Grounded in Europe by a stream of volcanic ash, Los Campesinos! was forced to reschedule many of the shows that kicked off their North American tour for the group’s newest album Romance is Boring. Before going to see the show at Irving Plaza in NYC yesterday evening, I had a chance to talk with lead singer Gareth Campesinos!
mtvU: Los Campesinos! Has produced a great deal of material in a short amount of time – 3 albums in 2 years. So tell us a little bit about this process.
Gareth: Well, we approached Romance is Boring as an album. We knew we wanted to make a full-length. I think, as a group, we’re still reluctant to call We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed an album because we intended for it to be an EP. Artistically, we never approached it as an album. We went in to record 5 songs and ended up recording 10. But with Romance is Boring, we knew how we wanted the songs to pan-out, how we wanted them to peak and mellow. The album as an art form is in a difficult place now, what with the ability to download songs one at a time, so the main focus for us was to make something cohesive as an album.
mtvU: Do you find that is the main difference between We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed and Romance is Boring then? That one was suppose to be an EP and the other an album?
Gareth: I actually think the main difference is how long they took to record. Hold On Now Youngster… was recorded in 5 or 6 weeks. We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed was recorded in 10 days. But Romance is Boring was recorded over a period of months so there was time for us to listen to it with fresh ears. Also, it has been four years since the band really got started and I think those have been four very formative years for me. So lyrically there has been a natural progression.
mtvU: As to your lyrics, they are so incredibly personal. Is there ever a moment where you are up on stage and you stop and think, “Wow, this is a lot to put out there”?
Gareth: As cheesy as it may sound, I try to get into the songs as much as possible so I feel them as much as I felt while I was writing. I think that contributes to the intensity of the performance. I tend to feel more self-conscious during sound checks. I’ll neglect to sing some lyrics and feel a bit more stupid singing in front of the tech guys and the people setting up the venue.
mtvU: Occasionally Los Campesinos! has even been criticized for their energy. Some have claimed that it is too intense for the listener. Do you read what critics say about your work or do you tend not to pay attention?
Gareth: I used to religiously read everything that was written about the band and I had Google alerts set up. But those things tend to be so hyperbolic and hard to believe, whether they are positive or negative, that I’ve stopped now. And honestly, we took those criticisms into account while making the latest album. We wanted to make something that had these moments where you catch your breath and take a step back. But even if you read the positive stuff.. I feel that you have to give equal attention to the negative. So they just end up canceling each other out anyways, don’t they?
mtvU: How is the group dynamic between all of you? That’s a lot of opinions to handle in one room.
Gareth: Well Tom [lead guitarist] writes the music and I write the lyrics. That’s always been pretty straight-forward and there’s not many arguments because of that I guess. As for being an eight-piece, that’s all we’ve ever known. I suppose if you’re in a three-piece or something it would be a lot easier to irritate and annoy one another. But with eight of us, if someone’s annoying you, there’s six other people to hang out with. And it’s nice to have a lot of friends and a real crew about.
mtvU: What are you listening to right now while you’re out on tour?
Gareth: I’ve been revisiting a lot of Nick Cave’s stuff. I want to start writing lyrics for the next record and he’s an amazing lyricist. On tour, I do have a tendency to return to old staples like Dexy’s Midnight Runners and OMD. Also, we have a bus this tour so at night to sleep I’ll put on a lot of atmospheric, return-to-the-womb type of music. I’ve been listening to William Basinski.
mtvU: So you’re ALREADY at work on a new album?
Gareth: Well, Tom is constantly writing, constantly demoing. I’d say as soon as the touring slows up, we’ll look to start working on something new. We don’t want too much time on our hands.
Los Campesinos! kicked off the show last night with the rambunctious “Death to Los Campesinos!” off of Hold On Now Youngster… before moving onto tracks from the later albums. Gareth thanked the crowd several times for still coming out despite the rescheduling and said, “To celebrate, here’s a song about how we’re all going to die!,” before the group launched into “Miserabilia.”
There were two surprising aspects to the show. First, despite the relative anger in the lyrics, there is still something downright polite about the group’s performance. While there is an unquestionable high volume of energy, most of the members dance quietly in place with their instruments. Kim occasionally retreats quietly to the edge of the stage to sway and Gareth clasps his hands behind his back with restrained regard for the audience. This is, of course, interspersed with moments where three of the band members will all bang on the drum kit simultaneously. But as Gareth mentioned, the band is aware that their energy is explosive and moments of quiet are necessary.
Second, the audience was just as, if not more, excited for all the work off Romance is Boring; even going so far as to have memorized all the song lyrics, which they then chanted back towards the stage. I was particularly excited to hear “Straight in at 101″ in addition to the title track.
The band ended the night by jumping into the crowd for an encore of “Broken Heartbeats Sound Like Breakbeats.”