Few bands are able to strike the balance between cult indie status and commercial viability quite as well as Kaiser Chiefs have. Ever since they detonated onto the scene with 2005’s Employment, the quintet have amassed in excess of six million album sales globally, and have become seasoned veterans of the festival circuit. Yet with all their success and radio-friendly, chant-able choruses, the band has still managed to maintain its credibility as an outfit to be taken very seriously indeed. Their new collection of singles, SOUVENIR: The Singles 2004 – 2012, illustrates this perfectly, but is this the end of a chapter for the likely Leeds lads, or the beginning of a new one?
Chief bass player Simon Rix says the band have managed to avoid crossing the daunting line into pop-cheese through a constant awareness of musical integrity, which stems from their working-class upbringing and British heritage.
“I think that being from Leeds, and from the north of England in general, really helps because there seems to be an understanding of what’s good, bad and cheesy,” Simon croaks with a harshness he accredits to his visit to Cherry Bar the previous night.
“Even though some people might think that we play bland indie music, I really don’t think that’s the case. From the very start, all the way to our latest release, we’ve always tried to have a lot of interesting stuff going on in the music and we always try out new ideas and sounds, as well as keeping things engaging in a lyrical sense. There’s nothing more boring than churning out another album and song that sounds like the last. You’ve got to keep it interesting.”
The Kaisers are famously good at writing the classic British 45. If for some reason Oh My God, and Ruby didn’t push your buttons, chances are, Never Miss A Beat did. But what’s the secret behind being able to output killer hooks and infectious choruses on demand?
“I think we have always liked playing gigs where everybody is singing along and having a great time. Over the last eight years, we have done millions of festivals and I think that’s one of the main things we imagine when we’re writing and rehearsing for new records. We ask ourselves ‘what is it going to be like when we’re playing it in front of 60,000 people at Glastonbury?’”
Renowned for their explosive energy on stage, touring has taken The Chiefs to all corners of the globe, however they haven’t lost sight of their roots – there has always been something incredibly British and working class that has run through the spine of the outfit – all the way to the iconic image of a stick of rock adorning the front of this latest compilation. Sonically, they have openly borrowed from UK new wave and '60s beat bands, and their lyrics often surround witty and cynical observations which question the state of society or drop UK-specific pop culture references. Simon says this is a trait the band has “shied away from in recent times”, but was especially prominent in the group’s early years.
“I think that at the beginning, we played on the British thing a lot. There were a lot of American bands like The Strokes and The White Stripes around, so we were a reaction to that – we wanted to do something different. But later on, it was just a case of realising that it’s just the way we are – we’re British and we like to bring a bit of northern humour into our lyrics.”
Now, eight years down the track, the group have the release of SOUVENIR: The Singles 2004 – 2012 on the horizon – a collection of anthems which showcase the band’s extensive and successful singles career to date.
“Ricky (Wilson, lead singer) is moving house at the moment, and he was saying that he’s been cleaning out his old attic and found loads of cool stuff that he’d forgotten about, and at the end of it, it was a really nice experience,” Simon explains.
“That’s what Souvenir is like to us. It’s like a celebration of what we’ve achieved over the last few years, with some of our biggest songs, all put in one place for people who might not have bought all four albums.”
However he’s quick to point out that it’s strictly a compilation of singles and not a greatest hits, which would feature a completely different array of tunes.
“It’s a funny thing for a band to do a singles collection of a greatest hits thing in the middle of their career, but it just seemed like we had more than enough stuff so it felt like a good time. After this, we’re just going to keep going.
“Even though the mass public probably won’t notice the difference, for us, a greatest hits is something you do at the end of your career. This just seemed to be logical because we have a collection of singles, but we also have a couple of new songs we’re releasing.”
These two new tracks, On The Run and Listen To Your Head could be some of the Chiefs’ finest and most ambitious work to date.
“We really wanted to make sure these were on an album,” Simon explains.
“It’s weird because even though the music industry is suffering and record sales are down, people are still buying albums. If you put a song out on its own, just to stick it on the radio, it gets a bit lost really. We think that the two new songs are really good, especially Listen To Your Head – I think that’s one of our best songs ever. We played it in the set and it sounded it immense straight away, so we thought it would be a waste to just release it on its own.”
Kaiser Chiefs as we know them have been around for the best part of a decade, but the group also experienced moderate success as their earlier incarnation: Parva. However, Parva were later dropped by their record label – a setback which Simon says increased the resilience of the band and helped them to be savvier when dealing with the savage nature of the music industry.
“Back in the days of Parva, it was all our dreams coming true; we got signed and went on tour. But then it finished very abruptly,” he remembers.
“I said that if we were going to continue being in a band just to gig around Leeds on a part time basis, we had to do it for the love of the music – we couldn’t copy anyone, or try and be successful or commercial, we just needed to love and enjoy it. Ironically, it finally worked when we didn’t try to force it. It’s like as soon as we relaxed and resigned to the fact that success will happen if it’s meant to, that’s when we wrote some amazing tunes like Oh My God and The Modern Way. Then we got more ambitious and decided to try and make it happen. We all believed we could make it in the end. It was sheer persistence.”
Success came quickly for the boys – almost too quickly, as this sudden plunge into stardom eventually took its toll, causing the quintet to take a two-year hiatus in 2009.
“We didn’t really have a gap between working in jobs and doing the band as a hobby, to 2009 where we had been constantly touring for five years and three albums down the line,” Simon recalls.
“We just needed a break to hang out with our girlfriends and family and live a bit of normal life. But not only that, we needed time to take it all in. I think the big difference between when we stopped and when we came back was that we had had some time to realise what had really happened. It wasn’t until 2009 that I realised that I didn’t need to think about getting another job as a barman or something. I was going to be in a band. This is it.”
And Simon confesses that there are events in the period leading up to the hiatus which were lost in the flurry of a hectic touring schedule or drowned in a drunken haze, which the band are still piecing together.
“Recently, I found a video on YouTube of us opening The Brit Awards and playing I Predict A Riot. I had literally, completely forgotten about it. I was watching myself playing on stage, but I couldn’t remember any of it. I found myself thinking about other, bigger bands like AC/DC, who have had an amazing career, way longer than ours, and probably with much more rock‘n’roll excess. If I’ve forgotten so much stuff, they must have had years that have just disappeared.
“For us, it was probably a combination of drunkenness and being so busy back then, but it was also another reason we realised we needed a break. Brilliant things happened every day that we just took for granted and forgot about. I think now we appreciate what we have a lot more, which is good.”
Coming back from this extended break was never going to be easy, and this was why the innovative release of fourth studio album, The Future Is Medieval, (which allowed fans to select ten tracks from a collection of 23, customise the cover art, and share their version of the album, pocketing £1 for every time it was sold) injected a much needed spirit back into the band.
“We liked touring and making records but for some reason we weren’t that inspired to get on with it. We were probably just being a bit lazy and burnt out. We were bored with the idea of just doing another CD, then going on tour and doing the same thing we’d done before. It was important for us to try and do something different.
“We had an idea which was ambitious and really quite hard. It required technology that didn’t exist, secrecy, and lots of songs and creativity. It was a huge challenge and that’s what has got us right back into it.”
BY CALLUM FITZPATRICK
KAISER CHIEFS play the Palace Theatre on Wednesday May 16. SOUVENIR: The Singles 2004 – 2012 will be out on Friday May 11 via Liberation.