During their sixth album, Los Campesinos! found themselves working relentlessly on everything surrounding the band and the outcome could not be better, as Sick Scenes is a brilliant milestone in their career. Vocalist Gareth‘s lyrical content is sharper than ever and we had the opportunity to catch up with him about this new album, how it was like to record it in Fridao (Portugal), and much more.
It’s been four years since you released your previous album, No Blues. What have you been up to since then?
Nothing, unfortunately. It was a difficult time… I still think that No Blues is my favorite record we’ve done, but it was a time where the record label that we were working with at the time kind of didn’t really want to work, like they weren’t interested in working with us anymore, so I think as a result the album was released and then disappeared. It was a time where we all got proper jobs because we weren’t touring enough to justify. We didn’t have as much money in the band as we had previously and so we had to get proper jobs. As a result, we didn’t fall out of love with being in the band but it just seemed like a really difficult thing to be doing at that point because we were all sort of… When No Blues came out, we were all in our late 20s and that’s not an old age, but we were aware that we had to think about real life responsibilities like thinking about what our careers would be because we knew that we would never gonna be a full time band again… People trying to get mortgages, thinking about starting families and things like that… So, it was a really tough couple of years where we weren’t seeing as much of each other as we would like, and then I don’t know what really sparked it, but at the start of the last year we were just like “Fuck it! Nobody else is going to make this happen for us, so we just have to make it happen for ourselves.” Tom [guitarist] is a musician outside Los Campesinos! as well. He tours with the band Perfume Genius, he plays guitar for him. He had sort of a break from his touring and he just started writing and sending me through what he had written and I loved it. I was really excited by it. We knew if a record label wasn’t going to pay for us to write a record and record an album, then we had to do it ourselves. We raised the money. We made some Los Campesinos! football shirts.
Yeah, the one with “DOOMED” emblazoned on the front. Just really awesome.
Yeah, thanks! I really love them, I’m honestly as proud of them as I am proud of any record we’ve made. [laughs] We thought we would might sell 100. We sold 1000 in a week and then suddenly we could afford to make another album. We thought “Alright, let’s do it!” Being self-managed in everything has been amazing, knowing that we completely shape everything that we want to do. We can do whatever we want.
Doing everything on your own terms must be really amazing. For this album you had really put a lot of effort and focus. How did you approach the whole process for this album?
Tom set the writing. It felt the most like writing our first album, because we went into it with the sense of we don’t know what’s gonna happen with this, we just had to make the most of it and do the best we can. The album was written without any real sense of self-consciousness or anything. Tom’s approach to writing the music was probably a bit different because we was on tour a lot with Perfume Genius, so he happened sort of record bits when we could and get ideas. Unfortunately, my approach to writing was exactly the same as always, which is I don’t write any lyrics until I get into the studio. I had the demos that Tom recorded for months in advance so I could listen to them and think about writing, but then I don’t write anything. I just get to the studio on the first day of recording and I’m like “Oh shit! I got 31 days to write 11 songs worth of lyrics.” I put myself under complete unnecessary stress, but that’s how it has been since our second album and it kind of work. I try to write before we go to the studio. I’ll go to a coffee shop or to a bar and take a notepad and a pen and listen to the demos and try to write things, but I just get embarrassed. I don’t think of myself as a musician or an artist or a writer in any way at all, so when I try to do that I just feel silly and then when I’m in the studio is like “I have to do it. This is very much what I’m here to do.” [laughs]
In those days you stressed a lot, but the lyrics are just amazing and I read that you describe the central theme of Sick Scenes as, “being older but perhaps being more clueless than ever before.” Can you elaborate more on that?
I’m 31 now… This last decade of being in a band – which has been amazing, I wouldn’t change that for the world, get to write and tour with my best mates – but I think all through my 20s, especially the early 20s, I’ve always been aware that being in a band is not something that I can do forever and I need to have a career as well. I need to have a job and have something that I can do to pay bills and stuff, but through my 20s I always thought “Oh it’s fine, I’ll sort myself out.” Suffering from depression and mental health all through my 20s, I felt that when you get older you think that’s fine, that depression is something that you feel when you’re younger and going through changes, but then on my early 30s I still suffer with mental health and I still more than ever. I don’t know what I’m meant to be doing with my life. At the moment I’m busy because I’m managing the band, which at the moment is taking up a lot of time because the album is coming out, a lot of interviews to do, the touring plans and that stuff. But then, once this stage is gone, I’m back to being like “What do I do now?” and I got no idea. I think that’s something that a lot of people around my age feel because they have might gone to the university, got a degree and you go to a university with the promise of you get your degree, you get a job and you’ll be sorted. I think that 80% of the people who comes through can’t get a job and have no idea of what you really want to be doing with your life… That’s how I feel and I think that one of the strengths of our band over the past decade is being very honest, because I have always written very honestly and openly, our audience is really connected with it and gets a lot of the album. I think with each record that comes out a lot of our fanbase feel the same things that I’m feeling and I’m writing about and that makes it a really strong and special connection. That sentiment is sort of throughout the album, that sense of confusion, a lack of certainty and just big question mark of “What am I meant to do?”, “How am meant to spend the next years of my life?” I’m very lucky because my problems are very much in perspective, I’m a white male who’s got all the privileges that anyone could want for and so my problems are nothing comparing to problems experienced by a huge amount of people. But, for myself personally, there still is that struggle and that sort of turmoil of “How am I meant to live my life?”
How much the Brexit and the election of Donald Trump did influence the working process for Sick Scenes?
I didn’t necessarily want it to and I didn’t intend for it to, but then it was a really weird situation being in Fridao so isolated from anything really and especially with everything that was going on at our home. We obviously were following the news, but right before until the day I think everybody thought that it would be ok that we would vote to stay and then watching the votes coming in like 3am or whatever on the day after the election, it became apparent that it hadn’t come how we hoped for whatever reason. It was like a really reality check and it was a weird experience because I found myself so glad to be away from home, to be detached and to be able to control how much I was seeing in terms of I wasn’t walking down the street and seeing people talking about it and stuff like that because I was just away, but I also felt a real sense of guilt like “I should be there. Why am I over here when things are so shitty at home? I should be back there and experience it with people.” Because I was still writing lyrics at the time, it inevitably influenced my mood and the lyrics. I think the song on the record most powerful is “The Fall of Home”, which I wrote at 4am while watching the results coming in and seeing people’s reaction to that like my Facebook friends or people I follow on Twitter and stuff like that. That song was really influenced by that and the songs “A Slow, Slow Death” and “5 Flucloxacillin” as well. I didn’t want it to be, but because I’ve always written honestly and by myself and about what I’m experiencing, I couldn’t help it. I always want to write honestly and that’s my one rule that I have.
“I’m very lucky because my problems are very much in perspective, I’m a white male who’s got all the privileges that anyone could want for and so my problems are nothing comparing to problems experienced by a huge amount of people.”
Sick Scenes was co-produced by John Goodmanson and Tom [Bromley], during Euro 2016 in Fridao, Portugal. How was it like to work with him?
It was amazing. This is the fifth album we did with John, he has been with us since the second one, and so this album and No Blues John and Tom co-produced them because Tom’s ability as a producer has just grown so much and he is incredible. He has learnt so much from John, but John is a brilliant guy and somebody that when we’re in the studio we very much consider as a part of the band. It’s always been an honour to work with him and to have the opportunity to record with the same guy that produced such amazing records was brilliant and that novelty has never worn off. I think he really helped own our sound and how we wanted to be in the studio to a point of where is incredibly easy recording with him. We all know what each other is like and that really comes across in our sound now.
The first song you unveiled off the album was “I Broke Up In Amarante”. What can you tell me about the story behind that song?
Firstly, I am aware I pronounce Amarante incorrectly. [laughs] That was written as a sort of suggestion… I was struggling quite a lot with my mental health while I was over there. I think as result of being such an isolated place and not really having access to a lot of the things that I’m used to having at home for myself caring and to just keep myself content, it was a struggle because it was so hot and I don’t cope well with warm weather at all – I’m very pale and ginger and it just doesn’t work with me. Within the first week, I was in a pretty bad place, just not copping and not very happy at all, so that song is basically mentioning that very literally. I mean, there’s places references within Fridao. There’s the Campo Do Fridao which is an old football ground that is no longer in used, but I’m a huge football fan and that was a place where I would go and sit just to sort of be somewhere that I felt comfortable, just looking at pictures and imagining people playing and that was where I got a lot of comfort from. And the day drinking, a million bottles of Super Bock and Sagres. [laughs] It’s a song about the days in Amarante and that feeling of unraveling, but I think the really paid off in that song is as it gets to the end when I’m so sick and low and I ask for the rest of the band to join in with me and then they come in the big last chorus. I think that’s ultimately what did help me cope in that situation. Being around them was a way to make myself feel better.
Overall, how would you define this album at this point of your career?
It’s probably the most rewarding album for us to make because we’ve done it all on our own and that’s been huge for us and I think that we are very aware by now that every record that we do could be our last. Not that we want it, but as long as people don’t want to hear it anymore then there’s no point for us on making records because they only justified for people to listen to them and so we went into this record wanting to put our all into it, wanting to give a full spectrum of ideas and songs which I think we achieved. I’m really happy by how we did that, so I think that the fact that this record has given us the opportunity to go back and tour the USA again is huge for us, such a milestone for us to be able to go back and to do that again. This album existing has given us the opportunity to do things that we definitely wanted to do, at least once more and there will be more opportunities as well, but I’m very grateful to this record for that.