Sometimes the greatest success stories sprout from the tiniest of ambitions. When Kaiser Chiefs formed up in not-so-sunny Leeds, England around the summer of 2003, their aim was not to conquer stadiums and change the world. Instead, these five oddballs began plotting a rather more modest plan.
In the shadowy corners of clubs and venues across the city Ricky Wilson (lead vocals, owner of stylish blue and orange suit), Andrew “Whitey” White (guitar), Simon Rix (bass), Nick “Peanut” Baines (keyboards and modeller of impressive pork-pie hats) and Nick Hodgson (drums and vocals) decided to form a band that would harness the awesome capability of being able to, erm, blag an early slot at their hometown Leeds Festival. Impressive, eh? They achieved it without breaking sweat, naturally, but with it came a whole lot more. 18 months down the line and the boys have gatecrashed the UK singles charts, laid waste to huge crowds as far away as Moscow, played triumphant support slots with Franz Ferdinand, made waves at US radio and signed to Universal Records.
We interview Ricky Wilson!
Hip: How is life?
Ricky: Great, apparent from a little tiredness, but I can’t complain about a little bit of tiredness when I’m living my dream.
(Laughs) You guys are huge back home—it has to be mind-boggling.
It’s funny because I just heard about it yesterday. We’ve been away from home for a while and the album has been released in the UK. We had a top three album and on the cover of NME and a page in the daily newspaper and we’ve been away for it all. I heard it yesterday and I thought it was quite funny because things are going to be different when I get back. You dream about it and plan for it but when it happens its sort of ‘oh shit, I can’t stop this now can I?’ This is the way it’s going to be for a while. It’s good and I’m happy but you have to realize that you have to polarize opinion and some people are going to buy and love your music but at the same time some are going to hate you and I didn’t count on that.
What is it like calling back home?
It is weird. I was just looking on the internet and I say one thing about one person on the internet and they start some campaign against me because I slagged someone off. Part of me thinks that I should watch what I say but I’m me and I have my opinion so I’ll have to ride the storm.
It might be a good thing actually.
It worked out alright for Liam Gallagher didn’t it?
It did. (We both laugh)
He said what he thought and he lived it and that’s why people wanted to interview him because he’d always give you a nugget.
And we sort of like our rockstars to have a face and an idea of things. I guess in the end we want you to be human because no one loves everything—we all have things we don’t like.
Exactly. I hate cheese and you can print that. And now I’ll get a letter from the cheese board in America. (We both burst out laughing)
We’ll if you said you hated beef then they’d sue you just like they did Oprah.
Really? (Laughs) I don’t care. Americans eat so much cheese. I order things that just shouldn’t have cheese like gummy bears and they’re in there. (laughs)
Or it’ll be cheese flavored.
I like cheese flavored Mountain Dew. (We laugh)
Okay we should probably talk about the music. Have you ever listened to any of the songs and knew they’d be hits?
When we first started no but when we started the Kaiser Chiefs and came up without a sound that was us. When we wrote “I Predict A Riot” we knew we had something there. Some bands complain that they don’t get the press but the secret is that you have to write a good song. That could take your entire life to get there. Thankfully it only took us eight years. The great thing is that we didn’t write one great song—the album is full of them. That is why we aren’t going to fall down because we are going to back it up.
You say eight years but someone will buy the record today and think you came from nowhere—sort of an overnight success.
There is no overnight success. We actually wrote these songs in twelve months. It is sort of our second album because we wrote a record and scrapped all of them and wrote what we knew. Thankfully someone is smiling down on us.
Every rock band writes their signature love ballad and with “Everyday I Love You Less and Less” you completely flipped that on its head.
You are right. That is a good thing. We don’t make plans to do these things but when people point things out we realize how much we are taking risks. (We both laugh) It is refreshing for a band to take risks. You have so many record labels don’t take risks. They know how many records you will sell in six months before they come out—it’s all on spreadsheets. No one would have expected this from us though.
Even the records that come out now are so predictable as if the record labels have figured out fans’ psychological make-up where the ballad comes at track number four…
…Yeah. It’s like they’ll give you the punch-you-in-the-face rock song first and you’ll be like ‘wow, these guys have got some indie credibility’ and then the second song is the hit one. Then you get the back up after that which isn’t as good and then four isthe ballad like “More Than Words” by Extreme. (We both laugh).
I’ll die if it is track four on Extreme’s record [ed. It’s actually track five on Extreme II: Pornograffitti in case you need your fix]. Sadly Oasis has fallen into that.
Maybe we’ll fall into that trap someday.
But thankfully not here—no love ballad for you.
Truth is I’ve never had a relationship that has gone right. (Laughs) So I can’t write about that. So I wrote about my last relationship which was a shit one. The relationship I have now is great so I don’t want her to think it’s about that. ‘You’re alright… everything is going cool with you’ [ed. That is a message to his current girlfriend].
But now you have that all behind you and have a good relationship the next album will be…
…all mushy numbers. (We laugh) Everyone is going to hate that. We’ll make you sick.
You’ll be just like Travis.
(Laughs) He must be terribly loved up twenty-four hours a day. I bet he cries himself to sleep.
If you do have a ballad then you should put it on track nine so we are screwed up all up.
Well the closest we get now is the last track which is blaming your girl for losing all your friends.
See, you don’t have the typical thing happening.
Breaking the norm can be cool.
Does it drive you crazy that a writer will take the easy way and say ‘Kaiser Chiefs sound like…’ so and so?
Yeah. That is always going to happen. I think journalists get lazy because they have a lot of schedules to keep. If they want to say we are the new this or sound like such and such on acid its fine. Our influences aren’t as black and white. You can be influenced by a lot of stuff even things my parents loved but we hated that got into our brain. My mom loves the Mama’s and the Papa’s and I can hear that in our music.
What must be really fun is when someone says you sound like a band you never even heard or listened to.
Yeah. This one writer said we sound like Joseph K. You know him?
Well someone said we sound like Joseph K. and I never heard of him but I said ‘well he must be pretty good if we sound like him.’
But I never heard of him.
That is the funniest comeback I think I’ve ever heard (still laughing). Or how do you know Joseph K. didn’t rip you off.
(Laughs) Yeah! He must have a rehearsal room next to ours!
Are there any artists that you have been compared to that drives you crazy or that you love?
It’s cool when people pick up on some band that you actually like. When someone says we are like the Kinks and that is the greatest compliment ever. They did what we did because they came out and didn’t care about taking risks. I think they have the same sense of Britishness as we do. It’s nice to have a sense of pride of saying and being proud of where you are fun. And they had fun with it like us. Some of my favorite bands don’t take themselves too seriously.
I have one; Blur.
I’m not going to argue with that. People say we ripped-off Blur but we really ripped-off the same people they ripped-off. They seem to like to go back to the last band who sounded like that.
Yeah so it all goes back to you both could be ripping-off…
…The Kinks. People always go for the last thing that is along that thread. You might as well not join a band. Hell everything sounds like the blues but what about Beethoven? (We both laugh) I heard someone slaggin’ off some band for sounding like Jet—now that is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard because Jet sounds like The Stones.
The funny thing is you’d even have to go to earlier Blur for the comparison because its certainly not in the later Blur.
Right! It’s like saying someone sounds like The Beatles because then it’s which album? Which song on the album? The Beatles ripped off everything. It could drive you crazy.
It’s fun for fans in a way because we have these conversations but in your case you are part of a conversation. It’s a weird twist.
Yeah but I don’t mind. It’s a necessary evil. So if you want to write your headline “The New Blur” we might sell a few more records. (We both laugh) That would be fine by me.
We are here to help you promote aren’t we.
It really sounds like you are having fun.
It doesn’t get better. I mean we are going on Letterman. It’s kind of the biggest show in the world. Where do we go from there?
I don’t know.
We’ll have to have our own show.
Just don’t call it K.C. It might be confused with K.C. and the Sunshine Band.
(Laughs) Nah, what I think we’ll do is have a show every night of the week with each member and I’ll do Fridays. (We both laugh)
Kind of a skit thing?
Ah, a little bit of everything. It’ll be a showcase for my comedy. Wait until you heard my comedy—you’ve heard my music. Well actually I’m not that funny. Actually we’ll all have to write the joke together. We’ll bash it out a bit and at the end we’ll have one hilarious joke.
Ricky is actually a lot of funny… see him at a show near you—who knows, maybe he’ll tell a joke or two!
+ Charlie Craine