It's fair to say Los Campesinos! and drownedinsound.com go together like bread and jam. A combination of mutial admiration and respect culminating in the band's recent editorial takeover week of this very site's content.
Of course none of this would matter that much if it weren't for the fact they've also released three critically acclaimed, scene-inspiring albums over the past couple of years, the most recent of which Romance Is Boring scored a very respectable 8/10 on these here pages.
They're also not averse to touring either, having spent the majority of their time on the road since forming back in 2006, and it's in the back room of The Venue in Derby where DiS caught up with frontman Gareth and drummer Ollie prior to their triumphant set later that evening.
DiS: How's the tour been so far?
Gareth: The gigs have been great. The first three were incredible - Liverpool, York and Aberdeen. Dundee was a little bit of a lull but we're all being struck down with tour lurgy. I've got a chest infection, Kim's got an ear infection...but we went to Derby NHS drop-in centre this afternoon and we really played up the "we're a very important touring band" schtick, so they prescribed us and I've never been so excited to have antibiotics in my life!
DiS: Your album's had excellent reviews in almost every publication bar one. How do you respond to such criticism, both positive and negative?
Gareth: (laughs) Yeah, I saw that on the DiS boards. It was quite funny because some of the people who comment started dissecting the review and it spiralled out of control. Most of the time though I wouldn't respond to any kind of criticism unless it gets unnecessarily personal. I mean, coming from someone who's always posted on message boards and still does occasionally, if someone is critical of the band because they don't like the music or what we're singing about then fair enough.
Ollie: It's inevitable, and you're not going to question it because it's highly unlikely anyone's going to like everything we do all of the time. If you're not prepared to accept that you're in a position where you need to be willing to take criticism, then I'd question anyone as to why they're doing something like this in the first place. We really enjoy what we're doing so much that it really puts any criticism into perspective.
Gareth: At the same time you have to take any hype for what it is as well. If people are going to be excited enough to say a record is better than so-and-so's record or whatever then you can't really buy into that either. If you're not prepared to listen to the negatives then you shouldn't get carried away by positive comments either.
DiS: Do you worry that a backlash is inevitable one day though?
Gareth: We tend not to care really. I would hope not obviously, as it's important that we remain as self-indulgent and inward looking as possible, because the worst thing that could happen would be if a backlash came and we ended up changing the way we write in order to second guess what people might want, to make them like us, it would be like writing somebody else's songs. I think there has been a backlash in a way, because some people that liked us in the beginning accused us of selling out just because we signed a record deal.
DiS: Your new album is called Romance Is Boring, so in your opinion, is it...?
Gareth: I'd say the prescribed notion of romance is. Ollie: When it becomes conceited and contrived, that's when it becomes boring. It's a title that we chose for sloganeering purposes as well, especially with it coming out around Valentine's Day.
Gareth: You do realise through Valentine's Day just how boring romance really is!
Ollie: It's just the same stuff year after year...roses, chocolates, cards. Nothing original, just the same stuff regurgitated every year.
Gareth: I think Tom our guitarist is a lot more intelligent than me, and he likes it because of the double meaning of the word "boring". I used to write a fanzine called 'Romance Is Boring' and it became my email address for a while and it sort of just stuck...
Ollie: We started referring to the album as 'Romance Is Boring' as a working title and when it came to deciding what it would finally be called, none of us saw any point in changing it.
Video:Los Campesinos! 'Romance Is Boring'
DiS: Last year saw the departure of original member Aleks, which from the outside seemed quite sudden and unexpected. What made her leave the band and were you aware for a while that this was her intention to do so?
Gareth: We've known from the moment the band formed that Aleks would eventually want to return to her studies. Initially the band was started as a hobby at University, and once it became obvious things were growing beyond that scale, Aleks made it clear she would be leaving in due course. She was studying medicine which is a five-year course as opposed to the rest of us who were on various three-year courses so we'd already graduated, whereas Aleks had to put her studies on indefinite hold. We signed with Wichita a year before we graduated but we always knew we were going to finish our degrees. We're sensible enough to know we won't be in a band forever and in the end we'll be very grateful that we've got this parachute called a degree that we ended up paying a lot of money out to obtain! Aleks is a really smart person and you don't train for three years to be a doctor and then decide to travel round the UK eating hummus sandwiches in a splitter van rather than become a successful practitioner.
Ollie: In three years time, we'll be penniless and she'll be a millionaire!
Gareth: She left in September of last year but we knew in March 2008 when she would be leaving, and it became the "elephant in the room" that nobody mentioned...
Ollie:...because nobody wanted it to happen more than anything.
Gareth: Then, as it came closer and closer to the time we realised we had to open up about it and the more we talked about it the more fun it became and we really enjoyed the last few gigs we played with Aleks as much, if not more than any we've ever done.
DiS: What was the last show you played with Aleks?
Gareth: Well, it was a typical Los Campesinos! show. It was at a festival called Streetscene in San Diego. We'd played in San Francisco the day before and it was Harriet's birthday and we had a long drive ahead of us the next day, and we were all very drunk from the night before when we turned up at the gates and a member of security said to us that the festival had gone bankrupt and they couldn't afford to pay us, so it was up to us if we wanted to play the show or just turn the van around and leave! We decided to play, and although we were only allocated a half hour set played for a good forty minutes or so and security were trying to get us off stage.
Ollie: They had to cut the power in the end!
Gareth: The thing is, none of the security or crew were getting paid either, so they weren't that bothered about it really. I think that whole episode was a very fitting end to one era of Los Campesinos! because we do pride ourselves on our lack of professionalism! It was a really euphoric show and we had t-shirts made with her face on which Aleks didn't know about until we went on stage and then we all broke into tears at the end.
DiS: Didn't she have some input into the songwriting on Romance Is Boring?
Gareth: Yeah, it was the first occasion she'd been involved in that side of things. I think because she knew her time in the band was coming to an end it made her more confident about contributing lyrics and I think she was really happy to have that as her epitaph.
DiS: Does it feel strange for Aleks' replacement Kim to be singing lyrics that were written by other people before she joined the band?
Gareth: I don't think it does. I think it probably helps that a lot of the new material never got played live while Aleks was in the band. We left the majority of them out of the live set deliberately because there didn't seem much point in Aleks rehearsing them when we knew she wouldn't be around to play them live. I think it's been a very smooth transition. Kim has settled in marvellously and now we've expanded the band even further to an eight-piece (guitarist Rob) it meant that we had two new members join rather than just one, so neither would feel like the odd one out for being new or whatever. I think it's made us all a lot more excitable and appreciate what we've got a lot more because we'd gotten to the point where we'd be turning up at the same venues we'd played at two years previously playing in front of similar sized crowds which was exciting to a point but when you've got two new members in the band touring for the first time in their lives, Kim would be all excited that we've got free food while every time we stop at a service station Rob would buy food as if we're going to be driving for the next ten hours so that sort of enthusiasm has rubbed off on the rest of us. It actually feels like we're starting afresh from three years ago.
DiS: Was it planned all along that Kim would join the band as Aleks' replacement after she left the band?
Gareth: No. It was a group decision. I think I was the one who was least keen on the idea because Kim being my sister, it could have been awkward. We started planning for Aleks' departure at the start of 2009 and there were a couple of half ideas that I had but they didn't make sense or couldn't work and then Tom just phoned me one day and made a suggestion that Kim should join the band, and that was the first time I'd even considered it. The more I thought about it, it made complete sense. I think we're quite a self-involved and insular group and it takes something for someone to be able to fit in with us and because we've all known each other for such a long time we almost speak in a completely different language. Kim had met everyone before and got on with all of the band, so it was the obvious way forward.
DiS: Now there are two siblings in the band, does that mean the group dynamics have changed?
Gareth: No. I think our dynamic as siblings has changed. The first month or so there was perhaps a little more self-awareness in that I would be a bit apprehensive talking about certain things while my sister was in the room, but the more drunk I got the more it became normal to carry on as before and as time's gone on, Kim has got more used to it.
Ollie: The rest of us are aware that Gareth and Kim are brother and sister but at the end of the day it's just another friend in the band, and it's not as if they spend any more time together than I might with Kim, or Harriet would with Kim and so on.
Gareth: In hindsight, I think if we'd brought a complete stranger into the band it would have been much more difficult to integrate with them. It's quite ironic in a way that Kim is possibly the most musically proficient member of Los Campesinos!, bar Harriet! She's just graduated from University with a degree in music and she can do extravagant things like...read music and play proper instruments!
Ollie: When we're discussing rehearsing new songs and stuff Kim and Harriet talk about notation and other complicated things that I don't understand but ultimately impress me!
DiS: The first song you made available from the new record, 'The Sea Is A Good Place To Think Of The Future' seems to be quite personal in its lyrical content. How did the subject of that song react upon first hearing it?
Gareth: Its not really about one person as such...with this record I've tried to make characters out of other characters, if that makes sense? Rather than applying it to one specific person that song makes reference to about four or five people. We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed was definitely me writing about one or two people in quite an explicit and obvious fashion. There was a little bit of comeback from that but in this case because the details are split up a bit people that might spot themselves in one line might her what follows and ultimately believe it not to be about them after all. Nobody's really responded because of that. My friend Charlotte who I've namechecked on one song is the only person who's made any comment about anything on this album.
Video:Los Campesinos! 'The Sea Is A Good Place To Think Of The Future'
DiS: Once again you've worked with John Goodmanson as producer on this record. What does he bring to the mix in a way that you feel he's now almost indispensible to Los Campesinos! in the studio?
Gareth: The only person we'd ever worked with previously was David Newfeld who produced the first record, and that was a really difficult thing because it was our first time properly in the studio and we struggled to hold it together at times. Dave's studio at the time had only just been built...well, we helped him finish building it.
Ollie: We turned up for the first day of recording and there were still breeze blocks lying around and we actually helped him assemble the studio!
Gareth: It was a really weird situation so that record wasn't made in the most ideal circumstances. We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed was quite rushed as well, probably because it wasn't initially intended to be a full length LP, but we'd seen enough during our time working on that album with John to know that he was someone we wanted to work with again, plus he'd worked on so many of our favourite records by other artists over the years that the prospect of spending four-five months in the studio with him was too good an opportunity to turn down.
DiS: What are your favourite records that John Goodmanson has worked on?
Gareth: For me I'd say Dig Me Out by Sleater-Kinney.
Ollie: To be honest, I didn't know who he was until after he'd mixed We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed, then we got sent a list of all his previous credits and I just went "Wow!" Listening back to Dig Me Out, the drums on that album are incredible so purely for that reason alone I'd also go with that.
DiS: Going back to what you were saying about We Are Beautiful... being rushed, it came out a mere six months after Hold On Now, Youngster whereas Romance Is Boring didn't follow for another sixteen months. Will you be taking longer in between albums from now on or are there already plans for record number four in the pipeline?
Gareth: Tom primarily writes the music and he's always working non-stop so I'm sure he's probably got another three records worth of material written already. We got a lot of praise for our work ethic around the time of those first two albums. For example, all but two of the songs on Hold On Now, Youngster were written while we were still at University so by the time we came to record that we'd been playing the majority of those songs live for eighteen months or so. Although We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed came out six months later, all of those songs were actually written over the course of about two years or more so it's quite misleading. We have no desire to rest on our laurels or anything. We consider ourselves to be quite creative and we always want to be writing new songs and playing live as much as possible. We understand that we're in a very privileged situation and we want to make the most of it. It would be horrific for us if in twelve months time we didn't have a record deal or we'd broken up and got an album's worth of material that we'd been sitting on so I think we want to release as much as we can and the whole process of writing, recording and releasing a record is incredibly satisfying and to actually see your own record in a shop is an amazing feat to achieve so we just want to do that as much as possible.
DiS: When you started the band at University in 2006 did you honestly envisage that you'd be sat here four years later in a place like Derby talking about the release of your third album?
Gareth: No, definitely not! I think that's one of the reasons we've gotten to where we are because we formed the band with no expectations, whereas I think a lot of people form bands purely as a career move.
Ollie: Initially, the only goal we had with this band was to play a gig outside of Cardiff. Because of that, everything that's happened since has just blown our minds.
Gareth: Sometimes, you have to stop taking things for granted that I guess many would see as being part and parcel of being in a band. If someone had told me four years ago that I'd have a full page interview in Manchester United magazine for example I'd have laughed at them!
Ollie:...or sat doing an interview on a Thursday night in Derby!
Gareth: I think the fact we're still enjoying what we're doing is massively important too because the day it stops being fun is the day it stops being worthwhile.
DiS: You're signed, have released numerous singles and albums, played and toured with so many highly respected bands and even headlined a festival (Indietracks). What else is there that you'd hope to achieve?
Gareth: I'd really like to play in a celebrity football match at Wembley!
DiS: Who with?
Gareth: Footballers or celebrities?
Gareth: I'd really like to play with Tony Cascarino, preferably around the time of his Marseille days. I'm a big fan of his because he happens to be one of the few British footballers who's had the guts to try his luck abroad and then end up being insanely successful. I'm actually wearing a Tony Cascarino Republic Of Ireland shirt as we speak! When he went to Marseille they were struggling and his personal life was a bit messed up and they ended up winning the league and he was their top scorer. Going back to the original question about what else we'd like to achieve in terms of music-related goals, the ultimate one for me would be to get to a certain level where we'd be able to curate our own ATP, or make enough money to set up our own festival which would totally rip off ATP. The goals we set ourselves at the beginning were just pipe dreams that we never expected. One was to play ATP, but then we did it too soon really.
Ollie: For me, playing ATP wasn't as good as it should have been because it was something we wanted to do so much, and we ended up stressed out because we put a lot of pressure on ourselves.
Gareth: At the time, I was with a girlfriend and the relationship was breaking up, and then I sprained my ankle during our set and I went to the first aid people and asked for a pair of crutches and the one pair they had on site had already been given out, so they offered me a zimmer frame instead, which I refused! So I spent most of the weekend in bed and then the next day I actually saw a guy running round waving crutches in the air and that was just like the final nail in the coffin.
Video:Los Campesinos! 'There Are Listed Buildings'
DiS: You recently took over the editorial reins of the content part of Drowned In Sound for a week. If you could take over as full-time editors of the site, what would you change and why?
Gareth: Kick off half the people that post on the boards...! Make sure you attribute that to Ollie not me!
Ollie: I got some abuse on there once, although I don't post that often.
Gareth: On the whole though, I really like DiS at the moment. I think there are some really good writers there like Wendy Roby for example. Her singles reviews are probably my favourite articles on the site at present. I also like reading Luke Slater's stuff a lot, although sometimes I'd rather the news stories were a little less tongue-in-cheek... I am a big Drowned In Sound fan, and they've been good to us from the start.
DiS: Following on from that, you're obviously big football fans as we've already touched upon today and of course the James Richardson interview you did in takeover week, so what are your predictions for the World Cup?
Gareth: England all the way. My main concern with the World Cup at the moment is that people are talking about festivals and touring while its on.
Ollie: We're going to have a TV at the side of the stage for every match! We're going to carry a big satellite dish with us and get our guitar tech to wire it up for us before every soundcheck! Actually, he's the most northern man I've ever met and totally in love with all things Sheffield Wednesday. He once told me this story about when he was working with The Housemartins, and they had a TV on stage with them once, and every time a goal scoring opportunity came they actually stopped playing during the gig!
Gareth: I think every nation has a chance this year and it's potentially the most wide open tournament so far. I know there's been a lot in the media about John Terry's affair and Ashley Cole's injury as well as all the other Ashley Cole business it's as fitting a build-up to a World Cup as one would expect as an England fan.
Ollie: There can never be a quiet build-up. There always has to be some sort of drama.
Gareth: I remember the European Championships two years ago when England weren't involved. It was good to watch from a neutral point of view but there really wasn't the excitement of seeing your home nation there.
DiS: I have a question from DiS editor Sean Adams. He tells me you're big fans of Twitter, unlike me! Do you see people who aren't into it as Luddites?
Gareth: Oh no, not at all. I like it because it suits us a band and we like being as open and approachable as possible. From the start we've always been really into writing blogs and any emails that are sent to the band come directly to us. We still sell our own merchandise after gigs as we think its important that people can speak to us directly if they so wish.
DiS: How many followers do you have on Twitter?
Gareth: I was going to pretend I didn't know but I looked earlier and it's around 6800 or something. It seems a lot....I think word must be spreading about just how funny I am on it! But no, its really useful, and I think most people like that it is almost like an actual human means of contact rather than just a general message on a website that says "New Tour announced" or whatever. I can see why some people won't like it as there is a danger of information overload but I think even when you're not tweeting, it is useful for following other people because certainly with us, we always announce anything we do on our blog or Twitter first before any official press release.
DiS: You're also a massive fan of Xiu Xiu Gareth, what with Jamie Stewart appearing on Romance Is Boring too, so if you could choose your favourite songs of his, what would they be?
Gareth: My favourite Xiu Xiu song, which might even be my favourite song ever, is a song called 'Suha' which is off their first record, Knife Play. I've got this amazing Xiu Xiu bootleg which has a live version on and its just the most heartbreaking piece of music I've ever heard. My favourite thing about Xiu Xiu is that their music can be so aggressive yet fragile at the same time. It's not something you can just listen to and drift into the background with. It really engages and grabs hold of you. I just got a copy of the latest record Dear God, I Hate Myself last week and I'm really impressed with it. Actually, today I saw the NME and there's a full page feature on Xiu Xiu in there, and that's so encouraging to see that after seven albums Jamie Stewart is finally getting a bit of mainstream recognition.
DiS: Without blowing DiS' trumpet too loudly, I think it's also worth noting that a lot of the current NME writing team started out on this website, so maybe their involvement has quite a lot to do with the NME suddenly picking up on bands like Xiu Xiu?
Gareth: I have noticed that actually. I mean, I've read the NME religiously since I was about fourteen or something, but more recently they do seem to be covering a lot better stuff and then I look at the name of the person who's written it and think to myself "Oh yeah, they wrote a similar piece on Drowned In Sound two years ago!" It's nice that its in the NME and that somebody flicking through and see the bands you'd expect to find in that paper and then come across an article about someone like Jamie Stewart, who's spent the best part of the last fifteen years singing about child abuse and rape and really unnerving stuff. As for other Xiu Xiu songs, it would be quite difficult picking individual ones out. They're a band whose music I've listened to regularly for about seven or eight years now, and every time I listen to one of those records I hear something completely new that I hadn't heard before. They're a band where you could put seven random people in a room and each one would choose a different album as their personal favourite. Their tour starts in a couple of days and it coincides with us having a day off. We play Bristol on the Saturday and Birmingham on the Monday and they play in Coventry on the Sunday which couldn't have been more perfect, so I'm going to see them there.
Video:Los Campesinos! 'Death To Los Campesinos!'
Los Campesinos! are currently on the road and will be checking in at the following venues:-
22 Norwich Arts Centre
23 Brighton Audio
24 Portsmouth Wedgewood Rooms
25 London Koko
26 Falmouth Princess Pavilion
27 Bristol Thekla
1 Birmingham Rainbow
2 Northampton Roadmender
3 Reading Plug N Play
4 Kingston Banquet New Slang
21 Cardiff Solus
The single 'Romance Is Boring' taken from the album of the same name is out now on Wichita Recordings.