LC! Hit The Road



LC! Hit The Road

If there’s one thing to know about Gareth Campesinos!, it’s that he loves a good spreadsheet. Whether it’s meticulously mapping the amount of DOOMED sweaters sold or monitoring the ever-shifting data on the band’s Spotify demographic, his keen eye for numbers is part of what keeps the LC! show on the road — quite literally. On the day that we speak, he has been busy overseeing US presale ticket sales, planning out the considerations of the band’s first full tour since 2022.

“As a band, we’ve gotten good at saving money,” he tells me on Zoom. “When it comes to this US tour, there’s no funding from a label, so we’ve got to find about sixty grand upfront for visas, flights, buses, hiring gear in different locations…it really adds up. So that’s why I’ve got so many spreadsheets; I spend so much time planning and making sure that whenever we want to do something, we’re always able.”

Perhaps Gareth’s deepest pride and joy is the gig list, marking every show the group have ever played. The scoreline currently sits at an impressive 549, hastily re-calculated after he and Neil recently remembered a 2008 college show in Walla Walla, Washington that had somehow slipped the net. But when Gareth notes that the band hit 500 back in 2017, and 400 in 2012, he does realise that the scale of their live history “both seems a lot and like nothing at all”.

“We’ve not wanted to go a full calendar year without a gig, but with lots of exciting announcements on the way, it made sense to wait a little this time,” he says. “Within the band, people have a lot going on; Neil’s training to be a speech and language therapist, Jason manages the tattoo shop that he and Kim own, Kim’s just qualified as a foot-health practitioner, Rob and Tom are busy with illustration and music, Matt works for [the record label] Thrill Jockey. Everyone’s super busy, but if we can take two weeks to do a tour, everyone’s always really up for making it happen. And the interest that there’s been in these new shows is exciting — it’s really validating to be like, ‘look; people are still into this’.”

With many new factors to consider (not least the parenting responsibilities for Team Campesinos!’ two tiniest members, Arlo and Wren), it’s no wonder that the band have had to approach touring with a more sparing sensibility. But across the years, two things have remained core to the LC! live experience; one, having the kind of cathartic cry/sing/dance that you didn’t know you needed, and two, a palpable feeling of general welcoming (if you ignore the ongoing possibility of bumping into your equally-emo ex).

As a woman of colour who goes to a lot of guitar-based gigs, the ‘why are you here’ look is one that I know pretty personally, but when a band take the time to explicitly state that people of all genders, races, ages and physical abilities are welcome in those spaces, they show others that being considerate and non-judgemental to your fellow-gig goers isn’t actually all that hard to do.

“I’m not kidding myself; I always want to include the disclaimer of knowing that there will be Los Campesinos! fans who are awful people,” says Gareth. “But by and large, people respect what we’re doing, and they respect the fan base. I’m sure the more sceptical would see it as virtue signalling, but the reason I want to talk about how we do things is because I want other bands to see and understand that it is viable.”

With a new era for the band about to dawn, it makes sense to dig deep into the mechanics of their touring schedule, the kind of logistical considerations that are at play, and how old and new fans alike can play a part in maintaining the camaraderie that makes an LC! show as special as it is. For anyone who already knows the thrill of yelling ‘I Hope My Heart Goes First!’ along with several hundred others, or indeed those who are looking forward to experiencing it anew in 2024, this one’s for you.

Hi Gareth, welcome back to the road! Is touring something you’ve always enjoyed as a band?

I think we all love it now because we make sure it’s enjoyable. We don’t do it enough to allow it not to be! We’re self-managed and our booking agents are great, so we can do it healthily. I looked back on the 2012 Hello Sadness US tour which was something like 35 days with one day off, which obviously isn’t good or fair, so now when we tour we do things our own way. In 2022 we were over in the US for two weeks and played just eight shows, never more than two in a row. Our tour manager has a friend in the Midwest who has a swimming pool, so we went to his house for a day off and had one of the best days in the band’s history, barbecuing and drinking beer and swimming and playing cornhole.

Playing shows in North America especially is my favourite — it’s the classic Brits abroad, have a pint at 6 am in Heathrow before the transatlantic flight. We realise how lucky we are to do this, and we all get on so well that it’s a great time.

Veterans of your gigs know that one of the joys is the unspoken feeling of community, of knowing that most people who like this band share a similar kind of politics and general social ethos. But in terms of the more vocal work that you’ve been doing around inclusivity — providing low-income tickets, signposting gender-inclusive bathrooms, making sure that you only play venues that have good physical accessibility — was there a particular moment where you realised that you could and wanted to do more?

One of my few regrets as a band is that we weren’t more outspoken in our first five or so years. I think it was always probably generally clear what our values were, but I don’t feel like we ever really made a point of putting ourselves out there. And so when we parted with our management and stopped being a part of that machine, that’s when we started being clear on what we value and want in terms of our gigs. With both physical accessibility and gender-neutral bathroom facilities, as soon as it became a thought, it was obvious that implementing these things and being more vocal about them was the correct thing to do.

When I talk about this, one thing I always want to clarify is I’m not saying that small venues that aren’t accessible should go out of business, or that a band sleeping on their mates’ sofas can have the same level of control over the gigs they play. In the same way that a stadium band probably couldn’t implement low-income tickets without them all getting bought up by touts. But I do think that bands of around our size could do more, and I’m really curious as to why they don’t. A couple of artists have got in touch and asked how we make sure this stuff happens, and it’s literally like, you tell your booking agent ‘this is what we’re going to do from now on’, and it becomes their job to make it happen! Maybe it’s one awkward conversation, but the difference it makes for both us and fans is so worth it.

How does that desire for inclusivity translate to your choice of support acts?

We’ve not played with an all-male band since 2012. It’s simple I think; we want our audience to be able to look at the stage and see themselves there, and we’re very aware that for women and for people of colour and people from other minorities, very seldom do you get that experience at a gig. Our stats show that our listeners skew 60% female and non-binary; those fans deserve to come to a gig and see people that they can aspire to be like, or that they may share a lived experience with.

Of course, the starting point always has to be, “are this band good?”. It’s fine to play with your mates, but when you see touring bills put together and it’s a five-piece band of blokes with two three-piece bands of blokes, it’s like, why would you not give that a consideration? And it’s also not about redoing tours you’ve already done — for example, people always ask if we’re going to tour again with certain friends we’ve played with in the past. This isn’t a nostalgia thing for us. There are so many great bands that we can put in front of a new audience, so why wouldn’t we?

And the low-income tickets…how does this work? People always seem to be sceptical that fans won’t push their luck and choose the cheaper option just to save cash…

This is something we’ve done since…let me check my spreadsheet…2018. Before that, we used to kind of say ‘If you can’t afford it, message us and we’ll put you on the guestlist’, but it was good to formalise it and take the burden away from fans having to ask. The Troxy show got down to the last 500 tickets out of an initial 3,000 and there were still low-income tickets available; we’ve had situations where people have got in touch to explain that there are only low-income tickets available, but they don’t want or need to pay less so can they make up the cost. When people question if it’s going to be taken advantage of, I just think: if you’re not going to abuse the system, why do you think others will?

My only very small complaint is that now our fan base is a lot younger, there are some kids who don’t have their own money for tickets but do have well-off parents. So, in that circumstance, please ask your parents for the money for the full-price ticket or merch before you buy the cheap one. That’s all I ask — if they say no or can’t afford it themselves, that’s completely fine. But if your parents have got the cash, get them to stump up first!

Speaking of those younger fans, it’s been really exciting to see how the LC! community has grown in the last couple of years, and I think I speak for most when I say that it’s fun to welcome new listeners into the fold. But I am also aware that there can be issues of gatekeeping, or older fans who feel frustrated that they couldn’t get tickets or are nervous about how the gig dynamic might change. What has been your experience of watching this potential divide unfold?

First and foremost, having this new young wave — and especially in the numbers that they exist — has given us a renewed sense of vitality. In some cases I’ve seen a slight sentiment of ‘if it wasn’t for us, Los Campesinos! wouldn’t exist anymore’, which…we definitely would! But it has been amazing in how it’s allowed us to reminisce on old times and feel the encouragement for what’s to come.

I really hope that young and new fans have the best fucking time at our gigs. We’re a brilliant live band and I think we’re gonna show some other bands up when new fans compare us to what they’ve seen before. But I don’t want the OG fans to feel older as a result of having a lot of young people around them, and I don’t want them to feel like they’re not still welcome. We are beyond grateful to the new strain of fans for giving us their enthusiasm, but it’s the fans closer to our age that have put us where we are with their 10, 12, 15 years of support. And they’re the ones who are going to offer to buy me a pint after…

A lot of LC! fans care very deeply about the lyrical impact of your music, and of feeling that connection in a live setting. But those emotions can also sometimes result in unsustainable levels of expectation or even entitlement in terms of how people might hope to talk about or get close to you. How are you hoping to navigate those kinds of interactions on this tour?

The behaviour of a very small minority of newer fans has been perplexing, and rude. Our physical appearances are scrutinised more than they ever have been before, and the formation of parasocial relationships can be a lot, and unwelcome. Even when presented ironically.

Something I’ve seen a lot of bands speak about recently is the experience of people telling you in person what your band means to them. It’s amazing to hear the positive impact we’ve had on the lives of some fans, and I truly appreciate how for some people having the opportunity to tell that story can benefit them, but when I’m hearing that story at the front of a queue of 50 people, when I’ve just spent 90 minutes sweating and emoting onstage, I can only really say, ‘I’m sorry mate, glad you’re here, hope things get better’, and that just seems so trite and patronising. Obviously, I am not kidding myself that we’re this huge famous band with endless queues, but the people that like us do like us a lot, so I’d like to put that out there in the hope that people can understand why an in-depth conversation might not always be possible. But we do love meeting people, so I think we need to find a way to ensure that it can still happen, even if it’s not always the typical ‘hang out at the merch desk’ thing.

For fans new and old who are looking to uphold the positive communal LC! atmosphere, what kind of considerations would you ideally like them to keep in mind?

It’s difficult to navigate these things without just seeming like a grumpy old millennial, but here are a couple of thoughts…

Recording video at the shows. Two or three of your favourite songs, brilliant, or if there’s someone you want to FaceTime because it’s their favourite part, that’s also great. But if you’re stood there filming the whole gig, you’re not dancing or singing or probably having that good of a time.

The other big thing that we’ve experienced on a small level but that I fear may be growing is the pre-gig queuing…I’m just not interested in encouraging a ‘get barrier’ culture. We don’t want to see people cold, sat on the pavement around the building, hours before doors. I’ve never felt like people go to Los Campesinos! gigs as a status thing or as an achievement to unlock, and I don’t want it to become that. So I think everybody needs to find a way to get along with each other without making it competitive or getting impatient about who was standing where first.

This next era of shows is going to be a beautiful thing; the Brudenell, our biggest ever gig at Troxy, all these shows across the States, and lots more shows to be announced soon. Seeing loads of excited new faces… it’s incredibly flattering, and I never want it to feel like it isn’t, or that we’re trying to control how audiences behave. So yeah, this isn’t a ‘This is how you’re expected to be a Los Campesinos! gig’. Just more of a like, ‘this is the vibe, and it’s a really good vibe. Let’s not fuck with it.’

Jenessa Williams is a freelance music journalist and media academic based in Leeds, UK. She writes regularly about race, feminism, gender and inclusivity within music for various outlets, including her recently launched newsletter, Aca.Journo.Fangirl.Other.