Gareth David of Los Campesinos! on Football, New Music, and the Freedom of Independence

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Last Donut of the Night

Sep 16 2021

22 mins read

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Los Campesinos! have long been a favorite band of mine, and I've been in touch with frontman Gareth David over the last few years in various digital forms as well. I was delighted that he was interested in doing what ended up as a wide-ranging hour-plus interview touching on new music, viewing habits, the scourge that is Record Store Day, the apolitical-ness of recent-era indie, and more. It felt like catching up with an old friend, and maybe that's how it reads too. They're starting to hit the road soon and some shows have already sold out, so if you're a fan go hunt down tickets while you still can.

How have you been?

I'm good, mate. I can't complain. I'm very lucky to have a house, a cat, a partner that has made the last 18 months absolutely fine. I just quit my job to focus on the new record, which is a bold move for a 35-year-old guy to make. It's an exciting time.

You were working as a student administrator, right?

Yeah, I worked at a university doing the most entry-level admin [stuff]. All my colleagues at the same level as me are at least ten years younger. [Laughs] It's become a weird vibe. I started working there just after we recorded Sick Scenes. I just got to the point where I realized that I can't work this job and pretend to be an artist or whatever. It has to be one or the other with me, so I'm going in deep.

We've talked before about how Los Campesinos! appeals to young people. Have you come into contact with young people who love your music as a result of your job?

Broadly I would say no, but there are exceptions that have made me feel good about myself for a brief period of time. Two years ago, someone in an adjacent team to mine was starstruck, which was fantastic. I handle all the merch, and there's someone who lives on the campus I work on that frequently orders our merch. I really just want to hand deliver it to them, but I've never gone to that level nor have I ever seen the T-shirts walking around campus. There's a colleague I worked with a year that's our age and grew up experiencing the same UK-centric scenes, and she was aware [of the band] as well, but she was nonplussed in a good way. 15 years ago, she was drinking in Camden trying to stalk The Libertines and stuff like that, so it was all very much par for the course for her.

It's funny you mention young people still getting into our band, because this has very much been one of the storylines of our last year. There's a couple of very famous Twitch streamers who are fans of our band, and one of them wears our merchandise on his streams. Subsequently, we've sold a lot more items of those merch. Our Spotify streams are up in the last year by 100,000 listeners, and our demographics massively skew to younger ages. It really surprised me. On my last check a month ago, 12% of our Spotify listeners were under 18, which amazed me. 77% are younger than us, which I think is a brilliant situation to be in. In terms of gender 49% female, 44% male, 6% nonbinary. That was a pleasant surprise, to see that only 44% of our listenership are dudes. We have to thank Twitch a lot for that, it's been nice organic growth, especially as we haven't been able to play shows or record.

Do you think The Mitchells vs. the Machines sync helped with that?

It might! That was fun too. It's another example of people that grew up with our band 10 or 15 years ago now being in positions where they are dictating things and making the decisions about who gets heard and what have you. The director was a fan, and he grew up on bands like us and The Mae Shi, and now he's writing movies and putting our songs in them. That's crazy. The Mitchells vs. the Machines is one of those things where you can file in the reasonably small category of things that you can tell people who don't quite like music so they can accept that we are a legitimate band, and not just a weird pub hobby.


Photo by Simon Ayre

What have been other similarly surreal career peaks for you and the band?

It remains to be seen, although in terms of a commercial peak we've already been there, in terms of things I categorize in being the highest of highs. The Budweiser advert was one of them, where as a result of that there was a six-month time where when I went to a bar to watch soccer my song would be played. In local places where I knew people there, they'd be like, "That's your song!" which was amazing. [Playing] Letterman was a big one, that's coming up on ten years now. Being on The Late Show was a lot of fun, although I still regret that we weren't on with better guests.

Who were the guests?

Dana Carvey.

That's not that bad!

For a British person, that's not really—Wayne's World, fair enough, but. Rihanna had been on the night before as an interview guest, and I was like, "Oh man! Imagine!" But that was fun. In the UK, we were a guest on Soccer AM, which was a big deal, a Saturday morning show based around football not unlike The Late Show. I got a lot of credit from people I knew from football at the time. That was great.

All those things happened at a time when all of us would have identified as people in a band, and we're not really that anymore because we've all got jobs, families, and commitments. But having two songs in a Sony animation film that was trending on Netflix worldwide is a big deal too, especially now that Kim and Jason have kids. "That's your parents!" Coming during COVID and lockdown, it was a real morale boost, even if it was a 15-year-old song.

You recently said on the Los Campesinos! Twitter account that you're not a big movies guy, but everyone watches so many more things in general now. What have you been watching lately?

I finally did The Sopranos the first time. I watched the first series a few times before and it never clicked. I bought the DVD box set during an HMV closing-down sale 15 years ago, and the store never even closed down in the end, but I got that and The Wire because they were both reduced by 20 quid. I watched The Wire but I never broke the back on The Sopranos—Neil has watched it through five or six times now—and I finally did that and regretted not doing it 10 years ago.

Super-recently, I am regrettably a huge sucker for Love Island. That is appointment viewing in my house. Nine o'clock it's on, when it's finished you go to bed, that sort of thing. That's been fantastic, but it's dropped off recently. I did Succession and enjoyed that, although I hate everything that it represents. My favorite thing I've watched over the last 18 months—and I think there's a U.S. remake coming up, which doesn't bode very well—is Stath Lets Flats. Have you watched that?

I've heard of it.

You have to watch it. I suppose the culture of the rental market in the U.S. is a bit different than the UK. The guy is basically an estate agent, but he's a lovable idiot and it's a family-owned business that's struggling, with the flash modern estate agents next to them. He bumbles his way through his social life while trying to make his dad, who's also an estate agent, proud. It's sort of surreal. The characters are amazing, it's relentlessly funny. There's also This Country, which is a BBC one in the tradition of the UK The Office, very heartwarming but relentlessly hilarious as well.

I wish I could watch more films, because that is a medium that I just—it's almost like I don't understand it. I just can't get into films. I'd rewatch four episodes of Alan Partridge a thousand times over a highly-rated film. I'm a philistine when it comes to film, sadly. I understand how rewarding it could be, but I've got a psychological block. If someone says to me, "You should really watch this film," there's a 75% chance I'm just gonna go on Wikipedia, read the entire plot, and say, "Yeah, that does sound good." It's a bad trait.

Even when I was watching The Sopranos, I ended up doing that. I'm just a bit of a wimp, I don't like seeing people dying, so I'd go to the "Deceased" section of Wikipedia and see who dies in the episode so I'm not surprised when it came along. Spoilers don't tend to ruin my enjoyment of things. I got a simple mind, I suppose. The only thing that spoilers bother me with is wrestling. Because of the time difference, I have to watch something the next morning, and I also check Twitter as a reflex then, so if someone's posted a screenshot or an outcome that could ruin my day. But with films and TV, I always prefer it, I would say.

Did you get into gaming during the pandemic? A lot of people who previously weren't into it got into it through buying a Switch or whatever.

I got a Switch in November 2019, when I was on jury duty. It was the most tedious nine weeks of my life, so I bought it to make life more bearable so I wouldn't have to talk to anyone. I'd had Breath of the Wild for a long time before the pandemic, and not dissimilar to The Sopranos I tried to get into it but I couldn't, so [when the pandemic began] I was like, "Right, I'm gonna get into it." That was one of the best months of pop culture of my life. I bought the walkthrough guide—I'm learning a lot about myself here when it comes to needing my hand held through enjoying everything—but that was amazing.

At that point in lockdown, seven or eight of my mates had Switches, so we'd all play Mario Kart through Zoom. I've played a few new Mario games and indie games too. It was fun, on a Saturday where I knew I wouldn't be leaving the house and had nothing to do, to buy a game and spend nine hours completing it. That felt like less of a waste of a day than it would've been.

But does playing a Switch count as gaming? It feels too friendly and easy. About 12 years ago, Microsoft licensed a song from the Sticking Fingers Into Sockets EP for an in-house training video or something, and they paid for it. It must've been a decent amount for us to say "Yes," but we also said to them, "Can we also get seven free Xboxes?" Two days later, we all got Xboxes delivered, so that was my brief period of getting into gaming, like Call of Duty. But I was just rubbish at it. I don't think I have the dexterity. Mario is my limit when it comes to gaming. Do you have a Switch?

I do. I own all three consoles right now.

Brilliant.

I got a PS5 when it came out, and right around the time Delta was making its way through the U.S., I was like, "Feels like we're going to be doing this for a few years. Why don't I get myself a next-gen Xbox too?"

I absolutely respect that. I think I saw you talk about Hades?

Hades is great.

I looked at it. It's a lot of inventory stuff, which I'm not sure I could do, but Breath of the Wild is a huge inventory game too, so maybe I could dip into that.

My wife just beat Breath of the Wild last weekend. She was actually really disappointed, because when it ends it takes you right back to before Calamity Ganon. She was like, "Why can't I walk around after the battle and have everyone in the castle congratulate me?"

I felt the same. I was like, "Why can't there be a version where everything's perfect after?" I was a bit annoyed about that too.

Tell me about watching the Euro finals with your dad and friends. I saw you tweet about that on your personal account.

Me and my dad have watched 80% of all England matches in the same pub as part of the football club I run with my dad, for the last 25 years. Since 2002, my three closest mates from school come out to it, and it's just what we do. At this point, I can't say soccer is my favorite thing, because my relationship with it is a pain in my ass—it takes up so much of my life—but it was a surreal experience this time because it felt like it was genuinely possible to win it, and we'd be deserving. I'm sure that narrative made its way to the U.S. too—this group of young England players from ethnically diverse backgrounds and humbled beginnings, coming together to make a worthy and incredibly talented squad.

But to me, it's always set to the backdrop of the conflicting relationship we all have with nationalism and patriotism. Are there different ways to support your national team, especially when so much of the support of it is toxic and objectively negative? It's a real conflict, but what it's become about for me is underpinning the relationship I have with my mates and my dad and my gramps, who passed away a few years ago. This was the first tournament I wasn't able to share with him. It's such an important part of my life. Every day I'm dealing with football.

The Euro finals was a huge emotional drain, but a really positive experience too. It was the first extended period of time where we weren't in lockdown and there was actually something to do, so the only things I did during that time is go to work and go to the pub to watch a match because I didn't want to get told to isolate—to get "pinged," as we're calling it over here with the NHS app. Also, coming at the tail end of 18 months of lockdown, it was a huge release. That was for me what it was for a lot of people about getting back to live music.

It wasn't the outcome I wanted, obviously, but I wasn't disappointed for too long, partially because before the match me and my mates all bet 100 pounds for Italy to win. If I lost 100 pounds as a result of England winning, I'd never miss it because England winning would've outweighed that massively. But if Italy won, I had that small silver lining.

But the real reason it didn't hurt for long was because the immediate aftermath was the racist abuse that the three Black players who missed penalty shots received. That put things into perspective and made the loss hurt a lot less, because I didn't want to be hurting in the same way these racists were hurting.

What's it like, having to compartmentalize the nastier aspects of fandom?

It's tough, I suppose, because participating in it in any level—enjoying the sport—to what extent are you complicit in the serious issues inherent in it? It's a tough one. Because I volunteer lots of time to my football club, I'm able to influence things in a micro level there in making sure my club is as good as it can be and doesn't allow toxic racism, misogyny, and transphobia to rear its head. If the club I support is explicitly rife with that sort of behavior, it would be partially my fault because I have the power to stop it.

On a wider level, I don't. A lot of criticism is understandably aimed at social media companies for making it too easy for people to project their racist ideas, but even if they don't have the platform it doesn't mean they're gonna stop feeling it. It's about the cultural and political situation we find ourselves in, and how our governments and leaders are able to push their racist agendas and sign off with everyone that it's okay to be like this. I don't think very often that I shouldn't like football because of this, because it's not football that's the problem—it's people that's the problem.

You and I have both grown up online. How have you witnessed the changes of living online throughout the course of your life?

I'm pleased to say that I'm a lot less online than I used to be. That's not to say I spend less time online, I just spend more time lurking than speaking. When I first got into Twitter a decade-plus ago, I was somebody with an audience at that time and I was a bit of a dickhead. I enjoyed winding people up and the sound of my own typing. I was irritating, just a bit of a pain in the ass. I wasn't a bad person, but I was annoying.

These days, if I could make a decision and be like, "I don't need social media anymore," I would love to, but that's not gonna happen, partially because of how much I have to use it for the band and my football club. But also, it's a reflex now, isn't it? I wouldn't know what to do without it. But I also feel lucky to have been in my early 20s ten-plus years ago and not have all the additional access to platforms that people have now. I'm sure I'd be even more insufferable. Thankfully I missed out on Snapchat and TikTok. I was a bit too old to be a participant in Tumblr culture, which worked out well.

I feel like the way I participate in social media at the age of 35, my voice is not important here. I seldom Tweet, and when I do, I don't really offer opinions on things anymore. Well, negative opinions—except for my colleagues, buy my account's locked, so that's okay. But there isn't anything I need to advertise about myself on social media these days.

Last year, the band offered to pay the first month of union dues for anyone who needed it. How did that turn out?

It turned out great! We had about fifty people take us up on the offer. One of my very few regrets with the band is that we didn't start being a bit more forthright and proactive in supporting causes a decade ago, rather than in the past three or four years. It's easier now that we're self-managed and don't have a record deal, because our money is our money and we can spend it however we want. We don't need to get permission from a manager or anything like that, which has been incredibly freeing. The amount of things that we've been able to do for charitable causes in the past three or four years has been huge, and if we had a manager we'd have to have an awkward conversation of, "Are you going to expect 20% of what we're raising?"

I realize a band talking about their finances is pulling back the curtain a bit, but now that we're self-managed we can do what we want, and we are incredibly privileged. The seven of us are very lucky, we live comfortable lives, and it's the least we can do to try and help others just a little bit, and espouse our politics and beliefs. With people who have politics we disagree with, we'd sooner they not get any enjoyment from our music, so we're not concerned about making people fall out with us. We've been a band for so long, why play that game anymore?


Photo by Simon Ayre

The last fifteen years, especially 2009-2015 or so, were astonishingly commercial and apolitical in the world of "indie." Do you feel that's changed in the UK?

That was a period of time where I think labels ran out of money to sign bands like us, so they stuck with safe stuff because they were worried about the repercussions of alienating people. They just wanted to sell records where they could because of the financial crash that affected the music industry as well. That was a period in which bands were a lot more reliant on syncs as well, so middle-of-the-road apolitical stuff would be beneficial.

Perhaps part of the reason we've seen an upturn in more political acts in recent years has got to be down to more marginalized voices being heard, as well as more acts from different backgrounds than traditional indie rock. It's easier for them to have their music heard, and there's less of a reliance on typical indie music journalism hegemony.

This is probably just my own personal grievance, but there's a lot of posturing going on too, especially in the UK. There's a lot of bands that present themselves as being overtly political or leftist but leave out important details in their schooling and where their money comes from, and they're conveniently silent when it comes to the crunch. But generally, bands are less reliant from money from labels because less labels have money, and for art it's always going to be a positive thing if it's not reliant on third parties. If you're not reliant on a manager or record label, you only have to make music to please yourself and not the people that are funding you. From our perspective, it's great to know that if the seven of us are in agreement, there's no one else to check with—we just do it.

Things like Bandcamp have been fantastic, and there's loads of smaller labels. The turnaway from relying on vinyl for releasing music will be good, too, because vinyl is incredibly prohibitive. It's expensive for bands, and environmentally it's a bad thing. It's a conversation we're going to have to have soon, because the way vinyl releases slow down the release of a record isn't manageable. You have to book your manufacturing time now before you even start writing a record. If we turned away from vinyl as a format for releasing, I think bands will look for more interesting ways to release music and find new ways of being compensated for that.

It was wild to see Billie Eilish sell so much vinyl recently while so many labels and bands struggle to fill orders.

That's why we've never done anything Record Store Day. It's not a good thing for artists. It's a good thing for record stores, yes, but we don't need another David Bowie reissue or a Ghostbusters soundtrack picture disk. These releases are clogging things up, and they're making more money for major labels, who are already millionaires. Record Store Day has missed the point. If we are to feel like we should support record stores, I want to know what record stores are doing to support independent bands, and I'm not sure that's entirely clear all the time.

Yes, there are fantastic indie record stores, but there are indie record stores that—and this is in no way a blanket "record stores are bad" statement—have international branches in the UK, and what records are being forced down your throat? Another Unknown Pleasures reissue, Bowie, Prince. All relevant and worthwhile releases, but what are we gaining by pushing these to people?

Bands I like and enjoy are putting out literally ten different vinyl colorways. I appreciate the need for bands to get paid, I absolutely do, but there must be better ways. There will be fans who buy every version because they feel like they need to for their fandom, and that makes me uncomfortable as an artist. I wouldn't want that on my conscience. If there needs to be ten different versions of a record for it to be viable, there's a bigger problem that needs to be assessed. And there's some hypocrisy in me saying this, because we have the Hello, Sadness reissue coming out and there's two different versions. If I really believe in what I'm saying, there should just be one standard version. There's a line to be drawn somewhere, and it all just leaves me feeling a little bit sour.

How is work on the new album going?

It's more conceptual at this point. [Laughs] If we don't have a record out by this time next year, I will be very disappointed. Obviously, COVID has slowed us down, and because there's seven of us and we don't live in the same city, and there are kids and real commitments, we haven't been able to think about everything at the same time in the midst of the pandemic. But I'm really excited.

Tom is a genius as far as I'm concerned, and he's been demoing stuff for the last three years, so we have loads of stuff to choose from. He'll probably produce this one, which fits what we're doing since it's all in-house now. Every record we've done we've gone away for four to six weeks, to somewhere where none of us live, at a residential studio—I don't think that's going to be viable now, so we're going to do it more piecemeal, but it's gonna be great. Tom and Jason's frustration is that I turn up in the studio with virtually nothing and I'm like, "Oh shit, I gotta write a record now," but that's not gonna rub this time.

It's an interesting spot for us, because the perception of our band in the last six years has changed immensely. One of my great joys is the number of fifth-wave emo bands that have referenced us, which is a huge buzz to me, because that's the contemporary music that most excites me. It's gonna be really interesting to see how people respond to us as a result. Where we're positioned as a band has changed, and that's really exciting. There's more of a space for a new Los Campesinos! record now than in the last decade. Now we just gotta make it. [Laughs]

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