Los Campesinos! Do Singles: 'What Death Leaves Behind' takeover
Hello and welcome to a very special edition of DiS Does Singles. Los Campesinos! are a much-cherished band round this corner of the Internet. So when they announced their return last week, we thought it would be impolite not to dedicate an entire column to their naval-gazing goodness.
Want our verdict on 'What Death Leaves Behind'? You've got it. Fancy reading about how it came to fruition via the words of Gareth Campesinos? Sorted. Interested in what happens at midnight on the 178 bus back to Bristol from Bath? Check out Gareth's guide to the finest LC! singles, B-sides and rarities.
If you're a fan of the Welsh-born collective, then this is the singles column for you. If not, then avert your eyes before it's too late.
Los Campesinos! - What Death Leaves Behind
There are three ways for a band to grow old with dignity:
1) Keep doing the same thing on a slightly bigger recording budget (e.g. The Cribs)
2) Go 'experimental' and never look back (e.g. Radiohead)
3) Shed four members, start a fanzine and disavow all past allegiances to 'tweexcore' (e.g. Los Campesinos!)
It seems faintly ridiculous to think of Los Campesinos! as indie veterans, considering they only formed in 2006, yet 'What Death Leaves Behind' is the lead release from their fifth album; Muse took 15 years to achieve the same feat. More significantly, this free download revolves a world away from the smutty extravagance of Hold On Now, Youngster.
Daubed with a FM-friendly polish and an irrepressible chorus, "They say you and me are tautology", it's clutter-free and catchy. The kind of track Gareth and Tom Campesinos would have tossed on the songwriting scrapheap not so long ago. Even if it does cram in a biblical reference to French football star Joseph-Désiré Job.
This is the newly resurrected Los Campesinos!, and while miserabelia is an ever-present fixture in their songwriting, it's offset by some disarmingly upbeat rumblings. A sky bound synth line here. A rambunctious drum fill there. They're all nudging you towards a resolutely cheery conclusion, "We will flower again."
What happened to getting drunk, eating crisps and spewing on a football pitch? That era of youthful self-loathing is over but there's no need to panic.
'What Death Leaves Behind' wears its years with such aplomb, it's as though Los Campesinos! never grew old at all. They just got better.
New album No Blues is available from all good record stores in October 2013
Interview: Gareth Campesinos
Hi Gareth. So tell us 'What Death Leaves Behind' is about?
Gareth: It's primarily about friendship and familial closeness, but I suppose it's an us against the world type thing. Because it's kind of a duet sung between me and Kim. Kim is of course my sister as well, so there's that extra life element to it as well
That makes a lot of sense. I couldn't tell whether it was supposed to be a love song because of the "you and me are tautology" line.
Gareth: I think the opening lines are kind of romantic but there are all kinds of relationships in there. I guess with the football reference, there's that team element to it too.
When did you write it over the course the No Blues sessions?
Gareth: It was the last one, which was quite odd. In terms of 'musically', I'm not sure because Tom writes all the music and I do all the words. We do that completely separately pretty.
It's pretty lucky for me because, before we make a record, Tom provides me with 12 or 13 demos that are basically fully-fledged songs. He records them in his bedroom but he's such a perfectionist that they sound like really hi-fi recordings.
When did you decide to put out 'What Death Leaves Behind' as the first song off the album?
Gareth: From the first time I heard it, I knew it was going to be a really strong song that we'd potentially put out as a 'single'. So I was a bit nervous about writing it and it all came together at the end. It's reassuring that people have responded to the lyrics well considering it was one I spent the least amount of time over.
So how do you go about squeezing the Joseph-Désiré Job reference the song?
Gareth: It's just a cheap football gag, but I'd been listening to a lot of Nick Cave in the build up to the record, which put me in that biblical mindset. He does this amazing job of mythologising things. So I was reading into more details about what he's meaning in it all and what things he's riffing on. That's probably where I read about the Book of Job and thought, "Oh, what a hilarious pun!"
More and more my only real interests are football-related things. There's a lot of football on the album. At least, seven of the 10 songs have football explicit or slightly less explicit things in them.
All of Los Campesinos! have full-time jobs on top of doing the band. Why is that?
Gareth: We got into the music industry at a very opportune time. Basically, at the end of when there was some money about. I think we signed record and publishing deals for a lot more than we were realistically worth, or were ever going to achieve.
We just got some decent NME features and the cover of Plan B magazine, which seemed like they could push us to that other realm. Cajun Dance Party did a similar thing and imploded and became Yuck and you can imagine that's what they felt they should have been doing the first time round.
They played the game a little bit and it didn't work out. We've always been overly cautious to make it last as long as possible.
Going back to 'What Death Leaves Behind'. Its production is a lot cleaner than for any songs you've done before. Was that a conscious decision?
Gareth: I think it was a decision we thought we made going into Hello Sadness, when in reality it turned out not to be. We've been aiming to do this for a while.
Going into this record, we all agreed that the 11-12 songs we had were the most direct we'd written for a long time and the least decorative or flowery. There were more to the point and we wanted that to be reflected in the mixing and the mastering. It's funny because the record isn't finished yet. We really wanted to wait on that and find the person who could give the record a really crisp, clean pop finish.
It seems like there's been a quick turnaround from going into the studio and putting out the first track?
Gareth: Once you've told people you're in the studio recording an album, if it then takes 18 months for fans to hear stuff from that album I'd question why it took so long. Does the band still like the stuff as much as when they were recording it.
I see 'In The Studio' sections in the NME saying, "This band after 18 months are ready to present the album to their label."
It's like, "Fucking hell. How did it take that long? How could you afford to take that long?"
In our singles, B-sides and rarities chat below you say that 'Too Many Flesh Suppers' is one of your Top Five LC! tracks. What are the other four?
Gareth: I still really like 'We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed' off our second record. I really like, 'I Just Sighed, Just So You Know' off Romance Is Boring... 'Hello Sadness'... 'Light Leaves, Dark Sees pt.II'.
Most of the ones I like are the ones nobody else likes. The slower more depressing ones. I can be quite contrary and because they're the ones that don't get talked about so much or shouted out at gigs, I feel defensive over them and hold them more fondly in my own heart.
And finally, what's the best single you've heard this year?
Gareth: I'll go with Run The Jewels' '36" Chain'. It seems like so many big hip-hop names have phoned it in thi syear and El and Mike continue to the most fun and exciting stuff on the periphery of it all.
Los Campesinos!: singles, B-sides and rarities chat
'We Throw Parties, You Throw Knives' / 'Don't Tell Me to Do the Math(s)'
Your first ever single is selling for £3.86 on Discogs. Does this make it undervalued or overpriced?
Gareth: Musically, definitely overpriced. I'm very harsh on 'WTP,YTK', but deservingly so, I believe. It was written just after we first started riding that wave of sweet, sweet hype, and I immediately became very aware, over aware, of what I was writing.
That first album period, a lot of it is me over thinking and trying to be "cool" and "smart" in my lyrics because I really loved the fact that people were saying I was "cool" and "smart". Silly, really.
Undervalued also though, because, as I recall, it's housed on heavy vinyl and comes with a fucking paper chain of the 7 of us holding hands. Yeah, I know. That's an expensive manufacturing unit price.
'Death To Los Campesinos!'
Four LC! members that played on this track have since departed from the band. How does the new 'reincarnated' LC! compare with the band of seven years ago?
Gareth: I think it's much better. I say that honestly and without meaning offence to anyone. I think the original incarnation is the most popular, but now, about seven years on we're different people.
I don't really return to our first album or anything from around then, as I cannot bear the sound of my voice, and these music videos are a bit much for me. Still, a load of happy memories from back then.
I just feel that everything about us now has improved. The core principles remain the same because Tom and I write the songs, as has always been the case, but everyone who's in the band now flourishing musically has meant we can all contribute so much more to the arrangements, and all the stronger for it.
'Ways To Make It Through The Wall'
"I think it's fair to say that I chose hopelessness and inflicted it on the rest of us." Is this still a true statement?
Gareth: Maybe. I think there was a definite crossroads in the band post-Hold On Now,Youngster and before We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed. There was a time where we could have been a major indie player, but there were concessions we refused to make because we didn't feel it would be right.
We didn't want to do a radio edit of 'You! Me! Dancing!', despite receiving a lot of encouragement that it would get a big push if we did, and then we followed it up with this record about six months later. Didn't release a single from it or make any music videos. Didn't release a standard CD version, and did a package that came in a DVD sized card box.
We decided early on to do things the way that excited us the most and found the most rewarding, and that's turned out to be pretty "hopeless" (but entirely enjoyable).
'All Your Kayfabe Friends'
Circa 1995, Tony Cascarino won Ligue 2 in France with Marseilles. If you could win a medal for anything, what would it be?
Gareth: Medals…I dunno, man. All I really care about in the world is football. I'd have loved to have played football at a higher level. I'm not talking Prem or even Football League, more than anything I'd have loved to have been good enough to play Western League football for my beloved Welton Rovers.
I watch them home and away every week and to cross that touchline to play, and do a good job of it, would mean the world. I got as far as the Reserves a couple of times, but that's only a silver.
'The Sea Is A Good Place To Think Of The Future'
Bar this song and a few other exceptions, Los Campesinos! don't really do ballads. Why is that?
Gareth: I think we do One Ballad An Album. The slow ones are generally my favourites to be honest. Most the music I listen to is slow and miserable and I love it when we do that.
Tracks like this and 'To Tundra' and 'Glue Me' on the new record are amongst my faves and are all ballads. I think I like writing for them because the more sparse nature of the music gives me more room to do whatever I want, vocals-wise.
This song was massive for us. It was the first track we put out as a download/video from Romance Is Boring and it was a side that nobody had heard from us before. There are a lot of people that have invested themselves in this song and its lyrics and so many times I've seen people in the front row sobbing while screaming the words. Like, proper bawling their eyes because this song means something to them.
Plus the Tory line in this always gets screamed at shows, and it gives me chills to hear the crowd belt it out.
'Romance Is Boring'
The "phallic cake" line is a lift from The Beautiful South's 'I Love You (But You're Boring)'. Name a Paul Heaton lyric you wish you'd written and explain why?
Gareth: Oh man, this is too much. I should probably say that I consider Paul Heaton to be the greatest British lyricist of all time. I think he gets a hard time from people who know a few Beautiful South hits and don't look past the preconceptions they've developed from those. Y'know, I think a fair few people do the same with our band.
Anyway…now you mention it, I rip off another Heaton lyric on this same record: "Though said with hand in pocket, I mean it hand on heart". ANYWAY…"I may be ugly, but I've got the bottle opener" is as close to a mantra as I have.
'Too Many Flesh Suppers'
Who's idea was it to create a violin/drum machine mash-up?
Gareth: Tom's. Always Tom's. I feel so lucky to have been able to write words to music written by someone as talented as Tom.
I'm really glad you chose this song, as it's in my Top 5 of anything we've ever done. In hindsight I wish it was on the album. I'd ditch I 'Warned You' and 'Plan A' and stick this on in their place. There's this falsetto voice at the end, proper Macy Gray, that I did using a setting on GarageBand in the demo.
When we went to record it properly we used these incredible vintage tape things in the studio to slow things down and speed them up, but nothing sounded like this, so we ended up having to import the setting from GarageBand. This outro is amazing to my ears, Harriet's string work is incredible.
'By Your Hand'
You mention the 178 bus on this song. What's the most memorable trip you have experienced on it?
Gareth: The 178 runs from Bristol to Bath. Crucially it passes the end of the road of my mother's house so I've bought a lot of £5.40 return fares to Bath in my time.
The 23:45 service on a Friday night is always a total hoot. It's frequented primarily by parents on a night out at the end of a working week. They generally can't hold their drink so well and everyone knows everyone so it's more an extension of the pub.
Nothing too mad's ever happened on a bus for me. Seen some people spew, seen some dogs spew. Never seen anyone getting fingered.
According to Wikipedia, this charted at Number 52 making it the band's biggest hit to date. If LC! were to write a Number 1, what would it sound like?
Gareth: Y'know, I don't think this did chart at Number 52. I really wish it did but I think it's a case of someone being a little overzealous and misinforming. I think our biggest charting single is actually fucking 'Tweexcore' at about Number 90. Still, I'll take a top 100 hit.
If we wrote a Number 1 …and I am certain that Tom will write a number 1 single at some point, [David] Sneddon style… it'd likely be a World Cup song I reckon.
I need to start putting the wheels in motion (WORLD in motion, right???) with the rest of the band to convince them that writing a sincere World Cup song is a worthwhile pursuit for the first quarter of 2014.
'Tiptoe Through The True Bits'
This was released as a bookend to the Hello Sadness era. Why did it never make the album?
Gareth: I think essentially because we'd filled our ballad tempo for that record with 'Light Leaves, Dark Sees pt. II'. In hindsight I wish it was included because I think it's really strong and, again, one of my favourites.
This was another free download. Really, I see no point in bands of our size releasing singles any more. Seven-inches maybe, as people seem to like them, but in terms of iTunes singles I'd sooner just sack them off all together and give people the songs for free, it's not as if we see any financial gain from charging people so why charge people at all?
Also released this week...
Aeroplane Flies High - Blossom (Snaketown Record) Austra - Painful Like (Domino Records) Arcane Roots - Belief (Play It Again Sam) Chela - Romanticise (Kitsuné) Club Smith - The Green Room (Tri-Tone/PIASUK) Deap Vally - Bad For My Body (Communion/ Island) Editors - Formaldehyde (Play It Again Sam) EELS - Kinda Fuzzy (E Works/Vagrant Records) Grass House - I Was A Street Light (Marshall Teller) Julian Fane - Heavy Gold (Lewis Recordings) Kiran Leonard - Dear Lincoln (Hand Of Glory Records) Lost Midas - Memory Flux EP (Tru Thoughts) Scotti Brains - Keep Your Eyes Open Boy (Speedy Wunderground) Summer Camp - Fresh (Moshi Moshi) Stickman Cartel - Accolade (Your Face Records) The Lumineers - Submarines (Decca)