If you asked Los Campesinos! a decade ago, when they were a young, idealistic bunch of indie punk crusaders having the time of their lives, if they thought they’d be here ten years later, you’d probably get a sceptical response.
But here they are, firmly established as one of the UK's most cherished bands. With the reissue of their first two albums and their biggest ever London headline show, Los Campesinos! are celebrating the past and their future, more confident than ever.
For singer and lyricist Gareth Campesinos! the marking of a decade-plus as a band is treated with typical modesty.
“It’s just an excuse to play some gigs really,” he begins. “We’re not in a situation where we’re able to record another record because we’re all so busy with real life, but we want to play shows and tour. It’s a brilliant opportunity to reissue and sell some more records to get people to pay attention to the albums in a way that they necessarily wouldn’t normally. People love milestones and anniversaries.”
Los Campesinos! have always been grounded in realism and it’s these pragmatic qualities that have allowed the band to survive and prosper through the dramatic changes in the music industry.
“We are immeasurably proud of the fact that we’re still going ten years after the release of our first album,” exclaims Gareth. “The London show is our biggest ever headline show. If we were to book that show as a regular show, it probably wouldn't have sold out. If we do it linked to the first two records, it becomes a lot more of a thing.”
It was important to the band to do these gigs as a going concern. Indeed, just last year they released their sixth and perhaps best album ‘Sick Scenes’.
“When bands are marking these anniversaries, it’s after they’ve been away for a while or they’re trying to kickstart something, or they just want to make a bit of money. I have no complaints about that at all. That’s a perfectly legitimate reason to do it. For us, the gig was announced a year after the release of our most recent album.
"I’d like to think people don’t see us as a nostalgia act just yet. It is nice to do it quickly after the release of a new album, although there are no concrete plans for a seventh record just yet there very much will be, so it’s nice for it rather than being a bookend to be a nice flourish within whatever our career is.”
The year of 2008, which saw their debut album ‘Hold On Now, Youngster…' swiftly followed by the landmark second album ‘We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed’, is a special one. For Gareth though, his memories are tinged with a bit of regret and cringe as he looks back on his younger self.
“It was a weird time,” he explains. “It was amazing; it was something I wish I’d paid more attention to. Being ten years older and more level-headed and sensible, I wish I behaved a bit differently. I wish I weren’t as much of a snob; I think I would’ve appreciated it more if I appreciated it for what it was. I think as a band we made the most of it, though."
It was in those early days that they established a reputation as the ultimate indie band, full of righteous anger and self-belief in the purity of their sound and ideas. They were a band who caught the tail end of the money swilling largesse of the time.
“The speed with which we were receiving offers of record deals and booking agents and everything was rapid,” remembers Gareth. “We were being written about in NME and Pitchfork. We were going to university lectures on a Friday then flying to Europe for gigs and being back in time for lectures on a Monday. All the while people who were in our lectures couldn't care less. And why should they? That’s the real thing of going from playing people who are excited about your band to going back to the normality of university life, which was odd.”
‘Hold On Now, Youngster…” emerged from this whirlwind ride.
“We finished our final year and went to Toronto to record for over a month. It was a very odd experience that was both brilliant and terrible at the same time. We were the first band to record in this new studio, and it was half-finished when we got there. It was a converted church in a place called Trenton outside of Toronto. I think it was where dead Canadian soldiers are brought back. There wasn't much going on and what was going on none of us were confident enough to participate in.”
As it would at various points in their career though, football provided salvation.
“Thankfully the place had cable, so on a Saturday we were able to watch four of five Premier League matches in a row,” laughs Gareth.
The band are definitely conscious of the fact that they come from a slightly different era to now.
“We released CD singles. That’s a weird thing. That makes us seem a lot older than we are,” sighs Gareth. "We signed a record deal for a pretty large advance. We were right at the end of when there was money in indie labels. Going back four years later doing the Budweiser advert for an injection of cash, that was a pretty good representation of how things changed. I think we were one of the last bands to really build our career around MySpace. Despite only being 12 years ago it feels like a really dated thing to say already.”
One of the most famous stories of the early days of Los Campesinos! involves their official showbiz pal, Louis Walsh. Back in 2008, the band featured in NME magazine with a piece following them on tour. It turned out to be a bizarre memento of those glorious times.
“That was a surreal experience,” begins Gareth. “It was the week that 'Hold On Now, Youngster…' came out and we played a gig in Bath, my hometown, on a Friday night. Then we got the ferry to Ireland to do the show. Cuba Gooding Jr was meant to be the guest, but he pulled out last minute, so Louis Walsh filled in.
"The reason all of this happened was we were followed by the NME that weekend trailing the release of the album, so there’s a picture of me and Louis Walsh in a four-page magazine spread. When my work colleagues are trying to work out how relevant me being in a band has been, that’s one of the things I’ll pull out."
“The journalist of the piece wanted the angle to be ‘Los Campesinos! vs the pop industry’," he adds, "but I’m a massive X-Factor fan. I found Louis Walsh very charming. He was very keen to tell us how much of a David Bowie and Radiohead fan he was. We ended up getting on really well. He got quite drunk; we got quite drunk. It was a fantastic evening.”
The opportunity for the band to play both the albums in full in London this October as well as remaster them has allowed them to re-evaluate the things they never quite could do at the time.
"On ‘Hold On Now, Youngster…' there are songs I really like, but I think the production is a bit weak," Gareth explains. "It sounds a lot better now we’ve remastered it. We couldn’t really play our instruments at the time and don’t think the recordings do the songs justice. There are some songs that would benefit from being played better.
"I hate my voice. I don’t believe that I ever sounded like that. I think it was a voice I was doing to play up to the twee indie thing. I think the songs are really good, though.”
Playing some of those songs for the first time in years, the London show promises to be a unique experience.
“We’re excited to bring tracks back. It will be exciting to see people’s reaction to the old songs and to play them in a way that does the songs justice.”
Following just eight months after the debut album, ‘We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed’ was a huge step up. In many ways, it has been a career-defining album.
“If you were to pick an album out of our six records to give a picture of what we are now then you could easily start with ‘We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed’,” says Gareth.
Working with long-time producer John Goodmanson as well as touring with avant-garde US rock heroes like Parenthetical Girls gave a huge boost to Gareth and the band's confidence as writers and musicians. They were growing into the Los Campesinos! that they still are today.
The indie scene right now is arguably at its most vibrant since bands like Los Campesinos! first emerged, a fact that’s not lost on their singer.
“There are loads of current bands that I feel an affinity with in terms of being a modern-day Los Campesinos!,” says Gareth.
He recognises though that times have changed and more is expected of bands both regarding social consciousness and industry savvy.
"I feel like the band we were ten years ago had a naivety to it that would be difficult for a band to have these days. We were fun and enjoying ourselves and didn’t have a care in the world. For a band to come out now and have that detachment from the real world wouldn't fly with me necessarily. It is great to see so many bands within the DIY and punk sphere that I can look at and think you’re doing good work and I can feel proud of being tangentially associated with.”
Beyond still being able to make music and play shows, one of the most gratifying things for Los Campesinos now is finding a new generation of fans and meeting people who have grown up with the band.
“That is one of the most exciting elements of it,” says Gareth proudly. "Even now playing gigs, the front couple of rows are full of people who are a good ten years younger than us, and there’s a decent amount who are seeing us for the first time. Isn’t it brilliant that ten years in we have people coming to see us for the first time and we still have people who care about us enough to do that? The best thing for me is when a band that I like will mention us in an interview and say this is an album that inspired me.”
As they’ve got older and got wiser to their responsibility towards their fans the band have resolved to do everything they can to use their platform as a force for good. For their forthcoming shows, they’ve set aside a proportion of tickets to give to low-income fans who may not be able to afford to see them. It’s something Gareth feels strongly about.
“It’s something I wish we’d done more of in the past,” he explains. “We’re in a very privileged position to be in a band. We’re all reasonably financially comfortable in that we have jobs and places to live. If we do fall upon hard times, we have the comfort of knowing we have a band that makes money.
"That’s not the case for a lot of people. It’s not going to affect us negatively to give tickets away to the people that need them. How financially well off you are shouldn't determine whether you get to see the bands that you like. Capitalism means that is the case, but if we’re in the position to fight against that in any way, then it’s right that we do.
"Now more than ever we’re aware of the small things that we can do as a band to stick up for our youth, and it’s only right that we do that.”
This attitude to drive and promote change in the industry fits in with the principals the band have always had. Now, self-managing and able to plot their own course, the band stick to their principals even harder.
“We won’t play a gig again in a venue that won’t allow us to have gender-neutral facilities. We get to choose what venues we play in, and if a venue doesn't support that, we won’t play there. We won’t play a venue that isn’t accessible to people with physical disabilities. We can make that choice.
"For about six or seven years now we haven’t had a band support us that is made up of solely white males. Heaven knows there are enough bands like that and if we have this platform we should use it to give visibility to minority groups that don’t have as easy opportunities as we do as primarily white males.
"These are all things we do because we want to. People appreciate it. It’s easy for us to do and I think a lot more bands would do it if they thought to do it. It’s up to us to make those choices and make small differences wherever we can.”
It’s easy for bands to look back wistfully when they celebrate anniversaries. For Los Campesinos!, their shows this year promise to be celebratory inclusive experiences.
“It absolutely isn't the end of something,” says Gareth firmly. “It’s about playing the songs to people who want to hear them. It’s going to be a great evening for the fans, but I’m also excited for the seven of us getting to experience this together. The reality is we don’t get to do this very much anymore. We all have to work proper jobs. It will be really overwhelming.”
So, after all these festivities, what comes next?
“We want to keep enjoying being Los Campesinos!,” exclaims Gareth. “I want the next album to be really good and make it the best we’ve ever done in a way that perhaps I haven't felt with the previous albums. We want to make something that’s going to be special."
Los Campesinos! reissue remastered versions of ‘Hold On Now, Youngster…’ and ‘We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed’ on 12th October. They play the O2 Forum, London on the 13th.