No Pain No Gain

3 October 2012 | 4:45 am | Steve Bell

"But at the time it was as any breakup would be, pretty terrible. In that instance the relationship broke down about two or three weeks before we went away to record, and it obviously put me in a very different mindset than I’d been in previously."

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If you listen to seven-piece indie outfit Los Campesinos! on a superficial level you'll certainly have a whole lot of fun with the vibrant, upbeat energy emitted on both their four albums and in the live realm. But if you scratch below the surface, the band – who were formed in Cardiff back in 2006 by mainly English members, and whose Spanish name roughly translates to “the peasants” – have a deeply melancholic undercurrent, their lyrics possessing a depth and gravitas that can be easily overlooked amidst the fun and frivolity surrounding them.

This, of course, isn't always so black and white. Their second long-player We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed (2008) had more of a musically forlorn bent, as does fourth effort Hello Sadness (2011), both albums giving a hint to their content in their respective titles. On this most recent effort frontman and lyricist Gareth Campesinos (real surname David, like Ramones they've adopted the band moniker as their own) had recently gone through a traumatic relationship breakup, and this heartache and sorrow inevitably seeped their way into the album's very core.

“It's 18 months ago now, so it's bearable,” the erudite and affable frontman recalls of the split. “But at the time it was as any breakup would be, pretty terrible. In that instance the relationship broke down about two or three weeks before we went away to record, and it obviously put me in a very different mindset than I'd been in previously. As it happened the timing was perfect; creatively I find it a lot easier to write songs when I'm unhappy than when I'm happy – there's much more of an inclination to want to write and feel happy about what I'm writing about when I'm not particularly happy myself.

“Also it was good because it took me away from the situation. So often, when a breakup occurs it's very difficult to let go and you keep wanting to go back there and reconcile again or whatever, but pretty much immediately having to go to Spain to record a record it's a case of, 'Well, that's done with,' and you've just got to deal with it. And to go abroad and be with the band – who are my closest friends – in this beautiful sunny environment was the best tonic. The studio we recorded in was gorgeous: it had a big swimming pool, a cinema room, table tennis, a pool table – so it was amazing, kind of like being in a holiday resort. It was a very therapeutic time and very welcome relief.”

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While David's inner turmoil seems to have been played out very publicly, in his mind he didn't really have any choice but to document his heartache.

“To an extent I don't feel that I have a choice, because I don't feel that I have the imagination to make things up or to tell stories, so I just end up writing about myself,” he chuckles. “I think the best thing about it is that when you put these thoughts and feelings and emotions into songs, they stop being yours – when people hear the record they'll apply their own meaning to the songs, and they'll listen to the music while they form their own relationships and share experiences with other people. So what starts as being something that's deeply personal to me becomes part of a personal thing for other people. It stops being my life and starts being part of other peoples' lives, so when we perform the songs in the concert environment and you've got the audience screaming all the words you can see them getting into it and it's clear that these aren't just my songs anymore. That makes the things that I'm writing about – the breakdown of relationships or depression or whatever – almost becomes a weird caricature of [themselves] and I've been fortunate that I've found that it really helps me deal with the things that I've been writing about. And as a live band we're also very visceral and very aggressive, so when I'm singing the songs with all that music and all that noise behind me, that really does help with the release.”

The cathartic nature of the process aside, David believes that the dichotomy between the upbeat music and sad imagery in Los Campesinos!'s music has proved to be one of the band's strengths.

“It's just become what we do, but it's never been forced,” he ponders. “I think generally the first record [2008's Hold On Now, Youngster...] was a pretty upbeat record and, because we're a seven-piece band, that's a lot of noise and a lot of energy so the music does often veer towards being energetic. I think also in time Tom [Bromley – guitar] – he writes the music, I write the lyrics – his range of writing ability has increased and spread, so I think a lot of the time now our music is a little bit more downbeat and morose than it was previously.

“But I think as a band we're [one] you can listen to on different levels. So many people after gigs will say, 'Oh I love this song so much, it's so happy and I can't help but dance to it!', but in my head I'm thinking, 'But that song's about being depressed and heartbroken?' They're just listening to the music and being moved by that, and that's amazing that they can get that from it while other people will listen to the same songs and say, 'Oh, man, I really feel for you for that.' That people can get different things from the same song is one of our strengths, and the juxtaposition of the music with the lyrics has in that case worked out well for us.”

And, somewhat surprisingly for someone so adept at putting thoughts to paper, when asked about his main lyrical inspirations David admits to having serious misgivings about his chosen profession as a songwriter.

“I would say primarily musical,” he mulls. “There are some authors who I've read that have sort of reinforced or enforced my world view and perhaps encouraged me to go in whatever direction I'm going in, but – and it's terrible that I'm like this – I find any notion of creating art or doing anything creative that shows your emotion to be a terribly embarrassing thing to do. I realise that it's very hypocritical because I spend a lot of time singing and writing about my feelings, but I hate that – I'm not that sort of person at all, I've just found myself in the situation where I do it. I'm much more comfortable just being with my mates and watching soccer and drinking, so when I get into a situation where I'm writing I find that very, very odd. So I don't think I could ever admit to being influenced by other people's art – be it literature or art or film or anything – because I find that far too sappy a thing to admit to.”

Los Campesinos! will be playing the following shows:

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