Originally Published on Plastik Magazine
Chatting to Gareth, lead singer of Los Campesinos! before their superb return to gigging at Clwb Ifor Bach in December, it’s clear they are a band excited by, yet at ease with, their continuing development. Five albums in, you’d be forgiven for expecting a group with their committed cult following and several lineup changes in their history (founding member Ellen left before No Blues) to experiment or change direction. However, Gareth is perhaps surprisingly unself-conscious in his enthusiasm for their work-
“We’re content. Every time someone leaves the band a lot of people think ‘that’s it then,’ or for some reason it’s ‘less’ Los Campesinos! than before, but from our side of things everyone who’s been involved in the band has been because they’re a friend and each incarnation has just solidified our belief Los Campesinos is something worth doing.”
Though he begins the opening song ‘As Lucerne/The Low’ theatrically facing away from the audience, the fervor that spurts forth when the euphoric opening line “There is no blues that could sound quite as heartfelt as mine” is sung shows there’s no doubt the excitable pride Gareth has of the band,
“I’m very blasé about the band sometimes because it’s something we’re just grateful to be doing but when we got the new vinyl and put it next all our records, it was like “f**k, I’ve actually made these! It’s almost like a legacy. It’s nice to think they outlive us really,” he says.
The audience share his wide-eyed ardour – the mix of older Pavement fans and 16 year old girls tumblr-ing their appreciation for Gareth’s tales of adolescent woe at Clwb shows not just universal appeal, but the band’s remarkable ability to draw love for their idiosyncrasies.
One example of which is Gareth’s extended proclivity for condensed, google-at-the-ready football reference on No Blues.
“I think it’s a natural thing to purvey pop music. All pop music is about death and love, glory and despair and they are all rooted in football so it’s a natural tool to voice some of that.”
Whether you’re a Football Manager fan musing on the meaning of ‘Portrait of a Trequartista as a Young Man’ or as Gareth says “a 15 year old American who’ll hear ‘we connected like a Yeboah volley’ and think ‘what’s that?’”, there’s no doubt left of the intense romantic reasoning behind the lyrics. Not many bands could garner a mass terrace-esque chorus of “ex boyfriend give us a song, ex boyfriend, boyfriend give us a song” as a ballad-ending chant with such aplomb.
Gareth mirrors part of the reason their fans have such generous personal investment in the band – the belief their rich, excitable pop sensibility means something. Equally, it’s perhaps why it may be a slightly confounding idea that we’re now far enough down the timeline that agreeing that their fantastic new LP is a ‘mature’ work can no longer be pointing out a blossoming or emergent quality. For those of us whose teenage experience coiled itself so tightly around the impetuous, contradictory indulgence of identifying with a band from “not the scene you’re thinking of” whilst dancing to songs as unabashedly catchy as those on Hold On Now Youngster, that their enthusiasm may be filtered by adult life rather than vice versa could baffle.
In the broadest terms, the co-ordinates of No Blues are familiar; shamelessly catchy choruses, the obsessions with romance and death, all wrapped in lead singer Gareth’s verbose and evocative lyrical humor. While all present and correct, ignoring the extent to which the band have traversed the bleak, post-relationship laments of Hello Sadness and shot it through with a focused and potent melodic melancholy is to ignore why the new album feels so definitive.
“Hello Sadness was written when I was pretty unwell and in a bad headspace so it made sense it was written the way it was…In hindsight it was a bit serious, but it had to be as that’s where I was at. I think the subject matter in No Blues is as downbeat, even more so, but the way it’s delivered and talked about is in a much more conversational, entertaining manner. Hello Sadness was very literal whereasNo Blues has a lot more metaphor and winks and nods.”
He’s always transcribed his romanticism with densely packed allusiveness, but on songs such as ‘Avocado, Baby,’ the taut focus and immediately indelible melodies allow the words to have an aggregate quality. In many ways the chorus describing friends with “blood on their hands from/shards of a heartbreak” could be melodramatic but, infectiously sung, it’s an exuberant embrace of misery. Asking whether this singular focus on the record could be put down to a more serious approach to recording from losing members of the original band, Gareth disagrees –
“We did approach it differently this time, but more due to timescale than changing lineups. We knew we wouldn’t be gigging soon this year, so rather than recording it in February as we could’ve done, we did it in June. I think we approach it more seriously than we have done in the past, but I think that’s just natural because at first you’re making an album and then you make another and another and it’s like ‘this is what we do now’, so you take more pride in it.”
As much as anything, Gareth puts an emphasis on guitarist Tom’s songwriting abilities as a catalyst to their continued development.
“When we formed the band, it sounds weird, but he didn’t really play guitar. He just had this ability to write the guitar parts. He just hears different things to what I can hear – he can listen to a song and break it down into its composite parts whereas, I just hear songs. He’s more and more capable of dealing with electronics and samples and sequencing so that’s something which will continue to influence our work…underneath the songs, when you listen to what’s at the base of them, there’s some amazing grooves and beats.”
Chatting about their varied influences from electronic sounds to post-rock, it should be pleasing for any fan to hear the band’s ambitions remain resolutely grounded in making music that they love, rather than left-field experiments. Gareth laughs when remembering early gigs – “We were way more post-rock at the very start. Our first 7 or 8 gigs had two instrumental songs…there was one in the middle called Chord Vs Dischord, with Aleks reciting Russian poetry from a book over the top – like the most ludicrously, cringily pretentious thing and we moved on from that – it just wasn’t as fun as playing stuff with words in”
“It is a cliché in itself being exactly the same, but I feel like we’ve evolved enough that it’s not just us impersonating ourselves. It’d be contrived if we did just an electronic album.”
We should be glad of it. No Blues is probably their best album because it has Los Campesinos-ness strewn purposefully across it. The black emotional residue of Hello Sadness is given a richness by a more playful, outward looking framework. If second record We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed was an act of post-adolescent catharsis, then this is a release in both senses borne of, yes, maturity – that makes the band seem sound fitted to their purpose more than ever.
As Gareth said, “If I ever wanted to do a solo album, I’d think who I’d want to write for me and that would be Tom, and that’d just be a Los Campesinos album really. I’d think, let’s just do another one of them. I’m happy to just do that.”