November is quickly shaping up to be Official Los Campesinos! Month. Not only has the seven-piece Cardiff band released its fourth LP, Hello Sadness, but theyre also traversing the East Coast as a preview for next years bigger tour. While 2010s Romance Is Boring used up every inch of sound with arrangements, the latest album strips things down some. At least as stripped-back as you can be with seven to eight band members.
Guitarist Neil Campesinos! joined us over the phone for a chat about recording Hello Sadness in Spain, writing poppier songs, and how Los Campesinos! refuse to take themselves seriously.
You wrote Hello Sadness in Spain earlier this year. What was that experience like, both in and out of the studio?
In terms of recording in Spain, it was pretty exciting. Wed been planning on recording earlier in the year in Cardiff, but we couldnt get the studio dates that we needed. So, we thought, Hang on, if were already in Spain, why dont we just find a studio and record out there? Basically, thats what happened. It was amazing. It was just so much fun. There was a swimming pool, a pool table, and table tennis, which all sounds very decadent. Believe me, thats not the kind of style were used to.
Any cool stories from your time in the country?
A lot of watching football (soccer), drinking beer… had a nice barbecue. We didnt go swimming too much because it was a little bit cold. Its all kind of a blur. We were there for about a month. Four weeks worth of booze, sex, drugs, and stuff. (laughs) Thats not true.
What were this records influences?
We just really wanted to write a direct kind of pop record. Its a lot more stripped back than our previous work. On that record [Romance Is Boring], theres a lot going on. Tom (Campesinos!, guitarist) especially was trying to do a lot with arrangements and trying to cram a lot in. It worked at the time, but we just wanted to strip it all back and record something that had more space to breathe.
Yeah, I noticed that By Your Hand is definitely one of the poppiest, most straightforward songs Los Campesinos! have recorded to date. Can you tell me how that song came about?
When we rehearsed and recorded it, we werent sure if we needed to try another tempo. It was really laid-back. It wasnt until Gareth (Campesinos!, vocalist) put the lyric to it. We were adding things in and bringing things out. Its not until we heard the lyrics recorded in the studio that the song took its final direction.
The hook line was not how we imagined it when we were rehearsing the music. Its quite interesting. Its one of the first songs weve had a very dominant keyboard going all the way through. We played it live a few times, and it feels really good.
Youre working again with John Goodmanson. Why does the band feel comfortable with him as a producer?
Hes just a really nice guy, regardless of his amazing production talent. Hes so laid-back, and he knows how to get the most from us and the best from us. We all look forward to spending time with him and hanging out. Hes got lots of good stories about being in the industry, back in Seattle in the early 90s. I could gush all day about him. After working with him for four records, hes a friend now, not just a colleague. When we started to look at recording options, we didnt even consider anyone else.
Harriet left the group amicably earlier this year. Did you know she was leaving before recording, and if so, what was the impact on the album?
We didnt, actually. She decided to go back to university after the summer to continue her studies. As far as recording went, no impact really. Its a long time to be in a band when you start in your early 20s and now youre pushing your late 20s. A lot of people think were younger than we are, but were all on the wrong side of 25. I think she wanted to do something else and take her life in another direction, which is obviously a great thing to do.
Romance Is Boring was very abrasive and aggressive at times. Hello Sadness seems much calmer, albeit melancholy, musically. You mentioned before that you wanted this album to be more straightforward. Was that a conscious decision, or did it happen naturally?
I think probably both. It was a conscious decision in that we knew we wanted to keep it stripped back, but it happened naturally in that the songs felt complete with the arrangements being fairly limited. It didnt feel like we needed to cram a load of stuff in there or add anything. The songs just felt good as they were. Were really proud of them. I dont think wed go back and change anything. It just feels like theres so much more space in the songs. I really love that. It feels like a record weve been trying to make for a long time.
In a statement about the album, Gareth said its about all of you growing up. How do you feel youve grown since the group started?
We started when we were still at university in 2006, so Ive grown upwards and outwards. Im a lot wider. Ive got a bigger stomach than I did then.
Thats a really hard question to answer. Its the kind of question that if you asked someone else to answer about me, theyd be able to give you a more honest answer. Ill probably make myself sound really great. I think were just all comfortable with what were doing. Weve done it for a few years, and its been amazing. Hopefully, well be able to continue. I dont know how Im different. Im older. Id say Im more mature, but thats not true. Id say Im more intelligent, but this rambling conversation probably suggests otherwise.
In your previous albums, humor and sarcasm have played a heavy role. How important is that aspect to the band?
I think its really important. A lot of its so tongue-in-cheek and off-the-cuff. Were really not a band that takes ourselves particularly seriously. Like on Twitter, comments are made as jokes, and people go, Ahh! I cant believe you said that! Come on, its a joke. There are so many bands that take themselves so seriously. Theyll hop themselves on platforms and have the fans below them. To us, thats completely ridiculous. Were just music fans at the end of the day.
Whats your favorite song off Hello Sadness and why?
Every time we recorded a different song, it became the favorite. I really like By Your Hand. Its such a pop song, and its really amazing. I might have to say Hello Sadness, ’cause its my moms favorite. She just thinks its great. Weve never really written a song like that before. Its an epic pop song. I think its really cool. Jasons drumming in that is just really exciting. We were really wary of doing that high-hat kind of work.
Its really hard to control leaks. They happen as soon as albums make their way into the hands of some journalists, but obviously not every journalist. Some people are far freer and not very careful about whom they give it to. Its a really hard thing to actually stop. You can watermark CDs. You can give people private listening parties. But within a month of an album coming out, its in so many different places, you cant keep track of where it is. Its really bizarre because its become such a major deal. It really kills momentum.
What are the bands plans for next year?
I expect were going to be touring a lot. Well be playing more shows in the U.S. next year. Weve got a provisional routing through, and its big. In November, were only playing a handful of shows on the East Coast, and people are saying, Why arent you coming to the West Coast?! Trust me: Well be there next year. Hopefully, well get to play a lot of festivals. This years been really quiet for us. I think were all quite excited to get back on the road in November.