Earlier this week, we caught up with Ollie, the drummer for Los Campesinos! (pictured, right), to talk for a few minutes about the band's quick ascent to success, the fact that the band released its first two albums within six months of each other, and even how the differences in the racial make-ups of America and the UK contribute to the different styles of music each nation creates.
Here's how it all went down...
Where are you guys right now? Are you in Alabama?
Yes, we're in Birmingham.
How's Birmingham treating you?
Um, alright at the moment. We went for a very nice Thai meal last night.
Yeah. And there's a guitar shop across the road that's managed to fix Neil's guitar. Neil's been having problems with his guitar so they did that.
That's cool. Well, not that he's having problems..
Well, yeah. But apart from that, I've yet to explore it. So that's what I'm gonna be doing in a bit.
This coming tour's taking you all over to a lot of places you've never been before. You haven't been to Dallas before I don't think. I mean, you guys are also fairly young, so I imagine all these experiences are pretty interesting for you to be able to kind of see the world.
Yeah. You can't ask for a better opportunity. We've got friends who've sort of saved up for years to sort of go off traveling around the world. Being able to go to all these places sort of free, and we're getting to do it as well--for free. Or, rather, we're getting paid to do it.
What's the best place that you've been able to see because you've been in the band?
Probably having the opportunity to go to Japan. Not that many people have been there. We've been there three times--twice in a month--and it's all amazing to be able to go that many times. Many people don't have the opportunity to go once, so to be able to go that many times, with the possibility of going back there, is all pretty amazing.
So that's number one, over in Japan?
How do you enjoy the States?
We love coming here, always have really nice crowds. Everyone just seems really friendly to us.
It's been kind of nonstop year for you guys. In 2008, you released not one, but two albums (the full-length debut, Hold On Now, Youngster, and the six-months-later-released follow-up, We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed). In this day in age, that's kind of unheard of.
Well, the second one was never really meant to be an album. It just ended up being an album.
How do you mean?
Well, we just originally intended to release EP. But we ended up coming but of the studio session with ten tracks. So, yeah, it just became sort of, well, just an album really.
Do you think maybe it's been overwhelming for people to have all this music from you guys so quickly? Why'd you want to do it as an album with 10 tracks?
Well, we didn't think we'd come out of the session with ten tracks.
So you pleasantly surprised yourselves.
One thing that's very evident in your music is that there's kind of this interesting dichotomy between the very upbeat music, you know, then your vocalist, Gareth, kind of going through an almost manic depressive breakdown. Does that make for an interesting songwriting process?
I think so. I mean, Tom writes music and Gareth writes the lyrics, so you get a contrast there. It's good, in a way, that you have a contrast, because lots of people overseas listen to the music, but not actually the lyrics, in a way. Because people say 'Ah, you're music's very happy,' but if you actually listen to the lyrics, a lot of them are pretty dark, to be honest.
And they're also kind of cryptic clever, which I think is one of the trademarks of your sound. There's a lot of word play--a lot puns--throughout. Is it an attempt to kind of wink your eye a little bit at those who listen a little bit more closely?
I think so. I don't want to really comment too much on Gareth's main devices--but I think that's a good assessment really. If he listens to music, he'll listen to the lyrics. And so, I think, he wants people to listen to his lyrics. And he's happy when people actually comment on them, and have actually taken time to listen to them rather than just the song in general.
Well, another thing I really enjoy about your music is the drumming throughout. It's quite upbeat, very fast--very kind of...spastic. I bet that was pretty fun to play.
Yeah, I like sort of challenging myself a lot more than staying with simple stuff.
It's not just necessary a constant thing throughout, you're really hammering away.
Yeah, yeah. [chuckles]
I think I read somewhere that this is kind of your first band? Is that true?
Yeah, this is. Well, sort of. Before, there was never anything really serious.
What do you think made the difference with this band?
I think because it was the right type of songs. We didn't think we'd be in this situation. After university, we thought it'd be quite nice if we had this CD with these few songs that we wrote together and had fun playing. The original sort of a demo of songs were meant to be a sort a memory, if you will. We thought we'd experiment with them on the Myspace and everything--and sort of one thing one thing kind of led to another, basically.
Well how did one thing lead to another? I know you were playing around your school (Cardiff University in Wales) and parties and things like that. What kind of led to that jump to the next level?
Well, we did the demo and put them up on the Myspace and, by that evening, we saw people were sort of listening, which was really good. And within a couple of days we were offered a recording contract with a label based in Australia, so everything sort of carried on.
It was within a couple days of putting these up on your Myspace?
That's incredible. You never hear stories like that. There are bands toiling away for years on Myspace, with like, five plays total on their song.
Yeah, we got pretty lucky. We sort of got to this situation a lot faster than a lot of other people.
Do you feel that there is a loss, perhaps, because all this did happen so quickly? Like maybe you missed out on the process?
I'd say there is sort of. We've never really done the whole toilet menu tour. So, we had it pretty lucky. We had like closer support from management and the label, from the beginning. We didn't have the sort of toil of having to sort of find places to stay and stuff. A lot of tours--like Titus Andronicus, for instance--they can't afford to pay for hotels every night. And we've always been in that situation. We do feel like we've been pretty lucky.
What do you think it is about the band that people are attracted to?
I'm not sure. It might be because we're sort of a British band, but we're listening to American music, in a way.
What are those American things that you're listening to?
Pavement, of course. And Broken Social Scene and Grandaddy and everything.
What is it like touring around with a group of seven people? Is it kind of... bulky?
Yeah, I mean we're doing it in a van this tour. We have a lot of gear because we have seven band members, and then we have a few people with us as well. So, it's quite crammed, but there's enough of us that you can sort of go off with different people every day, if you want to. It's not as if you're a two or three piece you're with the same people all the time.
You kind of avoid the whole too-many-people-sleeping-in-the-same-room situation. Kind of like how you can grow sick of the friends you see too often.
Somebody asked me to describe your music the other day and I struggled a bit. I told them it's kind of indie pop, with some of punky, or early punk elements thrown in as well. How do you describe your sound?
Indie pop is good description. Or just sort of pop music. Pop is sort of a dirty word, linked to boy bands or girl bands. But indie has become pop, sort of. Back home in the U.K., if you look at the, say, the Top 40 album tracks--most of the bands will be decided as indie. So, indie is the new pop, really.
Well that's an interesting difference between the U.K. and the States, in that, you know, indie stuff does chart well over in the U.K. Here, you do have those pop stars - not necessarily the boy bands, but the same type of people putting out that music. Is that just a difference with the culture here?
It might be. Sorry if I'm sounding racist, but it's sort of the racial makeup of the country, if you will. I think guitar bands have always been a part of British music--you know, the Beatles, Rolling Stones, up until present. In America, you such have big stars like Beyonce and Kanye West. There is a difference.
Do you think that's why a band like yours was able to start off and having early success over there?
I think so. Especially at the moment, the way the labels are trying to find the next band. I think we had the time just right to get success, basically.
I did a quick translation, but I want to double check-what does Campesinos translate to in English?
It means the farmers. Or the peasants, basically.
How did that come to be the name?
Neil did A-level, beginners Spanish in school before he came to university, and thought it sounded quite good.
And then there's the exclamation point, which seems to give a bounce to the name.
Yeah, it's not supposed to have any purposeful meaning whatsoever. None of us are farmers or anything. We never though we'd have to sort of explain the definition.
So how about the use of the exclamation point? What's the back story there?
It's a nice way of capping off the name.
Also in the songs, I notice, you use them a lot there, too.
Gareth likes using punctuation a lot of the time, I guess. I think he tries to fit them in as much as possible.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the Observer's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Dallas's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
So, since you never have been here before, what can we expect from the live show?
Just sort of seven people on one stage, having a lot of fun. If we're having a lot of fun, the crowd will enjoy it as well. I mean, what can we expect from Dallas crowds?
I think people are pretty excited about this show. Club Dada is this cool, maybe 400-person venue.. Maybe it'll be that the first toilet that you find yourself playing in, though. I don't know your standards.
We've played at some not very nice venues, but we've never played the proper horrible venues.
Lucky you. I think that's all I've got. Thanks for taking the time to speak with us, Ollie. Good luck with the tour.
Los Campesinos! and Titus Andronicus perform Saturday, January 31, at Club Dada.