Los Campesinos! Lighten Up With 'No Blues'
The Welsh sextet Los Campesinos! has put out five albums since 2006, many of them with titles that don't seem destined to soar to the top of pop's generally lighthearted charts; We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed and Hello Sadness are just a couple of the band's record names. Lead singer Gareth David says the tone of the band's new album, No Blues, reflects a step in a more optimistic direction.
"This album is quite a turning point for us as a band. I think because it is a lot more hopeful than a lot of stuff we've written previously," David says. "As somebody who — to be serious for a moment — has sort of battled with depression for a long time and been in some pretty dark places, when there are those cracks of light and there is happiness, it's important to embrace those things because life is so fleeting. And you've got to make the most of it."
David recently spoke with NPR's Scott Simon about the origins of Los Campesinos! and his peculiar choice of a side job: graveyard maintenance. Click the audio link to hear more of their conversation.
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Los Campesinos is a kind of puzzling name for a Welsh sextet that's put out five albums since 2006. Many of them have titles that don't seem to be destined to soar to the top of the pop charts: "We are Beautiful," "We are Doomed," "Romance is Boring" and "Hello Sadness." Now, their latest: "No Blues."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)
LOS CAMPESINOS: (Singing) There is no blues (unintelligible) the river I watch (unintelligible)...
SIMON: We're joined now by Los Campesinos' lead singer, Gareth David - or Gareth Campesinos, as he is often known. He comes to us from the studios of the BBC in Cardiff, Wales. Thanks very much for being with us.
GARETH DAVID: It's a pleasure to be here. Thank you, Scott.
SIMON: You know, every now and then in this country, we see Welsh, you know, one of the signs with a town that has a name that seems to be two and a half miles long. So, we're not very familiar with Welsh here. So, in Welsh, Los Campesinos means what exactly?
DAVID: In Welsh, Los Campesinos means absolutely nothing - both linguistically and in terms of people knowing anything about our band. But it's Spanish. It translates loosely as the peasants or the farmers. And it's...
SIMON: Well, all right. That I know, OK. We...
DAVID: OK. You've got that. You've got that.
SIMON: But I don't understand how a Welsh band gets that name.
DAVID: And I wish that there was an answer for that. The only answer is that if we had any idea that, you know, a few years down the line we would have some sort of profile, we would have definitely have thought harder about the name.
SIMON: You have five band mates, right?
DAVID: Yes, I do. Five darling band mates.
SIMON: Well, who are they and give us some stories how you began.
DAVID: Well, the start of the band is very serendipitous. Myself and Neil, my band mate, we met on our first day at university and there was a beautiful moment whereby I knocked on his door to introduce myself - I was wearing a Sonic Youth T-shirt and he held in his hand this Sonic Youth poster. And I think from that moment we knew that we were destined to be stuck with each other for all eternity. My other band mates would be - Tom is my songwriting partner and he's a founding member as well. We've had members come and go, but the other three would be Jason, our man on the drums, Rob Campesinos, who is a jack of all trades and then my sister is also in the band.
SIMON: I didn't know that. That's adorable - you and your sister in the same band.
DAVID: It's really nice. She wasn't originally in the band and so I had the amazing opportunity to say to my sister would you like to be in this band and tour the world with me? And that was, like, one of the best moments I've experienced in my whole life, I think.
SIMON: Let's play the first single from your new album, if we could. It's got a catchy title: "What Death Leaves Behind."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT DEATH LEAVES BEHIND")
CAMPESINOS: (Singing) I was brave man (unintelligible), you are a shadow brave, I see too much a specter. (unintelligible), that's being (unintelligible) upon me, I'll be a place (unintelligible) on your naked body.
SIMON: What's the story here?
DAVID: Well, despite the title - and as you pointed out, reading back my album titles earlier - they all do seem a little bit downbeat, a little bit morbid. I think "What Death Leaves Behind" is intended to be a pretty euphoric song. It's essentially about the good in things and about friendship and about sort of the strong relationship that you forge with somebody else. But then, you know, you got a, you keep a mystique by giving it a miserable title, I think.
SIMON: Do I get this right, while we're kind of in the general area, you once worked at a cemetery?
DAVID: Yeah, I still do on occasion, yeah. I tend graves - not digging, unfortunately. I think that's outside of my expertise. But general pruning and gardening and maintaining the tombs and that. Yeah, I do. It's very peaceful.
SIMON: Well, I guess when you're going the pruning, though, it's a quiet and contemplative place.
DAVID: Yeah, it totally is. It's the ideal place to collect your thoughts and to get ideas for song and to listen to music. And, yeah, it's a place which encourages thought, I suppose.
SIMON: Let's hear a little bit of a song you have called "Cemetery Gaits."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CEMETERY GAITS")
CAMPESINOS: (Singing) I'm going to my grave, (unintelligible) the way we crawl (unintelligible)...
SIMON: We should explain that the title, too, is "Cemetery Gaits," G-A-I-T-S, as in walking.
DAVID: Clever, right?
SIMON: A Joyce-ian pun, to be sure. You have a lot of wordplay on this album, don't you?
DAVID: Yeah, I think so. I write the lyrics and I have absolutely no musical ability whatsoever. I am in awe of my band mates who are all very capable and talented musicians and I can do nothing of the sort. So, I think I overcompensate for that by being needlessly verbose in my songwriting.
SIMON: You're really making people eager to go out and download this. And I feel we ought to give you another - we ought to give you a chance to make your own best case as to why people might like your music. Reading between the lines, are you trying to make people conscious of the preciousness of life?
DAVID: Yeah. This album is quite a turning point for us as a band, I think, because it is a lot more hopeful than a lot of stuff we've written previously. And as somebody who - to be serious for a moment - has sort of battled with depression for a long time and been in some pretty dark places, it's important for, you know, when there are those cracks of light and there is happiness, it's important to embrace those things because life is so fleeting and you've got to make the most of it. And I think, although, amongst all the melancholy, there are plenty of jokes in there and the puns and the self-deprecation, and that's what life is, I think.
SIMON: We want to go out with a song. I wonder if you can tell us about it: "Avocado Baby."
DAVID: It's a crazy, silly song. It's got a local cheerleading squad on it from Cardiff, the Cardiff Cougar All Stars, who I think would be very excited to hear their name mentioned on NPR. A group of girls and one boy who came in and we kind of cajoled into singing backing vocals for us. Although, when we showed up, we were the three people in our late 20s and we just immediately became the most uncool people in the world, sort of a life-flashing-before-our-eyes moment.
SIMON: Well, let's go out listening to "Avocado Baby." Gareth David of Los Campesinos. Their new album, it's called "No Blues." He joined us from the BBC studios in Cardiff, Wales. Mr. David, (Foreign language spoken).
DAVID: Thank you.
DAVID: Thanks very much.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AVOCADO BABY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.