BIG INTERVIEW Kaiser Chiefs: ‘We still get a kick from hearing our songs ​​​​​​on the radio’

Kaiser Chiefs. Picture by Danny North
Kaiser Chiefs. Picture by Danny North

Kaiser Chiefs have undoubtedly been one of the most successful British bands so far this century.

Their 2005 debut album, Employment, is in that rare club of albums to have sold more than 2m copies in its home country.

Kaiser Chiefs. Picture by Danny North

Kaiser Chiefs. Picture by Danny North

And their naggingly catchy, yet clever singles have become inescapable parts of pop culture – I Predict a Riot, Everyday I Love You Less and Less, Ruby and Everything Is Average Nowadays, among others, are radio staples that still often get wheeled out as backing tracks in TV shows.

There have been ups and downs along the way, but the Leeds-based indie band have remained a formidable live draw throughout, and this coming bank holiday weekend they’ll be helping open Victorious Festival when they play on Friday night.

The Guide spoke with bassist and co-founder Simon Rix, catching him during a break in the band’s rehearsals.

‘It’s going well, we’re chiefly writing the next record, but we still call it rehearsals,’ he laughs.

The five-piece is coming to the end of the touring cycle for 2016’s album Stay Together and is only playing a smattering of festival dates over the summer while focusing on album number seven.

‘We’re hoping to record over the summer but we haven’t booked anywhere yet, so we’re hoping to get into a recording studio and get it out soon after that.

‘We’ve got a couple of other gigs over the summer but not many, so we’re just oiling the wheels.’

So does this mean we’ll get some news songs at Victorious?

‘It’s all about band politics, that,’ says the fast-talking Yorkshireman. ‘I’m quite renegade about playing new songs – we enjoy playing new songs, it’s exciting.

‘Coming up to our [2014] album, Education, Education, Education & War, we played a load of songs that never even made it on to that record. If we wrote a song and we liked it, we just played it , so there’s five or six songs we played live that never made it on to the record. I think it’s important to play them live to an audience, which is a bit harsh on the audience maybe - but then I think all of our songs are good, so it’s ok!

‘I’m like that – play ‘em all –  but others are more cautious.

‘Whether or not I’ve persuaded the others by the time we get to Portsmouth, we’ll have to see, but I hope we’ll be playing at least one new song over the summer. Especially if we want to record now, then we need to have the confidence to play them as well.’

While still making number four in the charts, last album Stay Together divided fans and critics, with a less guitar-based and more ‘pop’ sound. They worked with producer Brian Higgins of the hit-factory Xenomania, more commonly associated with acts like Girls Aloud, The Saturdays and the like.

What can we expect from the new album?

‘It’s a little bit varied. We started writing for this one while we’re still touring for Stay Together. I think it sounds more “bandy” again, back to that, but I think it’s always important to us to not just do the same thing over and over again.

‘On Stay Together, the thinking was, we’d done Education, which is a more “traditional” Kaiser Chiefs sounding record, and that had gone to number one and everything and we really enjoyed that, but in order to challenge ourselves, we thought that making another Kaiser Chiefs album like everyone expected would be really boring. So we thought we’d try something completely different and work with a producer we’d never usually work with. I think we wrote some great songs, but I don’t think everyone got into the spirit of what we were trying to do, which was a shame, so we just dust ourselves off and try again.

‘It’s definitely gone back to us five in a room in Leeds on our usual instruments and we do tend to produce a certain sound when we do that.’

Original drummer and key songwriter Nick Hodgson left the band at the end of 2012, which led to some changes in the way the band works.

‘We try to be as democratic as possible,’ Simon explains. ‘It’s quite a good lesson in politics that democracy does not always work, but most of the time, hopefully it means everyone’s happy. Everyone chips in – if you do like something, if you don’t like something – everyone gets their say.

‘In the Nick era he was doing a lot of the producer role, and I think nowadays we need a producer more, especially if there’s a split decision – we need someone to step in and say: “This is what you’re going to do”. That’s where we are at the moment, looking for a new producer –  that fresh pair of ears.’

And Simon reckons they’re still maturing nicely as an act (most of the band has turned 40 in the past year or two).

‘Maybe you’ll notice it in the lyrics –  it’s just growing up. We couldn’t I Predict a Riot now because that’s not where we’re at, but we can write some good songs that can capture people - you’ve got to write about where you are in life.’

But that’s not to say they’ll leave the songs that made their name behind.

‘We still get a kick from hearing our songs on the radio –  I heard Ruby the other day, and I still enjoy that, that’s why we got into this.
‘Live, you have a different sort of attachment to them, the energy and stuff. I always think back to writing [Employment album track] Na Na Na Na Naa. We were playing gigs at that point to like 15-30 people. We thought, we’ve got to write a song that’s really simple that people can latch on to straight away - it’s not complicated, and “na na na na” - everyone can sing that. It was the simplest thing we could think of, but I never thought that 14 years on we’d still play it in our set and people would still want to hear it. It’s unbelievable, but in a positive way.’

Charismatic frontman Ricky Wilson is also busy outside the band (he’s been covering for Simon Mayo on Radio2 for the past fortnight). But his time as a judge on BBC1’s singing contest The Voice from 2014 to 2016 wasn’t entirely popular among his bandmates. Simon is more sanguine about it now.

‘I think it was positive in the end. Like I say we’re a democracy, but as a band we were nervous about what the outcome would be, how our fans would react. It wasn’t really about us though, but I think people were happy with it. Ricky did well at it,’ his singers won two out of his three years on the show, ‘and we’re happy to see him on the television.’

And he acknowledges that you have to adapt to keep yourself in the public eye.

‘When we first started, CDs were the biggest thing, then it was downloads, now vinyl’s back and it’s all streaming, Instagram, and whatever, and you have to move with the times.

‘In the ’90s if an indie band had been sponsored by Red Bull and gone on a TV show, that would have been the end of that band. Nowadays, people are doing those things everyday.’

Kaiser Chiefs play on Friday, August 24 at Victorious Festival, tickets £40. Paul Weller headlines Saturday and The Prodigy on Sunday, tickets £45 each day. Go to victoriousfestival.co.uk.