By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
The music scene is clogged with performers desperately seeking stardom. So does Los Campesinos! guitarist/songwriter Tom Campesinos! (who, like his mates, has jettisoned his given last name in favor of his U.K.-based combo's moniker) see any irony in the quick rise of his group, which quickly earned buzz-band status even though none of its members actively sought it?
"Completely—and I think it's something we still feel kind of awkward and guilty about," Tom says. "For me, it was completely ridiculous, the idea of being in a band and doing it as a career. It was just not something that happened, so it was stupid to even consider it at any point. And I felt that way even when we started being offered record deals, which still seems kind of hilarious to me."
Makes sense considering Tom's background before signing up with the group. He learned to play guitar while growing up in St. Albans, a town outside London—but before taking on tunesmithing duties for Los Campesinos!, he had only one composition in his portfolio.
"It was the exact same chords as a Blur song, and the exact same lyrics, mixed around. It was a pretty bad rip-off, and not something I like to bring up—although I'm bringing it up now," he notes, laughing.
Moreover, he'd never played onstage before teaming up with Campesinos! guitarist Neil and lead singer Gareth, fellow students at Cardiff University, to play covers associated with cool indie outfits like Neutral Milk Hotel in the hope that audiences would think they were originals.
Nevertheless, Tom, Neil and Gareth, joined by Cardiff enrollees Ellen, Harriet, Ollie and Aleks, managed to come up with some mighty compelling ditties of their own, and record companies soon came calling. They wound up inking with the Wichita imprint in part because the label agreed to let them work on their degrees before beginning to tour in earnest. (Only Aleks, who's studying medicine, isn't finished yet.) But then the group's first album, 2008's Hold On Now, Youngster..., was infectious enough to grab the attention of Canada's Arts & Crafts Records. And the follow-up We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed, released less than a year later, has earned reviews every bit as positive as those that greeted its predecessor.
Of course, there's no need to think that Tom's in any danger of believing his press clippings.
"I don't like the idea of disappearing up your own asshole and never seeing your head again, especially in the music industry," he says. "The whole idea of writing songs and selling them is, to me, completely absurd."
So, too, is the Los Campesinos! success story. But he's not complaining.