There’s not a lot that the Kaiser Chiefs haven’t done; they’ve played Live 8 with the biggest bands in the world, featured on the biggest US talk shows, played the world’s biggest festivals, won numerous Brit awards, and they played at the 2012 Olympic Closing Ceremony; with everything the band have experienced and achieved, bass player Simon Rix finds it hard to decide upon a highlight.
“I don’t know…” he says wearily, watching every word; “I think our biggest achievement was making number one with ‘Education, Education, Education and War’, our last album. We had obviously had a few problems and it was our fifth album and not many bands get to their fifth album – and fewer bands get to be number one on their fifth album – so I felt like that was a real sort of impressive achievement.” Kaiser Chiefs have had their ups and down, but they have survived to tell the tale.
The Kaiser Chiefs are an Indie-rock band from Leeds. The band, made up of Ricky Wilson, Simon Rix, Andrew White, Nick Baines and Vijay Mistry, are now returning to release their Sixth full-length album. The beginning of the band, however, gave no indication of ever being a success. Originally named “Parva,” they were signed to a publishing and distributing deal. However, almost immediately after the release of their first album, the label went bankrupt and Parva were released, abandoned and considered damaged goods by everyone within the industry. “We were on tour at the time, actually, so we didn’t really mind, we just thought we’d get on with it and it was only about six months later when it didn’t feel… no one was really interested, the new music hadn’t gone so well so no one was really interested in us, and at that point we were all sort of questioning what we were doing and the dream sort of collapsed a little and nothing really had any meaning.” Left with the options of abandoning the music or fighting on, the band were given the ultimate choice. However, there was never any doubt in anyone’s mind as to what they would choose;“ We always knew something was coming. We were always thinking that ‘well, we’re going to make it happen’, basically, and then we stopped Parva, decided that that was the last gig and the last gig was really good: it was a celebration of Parva and everything, and the next day we tried to write some new songs. We had a name and a tune and we decided to just be ourselves and try to be different to what was around in that moment.” Looking back on the time, the band realise how important the name change was, saying “it was important psychologically.”
“The change in styling and a completely blank page, we didn’t play any of the old songs, we didn’t even…. We had the same people, we had someone doing keyboards and we changed that and a few sort of changes and we got the mindset right and I mean, because the record company was attached to Parva, we tried to erase any knowledge or any connection.”
Following the name change, the band began writing new songs that slowly began turning into hits. Soon, record companies were looking to sign them, and by 2005 they had released their debut album as the Kaiser Chiefs: ‘Employment’. The album was a huge success, both critically-acclaimed and award-winning, with singles that many publications put as some of the best songs of the decade. Speaking about the single “I Predict A Riot” in particular, Rix ponders a moment, before replying: “I knew that it was a great song. I knew that if you played it in a gig in Leeds or a small gig in England or whatever that people would really get into it and that it was going to be a really good song for us – but I couldn’t have predicted that it was going to be a song that we were going to play for the next, I dunno, 10 years.”
No one could have predicted its success. From a band that was unknown when the album was released, it reached number 2 in the UK album chart and was sold over 1.5 million times.
The album was followed by ‘Yours Truly, Angry Mob’ in 2006, ‘Off With Their Heads’ in 2008, ‘The Future is Medieval’ in 2010. Disaster then struck as drummer Nick Hodgson decided he wanted out. “What he really wanted to do was split up, basically, was his thing. He had reasons, some of which were valid and some of which weren’t so much. My first reaction was ‘okay, fine, but I don’t think we should do that’. I think he was a little bit broken and my reaction to that was that we should fix it and his reaction was that we should go and do something different, which is fine, and I’m still friends with him but that was really the difference.” The band were left devastated and were very close to calling it a day. Simon remembers: “if two or three people had wanted to split up, then we would have split up – but the other four of us were really sort of motivated and thinking ‘we don’t want to throw away this thing that we’ve spent a long time getting going, and we want to keep it going’.” The band regrouped, and instead of tearing them apart, it brought them closer together and made them more determined to succeed and to prove everyone that doubted the band wrong, with Rix noting that “I think he was good for us, actually. I actually feel like maybe if it hadn’t happened, maybe we might have petered out, maybe we wouldn’t have been as successful as we have been the last few years, maybe we needed that change with Vijay [Mistry, replacement drummer] coming in and bringing something new.”
When it comes to releasing new music, The Kaiser Chiefs haven’t always got it spot on. In 2010, when releasing their album ‘The Future Is Medieval’, they allowed fans to choose 10 songs out of 20 and to make their own personalized track listing and cover art. They basically sold thousands of different versions of the same album. “It was kind of Ricky’s idea,” Rix recalls, laughing – “We tried to think of a unique, different idea, and we obviously knew music had been changing for a long time, what with streaming nowadays; but downloading is big and I think we just felt like we needed something different, to stick our heads out… We know that not many people listen to our albums on a record player, changing over sides or anything. So we thought, let’s write loads and loads of songs, stick them out, let people choose their favorites. Let them make their own artwork. And each fan had their own version of the album, and you could sell your version of your album to your friends, and if you sold 10 albums you get a free album. There was loads and loads of ideas in there, and they were all good ideas and it was really, really exciting but it didn’t really work out that well ‘cause people were a bit confused by it.”
The Kaiser Chiefs have just released their 6th Album, ‘Stay Together’, and when asked about the recording process, Rix takes a moment to think about the answer, the phone line buzzing as he does so. Eventually he replies, saying “we sort of needed a new challenge, because we’d changed quite a lot to what we said on the last record. So various people set us various challenges, which I think we needed because we needed something different: we wanted to get in the studio and, well, we wanted to write better songs. Then, get in the studio and set up the drums, get the right drum sound because that always causes problems, and then not get back to what we always do; not because we’re bored or anything, but because everyone likes something different.” The new album is different to previous Kaiser Chiefs in many ways, especially thematically. Rix notes that “[they] very rarely got into your boyfriend or your girlfriend or whatever, and he [Ricky Wilson, the songwriter] decided that this time around he was going to try and write more about relationships, about, like, personal stuff. just to see where he could… It’s sort of about kick to raise our game. I think from Ricky’s point of view, in a sort of similar way, was that before as a band we never sort of dealt with love, we’d always deal with, like, politics.” However, the album does have political undertones: “It relates to politics, obviously with Brexit and that sort of thing, and so the thing we sort of ended up writing about was about if you stick with something it’s often the best thing.”
Time has run out and after talking briefly about Leeds United’s league form (“I think it’s our best chance for a good season in a few years”) the conversation is brought slowly to a close. You get the sense that Rix is ready for the long haul and ready to keep fighting as a band, and still wants to be one of the best. One thing’s for sure: even though time may have passed, this band are still ready for anything the world has in store. Chances are, they’ve done it all before.