Los Campesinos!

SEVENTH HEAVEN

What could possibly motivate you to wade through music’s ephemeral swamp? Most of you should be far too frightened to even turn on a computer right now. The corporate, indie, low cost-low input, mass audience model - while impressive in promoting accessibility - is criminally fraught with MOR bands, more often than not moaning about shapes, or colours, or something. It’s exhausting.

Few movements tend to emerge from the seemingly infinite pool of artists who are at best, only remembered for a fleeting moment. Los Campesinos! though, has managed to do something remarkable in their four album career. That is, of course, have a four album career. Say what you will about cream rising, or the proof being in the proverbial pudding, but the 2006 Vegas/Ladbrokes odds on Los Campesinos! surviving as a band were slim. The masses now know them more as “that Budweiser commercial band,” rather than “that Welsh band,” but Los Campesinos! have found themselves in a curious spot; they are critically lauded, have a growing following, and are getting better and better with each record. The success of the band is largely credited to a catchiness imbedded in their earnest lyrics, borne out of lead singer Gareth Campesinos!’s love/booze/life–lorn experiences.

Their consistency also has a lot to do with principal songwriter Tom Campesinos! (the whole band use Campesinos! as their last name: a modern day septuplet, if you will) who, not unlike Boston’s Tom Scholz, has ownership over the group’s melodies. While the comparison fails to resonate with the Cardiff-based guitarist, he does understand the focus isn’t always on the riff. “Most people want to talk to Gareth, because they want to know about the lyrics and that sort of thing.” It’s Grammy night when I speak to the band as they all nestle into their green room, some 200km south, in San Diego, after a show the previous night at the Los Angeles Echoplex. “Oh the Grammys. Is that tonight? Yeah I don’t think we are going to watch it,” states Tom.

There is an undercurrent of humour to the question but when asked if they are pissed they didn’t get nominated, he dismisses the notion with a certain level of seriousness. “It’s not something we’ve considered. I mean we aren’t focused on that sort of thing.” It is not as absurd as it sounds; it is completely conceivable that a band of their stature, without major label muscle, could find themselves on such a large stage.

“I suppose it’s possible but that would just be beyond anything we’ve expected. Didn’t No Age get nominated for something like best packaging?,” he ponders. (*No Age did receive a 2009 nomination for “Best Recording Package” but lost to Metallica for the apparently superior Death Magnetic confection.)

As Tom dines on pizza, we focus on the process associated with being in a band that has infiltrated the mainstream, specifically the routine nature of interviews. Tom laughs, “I’m not really sick of them. I mean, the publication is going to be talking about your band and that is a good thing. I guess if you can find most of the information on Wikipedia though, what’s the point? But for some of the people who read the interview it’s going to be the first time they hear about us.”

The cycle of reiteration has helped Los Campesinos! firm its place as a hard working group who up the ante with a combination of diversifying along with staying rooted in what works. Not surprisingly, John Goodmanson (Pavement, Sleater Kinney, Nada Surf) has engineered all of their records and has helped the band hone its sound. “It’s great working with him. He’s become our friend now and it’s so much fun working with him,” says Tom. “We come to him with the songs fully formed, but he’s not transparent, he’s subtle. It’s the little things.

He will subtly change the guitar tone or flick some other knobs on our gear when we aren’t looking and it just makes everything sound better. He’s great. Plus he has a lot of great stories about the nineties,” continues Tom. While the image of a seasoned recording engineer telling a young band what the nineties were like would make the whole entire world laugh in unison, the reality is a lot has changed since Goodmanson mixed Pavement’s “Stereo.”  

With a significant number of fans having been introduced to the band through the much discussed Budweiser commercial, which features the song “You! Me! Dancing!” from 2008’s Hold On Now Youngster, Tom grapples with a band’s ability to survive. “A lot of people initially brought up the idea of selling out, but to be honest, most people have been supportive. The fact is, a band needs to make money to survive, and this put us in a position where we could keep going. Henry Rollins has this speech on selling out, it’s on YouTube, and I agree with him…check it out.

I just think we are lucky and we have an opportunity now to keep going a bit longer. We believe in this band and want to keep at it.” The staying power of Los Campesinos! is seemingly due to the entire group being fully committed to the cause. Despite having seen a few members come and go, they are preparing themselves for as long a haul as possible. “We’ve just tried to be sensible and have planned for the long run. It is hard sometimes. I mean, tours are hard and all that, but we are happy. Our main priority is to keep going.”

 

 

Photo by Ryan West

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