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Welsh rockers Los Campesinos! grow up (quickly) in the spotlight
Gareth, lead singer for Welsh act Los Campesinos!—like all members of the band, he has adopted “Campesinos!” as his stage surname—can’t be blamed for feeling like he’s living life well beyond the speed limit.
With the band’s third album in as many years due for release, a seemingly never-ending series of worldwide tours, and music that always feels like it’s busy chasing itself down with a manic smile on its face, one would think they might need at least a chance to catch their breath. But as Gareth mentioned in a recent e-mail interview (perhaps the easiest way to get ahold of him amid all this activity), such a limit’s actually what the group want to start with.
“If we felt as though we were rushing ourselves, then we’d stop rushing ourselves,” Gareth writes. “We very much set our own pace, and that’s one that, at the moment, we’re very comfortable with. I think it’s important to constantly remind yourself of what a privileged position this is to be in and of how many people dream about what we’re living.
“There are obviously negative elements to this lifestyle. It’s incredibly unhealthy, and elements of it (excluding playing shows, which are always exciting) can be extremely monotonous, but this is all put into perspective by the many good parts.”
Those good parts come through on the group’s previous album, last year’s We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed. While the title suggests a bunch of pale young things posing and looking quietly elegant by a window, it’s freneticism that rules the roost, with Gareth and female lead singer/keyboardist Aleks (whose appearance on the tour will be her last before returning to higher education in the U.K.) often trading verses and choruses backed by the enthusiastic gang shouts of the entire band, quick and sprightly rock arrangements, swirling extra touches ranging from bells to bursts of strings, and wry lyrics about love, life and slice-of-life moments with an often desperate, unsettled edge.
Compared to the self-consciously stately choral groups and amateur theatrics of any number of indie-rock groups these days, Los Campesinos! let ragged blasts of fun set the tone in everything from the squirrelly synth start of the Kurt Vonnegut-nodding instrumental “Between an Erupting Earth and an Exploding Sky” to song titles such as “You’ll Need Those Fingers for Crossing” to the breathless delivery of this lyric from the title track: “I cannot emphasize enough that my body is a badly designed, poorly put-together vessel, harboring these diminishing, so-called vital organs! Hope my heart goes first!”
“Somebody said We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed reminded them of Pinkerton. There isn’t much higher praise,” writes Gareth, referencing the Weezer album that has become a totemic listen for a generation of bands. “We’re well-aware of what we are and are not capable of, I think, and just aim to push ourselves and the boundaries we place in front of us. There’s a little part in every artist, I’m sure, that wants to think what they create is completely original and incomparable to anyone else’s work. Obviously I’m not naive enough to believe that’s the case with us, but it does stop me from overanalyzing our songs in that way.”
Something of the band’s generous spirit can also be seen in one of their most moving non-musical moments: Gareth’s thoughtful blog tribute to the passionate U.K.-born writer Steven Wells, who passed away earlier this summer from cancer and who was well-known for not liking Los Campesinos! in the slightest. Reflecting on the place of negative criticism on his band’s work, Gareth notes the role of the simple passage of time. “I’ve changed a lot as a person since the band was formed three years ago, and that means I inevitably look back on myself from the start of the band and am embarrassed by some of the things I said or did,” he writes. “But, for the meantime, I’m very happy with where we are at as a band, and that’s good comfort at the hands of any criticisms that may be fired our way.”
So, where do things go next?
“I think, as far as the rest of the year goes, we know pretty much what we’re doing and when we’re doing it,” Gareth concludes. “Such is the nature of the music biz.”
Los Campesinos! with Girls at Detroit Bar, 843 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 642-0600; www.detroitbar.com. Sun., 9 p.m. $14. 21+.