Sunday, February 10, 2008

Interview: Los Campesinos!

For Los Campesinos!, the journey is the destination.

“We’re not commercially driven. I think we’re realistic enough to know that we couldn’t make a lot of money even if we wanted to, but we don’t. We just want to make this last as long as possible,” says guitarist Tom.

The band has been wildly successful over the last year. After posting a thread on Drowned in Sound, Los Campesinos! was signed by Arts & Crafts and Wichita, subsequently touring the world.

“We were really, really lucky. I think we’re aware how lucky we are. Without the internet, we’d be pretty much nowhere. I don’t think we’re the band that can toil and tour in the traditional way,” says Tom.

“All hail MySpace, thank you Rupert,” adds guitarist Neil, only half kidding.

The band releases its full length, Hold On Now, Youngster… on February 25th. The album contains two reworked versions of songs off of the band’s Sticking Fingers Into Sockets EP.

“For us, it’s been so long with these songs, we wanted to strike a balance. We didn’t want to feel like putting a completely new album out, because it wouldn’t feel like a reflection of us. It’s a good picture of where we are as a band currently. It’s like a live set but an extension,” says Tom.

The album was recorded outside Toronto in producer David Newfeld’s Stars & Suns Studio, described as a converted church. The name of the building is an allusion to Newfeld’s involvement with Broken Social Scene, a band that Los Campesinos! has opened for and greatly admires. However, it was their shared management with Super Furry Animals that got Newfeld – described as a “dream producer” – involved.

Not bad for seven friends fresh out of university in their native Cardiff, Wales. Although the extended lineup thing seemingly quite popular at the moment – from the aforementioned Broken Social Scene to fellow church dwellers Arcade Fire – the band’s crowd came together organically.

“We just accumulated more members, because we had a lot of shared friends,” says bassist Ellen. The rest of the lineup includes drummer Ollie, keyboardist Aleks, violinist Harriet and lead singer Gareth. (They have not revealed their last names, preferring to all go by the egalitarian Campesinos!)

The close-knit structure of the band has been helpful on tour, both in the usual grind and at the more compressed festivals. They’ve played Lollapalooza, a very muddy Glastonbury, Hillside in Camden, a “hippie festival where everything’s organic,” much to the band’s liking, and O2 Wireless Festival, which was more “corporate.”

The band feels more at home on stage – even if that stage is a continent away from home – than in the studio. “Part of the live show is mistakes, which makes it fresher,” says Ellen.

That’s not to say they’re sloppy – Tom notes that they attempt to be as professional as possible – but their music often sounds like a series of happy accidents, achieving surprisingly melody from what often resembles a cacophony.

“When it’s live it feels sort of loose, you can’t hold it yet, it’s a moveable entity,” says Tom, in contrast to the studio where “songs can mold and form in a certain way.”

Along with supporting slots for BSS, Danielson and the Thermals, the group previously brought along up-and-comers Sky Larkin and You Say Party! We Say Die! on a UK tour. They cited their tourmates’ energy as a conduit for their headlining sets, an experience described as “communal.” But they still relish the opener slot, which gives them an opportunity to play to a new audience.

Despite this unprecedented success, aided greatly by a seemingly youthful enthusiasm, the band’s outlook is very mature.

“We are on a record label, and it’s their job to sell records and make money. It’s not so much a compromise. It’s just being realistic about it. I think you can make money without compromising your ideals, you just have to go about it in the right way,” says Tom.

So far, the right way seems to be working just fine.


Thanks to Brendan, Tom, Neil and Ellen!

MP3: Los Campesinos! - Don't Tell Me To Do The Math(s)
MP3: Los Campesinos! - We Throw Parties, You Throw Knives
MySpace: Los Campesinos!
Official Site: Los Campesinos!

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