If you’re over 21, the music of Welsh septet, Los Campesinos! will make you feel old. If you’re younger, they’ll probably be your new favorite band. For the purposes of this interview State is over 21 and right now, asking them what they studied in university is making us feel ancient. That said, they’re practically impossible to dislike: all of them in their early 20s, and all witty, talented and unpretentious. The type you one day hoped you’d grow up to be: funny, verbose, internationally known by the time you finished school. But this is how it goes in this jangled internet age. Six months ago, Los Campesinos were turning student union nights out at West Cardiff University. Now, the seven of them are lounging on sofas, picking at plates of pita and hummus in the backstage dressing room of the Echo nightclub, in Echo Park, an indie rock epicentre of rapidly gentrifying eastside Los Angeles.
‘We could’ve quit school early but we realised that being in a pop band isn’t going to last forever. We wanted to have something to fall back on if it goes wrong. We’re realists,’ Gareth Campesinos!, the band’s soft-spoken frontman nods with an earnestness that instantly clears any doubt about whether or not the band’s modest success has gone to anyone’s head’”an easy proposition in theory but much harder to implement when you’re the darling of every swooning Sarah Records type on the Internet, rocking shows from Toronto to Tokyo, with a Dave -Broken Social Scene’ Newfeld-produced debut LP having dropped in February on the ultra-hip Wichita label.
The band have been barnstorming across North America for the past week and today’s their first in the City of Angels. Thanks to a last-minute decision by Carol King and James Taylor to hold a graying yuppie celebration of career mediocrity at the famed Troubadour, where Los Campesinos! had originally been booked, the nightclub has put the band up at a posh Hollywood hotel as a consolation prize. A twisted crook of fate that’s deposited them from small-world Wales into the bug-eyed vortex of spook central: down the street from the Scientology Celebrity Centre, a handful of blocks from the Hollywood Walk of Fame and Mann’s Chinese Theatre, where cheesy costumed superheroes and movie star imitators stalk the concrete, mugging for dizzied tourists.
‘Nothing here feels like reality,’ Aleksandra Campesinos!, the band’s other main vocalist, says with a bit of astonishment in her voice. ‘We walked by Mann’s Chinese and there was a guy who was supposed to look like Michael Jackson but instead he looked like Freddy Krueger. It was kind of scary.’
But this warped reality is binary; the band also still seems a little shell-shocked at how easy it’s all been. Their first gig wasn’t even two years ago, but from moment one, this rag-tag lot, who were recruited piecemeal from Cardiff’s close-knit musical community, have been a sensation. Soon after debuting, a rough demo was cut and uploaded to Myspace and Drowned in Sound. By August, they were opening for Broken Social Scene. Three months later, a record deal was in place and their career had been shot into the strato’¦er, blogosphere.
‘We’re aware of the fact that we haven’t had to toil for it. We didn’t have a manager when we started and the idea of getting signed hadn’t even crossed our minds,’ Gareth says, shrugging his shoulders. ‘Too many bands start with the intention of getting rich and famous and it’s sad to see people constantly seeking new and better managers and booking agents. That’s the wrong way to do it. We turned down record deals before we even had a manager.’
When the noise got too loud, Los Campesinos! wisely selected the same management as fellow Cardiff legends, Super Furry Animals, a collective who they’d quite like to model their career on. Of course, the pre-internet Super Furries were allowed a quiet gestation, unlike Los Campesinos, whose brief existence has been met with deafening hype, one that makes it initially tempting to unleash your inner cynic. Granted, if you listen with a jaded ear, it’s easy to point out the possibility that Los Campesinos! may have merely stumbled onto the secret formula to winning music critics’ hearts’”a touch of Arcade Fire, a pinch of Architecture in Helsinki, a dash of Pavement, mixed with wry wit and a sharp sense of irony. Heat. Serve.
But when you see the band live, you can’t deny their ability to distill the ephemeral, drunken glow of youth, that aura of invincibility, that fated narrative of you against the world, flying and fading in a clean dramatic arc. It could come off as childish melodrama, but it doesn’t. Los Campesinos!’ precociousness is tempered by a keen self-awareness. Most importantly, they’re fun. This is nervous, jittery punk-rock fury, softened by melting, gorgeous harmonies and an array of children’s instruments: glockenspiels, xylophones, melodicas, and a little violin thrown in for good measure.
Their first LP, Hold on There, Youngster, successfully taps into a similar vein. It’s the sort of record that could only have been written by someone on the verge of adulthood, adolescent memories still vivid and sober-eyed. Gareth, who writes all the band’s lyrics, charmingly bleats about old K Records t-shirts, live journal entries, giving your life to literature (just don’t read Jane Eyre) and blotting out life with a pair of headphones.
By the time this article runs, the band will have already released their first record, won even more converts and will be well on their way to fame, fortune, and the Fleetwood Mac-style turmoil that’s bound to occur when you have this many cute girls in one band. But at this split second, Los Campesinos! have it all figured out.
Jeff Weiss is from LA and runs The Passion of the Weiss blog.