In conversation with Los Campesinos!
“It’s not the most cheery of subject matter, I suppose, and it never is”. This is the first description I receive of Los Campesinos’ new album Sick Scenes, their sixth to date. Gareth continues “It’s about acknowledging that you’re older and perhaps more clueless than ever…it’s about feeling a bit lost and clueless, especially with the state of the world being so tragic and depressing, and sort of struggling to find your way within that”. It may be a little gloomy for the overarching theme of an album, but it’s incredibly relevant in such a time of worldwide turbulence and angst. “There’s certainly a core Los Campesinos! fan base who have been with us for a decade now, and it’s been surreal growing up with these people and experiencing the same things…I think that with each album we’ve release, it’s mirrored the feelings of a lot of our fan base”.
“’Hung Empty’ is a really great end to the album, and in style and lyrical approach, it’s probably most similar to something like ‘I Just Sighed’, which I think is a favourite of a lot of people”. Gareth’s other favourite tracks from Sick Scenes include ‘A Slow, Slow Death’, which he describes as “a typical overwrought emo song from Los Campesinos!” and ‘The Fall of Home’. He tells me that the latter is “the most swoonsome, acoustic track we’ve done before” and “might surprise other people who perhaps only know us from ‘You! Me! Dancing!’”.
It’s fascinating to look over the back catalogue of Los Campesinos! and see how their sound has changed; there’s almost a clear gradient of style from their debut Hold On Now, Youngster, which features ‘You! Me! Dancing!’ to the more recent No Blues and Sick Scenes. If you’ve ever seen Los Campesinos! live, you’ll know that the prospect of playing ‘You! Me! Dancing!’, arguably their most famous track, is met with some dismay from the band. “It’s mostly just me joking – playing it is great, the idea of playing it is not. The idea of us rehearsing it together is ludicrous, but playing it is fantastic for the ego because inevitably, it’s probably the moment in the set where the crowd is the most boisterous. Although it’s a good song, by now it’s not really reflective of our back catalogue as a whole…when we wrote the songs for Hold On Now, Youngster, they were the first songs we’ve ever written”.
The question “what’s your favourite album you’ve ever made?” is fraught with difficulty – initially, Gareth chooses No Blues, their fifth release, but then changes to 2010’s Romance Is Boring. “The time it was written was such a fun time, touring and recording that record – it was the peak of us being a band and existing, and it was probably when we were most popular”. He goes on to discuss that there’s always a group of people who want every album to release to be in the vein of Hold On Now, Youngster – “it’s great that they love that album and I’m very happy they do, but for us to attempt to recreate something sonically and thematically like that would be like doing an impression of a band that doesn’t really exist anymore”.
Upon asking who their dream artist to collaborate or play with would be, Gareth’s response is “that’s a difficult question, mostly because we tend to always get to play with the bands we love anyway” with a chuckle. “It’s not a written in stone policy, but we endeavour to only play shows with a mixed-gender or all-female band. Guitar music is full of white dudes playing instruments and not a lot else”. Their recent all-dayer at the Brudenell Social Club, Us Vs Them (read our review here) featured only one band that didn’t have at least one female member, and that was Hookworms, who “speak out about issues politically and socially, so it didn’t feel bad”.
Los Campesinos! have always been activists and openly political, in their lyrics, their actions and on their social media. Recently, they’ve been unusually quiet about such topics like the current state of American politics, which Gareth explains is down to their upcoming US tour. “Usually, we’d take the opportunity to raise some money for relevant groups, but we’re applying for visas for the US tour, and they check your social media, so we don’t really want to draw attention to ourselves…as soon as we’re in the country we can say what we want, and we certainly will”.