is Russian. The band is Welsh, though.
OC: Our sound bloke’s Welsh, and our manager’s Welsh.
QRO: But you identify as a ‘Welsh band’?
GC: The band identifies as Welsh, yeah, ‘cause it formed in Wales. We like the fact that we live in Wales, so the band is happily Welsh.
QRO: How seriously should listeners take your “Tweexcore” assertion that you “don’t care about Henry Rollins”, as you cover Black Flag’s “Police Story” on the b-side?
GC: They should probably just ignore every single thing I say.
The song is based on two characters, a conversational piece between a male and a female character who live in some sort of backwards, godforsaken town in the U.K., which they see as a cultural graveyard, they can’t empathize with anyone there. One of them is heavily into hardcore music, the other quite into twee music–
QRO: The guy is into twee music and the girl is into hardcore?
GC: Yeah, and the fact that they see themselves as these outsiders and they form the band called, ‘The International Tweexcore Underground’.
I like Black Flag, and I like Heavenly…
QRO: On the b-side cover of Heavenly’s “C Is the Heavenly Option”, was it intentional that, with the male/female vocals…
GC: We did them the other way ‘round.
QRO: So you would sing about “my boyfriend” and she would sing about “my girlfriend”…
It was largely because I wanted to do the rap, where Amelia Fletcher does it on the original. It was also largely because of the gay thing, just to see how people could be offended, just to offend some people.
QRO: Why cover “Frontwards”?
GC: They were just a band that we unanimously agree are band that we like.
We wear our influences on our sleeves – our on t-shirts, in fact, and we’re very happy about that, so covering Pavement from the start…
Los Campesinos! playing Pavement’s “Frontwards” live @ Bowery Ballroom, New York, NY, on November 30th, 2007:
QRO: Do you think the two characters in “Tweexcore” would have both liked Pavement?
GC: Um… The guy would have, the girl probably liked Westing [By Musket and Sextant], and then thought it got bad. Definitely wouldn’t have liked later Pavement. She might have liked Slanted and Enchanted, but wouldn’t have liked anything after that.
QRO: On your MySpace page, you call yourself “the second-most punk rock band in Britain”. Who’s the most?
GC: Gallows, they’re the most punk rock band. We would like to be the most punk rock, but there’s just no disputing how punk rock they are. Read one issue of the NME, and you’ll know how punk they are. The singer plays topless, has got tattoos, looks like Chesney [Battersby-Brown, the fourteen-year-old actor] from Coronation Street… You don’t get more punk than that.
QRO: Why the glockenspiel?
GC: Why not the glockenspiel?
I think, again, it’s just the case of never needing a band ‘as it should be’, a standard… And I had a glockenspiel.
QRO: Why did you have a glockenspiel?
GC: ‘Cause I stole it from school. Because I had a band with my sisters, before, sort of an anti-folk band, and I brought it to university with me.
When I joined the band, it was the four of them, and I needed the unique selling point, and the fact that I couldn’t sing would obviously go against me. But I didn’t meet that many other people who knew that…
QRO: Are there any songs you really like playing live?
GC: I really like doing “Tweexcore” live, “And We Exhale and Roll Our Eyes In Unison”, because I don’t play– I like the songs which I don’t play keyboard of glockenspiel in, because it means I can just run around.
OC: I’d say “Unison”, just because it’s very technically challenging for me.
Los Campesinos! playing “And We Exhale and Roll Our Eyes In Unison” live @ Bowery Ballroom, New York, NY, on November 30th, 2007:
Also see them playing the new “Knee Deep At the A.T.P.”
QRO: When you guys play smaller venues, is it difficult, fitting all seven of you on stage?
GC: It has been, but we embrace it. Our live show, being close to each other enables us bounce off each other.
OC: You like to have a little bit of space to dance…
GC: I like to have a little bit of space to dance and writhe, but it’s not a problem. There have been a couple that have been really small.
QRO: When you’re dancing, have you ever knocked into someone else?
GC: I’ve hit Neil’s guitar many times. In fact, in Los Angeles, I hit the head of his guitar and de-tuned it. And I’ve fallen over things, fallen over Ollie’s drums a few times. It just all adds to the ‘charm’, I’m sure.
QRO: Have you ever done the ‘run onto the top of the bass drum’?
GC: I’ve done that.
OC: Or tried to…
GC: It went wrong. That’s when I fell onto Ollie’s drum-kit. It was on a drum-riser, and I went to climb up onto it, but there were some leads along the front of the drum-riser. I stood on it and it rolled, and I slipped and just fell into the drums. But Ollie, you carried on marvelously…
OC: Just laughed at you.
QRO: Are there any songs you don’t like playing live, just don’t play anymore, or you can’t play live, just because of the arrangement?
GC: We can’t play “C Is the Heavenly Option”, never played that live. Can’t play “Clunk-Rewind” off the EP. I’m sure we could…
OC: We played it once…
GC: There are some more tracks from the album that we haven’t ever played live before that are a lot more challenging, so I’m sure we’ll get tired, or we’ll be doing the same set for the next ten years…
QRO: What cities or venues have you really liked playing in?
GC: New York was amazing last time; it’s sycophantic to say it, but the reaction we got… I really enjoyed Southampton when we played in the U.K. – I have no idea why, but that was one of my favorite gigs we’ve ever done.
Ollie usually takes in the ‘cultural’ side of things a bit more…
OC: I got lost on the subway today. I went to Central Park, because the last time we came, I didn’t get up there. Coming back, I’m not sure if the subway went a different way, but I ended up nearly going into Brooklyn.
QRO: Are there any places that you haven’t been that you want to?
OC: Vancouver. Never been there as a band, or as a tourist.
QRO: Ever played the Pacific Northwest?
OC: No. That’s another place we want to go, Seattle, Portland…
GC: My favorite band’s for Portland.
QRO: What’s your favorite band?