Interview

Los Campesinos! Look Back On 10 Years Of Indie Culture, Social Media, And Making Music

When British indie collective Los Campesinos! announced a reissue campaign and North American tour for their first two albums — the brilliant one-two punch of Hold On Now, Youngster… and We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed, which both saw release in 2008 — warm feelings of nostalgia were undoubtedly elicited for anyone who held the band’s early works close to their hearts. For fans of still-going-strong bands like Los Camps!, the opportunity to revisit these records in both home-listening and live settings makes for nostalgic experiences, or the type of personal revelations that come with aging as a music fan. For bandleader Gareth Campesinos!, however, it mostly makes for a lot of paperwork.

When we chat about revisiting this time in his band’s decade-plus career, he’s prepping visa paperwork for the band’s US run after fetching his grandparents lunch earlier in the day. “Every time it comes around, it’s more stressful than the last time,” he sighs when talking about getting cleared to tour in the States. “Every time [guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Rob Campesinos!] tweets one of his Trump zingers, I think to myself, ‘Is that gonna be the tweet that stops us from touring in the States?”

Over the past few years, Gareth has limited his own social media use for that very reason, citing a fellow artist who’d been refused entry to SXSW for tweets regarding drug use. “Ever since then, I’ve had a genuine fear, [and] I don’t want that to be the reason why we don’t tour the States.”

His newfound tentativeness makes sense, as he cites advance ticket sales for this upcoming run of dates exceeding the tour behind 2016’s Sick Scenes: “Getting to go to the States to revisit these albums is more exciting than it’s ever been,” Gareth says while breaking down what the setlist for these shows might look like. No in-the-works material for now — “The gaps between each record have become necessarily longer due to day jobs, families, mortgages, things like that” — but instead a mega-setlist of sorts, half composed of the first two albums and half of “the other four albums that people like less.”

Gareth’s good-natured self-deprecation is undoubtedly familiar to anyone who’s spent time enjoying and relating to Los Campesinos!’ biting, emotional all-in-it rock music — but he’s also quick to acknowledge that the band’s amassed as many new fans over the years as they have retained old ones. “Every time we come back, the front rows are always full of teenagers. That’s amazing. But a part of me also thinks, ‘Where have you been?’ We used to play in New York twice a year! But isn’t it brilliant that people are still excited to see us for the first time?”

Read on for our conversation on how indie culture’s changed over the past decade, some of Gareth’s favorite memories from the band’s early days, and why he believes the UK has never been as into Los Camps! as the US has.

STEREOGUM: It’s interesting to hear that you’ve started shying away from social media, when the first two records were released just as social media started to emerge as a vehicle for personal expression.

CAMPESINOS!: We were a MySpace band, which is surreal. I would very much consider us a band that got signed because of that platform. Within three or four days of putting our demo online, we were offered a record deal in Australia and crazy stuff like that. The internet seemed a lot smaller then — you seemed more in control of everything that people could say and think about you. That’s something that I perhaps enjoyed too much, and as a result it was far too easy to see people’s perception of us and allow that to influence what we were doing as a band. Hold On Now, Youngster! was a lot of me reacting to people’s perception of the band and confirming it for them. It was all blogs and message boards rather than the social media we know now, and I was quite happy to sing about that and keep things relevant to it.

STEREOGUM: One thing I recently noticed about the lyrics of “Death To Los Campesinos!” is that it presaged the notion of making connections with someone before you even met them in person.

CAMPESINOS!: That was the first song I wrote lyrics for and the first song we completed. I think there’s something quite amusing and appropriate about our first song wishing that we were dead. It’s a weird song for me — I feel like it’s probably least like the style of songwriting I developed after. I was just trying to be [Stephen] Malkmus, really. Pavement were the band we all bonded over at the time. That song is mostly nonsense. If anybody has been able to get any bigger meaning out of it, they’re doing me more credit than I deserve. I was just trying to write words and sentences that sounded good. It’s one of the silliest songs we’ve written — it’s a lot of fun, but it was a style that I didn’t stick with for too long.

STEREOGUM: The influence of Pavement on the early records was pretty substantial — you even mentioned the cover of the Major Leagues EP on “Drop It, Doe Eyes.”

CAMPESINOS!: I got into Pavement when I was 17 — whenever the Slanted And Enchanted deluxe reissue came out. I read a review of it in Q while I was working in a supermarket, and any money I’d earned during the week went to CDs on the weekend. That record was one of the best purchases I’d ever made. It was either Pavement or Weezer as the band that me and [guitarist Neil Campesinos!] bonded over the most when we met at university. I knocked on his door and was wearing a Sonic Youth Goo T-shirt as he was unrolling a signed Sonic Youth Murray Street poster. It sounds made-up, but it’s true, and along with Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr., Pavement and Weezer were the bands we bonded over.

Pavement have always been such a fun band. One of the most incredible things about our time as a band is that [guitarist Tom Campesinos!’] first songs he wrote for the band were among the first he’d ever written, period. He was relatively new to the guitar at that point, and Pavement were the band that made him think of writing songs differently. The way we all met back then seems like really bad indie movie scripting — Tom and Neil met at a Clap Your Hands Say Yeah gig because Tom overheard Neil talking about the Decemberists. It’s all so ludicrous, but that’s how it played out at the time. All our bonds were formed over music we had in common — and as long as you get on well, it’s good grounds for forming a band.

STEREOGUM: The ways people connect about music now are so different from when you guys started out. I listen to something like “Knee Deep At ATP” and realize that there were facets of indie culture that were important to our generation that have basically vanished. What’s changed in indie culture since, from your perspective?

CAMPESINOS!: Around 2007 or 2008, for better or for worse, the bands you liked and the festivals you attended and the T-shirts you wore were all a badge of honor. There were elements to it that I find — I don’t know if embarrassing is the right word with hindsight, but I can look at the person I was 10 years ago and go, “Yeah, nice one pal — you thought you were so smart.” [Laughs] It’s hard for me to answer, though, because I feel so detached from indie culture or a scene — if there is such a thing anymore. Part of it is being 32 now. Things like working proper jobs stops you from connecting fully. You don’t have the time or mindset to pay attention to these things anymore. It was a really fun time, though.

STEREOGUM: Do you think “scenesters” exist anymore?

CAMPESINOS!: It’s hard — every white boy dresses like Mac DeMarco now. Regardless of what you’re into, everything seems more homogenous. It’s hardly mods and rockers, but back then there was a clear line drawn in the sand with whether you deemed yourself to be “alternative” or “indie.” Back then, I think we would’ve willfully identified ourselves as “indie,” and the people who drank at the same bars and club nights would’ve done the same. It’s probably a good thing we don’t judge people’s character anymore due to the bands they like. How does it seem different to you?

STEREOGUM: It’s good that some of the provincialism is gone. Indie was always very exclusionary. There’s a lot of negatives about what’s happened with music over the last decade, but there was always this mistaken perversion of a belief that being into subcultures was somehow elevated from being a jock on the football team. They were kind of the same thing. That doesn’t exist anymore, which is good.

CAMPESINOS!: I think people have a genuine appreciation of a broader range of music than they did 10 years ago. When the band was just forming, I was listening exclusively to white guitar bands. That was the music I liked and the person I was — but people are more interested in a broader range of music and culture now, and that can only be a positive thing.

STEREOGUM: How did it feel when the band started to get attention from Arts And Crafts before releasing Hold On Now, Youngster…?

CAMPESINOS!: People always talk about the majors being the bad guys, but you see it with independent labels as well. One respected label that I won’t name took it upon themselves to book studio time for us as the carrot. “You can record your album in a month!” We weren’t ready to do that. They would’ve gladly shoved us in, got the album recorded, released it in three months, and made the most of the initial hype. They’re the indies — they’re supposed to be the good guys!

That summer, I was working as a garbage man, and Tom had phoned me a few times a day and was like, “This label’s been in touch — look at the bands they’ve released!” We were in total awe. Arts And Crafts came because Broken Social Scene had a gig scheduled in Cardiff and they got in touch and were like, “Do you want to support Broken Social Scene?” And we were like, “Yeah, we want to support fucking Broken Social Scene.” They were a huge influence on us. That was the first time we had a rider, and I had to leave the gig within 15 minutes because I got too wasted, so I was put in a taxi and didn’t even get to see Broken Social Scene play. Later that night, Tom was jamming on covers with Kevin Drew backstage — there’s some grainy footage of that I need to dig out.

The first gig we played on North American soil was something called Hillside Festival in 2007. I think we were one of the headlining acts. [Types on computer] Hey, we’re not included in the Wikipedia page! That is an outrage. It all seemed to happen so incredibly quickly. We’re very grateful we stayed and finished our studies in university, but it was crazy to be at lessons on a Friday, play a gig in Barcelona, and be back for lessons on Monday. We’d book a tour and do a photoshoot for NME, then go into our lectures and expect people to care — but nobody did. It was so surreal. I sound like I’m 70 years old, but I wish I could recall it all. It’s been a long 10 years.

STEREOGUM: When We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed came out, it was perceived as an angrier record than Hold on Now, Youngster…. Listening to them back-to-back recently, though, they’re both pretty angry-sounding!

CAMPESINOS!: I wish I didn’t feel like this, because I know lots of people love Hold On Now, Youngster… — and I like it a lot more now than I did in previous years — but a lot of that record was me reacting to what I thought people wanted the band to be, rather than what we wanted it to be. Lyrically, there’s some stuff on it that’s a little bit too cloying. In preparation for this interview, I listened to both albums this morning, and I enjoyed it a lot more than I did in the past. The thing that gets me the most with that record is my voice, because i don’t believe that’s ever really been how I sang. I wanted to play this — dare I say it — twee character. Very quickly, we got bored of that and felt that the way a lot of press and people were describing us was a little reductive compared to what we were actually capable of.

A lot of We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed was about changing those judgments as quickly as we could. It was recorded quickly over the space of a fortnight. We just clicked with [producer] John Goodmanson — even more so than [Hold On Now, Youngster… producer] Dave Newfeld, he had a great idea of how we wanted to sound. There are moments on Hold On Now, Youngster… where I think, “Man, this should sound so much better than it does.” We’d been only playing our instruments for two years at this point. We learned so much so quickly, though. The biggest influence on We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed was the month we spent touring with Parenthetical Girls, who are my favorite band. Watching them play every night, some of the songs we were doing at that time seemed childish and flippant at that time. We wanted to do something that was a bit more direct and specific with our anger.

STEREOGUM: One line that stood out to me recently on “Miserabilia” was England’s perpetual defeats at football. How did you feel watching them lose the World Cup this year?

CAMPESINOS!: I’m used to it now. Maybe this is part of me being English, but a part of me enjoys the defeat now. It was an overachievement this summer, and it was all the more enjoyable for it. I’m sure I’ll ad-lib the lyrics on tour to reflect that. I think that song holds up really well to this day — the reaction it gets on the gigs we play is brilliant. A lot of those earlier songs, the people who come to our gigs in their early 30s — it means more to them, and it hits harder because of that.

STEREOGUM: Around that time, you also went on the Shred Yr Face tour with Times New Viking and No Age. It was a time in which the music press was much more interested in louder indie bands.

CAMPESINOS!: The UK always perceived us differently than the US. It was funny how, because we were on a tour with No Age and Times New Viking, places that didn’t want to cover us previously had to. It was amazing — all three bands on a sleeper bus with bunk beds. We learned quite a lot about drinking from them, because they were a good six or seven years older than us.

We’ve always been too American for the UK, and too British for America — just in terms of getting above the level of success that we have. It’s our own fault — mostly mine, to be honest. I was far too smug and self-aggrandizing for my own good as an early-twenties person who thought that the music they liked made them more interesting than they actually were. That only lasted for 18 months — or, at least, I’d like to think it did. We rubbed a lot of British press the wrong way because of that. In the US, I don’t think that necessarily came across as much, probably because when it came to touring America, we were so happy and surprised that we didn’t dwell on the negatives. To this day, I still think we’re more successful in the States than we are in the UK, and that’s strange. It still doesn’t feel like we have enough fans or media attention to have lasted as long as we have, but somehow we have.

STEREOGUM: The fact that your music crosses a few stylistic paths with emo might have something to do with that endurability.

CAMPESINOS!: If I may be so bold, as far as the “emo revival” thing was concerned, we deserved a mention that we did not get. We’ve always considered ourselves more of an emo band than anything else, to be honest. Yeah, we have a glockenspiel and violin, and maybe we were more upbeat than most emo — but the lyrics have always been honest and direct, and a lot more similar to emo bands than mid-naughties indie rock bands. We’re due for some contemporary emo megastar being like, “Yeah, this Los Camps! album turned me on to this kind of music.” Or for some band younger than us to take us out on a support tour to show the kids what it used to be like. [Laughs] Our younger fans are more into Hello Sadness and Romance Is Boring, which are our more emo records. I’ll look forward to the 10-year anniversaries of those, too.

STEREOGUM: What’s your favorite record you’ve made thus far, and why?

CAMPESINOS!: You can never say the most recent record, because that’s cheating. I think my absolute favorite is No Blues, though — even when including Sick Scenes. I feel like I was in a good place lyrically, and it was a really fun one to write. It was my favorite recording experience we’d had. These days, I can’t say I listen to our records for fun — but I check in on them every now and then. Each one of them I’m immeasurably proud of, and even though I’ll consider some songs and lyrics to be missteps, they’ve all contributed to the place we’re at now.

The band formed because we had a friend who formed a band and we went to watch their band play — and they sucked, but we were jealous that they were getting to play a gig, so we formed a band to spite them, basically. Spite has been a big motivating factor for Los Campesinos!, I’m afraid to say. But despite the fact that we went from that to reissuing our first two records is more than we could’ve ever dreamt of.

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Los Campesinos! upcoming tour dates:

11/01 – Vancouver, BC @ The Biltmore *
11/02 – Seattle, WA @ Neumos *
11/03 – Portland, OR @ Revolution Hall *
11/05 – San Francisco, CA @ August Hall *
11/06 – Los Angeles, CA @ Echoplex *
11/08 – Chicago, IL @ Thalia Hall ^
11/09 – Columbus, OH @ Ace of Cups ^
11/10 – Detroit, MI @ Loving Touch ^
11/11 – Toronto, ON @ The Opera House ^
11/12 – Brooklyn, NY @ Elsewhere ^
11/13 – Brooklyn, NY @ Elsewhere ^
11/15 – Boston, MA @ Sinclair ^
11/16 – Philadelphia, PA @ Union Transfer ^
11/17 – Washington, DC @ Black Cat ^

* = w/ Illuminati Hotties
^ = w/ Adult Mom