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A Quietus Interview

Bromance Is Roaring - A Los Campensinos! Interview
Will Metcalfe , November 21st, 2011 11:12

Will Metcalfe talks to Gareth and Tom from Los Camp! about beer sponsorship, football and heartbreak

Heartache is a mainstay in contemporary music. From the Mississippi bluesman through Elvis, the Beatles, Stones, hell – almost everyone who counts has been there. But for Los Campesinos! - a band to many who are synonymous with songs about dancing, the state of indie and the odd sporting reference - it might be something of a surprise.

That's not to say the signs weren't there - it's safe to say four years on from the comic-book glee of their debut album Hold On Now Youngster the band aren't quite the same. Of course there's the departure of Gareth's foil and co-front person Alecks and more recently Harriet and their replacements - the permanent addition of Rob 'Sparky Deathcap' and Gareth's sister Kim to consider. But even so the music isn't as bright or brash as it once was.

The band have just released their fourth album, the slightly darker and, dare I say it, more mature, Hello Sadness - a record created from the ashes of a failed relationship. Meeting Tom and Gareth in their management team's office in Cardiff on a wet Monday suits the nature of the record to a t. There's plenty going on but not all of it is entirely pleasant.

Surrounding us are boxes of CDs, DVDs and merchandise waiting to ship as part of a special pre-order fan pack which has sold around one thousand copies and attracted some interesting debate on Twitter as to whether fans deserved to receive the album before record stores. Sipping tea from a Gruff Rhys mug, the mouth-piece of a band once described as a "fourteen legged abortion" on this very website is in fine form.

Chatting about everything from the recurring football references in his lyrics to what shaped the record already seen by many as 'a break up album'. While it might be true, Hello Sadness is the result of more than that. It's the sound of a band hitting their stride. While they aren't unrecognisable from previous outings there is a greater sense of cohesion among the ten tracks that make up the record. The running order was brutally fought out with one of the band's favourites sidelined as it just didn't fit. Which, following the 15-track romp of Romance Is Boring is somewhat of a change in direction.

By admission the record is leaner as a direct result of the last record but manages to fall somewhat short of the 'pop record' the band set out to make. While some reports have claimed Hello Sadness is the dark side of a scrapped record Gareth is quick to point out that's not the case: "Just before we went away to record me and my then girlfriend broke up.

"It's been blown out of proportion in some places saying Los Campesinos! have scrapped a whole album it was just a case I'd written some lyrics from a perspective of being in a relationship and it didn't seem appropriate to sing songs about that."

That's not to say this record doesn't have its more gleeful moments. 'By Your Hand' musically is a continuation of 'We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed' and 'Songs About Your Girlfriend' and shows the snide, bilious side of Gareth that fans will recognise.

"Our main aim going into this was to make a record that was coherent and quite immediate, with hindsight we kind of felt Romance Is Boring was a little bloated and we wanted to do the opposite this time," he says.

"Romance Is Boring was quite self-indulgent. We knew it was too long but it was a fun record to make. I think it would've taken the listener quite a lot to get something out of it.

"On Romance Is Boring we left quite a lot in but this record is much more polished, we worked harder with the arrangements before recording it," Tom adds.

Ever since Gareth spat 'You asked if I'd be anyone from history, fact or fiction dead or alive I said I'd be Tony Cascarino circa 1995' on 'All Your Keyfabe Friends' it's been impossible to ignore the references to the beautiful game. On Romance Is Boring it soon became obvious that it wasn't merely an obscure name-drop but a genuine love. Though Hello Sadness is a record shaped by the break-up this hasn't stopped the football references.

"There are a couple of references – it's kind of inevitable. I only really write about what I know and that's basically football. The record is about heartbreak etc and a lot of the saddest moments in my life have been football related - however melodramatic that may be. It's kind of inevitable to connect the two or relate to one through the other."

The likes of 'Every Defeat A Divorce (Three Lions)' is the most explicit and possibly one of the most depressing on the record. Cascarino and his self-doubt could be seen as the inspiration but beneath it all chances are it is closer to autobiography than fiction. The love of football might confuse some; apparently the licensing of the band's best known track to a Budweiser commercial has opened them up to a different audience (and given Gareth's granddad a claim to fame down the pub).

That's not to say you should expect to see Joey Barton, football's self sought UN ambassador at the gigs, (especially if you follow Gareth on Twitter) as the angst-fuelled awkwardness still abounds. On 'Light Leaves, Dark Sees Pt II' there's an account, well mention, of hearing your partner pissing through a partition wall – but wistfully rather than smuttily.

It is these moments that Tom argues the fans love and identify with: "On this record there's a track about hearing your girlfriend pissing in the next room – someone heard that and was saying, 'Ooh, smutty' but that happens in relationships, you hear your girlfriend piss.

"Quite frequently I'm like – are you sure you want to be putting this in. They are so personal to Gareth I find out things about him through his lyrics and I think that's one of the things people like about our music."

Gareth has been criticised for being too personal on record but really it's not something he sees as a problem: "I always find it really weird when people say lyrics are too personal as a criticism. Saying they are too personal is like painting something and someone saying you've put too much paint on it. If you're writing songs the lyrics are going to be personal.

"A lot of my favourite lyricists are people who have written personally and not been prepared to take any flack for it."

Despite the line-up changes the band's future isn't in question though both Tom and Gareth freely admit it will never pay a pension. They admit eventually if the band adopted a squad rotation system it would cease to exist but so long as they're having fun then the records will keep coming.

To some extent the licensing of 'You! Me! Dancing!' to Budweiser has helped and despite some cries of descent it's largely accepted. Hell, even Henry Rollins acknowledges bands should take what they can these days. At one point this could have prompted their fanbase to turn their back on the band but as revenues continue on a downward trajectory they see it as a legitimate way to carry on making music.

"There's the childish charm of being like fuck we're on telly," and as Tom says this the look on his face tells you everything. While the decision to license "You! Me! Dancing!" might appear cynical it was a track that to the band had passed its best.

Tom says: "Before the first album came out Southern Comfort offered us more than we got from Bud for 'You, Me, Dancing' at the time it was the right thing to say no, doing an advert at that point before the first album came out would have been a bad move.

"But by now with a song that feels quite old to us and quite distant as a band we feel we've moved on, we'd have been stupid not to accept it."

While Gareth is a little more to the point: "The people from Bud came down to St Louis to put a face to the faceless corporation and they were really nice.

"They brought 12 ice cold bottles of Bud… which was weird. I think people accept if people are going to illegally download music then they'll let the band 'sell out' a little bit'. People might say, 'Oh you're taking money from a big corporation that's even better for me,' and for those of you wondering 12 bottles is all they got."

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