Los Campesinos! not a flamenco band, sorry
When they first started gigging two years ago at Cardiff University in Wales, Los Campesinos! would occasionally be mistaken for a flamenco band—that is, until the flamenco aficionados saw the seven indie-rockers on stage.
“Had we thought we were going anywhere, we would’ve put more thought into the band name,” laughs the band’s singer and resident glockenspiel player, Gareth, who like all the members uses Campesinos as his surname. “Our guitarist Neil was pretty fluent in Spanish and we all thought the word [which means ‘peasants’] looked and sounded pretty cool. So why not? But it’s ended up that people make all sorts of assumptions that really have nothing to do with the band or its intentions. People show up expecting a flamenco band, or a political band, and leave quite disappointed. They suggest it’s in bad taste or inappropriate. We’re not trying to upset anyone. We’re not that kind of band.”
Indeed, the Campesinos are a modest bunch by any standard. Their bus driver on a recent tour of Europe had to pull over to admonish the band—not for being too loud, but for not being loud enough. “He came back to ask us to make more noise because he was worried he would fall asleep while driving us to the next show,” Gareth says. “We’re not very good at being rock stars.”
But the septet are becoming stars almost in spite of themselves. A series of terrific singles, notably “You! Me! Dancing!,” ushered in an acclaimed debut album, “Hold On Now, Youngster …" (Arts & Crafts), released last month. The band’s exuberant melodies and co-ed harmonies, tinged by Harriet Campesinos’ violin playing and Gareth’s frantic glockenspiel, reinvest indie-rock with an often-ignored virtue: joy.
“We were depressed by the music we were hearing while at Cardiff,” Gareth says. “It was boring, derivative, masculine. In the context of U.K. guitar bands who were into looking cool, moody or stylish, we were anomalies: A mixed gender band with multiple instruments who looked like they were enjoying themselves.”
Gareth’s glock instantly separates the band from many of its contemporaries. “The band was originally a four-piece and they were looking for a singer,” he says. “I loved the songs and I desperately wanted in. I couldn’t really sing and I couldn’t really play the glock, but I figured the combination might get me in somehow. And it worked!”
Gareth took over as the band’s primary vocalist and lyricist, and he developed a personal tone that suited his rapid-fire sing-speak vocals. The lyrics brim with allusions to indie-pop icons and celebrate the notion of standing apart. “I’m not Bonnie Tyler/I’m not Toni Braxton/And this song is not gonna save your relationship,” he declares on “We Are All Accelerated Readers.”
“I don’t like lyrics that are grand statements about how we should all love each other and how we’re all in this together, because we’re not,” Gareth says. “My lyrics do try to exclude people. I don’t want every single person to listen to my records and think, ‘I agree with that guy.’ I don’t want everyone to connect to my music. I can’t imagine playing a show where 4,000 people are singing along to my words and they’re all thinking this song applies to them. That would be horrible.”
That view is not born of elitism, Gareth insists, but on a genuine desire to say something that is personally meaningful.
“I really believe in the idea that the more people know something and believe in it, the less special it becomes,” he says.
So he’s not seeking mass popularity for Los Campesinos!?
“I can’t imagine that, or what kind of compromises we’d have to make to achieve that,” he says. “I’d much rather polarize people into extreme reactions. Love or hate us. That’s better than anything in between.”
Greg Kot co-hosts “Sound Opinions” from Chicago Public Radio.
Los Campesinos! When: 8 p.m., June 7Where: The Troubadour, 9081 Santa Monica Blvd.Price: $15; https://www.troubadour.com
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