It’s approaching midday on a crisp Sunday and Camden Town is rife with families heading to Sunday lunch and strandlers in their late-teens and early-twenties recovering from the night before; I am shamefully and regrettably in this latter grouping. Which is a complete lack of good judgement on my part because I have to interview Los Campesinos! – one of my favourite bands – in just under a hour. I say “have to interview”, but I had been looking forward to it all week. But, you know, there’s something destructive in human nature that keeps leading me to get really drunk the night prior to any major incident in my life. Before job interviews, before meeting a partner’s parents for the first time and especially anything to do with travelling. I think half of my life is spent trying not to be sick on Megabuses and National Express coaches alike, which will make for a really depressing memoir.
So I find myself in a stuffy white-walled upstairs room in the Camden Barfly – where the band will play a special matinee show later today, an introductory gig to their upcoming tour supporting new album Hello Sadness. Waiting for the interviewers before me to finish up and listening to them steal all my conversation starters like Cardiff [where the band formed and where I'm from] and Bristol [Gareth's home city and where I went to Uni], I force all energy into trying not to let the bass coming from the soundcheck below induce any gag reflex.
By the time the two before me bring their discussion to a close, I’ve managed to pull myself together; salvaging any traces of professionalism I have left and proceeding to talk to Gareth and his fellow vocalist sister Kim about their fourth record – which is being lauded as their most mature output to date – the inevitability of Gareth penning a song about every promising love interest, and, of course, football, all the while calculating in my head the possibility of still being able to fit in some Sunday lunch after all this. God, I love matinee shows.
This is your first full-length release with the new-look set-up, how did it feel coming into a band that had already formed and achieved success prior to your entrance?
Kim: I knew them all really well before, I’ve been friends with them for a long time. So in this way, it felt really natural. It was the most easy thing to settle in to the group dynamic. I went to the studio with them back when they were recording Romance Is Boring and just hung out.
Plus it’s such an intense environment that you’re soon thrown in the deep end. There wasn’t any mollycoddling or what not. But that’s good because it isn’t too long before you know the ins and outs not only of what it’s like to be in a band but also each other as people.
It has seemed like all the additions and changes have been with people who were already really close to you on a personal basis.
Gareth: Kim was already really good friends with Alex, who she replaced as singer after Romance Is Boring. And she had actually done a few bits that appear on that album – she played flute, and sort of some drone on that LP. Then Jason had been with us selling our merch at shows for about three years previously, Rob actually went to school with Neil, and had supported us a few times as Sparky Deathcap – he just always seemed to be around.
Actually, walking here just earlier today we passed the Enterprise which is just a few doors down [from Camden Barfly]. And I remembered that we had played a show there for Camden Crawl a few years ago. It’s this really tiny room, half the size than even this venue, so small in fact that the floor started giving in halfway through the gig. People in the bar below started saying that the ceiling was cracking and the set got abandoned halfway through because the floor was actually bowing. So we were talking about that and Rob was like “Yeah, I was at that gig”. We were just like “No, what?” – it seems like he was at every gig we ever did without us even realising. So yeah, every transition has been so natural and effortless because it’s not as if we’ve done auditions or brought in session musicians.
You’re not Bloc Party then.
Gareth: Definitely not. But Bloc Party – are they even Bloc Party anymore?
Did these changes in personnel affect the recording of Hello Sadness?
Gareth:I think a result of all the mix-ups has been that we’ve become a much more able band than we’ve ever been. It’s not like we’ve just added friends to the line-up for the sake of it. We’re all the best we’ve ever been and that meant that we were capable of really pushing ourselves to do things that perhaps we wouldn’t have been able to achieve in the past. The whole thing was a lot quicker and more fluid than previous recording experiences and as a result there was a lot less frustration in the studio. It also meant that we were able to experiment and try new things. It was just very laidback and so much fun, we even had our own pool. This recording experience for Hello Sadness was by far the most enjoyable we’ve had as a band.
I guess you had recorded a few things prior with these guys to ease you in a bit.
Gareth: Yeah, we recorded the All’s Well That Ends EP and a few Heat Rash tracks in between the last record and this one – so that was a good introduction.
Kim: So going in for Hello Sadness didn’t seem too imposing for us.
Gareth: And that whole thing, the Heat Rash stuff, is as much for us as it is for the fans. Previously we wouldn’t have been able to just be in Tom’s living room, set up and record there and then, with things being suitable to put out straight away.
Were you aware of Harriet’s intent to leave while you were recording?
Gareth: She didn’t announce her departure until just after, if I remember correctly. To be honest, I think we could tell previously that perhaps her mind was elsewhere – not to a huge extent or anything, but perhaps a little bit distracted. But when she told us, we were all at the pub and we just all hugged and said “Fair enough!”
Kim: You can’t argue with wanting to go back and study, can you? It’s an honourable thing to want to do. So good on her.
Gareth: But we’ve always been aware and open in this band that this thing isn’t going to last forever or be something that any of us are going to make any large amounts of money from. Really it’s just something that ticks over and when you get things like the Budweiser commercials, you think “Great, we can do this for another year without having to get proper jobs!”
So when Harriet said she felt like she was ready to go back, well it was a brave decision and a happy decision. Maybe she was a little bit offended though that we took it so well, I mean we didn’t break down in tears or anything! In any situation like that, there must be an element of wanting to feel needed. But it wasn’t like a messy break-up or anything – it was a positive decision.
How are you dealing with her absence live?
Gareth: It wouldn’t have made sense to try and replace Harriet as the band doesn’t necessary need a violinist. Glad that wasn’t how we responded to Harriet saying she’s leaving. But, you know, it’s not like it’s a typical and integral part of every rock band.
It actually worked out ironically that there wasn’t that much use of strings on the new record, so that was fortunate. I don’t want us to ever be a band that plays with a backing track. I saw Camera Obscura where they did that and it was really weird. So we’re dealing with it by transposing the violin lines onto different instruments, with Rob taking on a lot more responsibility. There had been times in the past where he’d just be playing a tambourine on some songs, which is not a good utilisation of his talent. But now I can just do that – not very well, but I can try – and he can play the proper fucking instruments!
Kim: I think it’s a lot more exciting for the fans to hear the older stuff mixed up a bit. And it’s been good for us as well, it’s giving us a boost to make changes and keep things varying live.
Check back tomorrow for Part 2 of this interview.
Hello Sadness is out now on Wichita.