When I call the Kaiser Chiefs frontman to talk about the tour which brings them to Portsmouth later this month, he starts by saying: ‘Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. What do you really want to know?’
‘Where have you been?’ I ask the Yorkshire-born singer who’s hardly been heard of since his band’s Wembley Arena shows in 2009.
He replies: ‘When the world sees us disappear for the best part of two years, it looks like we’ve gone somewhere, but – in reality – we’ve just carried on.
‘We’ve written 25 songs, we’ve invented a new way of releasing records, we’ve had fun,’ he continues.
But, before all that, Ricky took a few months off for a much needed rest.
‘It was great to slow down and look back at what we’d done, because – up to then – we’d just been galloping through it holding on so tight to the reins that we forgot to take in the scenery,’ he admits.
‘It felt good to step back and think about what we wanted to achieve.
‘We thought about what we didn’t like about the music industry and we tried to answer some of the questions everyone’s been asking.’
The ‘questions’ Ricky’s talking about are the big issues about the future of music in the digital age.
He thinks there’s a lack of ‘emotional attachment’ to music now.
He explains: ‘It’s amazing, at the push of a button, you can listen to any song, but it’s not like going to the high street and handing over the money you’d saved to buy a record. Back then, buying a record was like being part of gang. It was like wearing a badge.
‘I love the internet, but it took all that away.
‘As technology gallops on, we need to take the things we love with us,’ he adds.
That’s how Ricky and his band came up with their answer to changing the way music is consumed over the internet.
For their recent Top 10 album, The Future is Medieval, they recorded 20 songs and invited people to listen to them on their website and then create their own album out of their 10 favourites.
On top of that, they gave the creators a share of the royalties for every sale of their version of the album.
‘We didn’t to want buying our album to be as easy as flicking a switch. We wanted to slow people down and make them feel part of it,’ explains Ricky.
‘I’ve met people at gigs who had personal stories to tell about making their record. They loved the experience.’
But, surely that means Kaiser Chiefs fans have to buy two copies or the album, in order to get all 20 tracks?
Says Ricky: ‘That was a fortunate by-product of the idea, but it was never the intention to make them buy it twice.
‘Even if they did, it only cost them £15. We weren’t ripping anyone off. When I was a kid a 20-track album was £15. With inflation, that’s the equivalent of £30 now!’ he laughs, pleased with his analogy.
Ricky says making the album was a laborious process.
‘We needed every song to stand alone, if we were going to be happy with everyone’s choice. There couldn’t be any filler,’ he explains.
‘Of course some critics will see some songs as better than others, but we won’t let anything out unless we think it’s perfect.’
He adds: ‘There’s a reason that albums are certain lengths. That’s the amount of time people can take in, listening to it and making it.
‘Then we had to work out the logistics and make the website. It was mind-consuming.’
Part of the plan was also to release the album out of the blue, without any pre-promotion,
‘We didn’t want it to leak,’ explains Ricky, ‘and, to stop things leaking, people have to not know it’s happening.
‘It was so exciting, keeping it secret!’ he adds, enthusiastically.
As it happened, the lack of pre-promotion was itself a brilliant promotional campaign, because the unusual album format, combined with the fact that it came out of the blue after a long period of apparent inactivity, meant that it was big news when The Future Is Medieval was unleashed.
Says Ricky: ‘I was on the news! Usually, when a band release a record, they’re not on the news, so it was a triumph.
‘We had over a million hits on the website in the first weekend.’
He qualifies: ‘I’m not saying we had a million sales, but it was a good way of making people realise what we were up to.
‘Even people that didn’t like the band, and wouldn’t have bought a record before, visited the site.’
Once the album was out, then next step was to tour it, but having spent so long without performing, it was tough at first.
Says Ricky: ‘It’s something that comes naturally, but only after a bit of time.
‘I’m not saying I was like a rabbit in the headlights, but it was weird.’
Ricky remembers the band’s performance at the Isle of Wight Festival last year. It was only their second show since taking a break from performing.
‘Going out in front of 80,000 was really nerve-racking. I wasn’t ready for that kind of crowd yet,’ says Ricky.
‘I can’t walk into a room with more than eight people in it without feeling like I want to run out again.’
It’s a surprising thing to hear from the frontman famed for outlandish onstage antics and he admits that if he walks into a party people expect him to ‘dance on the table and swing from the light fittings shouting Ruby’.
Ricky says that, while the band was writing and recording the new album, he had to find other ways to get the rush that he gets from performing.
‘I really missed it. I’m not an applause junky, I just need the outlet to scream and shout and jump up and down.
‘I got obsessed with running. I would run every day,’ reveals Ricky (inadvertently explaining his slimmed-down new look).
Though they’ve been touring the album worldwide for more than six months, Kaiser Chiefs only just hit the road here in the UK at the end of January.
They’ll be playing two new songs they wrote and recorded over Christmas on the tour which finishes at the Hammersmith Apollo on February 23, just two days after their Portsmouth gig.
They’ll be touring in Mexico, America, Canada and Australia until next winter, but after that, Ricky doesn’t know what they’ll be doing.
‘We’ve always kicked against the last thing we did,’ he explains.
‘The last thing we did was record 25 tracks in secret. Now we’ll probably be recording singles and sticking them out as and when.
‘I’d have to ask the others – we haven’t really talked about it.
‘We’re just enjoying each other’s company and focusing on what we’ve got to do that night, which is play the best show of our career so far.’
... sharing lead vocals with drummer Nick Hodgson for the single Man on Mars
We’ve always shared vocals, but mine’s usually higher in the mix. And I’m the one at the front on stage. But for this song I get to sit down for a bit when we do it live.
... holding the Olympic Torch at the Isle of Wight Festival
I was the first person to show the Olympic Torch. The people from the Olympics looked worried at the side of the stage, especially when I hit the drums with it.
... which UK festivals they’ll play this summer
Not a clue. We’ve had offers from all over and we’ll play a few UK ones for sure, but we haven’t said yes to anything yet.
... opening for U2 in Dublin
The only thing I remember is sitting down at the front of the stage and seeing a missing screw. I don’t know what goes through my head when I’m on stage. And I remember Bono sung some of our songs. You finish your gig, you’re enjoying a beer and suddenly Bono breaks into I Predict A Riot.
... his patch collection
I’m collecting patches. I’ve got one for every gig so far on the back of my jacket. If anyone in Portsmouth’s got a Portsmouth badge, or the badge of a Portsmouth Hockey team or something like that, then give it to Joff on the merchandise stand.