Ricky Wilson is just like one of us.
He lives, breathes, eats, sleeps and shits music. Today might be the 4th day of the biggest tour of his life but he’s just spent the last hour or so record shopping in Selectadisc for the latest independent import releases.
Which is all to be expected for a family tree of post-rock nerd like yours truly - but not the kind of preparation you’d expect for someone who is about to experience the real traumas of being a bonafide pop star. Thank God he doesn’t suffer from stage fright.
“It’s all just so exciting!” says the Kaiser Chiefs frontman, bubbling with the excitement of a three-year-old who’s just discovered La-La and Dipsy for the first time. “It’s really weird as well because we’re going on so early and the adrenalin levels seem to be higher when you actually come off! It’s like you feel so hyper that the last thing on your mind is getting an early night…”
Certainly most bands would be disappointed at going on at the ungodly hour of 7:15. After all, the majority of punters are still in the queue or even finishing that last pint in the SU around the corner. Although strangely, that’s the last thing on young Wilson’s mind…
“It would be good to be on later so I could get some proper food…I mean, the catering has been brilliant but…we’re on at just after 7 and dinner starts at 5 and we usually sound check around 5:30 so then I don’t eat ‘til 6 and I mean…Nick (Hodgson, drums) spends the whole time we’re on stage burping! And because I want to jump around that bit more I don’t tend to eat much before we go onstage but…it’s bloody difficult!”
With the Kaisers currently enjoying their stint on the road with kindred spirits Bloc Party, The Futureheads and The Killers, it would have to take something as drastic as mealtime-disorientation to cause any sort of upheaval. Not that Ricky sees any disharmony as far as his touring buddies are concerned.
“All of the other three bands on this tour write brilliant pop songs, and that’s what it should always be about – daring to write great pop songs and not be embarrassed about it.”
Since the Drowned In Sound label released their first record ‘Oh My God’, which was subsequently followed by ‘I Predict A Riot’ going overground commercially in November of last year, the Kaiser Chiefs have swiftly collected an ever-expanding legion of fans who see them as natural successors to Blur, Supergrass’, and the Kinks before them, a desire to write and shout about the delights and sometimes inadequacies of everyday English life.
While the Kaiser Chiefs frontman isn’t too phased about being compared to Blur (“one of my favourite bands of all time”), he’s also quick to point out that his band are well on the way to developing their own sound.
“I think whenever you hear a Kaiser Chiefs record you can instantly tell it’s us, which is brilliant. All you can hope for in a band. I mean, it would be terrible if someone was listening to the album going Track 1 – Blur, Track 2 – Roxy Music…I mean, how rubbish would that be? It goes back to when we started being ourselves musically. I’m sure you know about Parva…”
I do but if you want to refresh my memory…
“I always felt that as Parva we weren’t always being true to ourselves. I mean, we were a good little garage rock band. That was around the time of the supposed ‘New Rock Revolution’ by the way – and we just thought that was what you had to be to get yourselves noticed and ultimately get signed. And then we tried it, and we didn’t do it very well. The only way you can be brilliant – and I’m not saying we are – is by being yourself.”
Since then though, the music and the overall image of Ricky and his merry band of troops has changed somewhat dramatically, definitely for the better and without a doubt more comfortably in tune with where he sees both himself and the band heading in the future.
“Everybody reaches a point at some stage in their life where they realise it’s just not going anywhere and that’s when we decided to end Parva.”
So the next step was…?
“Well, when you’re so confused about what to do next, you tend to go away and think about it that little bit more. A lot of bands when they get their first knock back would usually give up there and then and go back to what they were doing before they were in a band. But, we always knew that we wanted to be involved in the music industry and it just took us…When Parva ended it wasn’t like we all just went away and then came back six months later and said ‘Right, let’s start again.’ It was a case of us all agreeing that Parva wasn’t working so at the next band practice, we decided to start again. And if that didn’t work, or the one after, we started again. It was actually quite daunting because at this point we hadn’t got any songs, or a name, or any idea what we were really doing. At the same time though, it felt like the most exciting time in the world – sort of like being 12 years old again when you’re all sat there with jotter pads at school, y’know, writing out names and writing about things we actually knew about…”
At the same time though, there are similar themes running through the lyrics of ‘Hessles’ by your previous band and ‘I Predict A Riot’, in that it both songs seem to reflect on being an outsider from the expected norm of your hometown community.
“I can’t change the things I worry about but I can change the way I approach them,” offers Ricky Wilson, almost matter-of-factly. “With ‘I Predict A Riot’, some people got the wrong end of the stick the first time we played it. We had people trying to persuade us to use footage of the poll tax riots in the video and CCTV clips showing rioting in town centres during football matches, and in the end we had to stop them. I mean, that song is not meant to be some kind of political statement. I suppose most indie kids can relate to it in that we’ve all experienced hassle from townies at one time or another…”
So are you saying that Leeds is quite a rough place?
“It can be rough but at the same time it’s probably no worse than anywhere else. We played the song recently in Los Angeles and the people there got it and understood what we were singing about. I mean, I can only write about my own experience, i.e. Leeds, but it’s good that the rest of the world gets it. Good pop music is a bit like a good joke. You can tell it to anyone in the world or you can tell it to your mum or some hairdresser in Sydney you might have never met before, and they’d both get it because its universally funny, and I think that the Kaiser Chiefs music is a bit like good joke!” declares young Wilson somewhat unintentionally.
“Taking your music seriously is very important but taking yourself seriously is not something you should try and do because who wants to see a band onstage anymore that think they’re cooler than you?”
Which again goes back to my point that Ricky Wilson really isn’t any different from you or I. A fan of pop music who decided the best way to hear his favourite music was to start a band and create it for himself.
“I want to see people sweating and I want to see them enjoying themselves and if I don’t spend half the gig in the audience then it’s not been a good gig really. We’re like the Beatles in ‘Hard Day’s Night’ – it’s hilarious 24-7!”
So with Parva out of the way and several rehearsals down the line, Ricky, the two Nicks (Hodgson and Baines, keyboards), Simon (Rix, bass) and Alan (White, guitar) finally settled on the Kaiser Chiefs. It’s origins? It just happens to be the name of the football club where Leeds United stalwart and South African national team captain Lucas Radebe started his professional football career.
“We love Leeds United. We don’t go every week – well, two of them (Simon Rix and Alan White) do whenever we’re not recording or touring – but we do follow them through thick and thin. I mean, I like football and I enjoy going to matches but I wouldn’t consider myself a fanatic. It rules Whitey and Simon’s lives. If they buy a newspaper they go straight to the back page whereas me, I head straight for the TV guide! At the end of the day I prefer music to football,” admits the singer, as if we didn’t know!
But do you not worry that with songs like ‘I Predict A Riot’ and the band being named after a football team that you might attract scallies and casuals towards your fan base?
“Yeah it could happen, but the thing about us is that we’re never gonna go too far in one direction. The worst thing we could do is call ourselves the Kaiser Chiefs, have a song called ‘I Predict A Riot’ and then be seen wearing Burberry,” admits the frontman, smiling as he clocks my moth-ridden B**b***y scarf. “There are certain bands who do that and dress in a kind of way to promote that image, whereas if a townie came to see us he’d see me prancing around like a tit! I’m not hard. In fact, I look a bit gay! But you know, the world needs things mixing up a little bit. It’s not just about going out, drinking beer, trying to get laid, can’t get laid, have a fight, get arrested…”
March 7th sees the release of the Kaiser Chiefs’ eagerly anticipated first long player ‘Employment’, which features both singles to date and the majority of their live set. There are also a couple of themes running through some of their other songs, as Ricky sheepishly explains.
“A lot of our songs, sadly, are to do with (Parva) getting dropped and trying really hard to make something new. It wasn’t just about getting signed, but actually making something that really mattered. At the time Parva were dropped the music industry’s eyes actually started to turn towards Leeds more, and we noticed a lot of our friends getting record deals. ‘Modern Way’ and ‘Caroline Yes’ are basically about our friends sammyUSA getting signed and we were dead jealous at the time. Not because we wanted them to mess up, but because we wanted to catch up. We were desperate for them not to mess up in the same way Parva did, and then they got dropped and started a new band, Duels, and they’re ten times better. And that’s what you’ve got to do. If it’s not working, don’t just keep plodding away but at the same time don’t give up."
A version of ‘Modern Way’ has been available on the internet for some time. How do you feel about people downloading your songs?
“It’s a tricky one that because in one aspect it’s good, but then if it’s your own stuff you start to realise that you might not be able to make the second album because no one bought the first one as they all downloaded it. It can ruin the careers of a lot of indie bands, especially ones who are struggling to make ends meet. It would be nice to be able to get to the point one day where you could just give everything away and not have to worry about anything, but that’s just never gonna happen because the record companies won’t put up with it. At the same time, how can you criticise someone for wanting to get free music? I want to get free music, but ultimately being in a band is all about selling records and you wouldn’t be signed if the record company didn’t think they could sell your music so, kids, buy records!”
But at the same time record companies are hindering the progress of struggling bands too. The decision by RCA to release one Elvis Presley record a week for the next four months and the never-ending influx of reality television recording artists are just two examples.
“I don’t know what Elvis would have thought about it, but then he was a businessman so he probably would have loved it. I don’t honestly know how long ‘Pop Idol’ people can do covers for because they’re gonna run out soon. Next year they’ll be doing ‘I Predict A Riot’. Michelle McManus doing ‘I Predict A Riot’. I Predict A Diet’ more like!”
And then there’s Ricky’s former partners.
“’Born To Be A Dancer’ is about an ex- girlfriend. ‘Every Day I Love You Less And Less’ is about an ex-girlfriend too. She’s called Mandy. I hate her!” says Ricky, a devilish glint radiating from his eyes. “She was my boss for a while.”
How did the album’s title (‘Employment’) come about?
“This is the stupidest thing in the world but money is my biggest worry, and I suppose when you think about it it’s most people’s biggest worry. Some people get into massive amounts of debt, and it doesn’t seem to bother them, which I can never understand. I’m always thinking about where I’m going to get money from to be able to just…exist, and I guess that’s where the title of the album comes from really, in that ‘Employment’ is one way of dealing with money and debts. I think we’ll be alright as long as the next record doesn’t end up being called ‘Unemployment!’”
Even though ‘Employment’ is still a good six weeks away from hitting the shops, Ricky and the Kaisers already have a batch of new ideas for the next album, something that sets them apart from most of their contemporaries.
“We just want to get better with each record” admits the singer. “I mean, Super Furry Animals have got better with every album, so have Green Day, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers too. I think if you’re just going to get stuck in a rut doing the same thing with every record it becomes pointless. We haven’t finalised any of the songs (on album no. 2) yet but we’re gonna be trying different things out when we get the time."