During a tour of the States earlier this year, the four guys and three gals that comprise Cardiff, Wales, outfit Los Campesinos! absorbed some of the more off-the-wall American delights.
"We've seen pickled pig's feet in a truck stop in Florida," says vocalist Gareth Campesinos!. (All members share that last name as an alias.) "I'm vegan, so that was particularly...you know."
One show in Memphis took the group to the Hi-Tone Cafe, a renovated venue where, according to lore, Elvis took martial-arts lessons. "We were told this initially and I just assumed that it was the guy at the venue taking the piss out of us," says Gareth, "but then we paid closer attention to the photos all over the wall of Elvis doing karate."
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The gang also spent two days in New Orleans, where they visited a strip club. For most of them, it was their first time in such an establishment.
"It was quite hilarious," notes the vocalist, still sounding slightly embarrassed.
Were the ladies skilled at their trade?
"No, the strippers were not particularly good," Gareth reports. "They were very entertaining, very athletic. It was quite admirable."
In the same spirit of the tight-knit band's travels, the music of Los Campesinos! exists to indulge the senses. All skinny recent Cardiff University alumni, the seven members craft DIY indie-pop dioramas out of voices, guitars, bass, drums, a violin, synth and the ever-integral glockenspiels.
Candy-coated jingles move with a skittish, unsteady swiftness and, like watching a house of cards constructed at record speed, one feels that everything should fall apart at any moment. But it doesn't, and what Campesinos! lack in craftsmanship, they make up for with the bright-eyed exhilaration of a makeshift campfire band that's been handed an orchestra of instruments and told to create something gorgeous.
"When we were forming [in 2006], we never really felt like a band should be three, four, five people big," says Gareth. "Once we got to seven, the seven people were great friends and it seemed like a sensible thing to stop. Having seven people in the band is a huge, huge advantage. It enables us to explore more different avenues than we would be able to if we were a three- or four-piece."
Last October's We Are Beautiful! We Are Doomed! (Wichita Recordings), Campesinos!' debut full-length, is a jubilantly chaotic exercise in passionate pomp, brimming with instances of stupendous fire. "Miserabilia" begins as an airy, sweet and almost dainty thing, and closes with a crash of gang vocals. The title track is a starry celebration of twinkling touches and melody-smitten violin.
The sticky electronica guiding "The End of the Asterisk" gives way to booming voice and vigorous percussion, simultaneously busy and buoyant. The exclamation point in Los Campesinos!' name becomes a symbol of the group's unfailing energy. Campesinos! earn their punctuation well.
Campesinos!' lyrics, delivered by Gareth and female counterpart Aleksandra Campesinos!, with three additional members on backing duties, come armed with tongue-in-cheek titles like "Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks," "Clunk-Rewind-Clunk-Play-Clunk" and "Documented Minor Emotional Breakdown #1." Each is a wry, tightly wound fit of wordplay speaking to and about the band's college-age peers.
"We Throw Parties, You Throw Knives," which opens debut EP Sticking Fingers into Sockets, finds Gareth's boyish brogue unraveling a particularly snappy verse: "When you play pass the parcel with human body parts / Somebody might get head, but someone will get hurt."
While the gaudy monikers of LC's tracks might come off as self-involved in-jokes to some, Gareth insists the peculiar tactic has a practical use: "I would be more intrigued to listen to a song that had an interesting title than something that's been attributed to a hundred songs before"
"A lot of people these days are just looking at a tag on an MP3 file, so if all you've got to sucker in people is the name of a song on an MP3 file, having something a little more exciting might work in our favor," he explains.
Such is the case with "All Your Kayfabe Friends," a We Are Beautiful song that places "kayfabe," a pro-wrestling insider term referring to the portrayal of in-ring events as legitimate, into a new and unfamiliar context, once again displaying Campesinos!' deft ability to venture into an unlikely spot.
"Being in a so-called indie pop band, you don't really meet many people who are into it," Gareth says of his interest in pro wrestling. "I'm a long-time WWE fan, so I guess that reference was slipped in as an attempt to get more wrestling fans out to our show. There's not much of a crossover."
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The two niches came into collision in January, though, when the band played a Memphis concert as WWE's Royal Rumble pay-per-view occupied the bar's TV screens. "When I saw that the clock of the Royal Rumble was finished, I asked the audience if anybody knew who'd won," Gareth recalls. "I was met with blank faces and people not being aware of what the Royal Rumble was."
It's endearing to know that this upstart bunch will attempt to spend their career exposing both themselves and audiences to new things minus their indie-pop peers' ironic detachment. Currently stationed in Brooklyn and working on a new album, Campesinos! holds nothing back in adding more delights to future recordings: saxophone, flute, trumpet, flügelhorn, upright bass and backing vocals from Xiu Xiu's Jamie Stewart.
Why wait when the good times might be temporary?
"We never set out to be the biggest band in the world," says Gareth. "We don't anticipate that in ten years' time we'll still be touring and people will still care for us. We just want to do as much as we can in the time that we are allowed."