After a some time out of the spotlight, veteran U.K. seven piece Los Campesinos! returned earlier this year with their sixth album Sick Scenes. I recently had the opportunity to chat with band leader Gareth David about the new album. Gareth, along with band members Tom Bromley, Kim David, and Jason Adelinia, also recorded acoustic versions of two songs “A Slow, Slow Death” and “The Fall of Home” for our latest FMQB SubModern Session.
FMQB: You’ve been around for almost a decade now, how did you keep things fresh the sixth time around?
Gareth David: I think certainly the time apart has helped. This has been the largest gap between releases for us. Our fifth album came out in 2013, so this one is more than 3 years later. But I think that time away has made us even more excited to do this than ever before. We all work day jobs. I guess it’s at the point where the band is a hobby rather than our occupation, which is beneficial. It means that we approach it with the same sense of fun and enjoyment that we did ten years ago. We’ve never been the sort of band that will come back with a new record and have completely remodeled our sound or anything. That’s not the sort of band we are or would want to be. But this one I think, there’s a real energy to. I guess by now I just repeat what reviews have said in praise of it.
FMQB: You have no opinion of your own!
GD: I find it really hard to until about a year later. I still find myself so totally involved in the songs and the album that I can’t objectively comment on them, so I have to rely on the positive reviews of course.
FMQB: Right. Well, there are no negative reviews. There shouldn’t be because the album is really good!
GD: Thank you.
FMQB: One thing I always notice about your music, and this album is no exception, is that the songs sound super upbeat, peppy, and fun, but there are some dark, depressing lyrics. That definitely is the case this time as well.
GD: Yeah I think so. I’ve always written incredibly openly and honestly. I don’t think I’m smart enough to tell stories or invent things so I’ve always written from a very personal perspective and I’ve always taken the opportunity to write about mental health and the lows that I’ve often felt and stuff. That’s no different in Sick Scenes. Sick Scenes was also written at a time when we in the U.K. were dealing with the EU referendum result, which saw the U.K. leave the European Union, which was something that really set off a string of terrible political things in the U.K., which informs the sort of dour nature of the record lyrically. A lot of people like that about the music, but also a lot of people enjoy the music without even paying attention to the lyrics and they can enjoy it because there’s so much going on in its creative musicianship, and you don’t need to get bogged down in my depressing lyrics.
FMQB: Was that always your goal to kind of hide the messages?
GD: Not really. I don’t think we’ve ever had an intention of how to write music. We’ve just sort of written and how it’s ended up is how it’s been. It just became something that people enjoyed. I think that also by now there is a lot more nuance in the music than perhaps that first record in particular, which was pretty much relentlessly upbeat, with quite depressing lyrics. But these days I think there is more variation in the musicality of it as well.
FMQB: You self-funded this album. Were record label politics part of the reason for the long break?
GD: Yeah, after the fifth album we stopped working with our then management and record label, which was a mutual decision, but one that I think really did benefit us and a decision that I wish we’d made several years prior. I’ve worked music industry jobs as well so I understand how it works, and I developed the abilities and the tools for us not to need to pay twenty percent to a management company or to have to borrow tons of money from a record label, which is the way the industry works, and has been for years, and doesn’t really show much sign of changing. The fact that we do have such a loyal fanbase and that people did seem to be hungry for a new Los Campesinos! record after a few years away, meant that we were able to raise the money through selling merchandise and playing gigs, and not having to go to a record label and be like “Can we borrow money to record an album that we will then spend the next several years paying back to you?” That was a really liberating and positive thing for us to do.
FMQB: Yeah, that’s awesome! Did you go the Kickstarter route at all or did you avoid that?
GD: No. I’m skeptical of that. It’s kind of become the norm by now, but for us personally, there’s no need to. I think that with a Kickstarter, you’re kind of indebted to people who like your band and I think that could potentially be detrimental to what you create because you sort of enter into a contract, which has the artists saying, “You have paid of us, so we will produce something that you will enjoy,” which should be the case, but that shouldn’t be what informs songwriting and the approach to making a record. I think it’s all a weird sort of capitalism that I’m not entirely convinced by yet.
FMQB: Of course you’re always indebted to fans for supporting what you do.
GD: Absolutely! And we’re so privileged to have fans like we do. This tour of being in the States properly for the first time in like five years has really hammered that home. I think the relationship that we have with people who like our band is so incredibly normal and healthy. We try to remove any sense of hierarchy between us as a band on the stage and the people who come to the shows. It’s sort of a mutual contract that we enter into.
FMQB: I’m gonna have to curse you for making me say “5 Flucloxacillin” all the time. What is that? An actual medication?
GD: Yeah, it’s an antibiotic for like a skin infection or something like that. Just one that I’ve had to take in the past for numerous ailments. It’s just so musical sounding, right?
FMQB: I don’t know how you get through the song every night! So, what made you write a song, not actually about the medication I guess? What is the correlation?
GD: It kind of is. The song is about spending your life on different medications, dealing with depression, sort of trying to use medication to make yourself feel better. Sort of totaling up how much of your life you spend taking different medicines for different reasons. When I started writing it, Flucloxacillin was one that I was taking at the time. Truth be told, that was a song that I couldn’t decide on a title for so I just went for the most difficult word in there to annoy people, which I do tend to do. I’m not regretting it yet!
By Josh T. Landow