maandag 30 juni 2008

Interview with Los Campesinos! (September Issue)

The band hardly needs an introduction at this stage. Seven young people from Wales who stubbornly make their own brand of pop music. Los Campesinos! has seen their career skyrocket to where it is now. After two festival appearances in Holland and a standalone gig in the small room of Paradiso it was high time to have a word with guitarist Tom Campesinos!. Not to mention that they’ll be playing with Lovvers en Sky Larkin in the Melkweg on the eleventh of November, which at 12 euros is a must see as it’s a guaranteed party. An interview with Sky Larkin will appear in our November issue.

(This interview appeared in our September issue)

IKRS: Hello Tom, hope you're doing well.

TOM: Hello! I am doing well, thank you.

IKRS: I’ve read the band started out by practising in Ollie’s bedroom. You guys barely fit on stage! How did those go?

TOM: This is true. It was pretty cramped, but there was always a small space where we could cram ourselves. It was amps on chests of drawers and a bunch of us sitting on a bed. We didn't have any mics or a PA, so it was just a loud mess of people playing over each other. Not much has really changed musically since then. Eventually a French student next door got sick of the noise though and we had to vacate and start using the rehearsal space at our local community centre, which is where we recorded our first demos too. The cafe there does very tasty sandwiches.

IKRS: You have recently done a tour through the US. What’s the biggest difference between US and European audiences?

TOM: Hmm, it's hard to say. We have pretty variable gigs wherever we go, though they're mostly really positive. But i guess it feels like some crowds in the UK are slightly more reserved in what i guess is an attempt to be 'cool', maybe, though that varies from place to place in the UK too. We had some really good shows in the US though, and the people that came seemed to really want to be there, whereas sometimes in the UK it feels like people have turned up to a show as merely a social thing rather than giving as much of a crap about the music as we'd like. If anything it's been more like that on the continent too: both gigs we've done at the Paradiso have been great, and that's been down to the crowds; people just seemed like they wanted to be there and to have a good time.

IKRS: What’s the strangest/funniest thing that happened on the US tour?

TOM: I don't like this sort of question, because unless i make something up, I'm just gonna reveal what a boring band we are. Generally though, bad things happen as soon as the tour's over and we're travelling home. After our last gig, we were driving up to Seattle from LA and one of the windows on our rather big, shiny bus just fell out. That was kinda surreal to just see a whole window disappear. I guess there were a few salacious goings on in LA too, where it was Gay Pride week. I didn't witness it myself, but apparently some of the band got to witness an al fresco blow job take place outside their hotel. Disappearing windows and outdoor fellatio are as much excitement as we can muster.

IKRS: Could you tell us something about the Los Campesinos! bunch’s tour bus antics? Who’s always up late, who snores, who has the strangest quirk, and whatever trivia is worth mentioning?

TOM: Although it's hard to move without slipping over in the river of juices that run from all the lusty groupies we have on board, again it's pretty boring. Gareth sometimes snores, and Neil and Ellen are prone to a late night or two. But i sleep with earplugs so i'm immune to any of the silliness that takes place. Except for all those lusty groupies, obviously.

IKRS: You have been heard admiring New Order’s ‘Ceremony’ because of how they keep the riff simple and constantly play variations on it. Is that the mind set with which you start creating a new song, simple, catchy riffs?

TOM: Not always, but, yeah, some of my favourite songs are surprisingly (to me!) simple. I really like LCD Soundsystem's 'All My Friends' too, which is just 2 chords throughout. But then there's a complexity in the way that song builds in a really subtle way, and the same with 'Ceremony'. I've only been writing songs for a couple of years and the more i learn, i almost instinctively feel that the songs i write should be getting more complex. So i guess i see those songs, and plenty of my other favourite songs, like most of Pavement's back catalogue, as reminders that more complex doesn't necessarily equal 'better'. But then there are bands like Deerhoof where they flit between all kinds of time signatures and keys, and things can get pretty disorderly and complex, but still remain really enjoyable. So I don't know really. When I write I try to incorporate all of those elements into a song. If things were always simple and straightforward it would be boring for us to play and boring for anyone else to hear, so it's more about following a gut instinct about what sounds 'good' - whether that be something that's complex or simple, harmonious or dissonant, or a combination of all of those things - to my ears rather than following one rule.

IKRS: You guys once made your own fanzine. How did you go about making it, and are fanzines something you grow up with in Britain?

TOM: The bulk of the work that went into that 'zine was by Gareth. He spent a good number of hours in our management's office by the photocopier doing it the old school lo-fi way. It's something he really cares about, which I guess arises from his fixation with indie bands from the '90's, because it's not something we grew up with; a bit before our time I'd say. But he often mentions how the communal aspect of music, and the social and cultural elements that spring from being in a band, is something he really admires about his favourite bands; how things extended beyond just songs and became much more to people.

IKRS: If we’re going to start a rumour about the band, what do you want it to be?

TOM: Aside from the obvious, which would be grossly misleading anyway, you can tell people that Ollie has a criminal record for participating in a sport called 'lamping', where the participant runs around the fields of Somerset with a table lamp, and the first person to smash their lamp on a rabbit, wins. This isn't entirely false, however.

IKRS: I read that you did your dissertation on “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” (which I just leant to my aunt for her to read) by J.S. Foer. As a literature student I have to ask if perhaps you could tell us what the dissertation was about? And do you have tips for searching quotes? I always end up raping the book, folding pages and having pen marks all over and the lot…

TOM: I forget exactly what the title was, but i basically examined whether, since an 'event' as culturally jolting as '9/11' took place, realism, as a form, was capable of dealing with such an 'event', and whether some 'events' were in fact beyond the limits of what the word can deal with. I used Safran Foer's book as an example of a post-'9/11' text trying to find new ways, beyond realism and beyond the capacity of language, to depict and deal with the world, for instance his use of blank pages and overlapping, impenetrable words on a page as attempts to depict, or point to, the indescribable; the unthinkable. It was a load of postmodern gubbins, basically.

Actually I love that book, and he's still my favourite author. Every time i read it i end up crying. Safran Foer seems really in touch with the things that we as humans don't or can't say, and i like the way he struggles with the limits of language. It's very affecting. His 'Unabridged Pocketbook of Lightning' neatly summarises all the things i love about his writing.

Um, as for tips for searching for quotations, I'd say raping your books should probably be avoided: you'll only make a mess and you're unlikely to getting anything useful from it. I found the only way to go was to be completely over-the-top in searching for quotations, and just highlight everything of note. Once you know what you want to write, it becomes easier to find quotes that demonstrate your points, and normally you only need a couple, though i always used far too many. I'd say using one of the very first lines of a text is always a good place to start, as these are normally some of the most significance. I'd also suggest never taking advice from someone in band. We're very untrustworthy.

IKRS: I get the feeling that you’d rather play in a small venue than you would to a sold out Brixton Academy crowd where you get the feeling that 75% of them doesn’t get your music, you know what I mean? Or is the more the merrier?

TOM: I guess it's not so much how many people there are, but whether those people want to be there. We've had some truly exhilarating experiences in front of big and small crowds, but i guess it's happened more often with smaller crowds since we've played to that sort of size crowd more times. It's also harder to create any kind of atmosphere with a larger crowd, whereas when there's a hundred people desperate to see you stuffed in a pub, there's an explosive energy that's hard to recreate anywhere else.

IKRS: Are there already new songs in the works, and when do you hope to start working on new material?

TOM: Huzzah! We have ten new songs that we're really excited about ready for release in October, since you ask. I've been writing as much as possible in any free time we've had since January, and were going to put out an EP, but then decided since we had 10 songs we liked so much, we'd put out a proper record, which we recorded in Seattle and finished mixing in the UK a few weeks back. It's weird, it's not quite an album, though it's an album's length, but is written with the attitude of a between-albums EP. That doesn't make much sense, but basically we have 10 new songs that we can't wait for people to hear.

IKRS: Musical dilemma! Bowie or Morrissey?

TOM: Hmm, lyrically: Morrissey, musically: Bowie. Neat compromise?

IKRS: Thank you ever so much for taking the time for the questions. Holland looks forward to welcoming you and the others at the Lowlands festival this summer!

TOM: Thanks Stef, I enjoyed answering your questions!

We thank Alun and Owain from Ankst Management, Tom Campesinos!, and Tom Gosens for the edit. The pictures are from and were taken at a gig in Maxwell's, New Jersey, which IKRS attended.