Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Interview with Tom from Los Campesinos!

Last spring I sat down with Tom from Los Campesinos! for a chat about their tour, their debut album Hold On Now, Youngster, and punctuation. Tom was incredibly sweet and friendly. This interview and more appear in the latest issue of my zine, Championship. If you're interested in a copy, shoot me an email at nmsles@gmail.com!

So how’s your tour going?
It’s going really good! The first gig in Hoboken was the sort of size venue we’re used to playing. It was kind of like a bar, but a really good atmosphere. Georgia from Yo La Tengo came. I’m a massive fan of Yo La Tengo so that was pretty overwhelming. We’re just glad we got through the set without completely messing up. It was a really good show, and we had a really good one last night as well. We’re going to do a crap show tonight because that’s how things go [laughs]. Brooklyn was bigger, it was a really good venue and we had a really nice response there. It’s just a lot of fun. We’ve been shopping, buying musical gear, so I’m happy!

So tell me about your latest album, Hold on Now, Youngster…
Well it doesn’t feel very new to us anymore, we’ve had it for a while. I haven’t listened to it in ages. It came out in April here, so I guess it’s still relatively new. We were really pleased with it. I guess it was quite a self-indulgent album in a lot of ways. We tried to write it and record it in a way that we’d be happy with rather than trying to worry too much what people think of it, and just do our own thing. That was always the most important thing, and I think we achieved that. We were all pretty happy with it. It’s strange now- cause there’s been enough time since it, and because we’ve been writing new songs and we’re doing some recording in the next few weeks- it almost feels like and old album now. We’re looking forward to recording new songs and recording on them.

Between your band name and the rhyming of “parentheses” with “ellipses,” the band seems to have a bit of a fascination of punctuation.
Well, Gareth is the lyricist so that’s really his obsession. I think there’s a certain element of OCD. We’re quite into the details of everything, really. Punctuation kind of represents that quite well. We get pretty pissed off when apostrophes aren’t used correctly which is really lame and embarrassing, but those are the things that matter to us and I think they matter a lot to Gareth as well, which is why they enter his lyrics. He’s quite autobiographical in his lyrics. So if a lack or misuse of apostrophes in the world bothers him they’ll turn up in songs. Look forward to “Ode to the Semi-colon” or something on the next album [laughs]. That’s why I don’t write the lyrics!

What’s your favorite song of yours?
It changes all the time. I think when we finished the album, “…And We Exhale and Roll Our Eyes in Unison.” I think we were all really pleased with that. It came together really well. It’s got two distinct halves and the second half is really fun to play. But I guess “We Are All Accelerated Readers” was the one that we were most happy with as well, because it’s been around for a while but it was in a completely different form when we first played it live, and we were aware that it wasn’t working quite right, but it sort of felt like it had potential to be a better song. We worked really hard and we changed the drum parts, we changed a lot of the positions of the vocals and the melodies. Through working on all of those details it suddenly came together really well and when we recorded it was far better than we ever expected. That’s one we still enjoy playing live as well. Harriet worked really hard on cool violin sounds and violin lines. It felt really fresh compared to some of the other songs, so that’s still one of my favorites. Of course then there are songs like “You! Me! Dancing!” which get really good responses live and so that’s always really fun to play because you feed off the crowd. That’s a complete cliché, but it really happens. If that song gets played well then it doesn’t really matter if we play other songs badly [laughs].

Why did the band decided to have a violin player?
The whole formation of the band was accidental in a lot of ways. We didn’t really know what we were doing. From my perspective, I met Neil, who had been jamming with Ellen and Ollie for two weeks and we started playing songs together. Gareth overheard what we were doing and he came along to do vocals. For some of the songs we were playing we decided they would sound kind of nice if they had strings. It was that casual, we never had any big picture of the sound we wanted to create. We just thought strings would sound good, and we invited Harriet along. It was really that simple. It was the same with Aleks. We thought a female vocalist would be good, so she came along. That was really the formation of the band. We never really expected to get to be in this position, so nothing was thought out particularly well. We get asked questions about the name, and those are questions without a significant answer, because it was a bit of a passing thing.

Are there bands that you try to emulate in your music?
Yeah, I mean I sort of presume this is the way any band works. When we started off we just tried to rip off the bands we liked, and I think to an extent we still do that. And then as you get better at it you get closer to a lawsuit [laughs]. But me and Gareth bonded especially over our love of Pavement, which is probably my favorite band ever. I think we’re sort of lucky because we didn’t rip off the bands that well, so we stumbled across something unique. Our instrumentation is different, and Gareth’s vocal style is different, his lyrics are really different, so I think we have come across something that isn’t like all the bands we rip off. We’ve almost got our own sound now. There are certain ways you try to emulate bands as well. It’s not so much you hear the song and you like the melody so you play the melody as well. It’s more the fact that there are so many good melodies in Pavement. Pavement write amazing pop songs, but they’re presented in a less-than-technically-accurate way. It’s more about the song rather than the way it’s played, and that’s something we’ve tried to take on board as well. The songs are the most important thing, and the energy. The songs are more important than hitting the right notes all the time so that was always an element of fun we tried to maintain. We do still want to improve as musicians and songwriters, and improve in a technical way, but the energy is always the most important thing.

Would you consider Los Campesinos! a pop band?
Yeah. Genres are so…murky. Especially in the U.K., the word “indie” doesn’t really mean what it used to mean. That forced us a bit into using the term “pop.” I’ll describe Pavement as a pop band because of they have fairly structured songs and they’re melodic. I think we like the term “pop” because it’s such a fluid term, and it’s probably the most vague of all the genres. Any sort of music can come under that term, so it feels liberating and empowering in that sense. I don’t think we want to limit ourselves to a specific genre because we don’t really know what we’re doing. The word “pop” doesn’t really mean “popular” or “populist” anymore. It’s more like the energy and the sound…I’m trying not to sound pretentious.

You guys are a pretty young band.
I think we’re younger at heart than we are in physical. We’re still young, but when there are bands like the Arctic Monkeys and Smoosh, you feel pretty old. When you’re younger, the thing you always want to do is either be a footballer or a pop star, but then you reach an age where you start seeing other people that are successful footballers and they’re younger than you and pop stars that are younger than you, and you just think, “Yeah well, I’m past it now” [laughs].

Looking ahead ten years into the future, where will Los Campesinos! be?
I haven’t got a clue! We’re aware that it isn’t going to last forever, and we’re not trying to make it last forever so we’re just trying to make it be as fun as it can be while it is lasting. With pop music, especially at the moment, everything is over so quickly. We are just trying to have as much fun as possible and not worry too much about the future. I guess in ten years when I’m 33, there will probably be smack habits, and illegitimate children [laughs].

Photo courtesy Barry Yanowitz.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Joe's Record Paradise

When my parents used to travel a lot, they would buy a record from each country/city they visited. Over their years of travel they amassed a fair amount of Indian and South American vinyl. It got to take up too much space though, so today my mom had me go through and pick out what I wanted to keep so that she could sell the rest. After I scoured for cool cover art and interesting music, we took the box of records to a store I'd never been to called Joe's Record Paradise.

When I used to play indoor soccer, I would pass this shop, but because of its small and poster-covered exterior and strip-mall location, I never thought anything of it. Turns out I was missing out. Inside the sticker-littered doors is a vinyl mecca. Rows of LPs, ranging from soul to blues to reggae to punk to rock line the floors and walls. There's also a fine CD collection. The vinyl is all pretty inexpensive. While my mom chatted with the man who was flipping though her albums for what he wanted to buy, I thumbed through the store's supply.

I ended up with a Johnny Cash album for $1.50, Talking Heads's Remain In Light for $8.00, and Joni Mitchell's Clouds for $4.50.

The man who had been helping us, Johnson, recommended we take the records he didn't buy a few doors down to a thirft store called the Wagging Tail (it supports the Humane Society), which we did. At this store, there was a nice vinyl selection with each record $1 a piece. I didn't pick anything out, but in the CD section I found Son Volt's Trace and The Replacements's Don't Tell a Soul.

I also got two hours of highway driving in! Overall a very productive day. Unfortunately, I now have to finish writing a research paper...