|The members of the British indie rock band are surprised by their success - and feel guilty that it came so easily. (JON BERGMAN)|
Doom you can dance to
Los Campesinos! sets its tragic tales to a giddy beat
Like just about everything else concerning the British indie rock band Los Campesinos!, the exclamatory punctuation that concludes the septet's name happened on a lark. "When we were starting the band a friend just said as a joke, 'You should have an exclamation mark,' and we were like, 'OK then,' " singer Gareth Campesino says on the phone from Houston. (The seven band members, who play the Paradise tonight, have also taken the Ramones-like step of adopting the same surname.) "We didn't expect anyone to hear our band outside of maybe [the people at] those five gigs we'd play before we got bored of nobody caring about us. And so it kind of stuck, but also I guess it does work. Most things we do, metaphorically, seem to have an exclamation mark at the end of them."
Indeed, if the band had a slogan for its recently released second album, "We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed," it might be: "The world's going to hell - let's dance!"
Hopelessness in the face of poor romantic choices, dark nights of the soul spent on one's knees in locales of dubious repute, and the gut punch of seeing an ex with a new love are but a few of the tragic tales the band tells with pathos and humor. But with giddily psychedelic organs that veer into stinging new wave dance riffs and gritty punk rock, "Doomed" is no downer - even though Gareth, the primary singer-lyricist who unleashes a torrent of words over his bandmates' fervent musical excursions, admits to a slight obsession with mortality.
"Basically everything, no matter how great it is, is going to end, inevitably," the amiably chatty 23-year-old says of the album's overarching concept, barely taking a breath between thoughts. "Be that life itself - the morbid reality that everybody's going to die - or, in like the title track, any exciting new relationship is inevitably going to end eventually."
He extends that sense of pragmatism to the band, which began as a diversion from studying at Cardiff University in Wales three years ago. "We're not going to be the Beatles or the Rolling Stones, and sadly we're not even going to be Sonic Youth. We love being in Los Campesinos! but we know that it's not going to last forever. I think because we do know that it makes it a lot more enjoyable."
It also explains the band's rapid - and expansive - way of doing business. In 2008 Los Campesinos! released both its debut, "Hold On Now, Youngster," and its followup, "We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed," the U.K.-edition of which was packaged with a DVD, a 'zine, a poster, and other extras. The group has toured relentlessly and is already at work on its next album.
"It would be the worst thing in the world if Los Campesinos! ended for whatever reason - not that it's going to anytime soon, not by our choice anyway," Gareth says. "But if it ended and then we thought, 'But we've got a really awesome record finished and no one's going to hear this. . . .' It's the old cliche that it's better to regret the things you've done than the things you haven't done."
Given its current rate of acceleration - from dorm room goof to the high-profile Coachella festival in just three years - it seems there will be little Los Campesinos! won't try to accomplish.
And yet, even as they've begun tasting success, Gareth says he and his bandmates - keyboardist/vocalist Aleksandra, bass guitarist Ellen, keyboardist/violinist Harriet, guitarists Neil and Tom, and drummer Ollie - are discomfited by it. "I think the main negative emotion that it stirs in us is just a great sense of guilt that we have had it incredibly easy," he says. "Something I'm particularly proud of about us is that when we formed the band we had no intention of being successful. I know that's not really the sort of thing you can decide upon yourself, but I think so many people start bands and want to get famous and want to make money from being in a band and be the pop star and play the hero. Whereas with us we just knew it would be something fun to do. So the fact that we put really very little effort into it - we didn't court record labels, we didn't send out demos to a hundred million people, we didn't spend two years touring playing small venues to no people, the way you're quote-unquote supposed to do it - does make us feel very guilty."
Not so guilty that it prevents them from pressing on, though. Given the verbose and elaborate nature of the band's tunes, chances are Los Campesinos! will not be hitting the Top 40 anytime soon. And although the band has morphed from cheerful diversion into full-time job, Gareth couldn't be happier at the thought of semi-obscurity, seeing as fame frightens the music fan he still cherishes as his primary identity.
"That would just be weird. It might take some of the magic away from these other bands we love so much if we were anywhere near their league," he says with a laugh. "I don't imagine it happening."
Sarah Rodman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.