After finally making it to America, Ellen, Neil & Ollie Campesinos! sat down with QRO. Los Campesinos! were supposed to start their U.S. tour on April 17th at Maxwell’s (QRO venue review), but a certain Icelandic volcano kept the Cardiff, Wales band in Britain for another week-plus. But cross the pond they finally did, and before bringing the house down at Fillmore New York at Irving Plaza (QRO venue review), Ellen (bass), Neil (guitar) and Ollie (drums) talked with QRO about new Campesinos!’s Kim & Rob (who aren’t new to them…), new record Romance Is Boring (QRO review), having to live casually, football, Pavement, Marfa Mystery Lights, getting paid to get drunk, being like the Osmonds, being like Harry Potter, and much more…
QRO: So – you’re finally in America!
[all laugh wearily]
Ellen Campesinos!: [wearily] Yeah…
QRO: How did you spend your enforced extra free time?
Neil Campesinos!: Spent a couple of days holed up in two different hotels just outside Heathrow airport, watching rolling news, getting really bored…
EC: Getting really depressed as well…
‘The last one lasted two years – we’re all going to run out of pineapples and bananas!’ ‘It’s going to be like the Dark Ages!’…
EC: It’s like being in limbo. ‘Cause we went back to Cardiff, and then we were just waiting. I hadn’t planned anything…
NC: Did you unpack your suitcase?
EC: I did. I unpacked it. I was like, ‘Okay, I can’t have this thing here, reminding me that I might not go.’ So I unpacked it. Which was kind of annoying, having to repack…
QRO: Was it particularly hard to get a flight when the skies did clear up, because there’s so many of you?
Ollie Campesinos!: Luckily, we’re in the position where we have people doing it for us. We have an agent, and our management were trying to get us on one.
NC: They’re really good.
OC: We were going to be on one Sunday, but twenty-four hours before we ended up flying out, they said, "Oh, you’re on a flight tomorrow. Pack your bags and everything."
It was really odd, because there was empty seats on the flight as well.
QRO: Was it really late at night or something?
NC: No, just a standard, five in the evening. It’s like they’re trying to panic people…
OC: There were all these people saying that we’re not going to be able to fly until the middle of May or something, and we got seats on it.
QRO: Has this delay made you more amped-up about this tour, ready to go?
EC: Yeah – It’s kind of made me see what life would be like if we couldn’t go to America, on tour.
NC: I really appreciate everything. I really appreciating this bottle of water, this Coca-Cola – there’s something about America…
EC: I think it was one of those things where you make a bargain? ‘If we get to go, I promise I’ll do good works, and think nice things…’
NC: I think we’re really excited about [the New York] show, just because I think New York show is always a big one, in a way, so we thought if we couldn’t do [it]…
Los Campesinos! playing "My Year In Lists" live at Fillmore New York at Irving Plaza in New York, NY on April 26th, 2010:
QRO: How was the Saturday afternoon show at Maxwell’s?
EC: Really good. The audience were so, so nice – you just felt like they were completely on your side? Like they weren’t there to watch you and judge you.
‘Cause they seemed really grateful that we had made it, and we were grateful that we were there. A big love-in – mutual appreciation.
QRO: You must have only announced it after you changed the flight…
OC: We announced it about twelve hours before we were flying out, probably a day before we actually did it.
QRO: You’re on a Canadian label, Arts & Crafts (Broken Social Scene, Feist) – so why no Canadian stops on this tour?
NC: We were… But, backtrack four questions…
EC: We were meant to go to Toronto.
NC: It would have been nice to play, since we last played Toronto a year ago.
OC: It’s surprising for us to be on a Canadian label; we barely every play in Canada. And every time it’s Toronto, or Montreal.
NC: We played Ottawa once, and Vancouver like twice.
QRO: Does that make Wales the Canada of the U.K., or is Scotland the Canada, since it’s to the north?
NC: I think Wales is the Canada – this thing sticking off that no one really likes.
OC: And people just go to Cardiff and play there, making Cardiff the Toronto – people just go there, and nowhere else.
QRO: Is this your first tour with [new singer] Kim & without [previous singer] Aleks (QRO interview)?
NC: In the U.S.
EC: We did a U.K. and European tour.
NC: It’s really weird, because, I think, here, Kim’s still kind of new. But she’s been in the band now for like a good six months, so, to us, it doesn’t feel like that at all.
EC: Someone did ask her last night, went up to her and went, "You’re new. Who are you? I don’t know anything about you…"
NC: It was amazing. "Gareth [singer – QRO interview] should have said something on stage about you!" "Well… I’m not really new anymore. Been doing this…"
OC: We made a big deal of it online.
NC: ‘You know the internet is international, right?…’
QRO: How was the change?
EC: I didn’t feel like it was a ‘change’. It was almost a separate thing, a new Los Campesinos!. Because Rob joined us at the same time as well. Who’s our eighth member.
NC: Sparky, Rob, Deathcap. He’s played a load of shows with us, he’s a friend of ours; he’s joined the band.
It was just a really natural transition. I think, as well, since [Kim’s] Gareth’s sister, we kind of knew her anyway. It wasn’t ‘The new girl who auditioned’.
QRO: There weren’t any auditions…
NC: Gareth said he heard her singing in the shower.
That sounds weird…
EC: We’re like the Osmonds…
QRO: Well, you do all have the same last name…
EC: That’s true.
QRO: When did you know that Aleks was going to leave, and that you needed a new singer?
OC: It was about eighteen months before.
NC: It was quite a long time before.
EC: She’s a very, very smart lady. She’s doing neuroscience now. She kind of had that thirst for knowledge, which is ongoing and stuff.
QRO: Do you still have the same set-up on stage?
NC: Has changed a bit, because we’ve got Rob. He plays banjo, acoustic guitar, bits of percussion, keyboard that Gareth played, but doesn’t now.
EC: The sides – I’m on a different side.
OC: It’s changed a bit, but not drastically.
QRO: [Ollie,] you’re not up front?…
OC: [laughs] I’m further back…
Los Campesinos! playing "Romance Is Boring" live for the first time, at Union Pool in Brooklyn, NY on August 3rd, 2009:
QRO: What was it like making Romance Is Boring, knowing Aleks was going to depart?
OC: No, because I think we just thought we were doing this at the time, this is how it is. I think we just approached it logically, I guess? I don’t know…
EC: You kind of just approach it like a timeline. ‘We need to do this, then we need to do this…’
I think it would have been strange, if Aleks was leaving, and at the same time Kim was coming in – we didn’t even know who was going to.
QRO: Oh, you didn’t?
EC: I don’t know.
NC: I think we’d maybe mentioned it by then.
OC: Yeah, I think we’d just about decided.
EC: But actually bring her in to sing the album, and then have Aleks tour? That would have been…
OC: I think it would have created a really odd feel, if the album was recorded, knowing Aleks was leaving. Everyone would have a different concept.
NC: Well, it was recorded…
OC: Yeah, but being worried about that.
NC: I think we just tried to enjoy it as much as we could, the seven of us.
Los Campesinos! playing "The Sea Is a Good Place To Think of the Future" live at Fillmore New York at Irving Plaza in New York, NY on April 26th, 2010:
QRO: Do you feel that there has been a progression in the songs, a line you could draw from [debut EP] Sticking Fingers [Into Sockets – ] all the way to Romance?
NC: Yeah, I guess there probably is a pretty big difference.
Personally, if you look at [debut full-length] Hold On Now, Youngster… (QRO review), opening with "Death To [Los Campesinos!]", which is a really good, upbeat, fun pop song, into now, opening with "In Medias Res", I think that almost speaks for itself, in a way – worlds apart. Two years on from where we were – well, three years, ‘cause we wrote "Death To" ages ago.
QRO: During the making of Romance, did you try to have more ‘sad songs’, or ‘downbeat’? Because you also have songs on Romance like "There Are Listed Buildings", which is still pretty upbeat.
EC: I think it’s just an organic, really natural thing. There’s not a point where anyone sits down and goes, "Right, this album’s gonna be…"
Life experiences, touring, and playing more – it all just makes everyone evolve, and makes Tom’s [guitar – QRO interview] musicianship role, and Gareth’s songwriting role… It’s almost learning things, and growing up, and being in a band for such a long time, it has to go… it would be unnatural for us to stay static.
NC: Hold On Now, Youngster…, as well, was a collection of songs, rather than an album, so I don’t think we were ever really that mega-upbeat pop, twee band that everyone thought we were, in a way. That was very much part of the time, but I think, even then, we were all miserable. [laughs]
And we’re a lot older now. Edging closer to death.
Los Campesinos! playing "Miserabilia" live at Bowery Ballroom in New York, NY on February 15th, 2009:
OC: It’s quite nice when bands do the same record, over and over again, but it’s nicer to listen to a band develop. You get, ‘Oh, I was there from the beginning’, but it’s nice to listen to a band as they grow older & you grow older, as they develop.
QRO: With Hold On Now, Youngster… being, like you said, a "collection of songs", and having so many on it from Sticking Fingers, and then the following We Are Beautiful [We Are Doomed – ] was never meant to be a full album, do you feel that this is sort of your first full-length?
OC: I think, going into the recording process, knowing it was going to be like that.
NC: And, to me – I think you’ll probably agree – I’m still happy with it. We finished recording it almost a year ago, it was mixed about ten months ago, but still really happy with it.
Same with We Are Beautiful, actually, that was good, but now, listening to Hold On Now, Youngster…, you can kind of hear quite a lot of flaws. I’m still really proud of it, I’m not dismissing it, I’m still really happy with it, as a whole piece of art.
OC: We’re still really happy with it, now, ten months after recording it, rather than with the other ones, where you listen to it, and think, ‘That could be better…’
EC: ‘Well… That’s quite slow, isn’t it?…’
QRO: You put out two records in 2008, and Romance came out in January 2010 – does that leave time for another record this year, but out two every other year?
OC: Oh, we’ve got ten more written already to go… [laughs]
EC: It’s all a question of timing, really. Of what get plans in.
We kind of get an idea of our schedule eight months down the line sometimes, ‘We can do this festival, or we’ve been offered this…’ It’s often when you can find the time to sort it in. If you go off the radar for a bit, it’s like, ‘Okay, we tour this album – now we need to put ourselves back on the radar.’
Just, if we get to a point where we have time, we probably would record. It’s like that kind of thing, where you’re like…
NC: What else we gonna do?
I think it would be nice to do something else by the end of the year. Don’t know what it would be.
EC: Christmas record… [laughs]
QRO: You’ve managed to be so relatively prolific – is it hard to get everybody together? Does having so many members make it harder or easier?
NC: We don’t do anything else, really, do we?
EC: People have relationships and families and things like that, so it’s kind of like, you go back from a tour, and you catch up with that, see your friends and stuff, and everyone has hobbies and things. But it’s not like anyone has ‘another job’ or anything like that.
You kind of know, in a band, that you have to limit yourself. You can’t plan too much, which is that separate. If you do, you have to be, ‘If nothing’s going on here, I can go to Cornwall for the weekend.’ You have to live quite casually.
QRO: How does the set list (QRO photo) break out right now – how much Romance is there?
NC: It’s pretty heavy Romance. Just before the album came out, we did an in-store in London, and we did eight or nine, all new songs.
OC: It’s a tour promoting that album, so there’s going to be a lot. But there’s still going to be ‘the hits’.
EC: We throw in ‘the classics’.
NC: Things that made us ‘famous’.
OC: So I wouldn’t worry too much – you’ll hear the song you want.
NC: I know you came just to listen to "You! Me! Dancing!", all right.
Los Campesinos! playing "You! Me! Dancing!" live at Bowery Ballroom in New York, NY on February 15th, 2009:
QRO: Are there things people request that you can’t, just because you don’t have time?
EC: Sometimes, people will shout stuff, and I’ll be, "I can’t even remember how to play that…" People will be like, [Black Flag cover] "‘Police Story’!", and like, we did that two years ago. I can’t remember how to play that at all…
OC: I think, with all bands, they have an established base of songs that they’ll draw from, which we’ve got. But it would be nice to play some of the other songs that we’ve recorded, but it’s just that you’d have to get more gear in, and make everything. I’m sure if we knuckled down, we could probably play them, but it’s just time, whether we can be bothered to.
EC: Sometimes we’ve done some requests.
NC: You try to build a set that works, with a beginning, middle and an end.
QRO: What new songs do you particularly like playing live?
EC: I like playing "[Straight In At] 101" live a lot. It’s really, really fun. And "I Just Sighed. [I Just Sighed. Just So You Know]" – really, really enjoy that now.
NC: Haven’t really got a favorite.
EC: Love them all in different ways…
OC: I think they’re still new enough that I haven’t gotten bored of playing them yet.
QRO: Are there any songs you’ve gotten bored of playing?
OC: When you’re rehearsing, it’s sort of like, ‘Oh my God, do we have to play that song?…’ But when you’re in a gig, it’s different, ‘cause you’ll play that song, and you’ll get this massive response from the audience. And you’ll feed off that, and that makes you enjoy it more.
EC: I think as well, with those kind of songs, there’s something quite comforting about playing them, because you know exactly what you’re doing. They make you feel secure.
NC: You’re on autopilot…
EC: And it’s really nice because you can look at people in the audience. That’s what I always end up doing, staring at people. ‘Cause you’re like, ‘They can’t see me, ‘cause I can’t really see them…’
QRO: Are there any older songs you particularly like playing?
NC: I always, genuinely, still love playing "Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks". ‘Cause we’ve finished on that ever since like the first gig we ever played, pretty much. I couldn’t ever imagine us finishing on anything else. I think it just works so well, genuinely, every time we’ve done it, which is a really amazing feeling.
Los Campesinos! playing "Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks" live at Maxwell’s in Hoboken, NJ on May 14th, 2008:
QRO: What was making the video for "The Sea Is a Good Place To Think Of the Future" like?
[Neil & Ollie both point towards Ellen between them]
Especially for you, Ellen, since you co-directed it?
EC: My friend [Ryan] Owen filmed it, and then we edited it together.
That was really, really fun to do. Because it was one of those things where we’re like, ‘
, basically…’ [laughs]
NC: Start a fight. And then you’re doing it and, ‘Shit – we should do this more often! This is really easy to do! And this is a lot of fun!’
There’s not much footage of us in the sea, because it was too dark, but we were just in our underwear, really drunk, running into the sea.
EC: It was really weird as well, though, because it was really fun, but it was kind of ‘organized fun’, ‘cause someone from our management company coming up with bags of beer, giving the receipt for the wine you bought…
NC: Basically, we were encouraged to get drunk.
OC: But it was the cheapest video we’ve ever made…
NC: And probably my favorite.
EC: It was really fun to edit and stuff. You do get a bit bored of seeing people’s faces after while…
Los Campesinos!’s video for "The Sea Is a Good Place To Think Of the Future":
QRO: That video was all of you guys, but the other videos from the album was not you guys at all – why was that?
NC: It’s just really, really hard to try to get the time. If the director’s got a particular idea, and then it’s just really hard, depending where they live, where they want to film, and if you’re on tour – which is a shame.
But we don’t really like being in videos…
OC: I think we did that video before Aleks had even left. Because both Aleks and Kim were in it.
NC: The thirtieth of June we recorded it.
OC: Yeah – me & Neil moved house the next day…
EC: Did you? Oh my gosh…
NC: That was kind of us pointing. No one would know at the time.
EC: And Rob’s in it, as well.
OC: It’s a transitional video.
QRO: That came out before the record came out.
NC: We hadn’t really done anything for a while.
EC: That was our, "Hello!…"
OC: [laughs] "We’re back!"
EC: "With a really sad song!…" [laughs]
‘Kim Campesinos! Signs For Los Campesinos!’ video:
QRO: Speaking of videos, where did the idea come from for the video where Kim was joining, where you were doing it in a football stadium?
NC: That was one, because we really, really love soccer – well, football…
QRO: I was trying to be ‘in’ [by saying ‘football’]…
NC: I know, I know! It’s just automatically…
I think, also, football news pieces and general punditry is so rubbish…
OC: With the football season, you have a period of time where you can buy players from other teams, and she was joining at that time.
I can’t remember who suggested it…
NC: I think it was might have been Gareth and our manager, Allen – he’s just like us, really: a big idiot who likes football…
EC: It seems like it came out of some really silly drunk conversation, "You know what would be really funny…"
NC: "You know what we should do…"
The guy who is the presented, he’s an actual, real, BBC – if you watch BBC football, he’s there on TV. Sean Fletcher.
EC: He was very professional.
OC: We wanted to make a bigger deal of Kim joining the band. Because so many bands, someone leaves, and someone else joins, it’s just a little bit on their website saying, ‘Oh, by the way, John Smith has joined the band…’ We just wanted to make it a bigger thing, and more exciting.
And, of course, the new Cardiff City Stadium had just opened.
EC: We got to do some tourism for Cardiff…
NC: We got a double-page spread in the local… [all laugh]
QRO: Do you still cover Pavement’s "Frontwards"?
OC: I think the last time we played it was Bowery Ballroom (QRO venue review) last year, February 14th and 15th. I think that was the last time we played it.
Los Campesinos! covering Pavement’s "Frontwards" live at Bowery Ballroom in New York, NY on November 30th, 2007:
We did "Box Elder" at Coachella, didn’t we?
OC: We did that a couple of times as well. Just ‘showing our allegiance’…
QRO: You guys cover Pavement (QRO greatest hits review), and have a song about All Tomorrow’s Parties ["Knee Deep at the ATP"] – how can you not be playing the Pavement-curated ATP next month?
EC: Are they even aware of us?
OC: C’mon – who isn’t?…
We got asked to do a tour with [Pavement singer/guitarist and solo artist Stephen] Malkmus (QRO live review), but instead we came to America.
NC: We got asked to play ATP two years ago, when Pitchfork curated it, so that was the highlight.
Los Campesinos! playing "Knee Deep at the A.T.P." live at Bowery Ballroom in New York, NY on November 30th, 2007:
We really, really wanted to play that Pavement one. They were playing Coachella while we were on the airplane, but it would be nice to get on some one.
QRO: They’re doing random shows – they just announced one at Hollywood Bowl with Sonic Youth (QRO live review)…
OC: Yeah, Sonic Youth and No Age (QRO live review)…
NC: They’re basically just fuckin’ raking it in – every festival…
EC: Are they playing Primavera?
NC: Brixton Academy, four or five shows there…
OC: And then they’re curating ATP.
NC: They are laughing, though. It’s amazing, though – so many people.
EC: But I thought they weren’t even that big when they were around?
OC: They weren’t massive at the time, and their last tour was at Brixton Academy.
NC: And that’s big – that’s like 5,000, but that’s after a ten-year career.
EC: It almost seems like it was one of those things where, when they stopped playing, loads of artists started citing them as influences. When they stopped, that just seemed to make them bigger.
QRO: Same thing with the Pixies (QRO live review).
So, really, all of their success is because of you citing them and covering them…
EC: [laughs] Yeah…
We should break-up for like three months, and then say, "Oh, we’re back together!" – Reunion Tour!…
QRO: Do you have a favorite tour story?
EC: God… I can barely remember much of our tours…
Actually, I still think one of my favorite moments of tour, ever, was when we went star watching in Marfa, Texas.
OC: I didn’t realize that it was about the Mystery Lights.
We stopped off there on the way between a couple of places. Drove out into the desert and just watched…
EC: Had some tequila, for some reason, as well.
OC: Just watched the stars. It was amazing.
EC: Shooting stars and lightning storms. Being able to see it that clearly, and never having an explanation.
NC: I loved that day in Marfa. I think Marfa is amazing, a really great place.
QRO: How does touring America now compare to when you first did?
EC: It’s still as exciting.
NC: Things get bigger, in a way, gradually, and nicely, which keeps it always fresh and exciting.
Also, you have favorites, so you know certain things about certain cities, so you try to go back there.
OC: Just these little things that, now you’ve become a ‘regular’ to the city. You just have your little things.
It’s probably a bit lazy, because there’s so much more to New York than the areas we go to, but when you’re there, you feel safe in them.
NC: Don’t have that much time, either…
EC: Sometimes, I think, it’s that if you can find something routine, like, when you’re on tour – which is just so crazy – which you know, it’s really comforting. Because, a lot of the time, you’re in a new city, and then you get to know, and you’re like, ‘I like that.’ It kind of feels a bit home-y…
QRO: Are you guys huge in Spanish-speaking countries, because of the name?…
NC: We did play some shows in Argentina, Columbia and Venezuela last year, and they were amazing. In Bogotá, I think a thousand people turned up to watch us, and then in Venezuela, we played this outdoor free festival to like four thousand people. People didn’t know who we were, but they still watched, and just went mental…
NC: In Bogotá, people were waiting outside the venue for us, and us literally having to go ‘round the side. ‘Cause it was just amazing – we’ve never had that reception before, anywhere in the world.
Going back to favorite tour things, I think those two shows in South America were probably my favorite.
We’ve done quite a few shows in Spain, as well.
EC: And those were really, really awesome.
NC: I think if we could just tour Spain for a while, just soak up the sun and eat some nice food…
QRO: Where did you all find Rob?
NC: He went to my high school. I kind of knew him then – he was a couple of years above me, but his sister’s in my year, so I kind of knew him. And then we got in contact about music a few years later, when we were both at university.
He started his project, called Sparky Deathcap, played with us a bunch of times, came to Cardiff, liked Cardiff, liked certain people in Cardiff [Ellen snickers]…
So it just kind of came together, really.
QRO: Does he live in Cardiff now?
NC: Not yet, but hopefully.
EC: It’s gravitating that way…
NC: We’ll just drag him…
QRO: Why did you want another person?
OC: Why not?… [laughs]
NC: We needed someone to do loads more stuff for the new record, ‘cause there was just extra bits that we really needed doing. He was just the most obvious person.
OC: He’s been with us since Kim joined back in September.
QRO: Where did the idea of all going by the last name ‘Campesinos!’ come from?
NC: We’re big Ramones fans…
EC: It was kind of a silly, silly thing. I can’t even remember anymore…
NC: I think it was just a novelty, to make us seem maybe more exciting than we really were.
EC: I think it’s one of those things where you do something like that, and you don’t expect, a) to get a record deal, b) people to have heard it…
NC: For people to give a shit.
EC: For people to give a shit.
NC: When we first recorded demos, we said, "If we ever go to America, we’re changing our names to ‘Campesinos!’" – and then we did, and we’re like, "Ohh…"
EC: Plus it’s really easy to find our real names, anyway, because they’re on song lyrics and stuff.
And even if people do find our names, what are they going to do, try to add you on Facebook?
NC: Then you say no…
EC: If other people in the band are friends with them, and you’re like, ‘Well, maybe I do know them, and I’ve forgotten…’
QRO: How did you guys hear of Cymbals Eat Guitars (QRO photos opening for Los Campesinos!), your opener?
NC: Tom was saying last night, and I’d completely forgotten to mention it, when we were in Seattle, driving back from the studio, they were on KEXP.
EC: Yes! We were like, ‘This song’s really good!…’
NC: And it was them.
Los Campesinos! playing "Broken Heartbeats Sound Like Breakbeats", with Gareth, Kim, Neil and Rob in the crowd, live at Fillmore New York at Irving Plaza in New York, NY on April 26th, 2010: