Welsh septet Los Campesinos! are currently on the North American leg of their tour in support of their fourth album, Hello Sadness. Intrepid Ca Va Cool correspondent Kevin Kania caught up with guitarist Neil Campesinos! before their show at London Music Hall in London, Ontario to discuss growing up with fans, destination recording, and the pains of making a music video.
Kevin: You played Letterman last week, was that your network TV debut?
Neil Campesinos!: We played a show in Los Angeles a few years ago and they filmed it for Carson Daly, but that’s not as big a deal, is it? [With Letterman] we were absolutely petrified, it was without a doubt kind of like a highlight, felt like a big deal, we were just so nervous, you load in, rehearse in the morning, go away, and then you come back ten minutes before you’re on, and then all of a sudden, “and here’s Los Campesinos!” you play, and it’s all over in a flash. I was just shaking for the whole thing with no recollection. It was surreal. It just flew by, it was crazy.
Kevin: Gareth made some comment to Dave, I didn’t quite catch it.
Neil: He had a scarf on the stage for a sports team called the Welton Rovers, and David Letterman was like, “Oh, Football!” and Gareth’s like, “Well, soccer.” David said that was a little condescending. It was all in good spirits.
Kevin: Football does seem to be of huge importance in your songs.
Neil: We actually really wanted to get a foam ball for venues like this. They’re amazing to play in.
Kevin: Yeah, I’ve never seen it empty; I never realized how big it was. It’s normally much more intimate than it seems right now.
Neil: We’ll see how many people turn up. [Laughs] What was the last show you saw here?
Kevin: Sloan, I think.
Neil: Oh, really?
Kevin: If you know them.
Neil: Well, they’re kind of Canadian mega-pop stars.
Kevin: You have some ties to Canada: you recorded Hold on Now, Youngster here and you’re on Arts&Crafts. How did you end up on Arts&Crafts? Prior to you guys, they really didn’t go beyond their Canadian roster.
Neil: It was because of Wichita, really, our UK label. They had connections through City Slang, friends in the industry I guess. We got a slot supporting Broken Social Scene and we kind of met those guys. It just really worked out through labels being connected to each other. We’re still there and happy with them.
Kevin: Any particular rituals you have to go through when you’re in Canada?
Neil: Fran’s, a chain of diners in Toronto. We often go there for breakfast. It stems from the first time we stayed in Toronto, there was one down the street from the hotel. There’s one near every hotel we stay in really.
Kevin: You recorded your new album, Hello Sadness, in Spain.
Neil: Yes, about two hours north of Barcelona.
Kevin: You were going to record it at home in Cardiff, but Spain came up, do you think that influenced how the album came together?
Neil: Probably not, because we had it really well-written beforehand, which is really the first time we’ve been able to do that. In the past we’ve been, not rushed, but not as well prepared and then working a lot of things out in the studio; we had it pretty much down. I think in terms of enjoyment, compared to recording at home, it was just a different world. We would have been, obviously, in the studio, a fifteen minute walk away from the house. You wouldn’t have been completely committed to it or immersed in the record. Gareth, as well, lyrically, he generally writes at the last minute. So I think being in Spain provided a different…it puts everyone in a different place. The house we stayed in was a ten minute walk from the studio, and every morning we were just walking on this dirt path next to a field in the Catalonian countryside, hillsides and snow-topped mountains, it was just absolutely amazing. Just beautiful. I guess that had an effect. Unlike, say in Cardiff, you’d be walking along the rainy footpaths under the bridge by the train station.
Kevin: I’m curious about your songwriting process, regarding the story going around Gareth dropping all his lyrics two weeks before recording, did you have the music before, or do you adapt it to the lyrics?
Neil: The music always comes first, I don’t want to say every single time, but yeah, that’s how it worked. In the past when we’ve recorded he kind of leaves it to the last minute, which is kind of exciting. Especially this time, when we’ve worked on a song so much in our rehearsal space in Cardiff beforehand, and you get this really weird idea of what the song is and what it’s like, and you don’t hear his lyrics and melodies right until he’s there in the booth doing a take. It’s really exciting when we lay down the first vocal track on the album. He’s there and then everyone comes in, there’s often a big sofa in the back of the room behind a desk, we all sit with a beer or a glass of wine and he starts singing and we’re like “Whoa…okay.” We don’t see where he’s going with it, it’s really exciting.
Kevin: You’ve gone through a few line-up changes in the past couple of years, has that affected the band dynamic?
Neil: Yeah, I think it has, probably on a musical level, and on a personal level, not in a bad way. The seven of us now, we’re really really happy. I think a lot of people, perhaps fans, would be concerned by the line-up changing by almost fifty percent, but we’re all really good friends. Rob was a couple of years above me at school, so I’ve known him for years and then he met the rest of the band through other friends, because we played with him when he was Sparky Deathcap, we’ve been friends with him for ages. Kim is Gareth’s sister, Jason was selling our merch, driving us around for two or three years before joining us. So it wasn’t like these people were strangers. To fans, you can understand, they don’t necessarily know who they are, but to us, we wouldn’t just get any old person.
Kevin: Going from Hold on Now, Youngster to Hello Sadness, there’s been a very distinct change in sound, very much growing up, I think that’s part of… I imagine I’m around the same age as you guys…
Neil: Between 25 and about 27. I’m not naming names.
Kevin: Do you think that’s a big thing about your fanbase, that you’ve kind of grown up together?
Neil: It seems that way. People who have been fans for a long time share the view that we’ve been progressing in a positive way rather than “Oh, I prefer the first album…” So yeah, I guess there is that kind of link where they’re probably going through similar experiences, growing up. Getting older. A bit fat.
Kevin: Sorry if you get this too much, but I’ve got to ask: the Budweiser ad. I watch a hockey game, all of a sudden I hear you guys, and it’s like “What’s going on here?”
Neil: Budweiser asked if they could use the song, they paid us money for it, we took it. People may say you’re selling out but that’s fucking stupid. Where do you think money actually comes from for a band on our level? It’s not like they paid us a load of money and we all have big cars and flashy houses, that money goes straight back against debts that we’ve gotten into from developing a band since 2007. You’ve got publishing contracts and people who work to get your music out there, you owe them money.
Kevin: It’s not a bad thing, I’m sure it gives you a lot more recognition, beyond the people like me who are “Oh! Los Campesinos!”
Neil: It’s funny, when you tell people you listen to us and they’re like… Say, oh, they did the music on the Budweiser advert, and they’re like “OH!” It’s really funny, they use a minute of the song, it’s the instrumental build-up, and the first bar, which is not really any of the song at all. You kind of think how bands gain more success through being used on commercials and television, but there’s hardly any of the song, and no one’s ever really going to recognize it, but it works! They’ve shot so many of them, for all different sporting events. They keep wanting to use it for other things, different offshoots. It really feels like we’ve built up a good rapport with the people at Budweiser.
Kevin: Are you getting a beer kick-back?
Neil: No beer. Well, we played St. Louis, where Budweiser is based. A couple of guys from marketing showed up with a six-pack of Bud.
Kevin: We’ve got the Labatt brewery just down the street, they’re owned by Budweiser. Should give them a try.
Neil: Shit! We should give them a call! “Hey, can we get some free beer?” I did tell someone once in an interview that we each got a red card we could present in any bar in the world and get some free beer. A logistical nightmare, but… that would probably be better than any money.
Kevin: How much do your videos come into play with what you want to get out there? I know Ellen’s directed a few.
Neil: It’s a weird thing with videos. It’s not often our idea, we ask other people to come up with a concept, and they film it. You can make changes; It’s always a bit of a rush. As much as we enjoy the videos and the process of making them, they’re not really from our creative minds. Ellen’s video for ‘The Sea’ was really fun to make. It’s something we’d like to get into more; we’ve definitely got the talent. Ellen’s great at that kind of thing, Rob’s an amazing artist and creative mind. It’s just we don’t have all that much free time, even when not on tour.
Kevin: ‘Hello Sadness’ and ‘By Your Hand’ were particularly striking visually.
Neil: My mum thought ‘Hello Sadness’ was just so gory and weird.
Kevin: All I remember is spaghetti.
Neil: I think that was Rob. He ended up getting really drunk. They had that bottle of red wine, they put that funnel in his mouth, then they poured it in, and he just drank it. As you would do when someone put a funnel in your mouth. We’re all scarred from that day. I got my legs waxed in three different places and it took months for it to grow back.
Kevin: The pains of art, I guess.
Neil: We do work for it. We suffer.
Tags: Los Campesinos!