Lately my interviews never go as planned. I jumped at the chance to catch Los Campesinos! live and do an interview with them at the venue, but unfortunately a certain editor had to schedule a party on the same day for some reason. No worries, just a matter of scheduling a time to call the band and do the interview by phone. Except that our schedules kept clashing, and to make things more interesting, I was told I’d be interviewing Ellen Campesinos! but instead had my call answered by relative bandleader Gareth Campesinos!
Gareth is a fast-talking, charmingly clever guy, in a way completely at odds with the conniving, self-obsessed personality one usually encounters amongst surprisingly young indie geniuses. Armed with a perfectly dry British wit and a contagious passion for his art, Gareth is the artist you always hope to meet, the one who simultaneously makes you glad to be connected to the scene and reminds you why you care so much about music in the first place. Join Spectrum in hearing Gareth’s thoughts on how music has forced him to become more worldly than he otherwise would have been, choosing tourmates that make you up your game and the band’s adopted American soccer team.
Hi Gareth, I’m talking to you from Sacramento right now, right?
And this is your second tour of the states?
I guess it depends on how you view a tour. We’ve traveled across the states playing shows probably four or five times now, to varying degrees of length and breadth, I suppose. But this is only the second time we’ve toured the West Coast. So second tour is a simpler way of describing it. I suppose we’ve played New York five or six times now, and some other more heavily populated U.S. areas. In short, I’m happy to go with second, yeah (laughs).
It must be pretty interesting for you guys to get out of somewhere like Wales for a bit and travel across the world, being so young. How has it been traveling to all these places, getting used to all the different climates and different cultures?
It’s amazing. Before having this opportunity with Los Campesinos! I was not the sort of person to have any desire to travel at all. It totally wasn’t the sort of thing that would have appealed to me. But now I’ve sort of had this opportunity without having to do any thing. I would never have come to the U.S. had it not been for this. And also to have gone as far and wide as Scandinavia and Mexico; we’ll be in South America next week, we’ve been to Japan I think three times now. It’s been totally surreal. Playing shows is incredible but playing shows where you can’t understand the language is even more exciting.
Part of the appeal of your band has been the phenomenal live show you put on. Touring this much must up the ante a bit, especially playing in places where, as you said, you don’t understand the language. Do you feel those barriers increase the energy of your performance?
This probably sounds pretty obvious but we just love playing live so much; and although it may be a cliché, but we could play to over a thousand people in Chicago or we could play to probably a hundred people like we did in Portland the other night but it makes absolutely no difference to us because we’re just excited to play the show and we’re incredibly grateful that anyone would come to watch us. So the excitement and the energy we have and the desire to impress the audience is never short of a hundred percent. It’s surreal and amazing and then when we do get somewhere where we don’t speak the language, it adds another element to it. Immediately, then, the lyrical side of things becomes less important. The actual verbal interaction with the crowd is less present. So then I think even more so it’s down to how we communicate through the live performance and the energy in that. Wherever we’re playing, wherever we are, we’re aware of how lucky we are to have the opportunity to be there, we always make the most of it. And we’re in Sacramento this evening where I believe 13 tickets have been sold so far. Whereas when we played in New York last month, or a few months ago, we sold out the Bowery Ballroom. It varies, but regardless, if somebody wants to see us we’re going to play our best.
It’s interesting that there’s that diversity in the turn out. Maybe Sacramento is just a completely different environment, but it seems like in the Pacific Northwest, where I am, you’re relatively huge. You just sold out Neumo’s here, I believe?
Yeah, yeah, we did a couple dates, it was great.
And that’s a pretty big venue here, so it’s a little weird that you guys are still getting tiny crowds after selling out places like that. Maybe you could break down some of the highlights of this tour, the bigger shows and the better spots you’ve played...
On this particular tour, I guess going back as far as January– we’ve been in the states and Canada since the beginning of January– in Chicago we played I believe the Logan Theatre? There were 1200 people there, and it was the largest indoor show we’ve ever played and that was incredible. It’s a huge room, and it’s very nice, and to see that many people in there was surreal. This is not so much tour-related, but in Portland two nights ago it was Katie from our tourmates Sky Larkin’s birthday. We’ve got friends in Portland in a band we’ve toured with called Parenthetical Girls, and it’s just so nice to be able to tour with friends, and be able to go out afterward to bars and party. Touring with friends just makes it more fun because we’ve been away from home since January, we’ve been on the road so long. So when we meet nice people along the way, it’s just more fun. It sounds almost trite to say, but we do genuinely enjoy almost every show we play. So the only way we can really gauge whether one was better than the other is to say how many people were there. I suppose the aim of a band is to play for as many people as possible, but that seems like a really callous way to judge how successful a show is.
Plus, you can always play for a festival for tens of thousands of people and not get the same energy as playing for just a group…
Yeah, totally. We’re playing Coachella on Friday, which I’m very, very excited about, and that’ll probably be the biggest crowd we’ve ever played to. And there’s sweltering California heat, as well. That’ll be very interesting.
You’ve had some pretty interesting tourmates as well, such as No Age and Times New Viking. Both of those are very adventurous groups, in a different way than yours, how was it to see those bands in action, since they’re also known for their live shows? Do you feel like you learned something from playing with them or maybe got a different perspective?
Well, I kind of disagree that they’re particularly different…I guess sonically we are different. I think we’re all from the same place, where we approach music with a D.I.Y. ethic, and sticking to our guns and we like the same bands and the same record labels. We’re quite similar as people. I think that’s why the tour worked so well, we all had a mutual respect for each other’s bands. We’re very lucky to be on a label like Wichita which we respect and which respects us and what we want to do. We are aware of the practice where bands will pay to get on a tour, and we’ve been offered lots of money to take bands on a tour with us before, but when we get the chance to play and tour with a band like No Age or Times New Viking, that’s amazing. And in terms of what we learned from the experience, with a band like No Age, who have toured even more widely than us, and who have been making music for a lot longer than us, we can learn from the experiences they’ve had. But I think the common theme on that tour was that the three of us all enjoy playing gigs, and enjoy interacting with our fans in the audience, and that made it a lot more fun. I wouldn’t necessarily say that we’ve learned anything from bands that we’ve toured with, at least not in terms of what we do live. And although they can improve us just by being around us and sharing their experiences, I don’t think it has any impact on the live show. But it does make touring a lot more fun when you’re playing with bands that you want to see every night. When you go on after a band that’s done really well, that puts you in a mood to really up your game.
I saw you’ve been recording with John Goodmanson, who has worked with Sleater-Kinney before, how has that been?
We recorded our last record with John, in Seattle as well. And I think, more this time than last time, things have been going extremely well. We started recording before we started this West Coast tour, and we’ll be recording after until about the end of the month of May. It’s incredibly inspiring to be working with him because some of my favorite bands ever, like Sleater-Kinney and Bikini Kill and the Wedding Present and Excuse 17 and stuff like that that he’s done and then on the flipside he’s worked with acts as diverse as Hanson and Wu-Tang Clan, and stuff like that. He really knows music, and it’s a very encouraging environment to be in. As you said at the beginning, we kind of came out of nowhere and we’ve gotten to the state that we’re at now very quickly, in very little time and with very little effort on our part, it all just happened. And now we’ve been in a band long enough and we’ve been making music long enough to know what we want to do, and how we want to sound and what direction we want to take our music in. It kind of feels like for the first time this record is one where we know how we want to sound and how to realize that sound. Working alongside John makes that even easier, because he’s an incredibly smart guy and he knows music and he knows where we’re coming from, which is incredibly useful.
I saw that you’re recording in Connecticut this time…
We had been, yeah. We did the first half of the record in Connecticut last month, and then we’re doing the last half in Seattle in a couple weeks.
I imagine Connecticut is a little quieter than Seattle. It must be a little bit more isolated, is it nice to get away like that?
It’s weird, Connecticut is nice because there are very few distractions. And it did enable us to just concentrate on the record. I think we had a real extreme version of that when we recorded Hold On Now, Youngster, which we recorded in the deepest, darkest part of Ontario. There was nothing, it was a two hour drive away from anything. I think we went a little out of our minds there. We had nothing to do. But Seattle is also nice because we’ve spent enough time there to know our favorite bars and where we can go to watch good gigs, and where the record stores and the book stores are. We’re excited to get back to Seattle.
What are some of the bars you’ve discovered while you’ve been up here?
I believe we stayed somewhere on a lake…is there more than one lake?
There are a few lakes up here. I’m guessing it was Lake Union?
Yes, it was. And around there lives a friend of ours who tour managed us on our last tour, and he showed us a bar there that was a really small, slightly grimy, punk rock bar. It was always empty. We were quite excited about the gigs we got to see as well, like My Bloody Valentine, and then Vivian Girls at Neumo’s. And I know where my favorite vegan restaurants are there, as well. But then there’s also the matter of having fun and remembering “oh, shit, we’ve got a record to finish,” so hopefully we maintain the right balance of work and play.
Seattle’s nice too since you’re vegan. Is everyone in the band vegetarian or vegan?
Ah, no, that’s a misconception, it’s just me (laughs). I manipulate the fact that we have people who listen to our band who are in order to find nice places to eat in each city we go to. I think I probably bombard people with enough requests, so to people it might seem disproportionate but I’m the only one. But the others do enjoy vegan or vegetarian food, so they don’t complain. At least not to my face.
What’s become your favorite vegan spot in Seattle?
Well, last time we found this place called, I believe, Bamboo Garden?
Yeah, that place is excellent, it’s over on Queen Anne.
Right, next to the Space Needle. We went there quite often on the weekends. We also want to, when we’re back in Seattle, go see a Sounders game because we’re big soccer fans. We’d like to see them against the Galaxy, we think that’d be a good match.
It’s nice that we actually have a sports team that’s winning for once…
Yeah, I know! I think Seattle is our adopted MLS team because the last time we were there, people were talking about the team being put together and Freddie Youngblood had just been signed. I guess it’s the only MLS team that we can even remotely claim to have an affinity with. Hopefully we’ll be able to immerse ourself in that even more when we’re back in Seattle.
There’s a great vegetarian place near where the stadium is, too, called George Town Liquor Company, definitely worth visiting.
That sounds fantastic.
I suppose I should get back to the more important questions I should be asking you (laughs).
Oh, right, of course, sorry about that (laughs).
I’m interested in what your relationship with your American label Arts&Crafts is like. I know you’ve spoken about how you’re very into D.I.Y. ethics and the concept of community, and they’re in a way a perfect example of that.
Our relationship with Arts&Crafts is slightly exaggerated. Arts&Crafts has a reputation as a label that’s just a big community, which is true enough, but since we’re not in Toronto, we can’t really be involved in it. So Arts&Crafts does release our records and does help us tour in North America, but all the work that we do and all the discussion that goes into being a band goes through Wichita. And then Arts&Crafts basically just release the records in North America. They have been brilliant to us and we wouldn’t trade them for the world, and it’s a great label to be on and such lovely people to work with. But as far as any community or any sort of relationship with Arts&Crafts goes, it’s very minimal just because geographically it’s impossible.
To go back to your roots, does Wales still play an important role in your band’s identity? Are there any communities there you wish to spotlight?
As far as Wales or Cardiff goes, Cardiff is a really strange city, it was absolutely pivotal in us becoming a band. The support we received from people in Cardiff at first was amazing. Cardiff is primarily a sporting town, a sporting city even. Big on rugby and soccer. And most of the people who go to university there, or quite a lot of them I should say, are there for sporting. They’re not very interested in forming bands or making music. The way that Cardiff helped us is that we weren’t a part of that, we couldn’t be a part of that, so we formed a band to do what we wanted to do. There were good bands in Cardiff, but I think part of it is that none of us are actually Welsh. We all lived in Cardiff, but six of us are English and Alex, our singer, is Russian. So our affinity lies more with the British bands, bands like Johnny Foreigner. I don’t even live in Cardiff anymore. I don’t think anyone in our band identifies as Welsh, but we do identify the band as Welsh, just because that’s where it came from. Cardiff has been so very good to us. So the band is Welsh, even though we’re not Welsh, which I know is very confusing (laughs).