Sad Suppers: An Interview with Los Campesinos!
From a four-year hiatus to Brexit blues, the new Los Campesinos! album tackles tough subjects but with a quirk-pop smile.
Sport is the perfect prism through which to view the trials and tribulations of life.
Whether it be basketball, football, baseball or snooker, as a sports fan you live every hit, kick, dunk, thwack, and pot. You live in a fug of hope and possibilities, never quite ready for the inevitable failures and disappointments. Supporting a team encapsulates the experiences that make us human. As supporters we run the full gamut of emotions both good and bad. Sport acts as a microcosmic representation of the vicissitudes and vagaries of life.
In many ways supporting a team bears striking similarities to following a band. There is the excitement and expectation of a new release. There is the dizzying high of a stellar live show. There are the fallow years, barren spells and mixed fortunes. There will be the inevitable "difficult" period where a band struggle to match the peak of their early years followed by the much heralded "return to form". Throughout, there is always belief. A zealous expectation of what's to follow. Some bands you leave. Some bands you forget about completely. Some you live and breathe regardless. Some bands like Los Campesinos!.
For English band Los Campesinos!, sport and, particularly football, are one of the fundamental themes that has always run through their music, "I'm quite often asked about the influence of sport and lyrics in our lyrics," explains front man Gareth David, "It is an anomaly but for me it is the most obvious thing in the world. You get the full spectrum of human emotion in sport and music is generally about transmitting your feelings about human emotions to the listener, so using football metaphors and references just seems like a really easy way of getting feelings across."
David's time in the band and his unwavering support for his local team, Welton Rovers, are synonymous with each other. There have been the highs and lows of promotion and relegation and, for the band, there has been the early successes of their first two albums Hold On Now Youngster... and We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed (both 2008), followed by the subsequent and inexorable fall out of fashion. Nevertheless, bands and sports teams exist for their fans, they are the people that define them and, for Los Campesinos!, their relationship with their fans has remained resolute and unshakable. A relationship that borders on the symbiotic.
"Our relationship with our fan base has always been incredible," continues David. "We try for there to be as little sense of hierarchy as possible. We are them and they are us. We are the ones lucky enough to be playing these songs live and recording them but we try not to patronize people who like our band and we try and have a very pure relationship with them."
This enduring support led directly to the making of the band's new album, Sick Scenes, with the band selling Los Campesinos! football shirts. David elaborates: "We self-funded the album by selling the football shirts. We were hoping to sell a hundred of them and in a week we sold a thousand so that paid for the album. It was a real redemptive moment for us with people putting their faith in us to go ahead and make another record." This was especially gratifying for the band as the release of new album Sick Scenes comes almost four years after the release of their last album 2013's No Blues.
This enforced lay-off has, unsurprisingly, impacted on the tone of the album: "It was written coming off the back of being pissed off that we had had to put the band on hold for three years," notes David. "For the first five or six years of the band we were releasing and touring relentlessly. If we weren't touring an album we were recording the next one. After No Blues the label kind of put a stop to that."
At that point in the band's career, it wasn't clear whether the band would come back at all, as "we had a couple of years of working proper jobs and getting disillusioned that we weren't getting to see each other as often as we would like, really questioning whether it was worth doing." Eventually, the band reached the conclusion that it was, buoyed by the faith shown in them by their fans, they entered the studio with renewed vigour, David noting that "we went into it excited about what was to come, knowing that we were releasing another album."
This enthusiasm is reflected in the album which is a taut, spiky and immediate set of indie-rock songs, something that David acknowledges: "I think the energy and directness of the record is reflective of our excitement at being a band and still getting to play together." It is, arguably, their finest work to date replete with huge, sing-a-along choruses that retain that every man spirit but are streaked with contemplative, somber, humility. A style of writing that has remained largely the same throughout the band's career and as cemented the relationship they have with their fans.
"I think Los Campesinos! songs have been about balancing out that melancholy and sadness with a realistic, broad shouldered approach to just getting on with things and finding the humor and the light in those things." Humor, pathos and irreverence have been features of every Los Campesinos! album and Sick Scenes is no different.
Take recent single, "5 Flucloxacillin", as an example, which contains the intriguing and classic Los Campesinos! line "A peloton of OAPs cycling up behind me," a line inspired by an actual event. "It was a lovely summers afternoon and I was cutting grass at a local cemetery," tells David, "This group of elderly cyclists were having a picnic and when they went they left all their rubbish everywhere and I just thought 'You guys have got it made.'" Elsewhere the song "Renato Dall'Ara, 2008" contrasts the changing fortunes of the England football team in two, era defining games, which also serves as a metaphor for the band themselves. The year 2008 in the title refers to a specific year in the band's history,"I half jokingly say it's our peak year. We would get recognized in the street in any major cities. We have always been happy to take the piss out of ourselves and that song is doing exactly that."
Unsurprisingly, as the album was recorded in the summer of 2016, there are songs that address the EU referendum. For example, "A Slow Slow Death" and "Fall Of Home" concern the experience of watching the referendum from afar as well as the repercussions of the result. "We were in Portugal at the time of the EU referendum. We were there for the build-up and the vote itself and the fall out. It was really really odd being far from home but still following every single bit of the news. 'Fall of Home' was written at 3am as the referendum result was coming in and seeing people's reaction to that. It was an attempt to capture that sentiment of gloom that a lot of people felt at the time."
The band have never shied away from discussing politics in their songs but always manage to do so covertly: "You can probably guess our politics. I think our politics run through songs and through our albums without ever it being it being a political statement. I think it is a bit more subtle than that. I think this is the way that works especially for Los Campesinos! songs."
The easily discernible passion behind the music and the general enthusiasm for its release is something the band are keen to capitalize on. The band have now started managing themselves and this new found autonomy has refocused the band, keen to embrace the opportunities afforded by the release of a new album. "It's great to get some new opportunities," crows David. "We are doing a three week US tour which is the most exciting thing that has happened to us for years. Our biggest UK show ever, playing at KOKOs in May. Already things are bigger than they were with No Blues. Hopefully, we won't have the missed opportunities that we had with the last record."
The next four months are clear for the band, however after that the future is a little more uncertain. "The reality is that we still have day jobs. We can't drop all that and tour for a full year. I'm 31 now and I have less of a clue now what to do with my life now than I ever have. When we come to the end of this album cycle I'm gonna have to decide what to do."
With that David departs to affix pin badges to cardboard backings to send out to fans. An activity that provides a clear illustration of just how Los Campesinos! remain a band of and for its fans. New album Sick Scenes is a fitting reward for their years of unwavering support and the belief shown by them. Whatever the future holds, the anticipation and exhilaration of a new album are what makes following a band the joyous, life-affirming experience that it is. For Los Campesinos! it's just as important to them as it is for their fans.