Released in 2005, the Kaiser Chiefs’ debut, Employment, has sold over three million copies, marking them out as one of the most successful British bands of their era. While their follow-ups haven’t matched its commercial achievements, the Leeds quintet remain a formidable force in the world of indie rock.
Their most recent album, The Future Is Medieval, was released online at the start of June, and allowed fans to create their own running order by choosing 10 songs from a list of 20. Fans could then sell their version of the album to friends and receive money for doing so. A physical album followed a few weeks later, marking a change of sound for the band – the songs are less rowdy than the likes of I Predict A Riot, Oh My God and Ruby, the singalong choruses of which were once integral to their style. Here, vocalist Ricky Wilson and drummer/songwriter Nick Hodgson give us the lowdown on their remarkable career to date.
Before the Kaiser Chiefs, you were known as Parva. What were your expectations when you ended that band and started this one?
Ricky: It’s weird. We ditched all our songs and started again, and I don’t know why we carried on or why we thought it was going to work. I mean, we knew we were good, but sometimes you’re the only one that can see it, and it took a while. But we never really got ahead of ourselves and thought we’d be where we are now, which is a good place to be.
It seems your sound has shifted with The Future Is Medieval. It’s a bit less boisterous, a bit more mellow.
Ricky: The words have always come from kind of a dark place, but now I think the music matches the words a bit more. For a long time, we had this ‘first-on band’ attitude – when you’re first on, everything has to sound instant, and it has to grab you. We knew that people were standing at the bar waiting for the big acts, and we had to make them look up from their pints. It had to be full on and in your face. I think now we realise that people will listen to our music more than once. We don’t have that need to smack people in the face with a shovel. They quite like some tickling as well.
Talk about the idea of fans getting to choose their own tracklistings.
Ricky: Well, the idea we had was flawed in a lot of ways because you could only listen to a minute, or a minute and a bit, of each song, and that defeats the object of trying to make a flowing record. But I knew that was a flaw and we just wanted to do something different. We have this twisted thing where we want to f**k things up for ourselves a bit. I think it makes us more creative because we feel like we’re up against it.
And the idea is ridiculous, because people are used to a way of consuming music, and we were saying, “Right, you’re going to do this a totally different way.” I think it’s stupid and it’s brave, but without the idea I don’t think we would have been able to write the songs that we wrote.
Nick: And I think before, on our third album, we were victims of the internet in a way. It leaked and everyone stole it and even before it came out people were slagging it off. So you don’t feel that much excitement about the actual day of release.
We wanted to keep this one secret and we thought, “Well, let’s invent something that’s interesting for the internet and not be a victim of the internet like we were last time.”
Were you worried that you wouldn’t get an album that sounded cohesive and coherent as a result of letting fans choose the songs?
Nick: I wasn’t worried about anything! I knew all the problems that could occur. We all talked about it. We knew for every 10 positives, there’d be about three or four negatives. But we didn’t care.
Ricky: The thing that’s missing with digital downloads is the emotional attachment you have with a record. So I think this idea slowed people down to the point where they’d be on our website for like three hours making the record and doing the artwork. You felt like you were part of the event. As opposed to “The Kaisers have got a new album out. I’ll steal that!”
How did you choose the final tracklisting for the physical version?
Ricky: That was actually really difficult, because we all had different ideas. My copy, that I made on the website, probably contains about four or five songs that aren’t on the physical release. But it’s all about being in a band. It’s all about controlled arguments and working out who’s best at making certain decisions.
On a different note, are you fed up with questions about I Predict A Riot with regards to what happened recently in this country? Or were you actually making a social comment?
Ricky: Yeah. It’s a weird one, because obviously it was everyone’s favourite joke at the time – like, oh, we predicted it seven years ago! It’s got the word ‘riot’ in it. But we have other songs, like Can’t Mind My Own Business [one of the possible 20 songs from the new album], and especially Never Miss A Beat, off the last record, which were actually about that. Whereas that song wasn’t. But I do think we’ve been really good at coining phrases. I mean, the amount of headlines you see in papers that are also Kaiser Chiefs songs… I think it’s a compliment. It’s weird. I don’t think we’re particularly famous as people, but our songs seem to be!
Watching Ricky performing, you’d never know he was freaking out...
As confident and self-assured as the Kaiser Chiefs seem to be when they perform live, behind the scenes and away from the stage and limelight, they’re just five normal blokes. Although they’ve been going for a long time now, it’s something that Ricky still can’t quite get used to.
“Thinking about what we actually do really freaks me out,” he says. “Standing in front of all those people is really quite weird. I can’t stop to think about it for too long, because I probably wouldn’t do it again! It’s a big deal. I kind of forget when I’m doing it, but then sometimes it just hits me.”