Eight members, a hyperactive tendency for exclamation marks, and a name that roughly translates from Spanish as “the peasants!”, does not an everyday band make. Thankfully, supercharged octet Los Campesinos! have far outlived their estimated life expectancy to reach their fourth album and an ever growing global fanbase. Speaking to vocalist Gareth Campesinos, the moniker taken by all band members as their second name, it would appear that this comes as much as a surprise to him as anyone.
Meeting at Cardiff University, a city only notable musically because “it’s not defined by anything”, the band’s initial expectations fell far short of grandiose. “We just got together to have a laugh”, admits frontman, Gareth (does any journalistic convention justify referring to someone as Campesinos seriously?), “and that’s one of the best things about it.” Adopted stage surnames aside, the camaraderie within the group feels familial as Gareth describes the maturation process they experienced together. “It sounds clichéd, but we know much more who we are as people now, and spending time together now is all we know”. Pitying old school friends, “the popular ones!”, Gareth jokes, with qualifications in how to write music “who are still playing to the same people as ten years ago”, his description of the band’s natural cohesion in comparison is clear.
Their widening success has not come without personal cost to the band, however. With three years of time and fees already invested in university degrees, the membership of vocalist Aleks and violinist Harriet was always destined to be temporary. Along with first drummer Ollie, there have been three line-up changes since the founding of the band, replacements include: Gareth’s sister Kim, road manager Ross, and support act Sparky Deathcap. Despite this, Gareth remains regret-free when quizzed about whether he would have changed anything about the band’s past. “We’ve made some decisions that I’m sure others wouldn’t have made, but the way we’ve done it has set us up perfectly to be in the position we are now”, one that they are clearly happy with.
Having allowed Budweiser to use their breakthrough single, “You! Me! Dancing!” in a recent advert, Gareth reveals that they were offered much more for the track when the band was only six months old. “That money would have been very nice, and set us in better stead, but we didn’t want to be the “Budweiser band”. Doing it at this stage, we’ve shown our worth, that we’re not just being opportunist”, he says, admitting that it acts as an example of the different current incarnation of the band, that “the people that we were four or five years ago would have said that bands shouldn’t sell their music. But in this day and age, it’s the only way bands can make money.”
The move also rings true with Gareth’s wish “to become a bit more famous, in terms of playing [bigger shows] to a couple of hundred more people every night, so that we can keep pushing ourselves and justify still being in a band”. Known for being as much the obsessive fan of obscure music as artist, Gareth’s frustrations with the inherent divisions between “band” and “fan” help fuel his drive to “keep building and improving on our music, not just fall into the niche of whatever we’ve been doing before”. That push for new sonic territory and wider audiences comes in the form of new album, Hello Sadness, released on November 14th. Gareth describes it as the band’s “most patient album”. “Previously, we’ve had an inclination to shove everything into a song, but this time we’ve tried to step back to use space better, and realise what is actually necessary. In relation to wanting to play to more people, we’ve created our most accessible album to date, but our most powerful”.
Any potential worries for a clichéd cover-up for “a sell out” are dispersed by lead single “By Your Hand”. Definitely leaner, definitely anthemic, but still very much in line with the band’s USP of putting a cheery, Technicolor twist on gloomy topics in a raucous fashion. Although believing that “when you become really close to something, that’s when you question it the most”, Gareth’s feelings towards the album seem positive, with “everyone all on the same page, pulling in the same direction, making [the album] much quicker and more pleasurable to make than before”. When asked what defines it when compared to the band’s previous albums, Gareth describes his increasing understanding of the concept of an album, from debut Hold On Now Youngster acting as a compilation of every song they’d written to date, to musings on “sex, death and football” on Romance is Boring. “I think I’ve really nailed the perspective of depressed pervert this time”, Gareth jokes.
A significant portion of Gareth’s internet footprint has been governed by his views on the traditional distribution of music. “It isn’t a bad thing that bands have to give more to their fans, and treat them more like human beings”, says Gareth. He goes on to explain Heat Rash, the band’s new subscription zine released separately from strictly musical exploits, to provide a platform for the “different abilities and interests of an eight piece band”. “There’s no bad thing about bands having to think outside the box of just ‘tour, release, tour, release’ in terms of creativity”, he says when questioned about the changing values of music today. Talking about booming vinyl sales to combat people “who just want as much music as possible”, and dismiss something after half a song when “downloading a piece of art in two minutes that we worked on for two years”, Gareth seems to take comfort in “that people who care, care more than ever. People who really value music as art, in its physical form”.
We are interrupted by a particularly enthusiastic game of Bogies (“you have thought you’d choose a more offensive word when you’re older”, laughs Gareth), and our interview ends in time for the band’s evening festival slot. A far cry from the bookish twee icon promoted in the bands early days, Gareth’s sharp tongue is as amusing as it is witty, whilst being knowledgeable about the industry and his place as musician and artist. Hopefully he’ll have something more positive to greet than sadness come November.