La Vida Loca

31 October 2012 | 6:15 am | Anthony Carew

“Through the cyclical nature of being in a band, it comes to a point where it’s time to write an album and there’s no avoiding it; it’s something I have to do because it’s my job and I have this responsibility to my other bandmates, who I love and I don’t want to let down.”

More Los Campesinos! More Los Campesinos!

Since their formation in Cardiff in 2006, exuberant indie-pop troupe Los Campesinos! have always been defined by their largeness. Even as members have come and gone, they've always kept in the ballpark of seven humans; creating a live cacophony driven by nervous energy. Yet, anyone who's listened to Los Campesinos! records – or, more precisely, paid attention to their words – has been listening to one man: the band's lyricist and effective leader, Gareth David.

David is, as lyricist, a veritable confessionalist; favouring a form of bleakly funny self-flagellation where he lays out failed relationships (usually) across verses and choruses, and – on both 2008's We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed and 2011's Hello Sadness – across whole albums. David's quotable lyrics, genial nature and happiness to share unflatteringly intimate details means he stands out as a fully rounded figure in songs. Across the slate of four LC! LPs, a portrait of the lyricist has arisen for many of the band's besotted fans.

“People do often develop what they believe to be an impression of what I'm like,” says David. “That's flattering: it shows that people are actually listening to the music that we've made and they're interested in the people who have made it. But it can also be disconcerting. It makes you hyper-aware of how you present yourself and what people are going to take from that.”

That hyper-awareness has, for David, only increased as the band's day-to-day activities have migrated evermore online. “I do tweet, and we have an active blog and community, and we do communicate with people who like our band a lot online,” David offers. “And there'll be times when, after a show speaking to somebody, they'll mention something I briefly mentioned on Twitter one time, and I'll have forgotten that I'd even ever said it, and in the back of my head I'll think, 'Where do I know that from?' That can be incredibly surreal; it's the equivalent of something that you may as well have said in the pub with your mates being told back to you via someone in some other country, due solely to the fact that you've said this specific thing through a medium that is read by thousands of people all over the world. It's a weird thing to wrap your head around.”

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It's weird because, when not touring the globe in Los Campesinos!, David dwells far from the rock'n'roll spotlight; the lights of Cardiff, apparently, even burning too bright. He dwells in Midsomer Norton, a “very English town” inland in Northwest Somerset. “I'm definitely not surrounded by music,” David warns. “I live in a small town and most of my friends here are more into soccer and also, well, actually, basically just that. I'm not surrounded by people who would consider themselves to be artists, and who would openly encourage me to be writing or creating. I'm pretty good at distancing myself from any notion of being a writer,and I'm happier that way, I think.”

This contrasts with the lyrical figure David has cut on Los Campesinos! albums, one who, it would seem, is constantly sketching in his journal, constantly cribbing from his favourite bands. The early 2007 single The International Tweexcore Underground outed David as a indie-music nerd, with a cover of Heavenly's C Is The Heavenly Option and lyrical mentions of totems like a “K Records t-shirt” cementing the perception.

Yet, the past half-decade has found that ardour cooling, David's nerdiness dimming: once-worshipped bands like Xiu Xiu and Parenthetical Girls becoming friends; childhood heroes like The Beautiful South and The Wedding Present ending up on the same bill as he; his love of soccer surpassing his love of, like, early Slumberland 45s; and years on the touring crawl taking their toll. “Mostly, being in a band has decreased my fandom of musicians,” David says. “Sometimes people meet us and… it's a terrible term, but they're starstruck. And knowing myself and my bandmates, that notion is incredibly undeserved and utterly surreal. That's not to question them feeling it, that's the nature of the notion of celebrity, but I can't think of anyone, personally, that I'd now meet and be in awe of. They're just people who write songs, and the only way they're anything more than that is if you project that on them. But, when I was a teenager and listening to bands, I know I held musicians in such high regard. That's decayed a lot, obviously.

“Being in a guitar band has also decreased my enjoyment of guitar music a lot,” David continues. “Because I just find myself wanting to be away from those particular sounds. When you're on tour a lot, and there's this constant noise of guitars tuning and drums banging, you get pushed away from that. And being in a band has significantly decreased my enjoyment of live music because, playing 100 gigs a year, you get so used to being in those spaces, those dingy, grotty venues, that when you've got time off that's the last place you want to be. Especially given that when you're playing a gig, you have the comfort of being able to go backstage – sitting down and having a beer for free. But when you're on the other side of things, you realise how pampered you've been, even if it's always been pampering tainted with the lingering scent of urine and stale beer.”

Of course, touring has also taken this 'homebody' to countless countries he would've otherwise died having never seen – and count Australia, where Los Campesinos! is soon to undertake their maiden voyage, amongst those – and “forced [him] to meet new people, to develop social skills that [he] may've let burn out otherwise”. Says David: “the fact that we can go to pretty much any city in the world and there's someone there who wants to see our band and wants to say hello to us, that's incredibly flattering and surreal.”

Los Campesinos! finally arrive in Australia on the back of their fourth LP, Hello Sadness, a stripped-back set (in response to 2010's “bloated” Romance Is Boring) filled with familiar lyrical woe. “Just a couple of weeks before going into the studio, this relationship that I was in ended, and that informed everything, lyrically, on the album,” David admits. His lyrical world is, really, just drawn from his own life; “I don't consider myself to have a good enough imagination to make things up,” David laughs, “so everything that I write is pretty much personal and about what's happened to me.”

David has only hit a few nerves by writing so close to home (“I wrote a song about two people and they never picked up on it, but two other people thought it was about them and disliked me for a while as a result of that”), but figures his girlfriends and friends “either don't care if they pop up in songs, or are aware that it's an inevitability”. Either way, he doesn't spend too long considering the words he turns out. “My primary motivation for songwriting is desperation,” David admits. “Through the cyclical nature of being in a band, it comes to a point where it's time to write an album and there's no avoiding it; it's something I have to do because it's my job and I have this responsibility to my other bandmates, who I love and I don't want to let down.”

Los Campesinos! will be playing the following shows:

Saturday 10 November - Harvest Festival, Werribee Park, Melbourne VIC
Sunday 11 November - Harvest Festival, Werribee Park, Melbourne VIC
Saturday 17 November - Harvest Festival, Parramatta Park, Sydney NSW
Sunday 18 November - Harvest Festival, Brisbane City Botanic Gardens, Brisbane QLD