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Viva Los Campesinos!

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Friday, 17 August 2007
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As happens every so often, a band of like-minded musicians come together under the right circumstances (usually under the guide of serendipity), discovers that they happen to share musical tastes and enjoy each other’s company and, in the spirit of all for one and one for all, change their names in a show of solidarity. That scenario produced The Ramones in New York three decades ago and, last year in Cardiff, Wales, so too came together Los Campesinos! “We all met in university,” says guitarist Tom Campesino as he begins to tell the story of how the band came together. “I’m graduating with a degree in English Literature, Ellen did journalism, Neil just finished, Ollie did history and a bunch of other things, Aleks has had the worst time of it because she went through for a medic. Ideally, she’d have been in for another three years, but I guess she’ll be on indefinite hiatus from that. We all got our results last week and we’ll be graduating next month.

“None of us knew each other prior to university,” continues this guitarist. “Neil, Ellen and Ollie met first year and had been jamming together since then—with guitar, bass and drums—then I met Neil at a local club one night. The way it worked out, we just sort of were standing next to each other having different conversations with other people and I heard him mention The Decemberists. When I heard that, I sort of butted into his conversation and we wound up hitting it off.

“It just kind of grew from there; Gareth lives with Neil and we met Harriet through Neil as well, and Ellen knew Aleks so the way we met was this sort of really organic thing that happened at uni where we all met each other by accident.

“It makes a good story when you re-tell it that way to journalists,” laughs the guitarist at how charmed the story seems to sound. “I was kind of interested in a lot of different sounds—I think we all are—but that’s what tends to happen when you’re in university; you get heavy into music and start to define yourself and make friendships based upon what you like. We’re music snobs at heart [laughing]. We’re all really passionate about it and I think that helped a lot with the band too; that we had these common bands that all of us could agree on and that’s what brought us together.”

With the band’s lineup cemented, Los Campesinos! [Spanish for The Peasants -ed] began writing and performing in earnest—becoming fixtures on the Cardiff club stage before being signed to the fledgling Wichita Recordings imprint. Months later, the band was picked up by Canadian label Arts & Crafts to manage any and all releases by the band in Canada and the United States. Finally, on July 3, 2007, the band’s debut was released to very enthusiastic ears that were, somehow, already familiar with the band’s music. “I guess it’s not as difficult now in the information age for bands to get noticed,” muses Tom at the band’s seemingly readymade popularity. “It’s almost typical now how bands will get popular by virtue of notice on the Internet. The Internet really makes everything a much more level playing field for everyone that ignores any sort of space barrier. It seems strange that, even when we threw our demos up on our web space, we got people from Mexico, Brazil, even Japan contacting us. It’s happened again now in America; Arts & Crafts thing has been growing it even more, and to not have really released anything or played in America but still have this buzz around us is a little unreal.”

Even more unreal is the facility with which the band seems to be able to write such brilliant pop songs. In the way of comparisons, if The Vaselines had been slightly more accomplished on their instruments, if Arctic Monkeys didn’t take themselves so seriously, if The Fratellis had a better sense of humor, well, none of them could have been Los Campesinos!—a band smart enough to write good, catchy songs, but also smart enough to laugh at themselves and not feel compelled to illustrate how damned clever they are at every opportunity. The closest approximation to the sonic joy that Los Campesinos! express on their debut is watching two young kids very happily playing around in an attic; on their debut EP, Sticking Fingers Into Sockets, the band makes up the rules to their own games as they go along with fantastic results. Utilizing every instrument at their disposal (including xylophone, violin, hand claps and cheap keyboards, in addition to the standard indie-issue guitar, bass and drums), the band throws together five of the greatest indie pop songs in history that simultaneously illustrate what good tunesmiths they are (“You! Me! Dancing!” “We Throw Parties, You Throw Knives” and “It Started With a Mixx” are peerless in the music that the genre has spawned in the last few years) and how easily, innocently and haphazardly it comes to them (punk values crossed with children’s ideals? Check out the “Tonight we’re gonna smash this place up and decorate it in fairy lights” line in “Don’t Tell Me to do the Math(s)” for the story so far). A manic cover of Pavement’s “Frontwards” rounds out the EP and secures Los Campesinos’ place as the best-schooled and talented third-generation modern indie band without even trying—out of the box, they have set the bar for their peers at an incredibly high mark and do it with a smile on the members’ collective face. Even with all of that said, however, guitarist Tom is quick to point out that the band wasn’t sure if they should release the EP as they did at all; the most significant point of contention being the cover of “Frontwards” where, at its mere mention, Tom gets very quiet. “What did you think of our version?” asks the guitarist hesitantly.

“I liked it very much,” I reply. “That’s actually where I started drawing the comparisons to The Vaselines because it’s much faster.”

“Oh good!” beams the guitarist. “We were actually a little worried about covering it. We kind of made our own version of it—it actually lent itself very well to the way we play and the way that we wanted to do it—we all love that song but we were nervous that fans of Pavement would hear it and think it was rubbish.”

Now that the pressure has been taken off with Sticking Fingers Into Sockets released, all that remains is to bring Los Campesinos! to the world and, to that end, the band has been scheduled to do a short series of dates in order to introduce the band to North America, including one at this year’s Hillside Festival. Following that string of dates and before the band heads back to the U.K. for a 22-date tour. Conspicuous in the itinerary is a two-month gap this summer that the band plans to use to record their debut full-length album; taking up residence in Toronto and hashing out the songs with Broken Social Scene alumnus Dave Newfeld manning production duties. “In between we’ve got something like six or eight weeks and we’re hoping to get some recording nailed down,” explains Tom of the band’s immediate plans. “Mind you, it’s all pretty indefinite at the moment insofar as what we’re going to lay down. We’ve got about 16 or 17 songs—maybe even around 25 including the tracks that are on the EP—and I think we just want to keep our options open and see which songs work best as we’re recording.

“After we get to working a bit and see how it all sounds, then we’ll know if we’re going to pull anything off the EP and include them. It’ll all really be a matter of whether or not we think the songs from the EP compliment what we’re doing in the studio this time really. If they do, we’ll include them.

“We just want to make sure that we put out the best album of the strongest material that we’re able and, if that means including some of the songs from the EP, then that’s what we’ll do.”

Sticking Fingers Into Sockets is out now on Arts & Crafts

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