Kaiser Chiefs interview, Ricky Wilson, Nick Baines, Peanut

A chat with the Kaiser Chiefs

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It should have come as no surprise that as we waited for a phone call from Ricky Wilson, the deliriously charismatic lead singer of the Kaiser Chiefs, something would come up. This is, after all, the man who has turned his ankle bones to dust from excessive onstage pogoing, and survived a hit-and-run incident by doing his trademark pogo jump in order to avoid getting run over. The phone finally rings…and it’s Peanut, the band’s keyboardist. Ricky, it appears, is sick. Shocker. Luckily, Peanut is more than happy to fill in for his mate, and the interviewer discovers that they both share a love for a certain Brit-prog trio….  

Peanut: Hello! 

Bullz-Eye: Hello, how are you? 

P: Good, thanks. Yeah, sorry, Ricky’s not doing too good, the jet lag got to him.  

BE: Well, as long as he’s not getting hit by cars anymore.  

P: No, no, there’s definitely none of that. There’s no more broken ankles, or getting hit by cars, he’s okay. (Chuckles

BE: Where are you? 

P: We’re in New York at the moment. We came over yesterday morning, and went straight into doing interviews yesterday in New York, and we’ve been doing some more things today. AOL, stuff like that.  

BE: I was going to say, if you were in Leeds, this is pretty late for you.  

P: Ah, yeah, yeah, it’d be about 10:30 in the evening, I think.  

BE: Before we get started, I wanted to ask you about your band’s namesake. What’s going on with Leeds United? Are they going to get knocked down to Division I? 

P: I hope not. We’re in the Championship (division) now, and it’s not looking great, but I’m very optimistic. I think there’s going to be a battle just to stay on (the Championship level), and then we fall back, reinforce the troops, you know? Start the new season fresh. We need to stay in the Championship this season, that’s the difficult thing. But yeah, crazy things are going on. There’s no money in the team, so they can’t buy any decent players, so morale’s a problem.  

"You develop as a band, you get more confident, you play louder, you project a bigger sound, especially when you start off playing in clubs to two to three hundred people. And then you end up headlining festivals with 50,000 people. There’s a certain demand on you as a band. You have to evolve, you know?"

BE: Well, you’ve got a good attitude about things.  

P: Yeah, I’m hopeful, and whatever we can do to support them, we’ll do it.  

BE: I haven’t heard the new album yet. What can you tell us about it? 

P: You haven’t heard the album. Have you heard "Ruby," the single? 

BE: Yes, I have.  

P: Yes, you’ve heard that. The new album is Yours Truly, Angry Mob, and it’s kind of…we recorded Employment about the end of 2004, and spent nearly two years touring it. As a band, you kind of change when you get used to playing onstage. You develop as a band, you get more confident, you play louder, you project a bigger sound, especially when you start off playing in clubs to two to three hundred people. And then you end up headlining festivals with 50,000 people. There’s a certain demand on you as a band. You have to evolve, you know? The songs are still so catchy and poppy, and we have the melodies that you remember after one listen. But the music, it’s more rock and roll. It’s got a louder guitar, a much bigger sounding group of people, but it’s the same five people making this noise. Some of the songs are a little more detailed. More minor chords, you know? (chuckles) There’s a little bit more depth to the songs. A little bit more musically adventurous as well, but not self-indulgent solos that last five minutes.  

BE: What was your mindset going in to making the sophomore record? Was there any sense of pressure because of the dreaded sophomore slump? 

P: Not really, no. I mean, I know that it’s a well-documented thing, isn’t it? That second album is difficult. When we became the Kaiser Chiefs, we were so settled that we knew the style that we were performing, and the band was a genuine band. We’re not trying to be like anybody else, and that was our aim. So when it came to making this record, it’s just a case of, the songs that we wrote, we like the big choruses. We like people to know when the chorus is coming. Or when you’ve gone into the chorus, you can tell, "Yep, that’s the chorus." And that will never go away. I don’t think we’ll ever lose that. When it came to recording this record, we spent the first half of 2006 in our rehearsal room writing and rehearsing these songs. And it was a little bit more adventurous, you know, but still producing ourselves very, very vigorously. The quality control, you know? And so when it came time to go to the studio, it was an easy thing to do to get (producer) Stephen Street to help us record the best possible version of these songs, and obviously we’d take suggestions as well. But we’re very thorough in what we do before we even get to the studio, so there’s no conflict or anything like that. It was just, "Yeah, let’s make a fucking good second record," and not fall in that trap like everyone else does. 

BE: I’m sure it didn’t hurt that you were working with one of the best producers out there right now.  

On being asked to play Live 8 in Philadelphia: "When we were offered it, it was like, are you sure? We thought they had originally made a mistake. Did they pick the wrong band that begins with K, or something like that?"P: Yeah, he did half of the first album, but that album was done in so many broken-up sessions. We never really had that solid length of time, where you sort of…because we lived in a residential studio in a big, sort of country manor just outside London. So we were there with him for seven weeks, and you get to know people, you get to get on with people. As I get on easy with him, it became very easy to work with him in the studio, and he’s very good at getting the best out of us, which is what a lot of a producer’s job is.  

BE: The Kaiser Chiefs were one of only two British bands on the Philadelphia stage of Live 8. Was that cool, or was that strange?  

P: Ah, a little of both. When we were offered it, it was like, are you sure? We thought they had originally made a mistake. Did they pick the wrong band that begins with K, or something like that? But it was cool, and when they did it 20 years ago, I was eight years old. And then to be part of this massive worldwide event…when you’re in a band that you start off a few years ago with your friends, and…you’re kind of representing your country, in a way. So yeah, it was great to be a part of it, and you hope that it will have an effect and make people take notice. And then there’s just the fact that you’re actually playing to over a million people on the streets of Philadelphia. That’s quite a thing to do for a band that had done its first big festival only one week before. I think Glastonbury was exactly a week before it. And that was our first big UK festival. It made us all grow up a lot that year. It made us mature. It also reinforced our position as a band. I mean, being asked to do Live 8…that sets you ahead of many other bands.  

BE: I saw you at Lollapalooza in 2005. What do you remember about that show?  

P: Funnily enough, we were just talking with somebody about Lollapalooza. I remember it was boiling hot, wasn’t it? 

BE: Yes, it was.  

P: Really hot. Ricky’s voice was going.  

BE: Yes, it did.  

P: And he got some fans up onstage to sing the words for him, didn’t he? 

BE: Yes, he did! 

P: I can’t remember anything else about it, but I remember that Ricky was sweating, soaked through. But all of us were coming offstage, thinking…was that the one where Ash were on after us? 

BE: I don’t think they were there.  

P: I must be thinking of a different festival. But yeah, I remember Ricky losing his voice.  

BE: How long did it take before he got it back? 

P: Oh, just a couple of days. Sometimes, if we’ve done a few too many gigs in a row, it takes its toll. But he just needs a day off without exerting himself physically and singing as well. But he’s not too bad. He’s never done any permanent damage. I’m sure some bands go to a doctor straight away, you know? And (the doctor) says, "Oh, you need three weeks off," and you cancel the tour. But with us, we like to persevere, you know? We will get through, even if it takes just taking it easy the next day, we’ll get there. We don’t like canceling gigs. We did it once in 2005, and we felt like we were letting people down.  

BE: I traded emails with the guy that you brought up onstage to sing "Oh My God." 

P: Oh, really! 

"When we became the Kaiser Chiefs, we were so settled that we knew the style that we were performing, and the band was a genuine band. We're not trying to be like anybody else, and that was our aim."

BE: You made his year.  

P: He was from England, wasn’t he? We actually spoke before we came offstage, but we didn’t speak to him that much, so I’m not too sure. It must be pretty cool, if you’re a fan, and then the singer of the band gets you up to sing, yeah, you’d be pretty made up, wouldn’t you? I think, if I had gotten to go up with Oasis when I was younger, or having the guitarist saying, "I can’t play guitar." I can play! I can play! Pick me, pick me! 

BE: I have that daydream all the time.  

P: It’d be pretty cool, wouldn’t it? 

BE: Who’s your favorite UK band currently on the scene?  

P: Current UK band? 

BE: Yeah.  

P: Um, I’m quite a big fan of Muse.  

BE: I love those guys.  

P: Yeah, I wasn’t really into Showbiz, that stuff. But I think it was when "Newborn" and "Plug In Baby" came out, something about the sound they made and the three of them. (Singer/guitarist Matthew Bellamy’s) very classically trained, so it’s got undertones of classical influences, but just massive rock and roll songs, isn’t it? The three of them making this sound, and…I missed them at the festivals last year. We were playing the wrong days, you know, we crossed over. I’d love to see them play.  

BE: I saw them for the first time last September, and it was one of the greatest shows I’ve ever seen.  

P: Yeah, I can imagine. I mean, he can sing amazingly well. And the way he plays guitar is like, he shouldn’t be allowed to play guitar like that, I don’t know how he does it. And then he goes to the piano and he’s like a concert pianist! I fucking hate him! (laughs

BE: Is the UK press still trying to create a feud between you and Bloc Party? I talked to their bass player, and he made it sound like they’re trying to cause trouble between you guys.  

P: Ah, no, we know them quite well, really.  

BE: That’s what he said.  

P: Yeah, it was the NME tour, at the beginning of 2005, they were on after us. And we got to hanging around, and we know some of their crew. It’s really cool, because they’ve got a new album on the way, and obviously they’ve gone a very certain direction. I’ve heard little clips of their new album, and it’s quite adventurous, really, you know? It’s kind of a statement. There’s almost a concept to that album. And their album’s coming out around the same time (as ours). It’s going to be interesting to see. There is no war; we both want to succeed.  

BE: We’re doing a piece on the best albums that most people never heard. What album would you submit for inclusion? 

P: I can’t really think of any (pause). I like the Richard Hawley album, Cole’s Corner. It’s a guy from Sheffield, he used to be in the Longpigs. And he used to do quite well in the UK, but this is a total change of direction. He used to be mid-‘90s, kind of, indie rock. And now he’s a solo singer/songwriter, and it’s the most beautiful music you ever heard, and this almost crooning voice. It’s wonderful.  

BE: What three songs do you wish you had written? 

"People have been saying, 'You’re playing Coachella, that's really great.' And I'm getting the impression, that's a highly regarded festival, one of the best U.S. festivals going, isn't it?"P: I wish…um, there are a couple of Beach Boys songs that Carl Wilson sort of wrote, which were "Wild Honey" and "I Can Hear Music." There was something about his voice and the way he sings those songs, so "I Can Hear Music," definitely (Writer’s note: according to Allmusic.com, Carl Wilson did not have a hand in writing either of those songs.) Um, "Money for Nothing," Dire Straits. I would love to have written that guitar riff. That’d be cool.  

BE: Do you play guitar? 

P: Yeah, when we were in a band before, that was my main instrument. (Back to three songs question.) And, Ray Charles, "Messed Around." You know the bit in "Planes, Trains and Automobiles," when John Candy’s driving the car? And he’s playing the piano on the dashboard, you know? It’s on "Ray," the soundtrack as well.  

BE: You’re playing Coachella at the end of April, and I’m very jealous because I cannot go. My wife is expecting our first child at the beginning of the month.  

P: Really? That’s funny, because I spoke to…it’s really weird, a few of the questions you’ve asked me today, in two separate conversations, I’ve answered. Someone else said, "Coachella, I can’t go because my wife is pregnant." 

BE: You’re kidding.  

P: No. That’s weird. People have been saying, "You’re playing Coachella, that’s really great." And I’m getting the impression, that’s a highly regarded festival, one of the best U.S. festivals going, isn’t it? 

BE: I would say so. I’m interested in this one because it seems to be very Brit-friendly, and the lineup this year is unbelievable.  

P: Yeah, I found a picture of a flyer on the internet. And the list of bands is huge, isn’t it? 

BE: Is there anyone there that you’re looking forward to seeing? 

P: Yeah. When I was in a band playing guitar, Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana and Rage Against the Machine were some of the songs we used to play. So I cannot wait to see (Rage), they’re headlining the same day that we’re playing. I can’t wait to see that, that’s going to be great.  

BE: Have you seen the Feeling yet? 

P: I haven’t seen them, no, but I’ve heard a bunch of their stuff on the radio in the UK.  

BE: I really like the record.

P: It’s interesting, that…is it "Never Been Lonely"? 

BE: "Never Be Lonely," yeah.  

P: Yeah, that’s so interesting. It sounds old, doesn’t it? It sounds almost like 10cc, there’s something quite clever about it.  

BE: I can’t figure out where they came from.  

P: Yeah! I might catch a bit of them. I’m not sure if they’re on our day.  

BE: Well, I appreciate you pinch-hitting for Ricky; it was great to talk with you.  

P: Not a problem, nice talking to you.