I spoke to Gareth on the phone at 9:30am, as he was waking up in his home in Midsomer Norton.
His early morning brain was sharp and eager to open up, and he was more than happy to talk extensively about each of the tracks on the Los Campesinos' new album Sick Scenes. Throughout the conversation he was enthusiastic and was clearly elated to be back working on Los Campesinos!, releasing a new album for the first time in 3 years, and particularly to be going out on tour to the West Coast of America for the first time in five years.
He was in such a loquacious mood that, well over an hour into talking to, I even decided to finish the conversation by asking him about what he thought of Arsene Wenger's position at Arsenal, and he had plenty to say. You can read all of that and many more humorous and insightful thoughts from Gareth below.
Nice and early to be doing an interview!
Is that good for you?
That's fine! I'm happy to do whatever's good for you.
Good, I just prefer doing it early. If I have to do anything in the afternoon, I spend all morning thinking about what I have to do in the afternoon and then I'm like 'well I've got an interview to do in 5 hours so have I got enough time to have breakfast? Yes, obviously, you idiot.' So, if I do it in the morning then I have the rest of the day to do absolutely nothing at my own pace. So yeah it suits me well.
That's good. Are you doing nothing at the moment then?
No, I wish I was. At the moment, we're in the process of applying for US Visas because we got a US tour that starts in 10-11 days or something. We fly on the 18th, and our first gig’s on the 20th and the nature of every time I've applied for a US Visa or known any band to apply for a US Visa it's a total last minute thing, and this is no different.
Is it more difficult than ever?
That remains to be seen. It's pretty regular as I've experienced it the past four or five times we've done it, but I will be locking my Twitter profile before I go to the embassy tomorrow. I have deliberately remained quiet on any matters of US politics and social issues for the past fortnight through fear of our Twitter account being googled in the vetting process or whatever. The only real difference is this is the first time we've been applying for Visas since we've been self-managed, so I'm overseeing it all, which makes it that bit more terrifying because if it does all go wrong it's less easy to pass the blame onto somebody else. Yeah so 8:30am appointment tomorrow at the Embassy in London. You have to go to London, no matter where in the UK you're based, you have to go to London for it obviously. And the appointment is always at 8:30 in the morning, so you always have to get up stupid early on the day or stay there the night before. Yeah, they make us jump through hoops. And it's just so expensive, and for US bands coming over here it's really easy and really cheap, and so I'm obviously very loathsome of that.
Has it been difficult to remain silent on Twitter these last two weeks?
I feel like I'm very aware of how much influence anything that an indie-pop band - a not particularly famous indie-pop band - says; it doesn't really have any influence. But also, I feel like silence is compliance, and because we've got a platform, because we've got 30,000 Twitter followers, 100,000 Facebook likes, we do have a platform, we do have an ability to have our voice heard. And if you have that, especially being in the privileged position that we are, it's only right that we should speak up for people who don't have that platform and speak out against injustice. So, it has been hard. We raised over £1500 for ACLU and Planned Parenthood and Right To Remain by joining in with Bandcamp's donation thing that they did last week, so that was nice, but in terms of saying anything too explicit I've felt like I had to bite my tongue. But as soon as we are in America and through immigration we can punch as many Nazis as we want.
That'll be fun! Before we get to the music, I wanted to take about your frustration around No Blues and the promotion around it. Do you want to fill us in about it, and what's happened between then and now?
No Blues came about at a time where we were making the transition from being a full-time band to getting proper jobs and not taking a wage from the band anymore. I think a lot of us within the band had come to a point in our lives where that was sensible because we weren't going to be able to be touring and bringing in money as much that way. No Blues was the last record we were contractually obliged to do with our previous label and so it made sense for both parties to start afresh. But I think as a result No Blues was kind of dusted under the carpet as soon as it was released, because the label knew that there wasn't any long-term commitment there anymore. So, in terms of the promotion we didn't send any tracks to radio, we only did one music video, we only did 4 shows in the US - which was particularly frustrating because we play to more people in the States than we do in the UK and yet we only went over for 4 dates, we didn't even get to do the West Coast or Canada. So, that was really frustrating, and it kind of left us in a position where we were feeling like we had to ask the questions, "is it worth it?", "why do we do this?", "do people care if we do this?", "should we still do this?". And I think the 7 of us within the band, we all knew what we thought the answer to that was. Obviously it was “yes,” and we should because we love it, and we're all really close friends, and we like spending time together, and we love playing gigs - so why wouldn't we keep doing it? But that wasn't really the message we were getting from some people we had worked with for a long time. Some suggested that maybe we needed to think about calling it a day - which we definitely didn't want to do!
So after No Blues was released and disappeared pretty quickly we all got proper jobs and we all concentrated on that. It wasn't clear what we were doing for a long time - if and when we would get to release another record. It was the start of 2016, I don't know what really spurned it on, it was the 10 year anniversary of the band so we were talking a lot about that. And it was very clear that we did want to do another record, and there was no reason for us not to. We knew that we didn't want to be indebted to a record label anymore because that's how it goes as a band - or how it went for us, not all bands - we took money from a label to make an album and then tried to sell that album to make back the money that they gave us to pay back to them. We knew we didn't want to do that anymore, we knew we wanted to self-fund everything, which we did and which has been so liberating - it's something I wish we'd done several albums ago. We found our way into the studio and suddenly everything we felt clicked. We were very, very excited again to be a band and to have the opportunity to play gigs and write new songs.
That's a happy ending.
Yeah! It feels like it. Because we've always previously released album like every year or 18 months at the longest, we had a really quite prolific run from 2008 to 2013, and then to now go over 3 years without releasing an album - the longest we've been - we were unsure, maybe people would get fed up of waiting or forget about us or whatever. But the reaction since announcing the new album and putting out new tracks has been really affirming and made us feel fantastic about ourselves. Also, to see the tickets for the gigs selling as well as they are, and just a real sense of buzz. Especially in the States because we've not toured the US properly for 5 years - we've not been to the West Coast for 5 years. It really is like - it sounds a bit over the top - but there's a generation of Los Campesinos! fans who haven't got to see us live before, because especially with US gigs being 21+ a lot of the time, so someone who was 14 when Hold On Now, Youngster came out will be like 23 now and it'll be their first opportunity to see us, so that's really exciting.
OK, let's talk about the album. You recorded in Amarante, Portugal - you haven't recorded there before have you?
No, we've always recorded abroad and been very lucky to do that; this was the first time in Portugal. Previously we've recorded in Barcelona, Seattle, Toronto - and North Wales, which was the least glamorous but my favourite.
Do you treat it like a holiday or is it very professional?
It feels like a holiday in many ways, and I think that's why we've always chosen to record abroad, because we very easily could have done this album recorded on weekends in Bristol or Cardiff, but then I think you've got too many distractions from home. I'd still be wanting to go and watch my football team on Saturdays, and I'd still want to go and play 5-a-side on Thursday nights; I'd still be in my routine, and I think that would distract from working on the record. We wanted to go away, as we always do, it's the only way we know how to work.
It was a weird time because people are working day jobs, the majority of the band could only come over for about a week and do their parts and then go back to work. So most of the time it was just myself, Tom and Rob over there. The village that we recorded in was Fridão, which was about a 20-minute drive outside Amarante. There was nothing in Fridão, just a single bar/cafe and that is literally it. So, it was really remote, it was really swelteringly hot weather which I don't cope with well at all, there was no 3G, wi-fi was very limited - they seem like very minute things to complain about, but I think the use of the internet is a vital part of my self-care routine and I struggle without it. There were moments that felt like a holiday, certainly; we had a lovely day off in Porto where we got to explore the city, which was great. We'd swim in the lakes and we'd drive into Amarante to watch the Euro 2016 matches - we were there to see Portugal win the final so that was amazing. But generally speaking, it was a pretty intense four and a half weeks. It kind of felt stressful at the time, but we certainly came away with an album that we were really happy with so it worked.
How much do you have before you go out there?
In terms of music, everything. It's still open to tweaks when we get recording obviously, but Tom demos all the instrumentation and arrangements and he does so to a really incredible degree. He produces bands himself now, so the demos that he records and sends over to me to write the lyrics are always really exceptional quality. But I go into the studio having written nothing lyrically; since Hold On Now, Youngster that's always been the way it is. I don't feel comfortable sitting down when I'm at home or outside of the band routine I can't bring myself to sit down and write songs. That's not the sort of person I am, I've never identified as being a musician or an artist, and so it doesn't really sit with me. So, I turn up on the first day with nothing written and then I'm like "oh shit I've got four and a half weeks to write an album's worth of material." Which, to be honest doesn't help my mental state either putting that pressure on myself. But literally from We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed right through to now that's how I've worked, and it's not backfired terribly yet.
Does Tom not get annoyed and say "I sent you the demos ages ago!"?
I'm sure deep down he'd much rather I have things ready before so we could spend more time working on harmonies and adjusting melodies and stuff like that. But equally, I think he's aware that that's just how I work and for me to attempt to change it would probably be detrimental to what I do ultimately. It frustrates me - it's definitely got to frustrate him.
Would you say this is your most doomed sounding album yet?
Ooooooh, interesting. Certainly our most dour album is Hello Sadness, which is obviously a break up album and I think very much rooted in a sense of devastation, but maybe to an extent that it's almost an out-the-other-side and comedic album. But yeah, I think Sick Scenes may well be our most doomed, to be honest. It's unfortunate actually because obviously the time when you’re asked about an album is around the immediate aftermath and release, but it's usually not until about 12 months after an album that I can think about it objectively. But yeah I think Sick Scenes is very much a record about being confused and uncertain and I think the main thread running through it - and I think this is something that's probably shared by a lot of our listenership – is that I'm in my 30s now, but all through my 20s I thought that things were gonna get better because as you get older you won't be depressed anymore and you'll know what you're doing with your life, and it'll all be fine; and now here I am in my early 30s and I'm less sure of what I'm doing than ever before. And now I can see that it's absolutely fine to not know what you're doing with your life in your 20s. If I was 10 years younger then I'd think 'it's fine, I've got it all ahead of me', if I was 10 years older I'd think 'It doesn't matter, I'm on a downward slope now anyway," but it's this weird thing being 31 and sort of knowing that you can't resign yourself to nothing now, and I still need to work out what I'm gonna do. I think that's probably a sentiment shared by a lot of people around my age, and that's one of the great things about the path that our band has taken, in that when our first record came out we were all 21 and a lot of our listenership was around that age, and so as our albums have come out people have been going through similar experiences to what we have and what we're singing about, and it's come to be pretty useful. A few people that I've spoken to have said the same about this record, and it being rooted in the now and things being as bad as they are in the world right now, I guess it probably is a pretty doomed sounding record.
I sense a lot of bitterness running throughout it too.
I guess so. I think this record shares a lot more in common with our first couple of releases than the last two had because we had this forced break from writing music, it was kind of like a Year Zero for us; we could just come at this record and do anything we wanted with it. I think as a result there's a bit more spite and bitterness in the lyrics than there maybe had been for a couple of releases.
Let's go through some of the lyrics. Do you feel like they’re denser than ever this time?
I don't think so. I think No Blues is the most densely packed record that we've done. Although I think I am in the least good position to be a judge of it because the lyrics are so far inside my head that I can look at them on a page and it doesn't really mean much to me. I feel like these are bit more direct than on No Blues, a bit more plainspoken, but I could be completely wrong about that.
We start with 'Renato Dall Ara (2008)', which has its title sung in backing vocals in the song - did you have to explain to everyone what Renato Dall Ara is and why you wanted that?
It's funny, within the band I think Tom gets my references straight away or if he doesn't he'll google them, whereas Jason will literally go a couple of years thinking that a lyric is completely different to what it is. Jason is not interested in lyrics at all, which initially I found frustrating, but now I find endearing. I guess it's Kim that bears the brunt because she sings the backing vocals, but she is very understanding of me, and she'll google it or she'll ask me. It's not until somebody asks you about a lyric until you think "oh god, this is absurd" [laughs] and then have to embarrassedly explain what it is. But I think the Renato Dall Ara analogy, and how I use it, is very me, so it was just an eye roll and let me get on with it.
Can you explain the analogy for us?
Renato Dall Ara is a stadium in Bologna, in which during Italia 90 David Platt scored an extra-time winner against Belgium. Italia 90 was a good football tournament for England, there were plenty of heroics in it. Two years later England faced San Marino in the same stadium - San Marino being one of the lowliest footballing nations - and England fall behind after like 17 seconds or something like that; they go 1-0 down in a match that they need to win. One of the lines in the chorus is "once up and then back down again," which refers to people within the music industry and touring circuit saying you play a venue once on the way up and once on the way back down. That song is largely about taking the piss out of ourselves and our 2008 heyday, and how we're still chugging along 9 years later. So, Renato Dall Ara used as the analogy as once up and once back down.
Amazing! Did you always know that would be the opening track?
One of the things that I like about the stupid way that myself and Tom end up putting songs together is that when Tom has demoed everything, he will present the song to me saying "this is how I think that the track listing could be." I always like to know what song is the opening song and what song is intended to be the closing song of the album, because I like to have an opening line that kind of an appropriate introduction to the album, and then I like to have something overwrought and grand to close the album with. We always knew that this song would be the opener, so I wrote with that in mind.
Nice. So, on this album, you start by turning up pissed up and uninvited, and you finish the album wondering "what if this is how we die?"
Yeah... which is very apt for where I'm at in life.
So 'I Broke Up In Amarante', was this inspired by the town or the recording sessions?
I think that was the first track that I finished fully for the album, and so that would have been within a week of getting to Portugal. My mental health was not very good while I was over there, I was struggling a lot with being away from home and the comforts of home, and also the pressure and uncertainty of writing an album for the first time in a while. So, that song documents those first couple of days when I was feeling particularly bad and uncertain about my ability to write songs, and just how I was struggling in the heat and the pressures of Fridao. I guess it's kind of literal "I broke up"; I broke down a fair bit - I wasn't doing very well. It's totally influenced by those couple of days in that village.
I guess 'A Slow, Slow Death' is also partly about suffering with the heat?
'A Slow, Slow Death', is a song that's a lot more inspired by home I suppose, despite being written in Portugal. It's one rooted in the sort of melancholy and sadness of home rather than being away. It kind of sums up the sentiment about being lost and uncertain and confused with everything. That song is quite a grey song to me, it evokes that sort of dreariness of the UK and that sort of trudging down the street at 7 in the morning because you've got to be somewhere and everywhere's reasonably empty and it's inevitably grey and drizzly. That's how I was feeling during that song. I think it was influenced by the EU Referendum, which happened midway through our time in Portugal and it was a very weird situation to be kind of feeling grateful to be outside of the UK because it was a total shit-show and horrific and it was good to be able to remove ourselves from it, but also, I felt this sense of guilt of not being there and not experiencing it with friends and family and being able to face it head-on. So, I think that sentiment is conveyed in 'A Slow, Slow Death', and particularly in 'The Fall Of Home'.
Right! I was going to say the next two songs, 'The Fall Of Home' and '5 Flucloxacillin' are quite political. These three tracks together form a political trio in some ways.
Yeah I guess so. It's never been my intention to write anything political because I don't think I'm smart enough to convey it. But, because I've always written honestly and openly, when it comes to something that's so relevant and is going on around us, it would take a deliberate effort to not include it in the songs, and that would seem kind of cowardly. Without explicitly writing a chorus like "kill all Tories, fuck the right" - I'm not going to go quite as far as that - but to convey unrest in the personal politics of songwriting is something that's difficult to avoid.
I think 'The Fall Of Home' is amazing and beautiful, and I can really relate to it, especially the last couplet "another family friend fell sick/ gave the Fascists a thousand ticks." But reading the press notes for this album it seems like you're annoyed with the people like me who have moved away from their small towns and then complain when they go back and see it changed.
I live where I'm from. I moved away for a bit to University in Cardiff and I lived there for 8 years, but I've made my way back. I'm very fortunate that a) I like it here and that b) being here doesn't really negatively affect my mental health. I know a lot of people who felt like they had to move away from their home town, where their parents are, because it was killing them to be there, and I totally respect that. I know that a lot of towns and villages in the UK don't afford the opportunities that people obviously need to strive for and need to try to make the most of. But I do get frustrated with people on Twitter and Facebook who've moved away from where they're from and are throwing blame around. There seems to be a lack of understanding of why a lot of these regions are as they are, and aren't very progressive and do inevitably harbour a lot of people with racist and xenophobic sentiments. They just sort of dismiss it as London being great being great and forward-thinking, while this place in the South West or the North East is a shit hole. And that really frustrates me because I think it becomes an inevitability when you get a large amount of sensible-thinking people moving away; you just leave those who haven't experienced the world outside of where they're from.
Related to that, I get really frustrated at Christmas time when people come back to my town from places they've moved away to, like Manchester or London - or even as close as Bristol, which is just 45 minutes away and Christ knows I'm not criticising anyone for that - but it becomes this weird sort of poverty tourism. I'm from a town called Midsomer Norton and people come back and it becomes almost comedic to them how undeveloped it is and how barren it's become, and that frustrates me that people kind of become dismissive of it. I personally feel that it's my duty to remain engaged with where I'm from and do what I can to ensure that it doesn't just completely die due to lack of houses being built or government funding cuts or the movement of jobs outside of the area. I think it's too easy to just be in a big city and look at the regions like everybody there is just an idiot. That's a sentiment I felt a lot of people were unwittingly expressing, especially during the time of the Referendum, mostly just brought on by the petition for London to stay in the EU - which was just, you know... that really angered me. The people's reaction was to further distance themselves from the reality of the UK. Loads of my best mates live in places different to where they were born, and it's totally understandable why they do, and they definitely should because they're living their best life, but an unfortunate side effect of that is the way that smaller towns and villages that suffer - but it's not the people's fault, it's industry's fault and media's fault in ensuring that for people to achieve what they want to achieve, they can't do it in their home towns any more.
Interesting. There's a lot ideas packed into this small song then!
Yeah I know, right? I just got the lyrics up in front of me and it's what, 12 lines, and I've just rambled for 5 minutes.
Nevertheless, 'The Fall Of Home' is a very sweet-sounding song, and a lot of that comes from your voice. Have you changed the way you sing at all?
[Laughs] People said that when we put '5 Flucloxacillin' out as well. A lot of people were like "who's singing this song?" or "has Gareth had singing lessons?". But no, I've always been able to sing, it's just not always been appropriate. All through school I sang in school choirs and stuff like that, so I've always been able to, but it's not always seemed suitable. I think now I enjoy singing properly more because I've never really done it. I think singing properly you open yourself up to more criticism than when you're clearly just shouting or snarling your way through a song. When I've listened back to the album and that first bit of singing on 'The Fall Of Home' comes in I find it kind of jarring; suddenly I'm reasonably angelic sounding. In the studio I did do a nicely-sung version and a more typically Los Campesinos! sounding version. It was the nicely-sung version that we went with, and I'm glad.
And there's a glock on it, right?
Ooh, good question. I think it was probably, as I recall, programmed. It's definitely a glockenspiel sound, but I think it might have been recorded on a glockenspiel setting on the keyboard [laughs], which always sounds better than an actual glock.
When you play it live, you'll use a glock though right?
Nooooooo. We don't really use a glock live anymore, because it just gets in the way. It's only on like 2 or 3 songs now, and it means we have to carry another keyboard stand with us and we have to take the glockenspiel everywhere, which isn't that big but it's always in the way, it's annoying. We've already got so much on stage, and a lot of the stages we play are really too small to have a glockenspiel on it as well. And also, there was a period where the only track we were playing that required it was 'You! Me! Dancing!', so it was this really embarrassing moment where at the start of the song I'd go to the back of the stage, grab the glockenspiel and bring it to the front, and the crowd would rapturously applaud a glockenspiel - I couldn't bring myself to be a part of that anymore.
We have been rehearsing 'The Fall Of Home' and it's sort of like a toy piano sound we've replaced it with. It works.
'5 Flucloxacillin' comes next and it's right in the middle of the album. It seems like the ideal mid-album track because it has a bit of everything; the political, the depression, the bitterness. Was that done on purpose?
No, that's not done deliberately. It's the opening track of side 2 on the vinyl, which I think was semi-deliberate because I think that's a good lead-in to the second half of the album. But no, not deliberate on my part certainly, I wish I could say I was smart enough to think of that.
You mention all these prescription medications - sertraline, that's the one I use...
Do you think it's important to talk about depression?
I don't think that it's something people should feel they have to talk about because I know that a lot of people aren't comfortable with that, and that for a lot of people depression isn't something that they feel they can talk about, due to embarrassment or shame or something. Me personally, I am OK with it. I feel like there has definitely been a wave recently of more bands and public figures talking about mental health issues, even in sport, which is obviously a massive deal. I read a piece yesterday about how even someone like Bruce Springsteen has opened up about his mental health issues, and I know there are a lot of contemporary bands, especially in the US emo scene, who are open about it. I think that's great because perhaps younger people who are feeling the same, if they see somebody whose music they like or a sports star they admire talking about it then they'll feel like if they want to they can talk about it as well, and it may well lead to them seeking help. And that's a positive thing. But equally it's not for everybody and I think to explicitly say "you should talk about it if you're experiencing it" would only be detrimental to people's mental health as well; it wouldn't be productive. I've always been happy being as open as possible in my writing, so I guess it's just an extension of that.
I like it when artists talk about it. I feel like it's solidarity and something that shouldn't be taboo anymore.
Yeah, absolutely. I can definitely feel that current shifting away from it being a taboo. I think also in the current climate the more people discuss it the more seriously others will have to take it, and the more seriously the government will have to take it in terms of funding mental health treatment and support. I've had lots of people feed back to me on social media or email or face to face at gigs saying "thank you for talking about depression, it helped me open up about my own." There's not much good you can do being in a band, but if that is some good that I've contributed then I'm happy to have.
The lyric "31 and depression is a young man's game" - was that like an epiphany or a slow realisation?
I think that for me that's probably the one lyric that most sums up the record and sort of how I'm feeling. I think when I was younger and depressed I'd always comfort myself by saying things like "it'll get better, you won't feel like it anymore," and when you're younger it seems like you're allowed to be depressed and uncertain and going through things. But now dealing with it in your early 30s it's like "Why? Why am I still like this? Why hasn't it fixed itself?" Now, clearly, it'll always be here. I feel less well-equipped to deal with than I have in the past, but it made for a decent lyric so that's the silver lining. [Laughs]
'Here's To The Fourth Time' comes next - to me this song seems like the more eloquent way of saying "we kid ourselves there's future in the fucking/ because there is no fucking future."
Yeah, maybe. That song is probably the most nostalgic song on the record, and in a Los Campesinos! timeline it would fit in before 'The Time Before The Last Time' from No Blues. It's just sort of thinking over a relationship that I was in when I was in university and how that panned out. I think most people have had a relationship where they keep going back and trying to make it work, without ever really expecting it to actually work, but it's nice in the moment where you're back enjoying yourself with somebody and getting laid and what have you. That's the silver lining when you're repeatedly trying to make a doomed relationship work.
My favourite thing about that song is in the outro bit where I list the four roads that myself and Neil lived on together in Cardiff from 2005 till 2010 or something. So yeah that's the sort of thing where people will listen to it and have absolutely no idea what I'm talking about. Hopefully they'll consult the lyric sheet and then have a google and maybe piece it together. Me and Neil these days, if we ever have more than 3 beers, we resort to "wouldn't it be so good to just be back living back in Cardiff again? No responsibilities, just playing FIFA all day, and then we might go and see if anything's been reduced at Waitrose. And then we'd go to the pub." That's a large percentage of our conversations these days, and that song is longing for that responsibility-free era.
This song is pretty dynamic; it has an amazing breakdown and changes completely into the second half. Does Tom already have all of that written in the demo?
Yeah, absolutely. I really love that about that song as well and that's all on Tom. It's a really basic thing to say but I really like songs with breakdowns and that move on to different sounding sections. So that was one I was most excited to write for. I think it's got a much different groove to anything we've done before, and Jason loves drumming to it because it's completely different. That's one that will hopefully be a lot of fun to play live.
When you hear these break downs in the songs, does that make you excited as a lyricist thinking "this is where I can change perspective as a narrator, this is where I can do something different"?
Yeah, absolutely. I think partly because my least favourite part is writing choruses, I don't like writing them at all. I think I'm good at writing lyrics that you hear them and then they're gone and you're onto the next thing - it might pique your interest or get your attention but then it's gone as quickly as it's come. I like writing like that and that's why I like putting in the esoteric references so there's stuff for people to go back to. But when it comes to a chorus you have to have faith in a lyric that you're gonna repeat throughout the song, and there's no hiding from it - it has to be a good lyric. I guess most of the time when I'm writing choruses I'm thinking it has to encompass the whole song. So, when I'm listening to a demo and it's clear there is some break down section that is something I enjoy writing for.
There's another break down towards the end of the next song 'For Whom The Belly Tolls'.
Because Tom's been on tour with Perfume Genius for the last 2 or 3 years, to me that sounds like a classic Perfume Genius style break down; the change to the waltz and the airy vocals, I think that's probably where that comes from.
'For Whom The Belly Tolls' is a ludicrous pun, obviously. I was recording the vocals for that with producer John Goodmanson, and after doing the chorus a few times he was like "you're gonna have to enunciate a bit better because it sounds like you're singing 'for whom the belly tolls'" and I was just like "Er, yeah that is what it is..." and he was like "really? Ok..." So, that was a pretty savage diss, but we survived it.
'Got Stendahl's' is next; tell me about Stendahl's - do you believe in it?
I guess I do believe in it as a culmination of a number of feelings. I guess it's very easy to become overwhelmed and be totally awestruck by something so yeah, I guess I do believe it. I might not have given it a name, but I certainly believe it's a phenomenon that people can experience. I guess this is a love song; it's about being overwhelmed by somebody else, and by being overwhelmed that you find yourself in love. But also being aware that life and love is fickle and that although you may be experiencing happiness it always feels like sadness and disappointment is not very far away - that's a very Los Campesinos! sentence that I've just spoken. But yeah, that's the gist of it really, that feeling of being incredibly intent and happy but also wondering how that happiness can ever be preserved.
The scene you describe in the first verse is hilarious, I think. It's such a funny image.
Yeah, I think because it's quite an eloquent song, how it's put together musically. It's quite serious sounding, and I always enjoy pairing that with ludicrous imagery. I've always enjoyed trying to make really normal situations feel grand and important, and I think that image of turning up on somebody's doorstep with a bag of lager and in your football kit, and them answering the door in their pyjamas and that somehow being some great imagined love scene… I think that's a more accurate depiction of love than what I might have sung about in a lot of songs.
'A Litany/Heart Swells' comes next. "Heart Swells" is a recurring phrase in Los Campesinos! - why do you like to do that?
[Laughs] I like to do it because I know that other people like it, and I like it myself. When I think of things that other bands have done, like The Mountain Goats' series of "Going To... " songs I really like. I'll make a playlist of all of those songs and listen to them from beginning to end. I guess I just started tagging songs "Heart Swells" when they're songs that have come with a specific mindset. I've done it in the past with phrases like "Doe Eyes," which has been repeated in a lot of songs, and "Documented Minor Emotional Breakdown." '5 Flucloxacillin' is a "Documented Minor Emotional Breakdown," but I didn't want to put it in the song title because I thought people would look at it and go "well they've done that again, and they've done 'Heart Swells', so they've run out of ideas," so I thought I'd resist that. Yeah, "Heart Swells" is a nice collection of love songs now that have been put together with that running through it. I know that people will be anticipating that song for that reason. Also, 'A Litany' on its own isn't a very good song title. I always spend a lot of time, after the songs have been written, writing the song titles in order and thinking "does this look interesting? Does this make me wonder what each and every song is about and how they apply to each other?" and so "Heart Swells" was a useful addition to that.
It's important to do that, when you're looking at a tracklist or the contents page of a poetry collection, you want to see titles that intrigue you.
Yeah! And it amazes me - I don't like to criticise other bands anymore - but sometimes when you see a track list it's like "Really? Am I meant to be excited by this? 'Slow Song' - oh great!" It shouldn't matter because if it's a great song it's a great song, but I feel like especially in the way that albums are rolled out and released now, when you announce an album months before it's out the information that you provide is usually a track, a title, album art and a track listing - and maybe a music video if you've been sensible enough to get that done soon enough, which we never have been. So that album title and track listing is the bulk of what you're selling the album on, and when I see a particularly uninspiring track list I'm a bit worried.
The last track is 'Hung Empty', and we've mentioned how you wanted to finish on the image of "what if this is how we die?" But there's a lot of lyrics in this song, it's possibly the most verbose on the album - are you worried about remembering all the words when playing live?
We've not rehearsed it yet, so for the US tour I don't think we'll have it ready, but I would hope to for the UK. Now that we have 6 albums we're a bit apprehensive about how many new songs we should play, especially before people are totally familiar with them. I think we'll continue to play sort of a 'greatest hits' style set with deep cuts in them because that's what people seem to enjoy.
But yeah, I kind of view this song to be similar to stuff like 'Straight In At 101' or 'I Just Sighed...' that we've done in the past; sort of a sprawling, as you say very verbose, song that seems to go in a fair few directions at a hundred miles an hour. I think it's a pretty good summation of the album as a whole. Lyrically it goes off in a lot of different directions, but the time space that it's intended to unfold in is just me walking from my flat to the pub, and how in particular manic episodes when you're feeling shit your brain is all over the place and you're thinking of everything and nothing all at once. I was aware this was the last song on the album, and there's the break down bit in this with "not right to call this old age/ but it certainly ain't youth no more"; I think that's an important lyric in the context of the record. And then the outro of "what if this is how we die?" that's a deliberately over the top lyric to close the record with and I think that it's a very Los Campesinos! way to end the record.
It's amazing. You have to play it live, it would be so fun!
I think so too. I think it would be a really good one to end the set with. There's plenty of good sing along bits in there, the chorus is proper good emo I think. It's definitely one that I would like to play. It's the first properly upbeat closing song on a record we've done since We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed, because the 3 since then have been slower or just full-steam-ahead depressing.
Yeah 'Death Rattle' is...
'Death Rattle' is not the last one on that album! I'd forgotten that as well, but the last track on Hello Sadness is 'Light Leaves, Dark Sees pt.2' - which is proper... I think Hello Sadness is the album I'd change the most about if we were to redo it now, because there are some songs that we left out that would have been good on the album and made it a lot less dreary. Like there's a song called 'Allez Les Bleus' and a song called 'Tiptoe Through The True Bits', which are out on the internet somewhere, but they were recorded at the same time and they probably could have had a good function within the record. But yeah, I always forget, because we're so used to playing 'Baby I Got The Death Rattle' last in our live set, and we've never played 'Light Leaves, Dark Sees pt.2' live, I always forget that's the last track. So yeah, Romance Is Boring finishes with 'Coda', Hello Sadness is 'Light Leaves, Dark Sees pt. 2' and No Blues is 'Selling Rope', so that's 3 pretty like string-yourself-up songs there. So, we wanted to end this one on a more upbeat note, because this is a great album for us to be releasing; we're just so happy that we’ve got to do another album and that people wanted us to do another album, so it ends on a euphoric note - even if it's "what if this is how we die?"
Are you really excited to go out and play live?
Yeah, I really am. I think especially in - no disrespect to the people of the United Kingdom - but going to America is such a big deal to us. I think it's extra exciting because we're self-managed now, it's all been our own undertaking, we funded it all ourselves through selling merch and playing gigs and not taking any money from the band ourselves, just saving everything that we possibly can, and the fact that gigs are already selling out even in North America.
We don't get to spend anywhere near as much time together as we used to - because we're all scattered around the south of the UK - it's just going to be so nice to hang out. And playing songs to massive crowds is just such a fantastic feeling and such a great ego boost, and to be doing it to people who have vastly different accents to you is even more of an ego boost, because there's even less reason for them to have heard your band or like your band. So yeah, I can't wait. Especially the first half of the US tour we're doing in a tourbus, with bunks to sleep in on the bus. We haven't done that for like 7 or 8 years. The first half of the tour is like 7 or 8 hour drives every day, and because there 7 of us in the band and we tour with a crew of 3 in the States, so 10 of us in a van and then paying for hotels on top - it's only marginally more expensive to do a tourbus. We felt like we deserved that decadence. Not many bands are touring at the moment in the States, so every coach company that we approached was undercutting the previous company, we ended up getting it for half the price that we would usually. The company that we ended up going with is the same company that Taylor Swift uses when she tours the States. So we're in pretty good company.
What do you do while you're on the bus?
In the past in the vans, each of us has to make a 90-minute-long mix CD which everyone listens to, so we can showcase our musical interests to everyone. That's always fun because it ends up with everybody slagging off each other's music taste. I tend to play a lot of Football Manager, but my laptop is struggling so that might be less of the case. I'll try to read a lot more; I've got a Kindle which I love and I've challenged myself to read a book a month this year, which should be doable but I have terrible discipline when it comes to reading. Other than that, it'll be mostly drinking and complaining because there's no shower on the bus, so we'll be feeling gross all the time and looking forward to getting to the venue to shower.
Do you know what you're going to put on your mix CD?
I'm so terrible at keeping up with music these days. When I was working for a record label before, that kind of killed my enjoyment of music because when I was listening to music it put me in a mindset not of “do I enjoy this?” but rather "would other people enjoy this? Would it sell some copies?" so I really stopped enjoying music. I'm slowly working my way back into enjoying it - I really want to. So, my playlist will be all my classics; The Beautiful South, Prefab Sprout, Aztec Camera - as bloody usual. Nothing for my bandmates to be particularly excited about there.
Have you thought about wearing the Los Campesinos! football kits onstage?
We wore them once, a few days before we announced them, when we headlined Wales Goes Pop last year - that was fun. I would like to, thank you for reminding me, I'll send a message round to everyone telling them to bring theirs, because I think it would be a nice thing to reel out for maybe a couple of gigs - no more than that. But maybe we should make a rule of it, because even after all this time one of the great stresses is packing for tour. Me and Neil were texting back and forth this week like "I might just buy 4 cheap black t-shirts so that I can just change into that every night and then throw them away after 5 gigs." So you’re not ruining your nice clothes getting them sweaty, but still ensuring that you look respectable on stage for all the inevitable photos that will crop up on Instagram after. It's not very rock and roll to consider that, but we definitely do. If we made a rule of just wearing the football shirts every night, it might make things easier.
They're sold out now, right?
They are. That was how we funded the album. I thought we'd sell a hundred - we sold a thousand. And we could have sold more. I do all the merch from my flat and so there's been a few things we've done - when we did the "never kiss a Tory" t-shirt we sold over a thousand of them - my flat gets completely full of boxes and shirts, it just gets to a point where I can't keep up. I'm very tempted to bring the football shirts back because people do get in contact quite frequently asking for them, and it would seem silly not to in that respect. Perhaps we'll do an away shirt instead. We said they were limited edition, so if we did another rerun... The other issue is that the badge has 5 stars over it for 5 albums, but now we have 6 albums so we'd have to edit it to have 6 stars. If we did do a rerun I'd definitely make sure that happens because I wouldn't allow myself not to. So, people who've already got one might feel like they get need another to be a completist. Sounds like we're going to be millionaires the way I'm talking.
Are you going to miss any of your team's football matches while you're on tour in America?
Yeah, I will. I will miss about 5, and it's frustrating. I think it's worse missing matches when we're playing badly than when we're playing well because I feel guilty for not being there when we're playing shit. But the worst of it is I do the match day programme - I edit it and design it and write it - and I'll still have to be doing that while we're in America. Actually, that's what I'll be doing while we're driving. It's just really confusing because while we're over there I won't know what day it is because the routine is the same every day, I'll be drunk half the time, and there's the time difference as well - so I have to be really disciplined.
How would you feel if they started playing better with you?
I would be delighted. It would be a weight off my shoulders. And I wouldn't be surprised.
[Writer’s note: the rest of the conversation is about Arsene Wenger’s future as Arsenal manager. You might want to jump ship here if that’s of no interest to you.]
And lastly, I wanted to ask - since I'm an Arsenal fan and you're a man of football - what do you think of the Arsene Wenger situation?
To me it seems obvious that Arsenal are not going to win the league with Arsene Wenger again. I think it was after the Chelsea loss, he was saying how the players' mental attitude isn't right and stuff like that - that surely comes from the approach and the team that you're selecting. These are problems that don't seem to be ones that can be fixed by signing a couple more players, they seem to be a lot more deep-rooted in maybe the complacency of knowing that Arsene Wenger's the manager. But equally I think it would be naive to think that Arsenal could get rid of Wenger and whoever they bring in would immediately start winning games. It's the same as with Manchester United, you probably have to go backwards to go forwards, but I think that by getting rid of Wenger that process will start sooner.
That's exactly how I feel - it needs to start. I wouldn't mind finishing 7th/8th for a couple of seasons as long as it's something fresh.
It's hard, because to criticise Wenger does seem harsh because he's done so much for the club, but now it kind of feels like he should have gone 5 or 6 years ago. Sacking him now wouldn't be reactionary - so why would you sack him? You've clearly been content with what he's provided for the past half-decade, or decade, so what is different now? But I think perhaps if Sanchez goes in the summer, because he doesn't seem particularly content with how things are going on the field, I think that would be the big thing to push a lot of people who are on the fence about Wenger - for you to lose your best player, and for the reason essentially being he doesn't believe Wenger has instilled the right attitude and can achieve things, that would be the final straw.
But who would you get to replace him?
I don't know! Maybe Tuchel from Dortmund?
Joachim Löw is always cited, isn't he? But I assume that's out of the question until after the end of next season because he's there for the next World Cup with Germany. Diego Simeone is always cited for any top manager's job now. That would be a massive change in the vibe of the club.
I would love that though. I think Arsenal fans just want to win. I don't think we even care about playing good football anymore, we just want to win.
Yeah, because you've been playing good football and not winning. People get bored with that. I think it's a difficult time because I guess Tuchel and Simeone are really the only two high-profile mangers that are going to be available. In the past couple of years, I'm sure that one of Klopp, Conte, Guardiola would have taken the job... Eddie Howe gets mentioned a lot as well, but for me that would just be a Moyes all over again, because he's not going to have the ability to attract the sort of players that you want. As soon as he gets there and you sign Nathan Ake it'll all kick off again. I don't know, but I don't think anyone at Arsenal knows either.
It's an easy analogy to make but I think it's like a romantic relationship that has well outstayed its welcome, but both parties just consent because "what will happen if we break up? What will I do? What will they do? Will I regret it?" I think that's what it's like with Arsenal at the moment. But if I was behind the scenes at Arsenal right now I would be trying to make it seem like it's on Wenger's terms, because I don't think that it would be beneficial for Arsenal in the long-term to be seen to be ditching a manager that's been there for more than 2 decades. It would be such a shame if people turn on Wenger completely, because he has done so much for the club in the past, and it's a shame that it won't be great terms that he goes out on. But, who knows?
His contract's up at the end of this season, right?
Yeah, but apparently he's been offered an extension.
Yeah, that's what I've heard, that it's on the table and it's just a matter of whether he signs it or not. But [laughs] he's going to have to time it very well if he signs that, because I can already imagine Arsenal Fan TV when that happens... It's got really sinister recently Arsenal Fan TV; I listen to the Second Captains Podcast and they often use snippets of that on there, and it's guys being like "the tide's turning, I'm telling you: watch out." And proper almost like Trump-ist rhetoric about how they're not going to put up with Wenger anymore.
There's no international football tournament this summer so we deserve a long, played-out managerial saga to make up for that.
Yep, "summer of odd numbered year" as you so succinctly put it.
Exactly. I'm already dreading it.
Los Campesinos! sixth album, Sick Scenes, is out today.