Hail the Chiefs!
Far from predicting riots, Kaiser Chiefs' Ricky Wilson is fizzing with excitement over the band's groundbreaking new album, finds Ailbhe Malone
Of all times to speak to Kaiser Chiefs' lead singer Ricky Wilson, now feels more fitting that ever. As the phone rings, a TV screen plays a summary of the previous night's events -- rioting on the streets of London, Manchester, Birmingham and Leicester. Wilson can't count how many times he has had his lyrics quoted back to him -- "on Twitter, I've been getting sent a lot of the same jokes".
It's a strange feeling being the soundtrack to the past week. Not least because I Predict a Riot is actually about trying to get home after a night out, he laughs. "Never Miss a Beat is more apt for the riot thing. Never Miss a Beat is about kids and what's happened over the past few days. I think people have been staying away from using I Predict a Riot on the TV, though, because it says 'riot' a few too many times. I think London's Burning is probably better for that."
It's been seven years since the group released their debut album Employment. It was a smash -- entering the UK charts at number 3 with a slew of instantly memorable singles. (I Predict..., Everyday I Love You Less and Less, Modern Way, Oh My God). Follow-up Yours Truly Angry Mob went down the same road, leading strongly with Ruby, The Angry Mob and the often forgotten Love's Not a Competition But I'm Winning. Album number three Off With Their Heads led with Never Miss a Beat. And then the band seemed to melt away. There was a three-year hiatus, partly due to illness in drummer Nick Hodgson's family. And now there's this.
'This' being new(ish) album The Future is Medieval. Released in June this year, the album is groundbreaking in that it's a bespoke experience. Fans can choose 10 tracks from an available 20, and either download or create a physical release. It's either completely mad, or completely brilliant. But two months on, has Wilson made any money off it? "Ha ha ha, we're alright for money, don't worry about that," he laughs. "The thing is, even six years ago when we first started we never made any money from record sales. Record companies made all that money."
He catches himself disappearing off on a tangent, and changes tack. "I wouldn't have released The Future in away other way. I know we have shot ourselves in the foot a bit because we can't do anything a normal way ever again -- I mean, why would you? Especially in this day and age I think it's important for us to do something because we wanted to do it.
"We felt really free when we were making it. But the freedom came in part from our new label, Fiction, who've been amazing. We could just do what we wanted. And because we made so many tracks, we didn't have to whittle it down to 'what people want from the Kaiser Chiefs'. We could put them all out there, and see what people wanted from the Kaiser Chiefs -- through which was the most downloaded track. That was a song called Problem Solved, which we left off the official release. Even though it's people's favourite, we're not trying to be bolshy or arty or anything.
"When we did the physical record -- I won't call it the official record, the Kaiser Chiefs' choice -- we left it off because we wanted it to represent since you last saw us. Even though it's a great song, we felt it was too instant to put on the release -- it's too single-y and we didn't want to make an album of singles. But they all had to be important to us, and there couldn't be any song we wouldn't be happy to put on an album. Because there are thousands of albums now out there, that we have no control over. We didn't want there to be any duff ones. But that's getting into a whole new realm of conversations about how we chose the physical."
Wilson is most eager to explain, falling over his ideas, trying to get everything out at the same time. It's as if it's their debut album. Few bands on their fourth record could claim the same. Out of their Northern contemporaries (Maximo Park and Futureheads, who both released debuts in 2005), does it feel as though Kaiser Chiefs have won? Wilson violently disagrees.
"I don't think that we've 'won'. Those bands are absolutely amazing. That's a tough question, that. It's not a competition. I don't like to think that we think about other people making music when we're doing it. If we did, we'd end up curled up in a ball and rocking -- and not in a good way! You've got to be unselfconscious and do what you want to do because you want to do it."
He's so wired and vibrant still, but looking back at press and photos from the past seven years, is it hard to recognise himself? Wilson pauses, and reflects. "It's weird, because sometimes if I'm on tour now, there'll be a smell or I'll see a thing that sends me right back to 2005, and I have that same feeling of excitement. We were 25 or 26, and all our contemporaries were a few years younger than us. But I think that came across as us being enthusiastic because we'd been fighting for it for a little bit longer. We'd done it all before. We valued it.
"We didn't just go 'this is what happens' -- it was something that we really wanted. We did feel driven. Every band that I've admired and read about have always been really driven. From Pulp to The Clash to The Beatles -- they're all really driven and focused on what they wanted. And they achieved it. A lot of people like to pretend that they're not driven.
"I was reading an interview with Viva Brother and the lead singer was saying about something he regrets, and it was like four months ago. And I thought, how can he regret something so recent! I'm here now, we've released the best album we've made, in a really interesting way.
"It feels like the best thing I've ever done. We're still here and to get to this place it's involved everything we've ever done. I'm happy with that, so no regrets. Sometimes someone quotes something back at me, and I'm like, 'oh, I wouldn't have said that'. But 99pc of people say one thing a day they don't really mean."
When talk turns to the future, there are no plans. And, Wilson explains, that's the best part. His excitement crackles down the phone line like electricity.
Whatever comes next, he says, "nobody's going to come close to guessing. We're knee-deep in this at the moment. There's 20 songs that I want people to hear. So I think we're going to be touring for a while yet. Whatever's next, it's going to be weird. And that's not just because people will expect it, or because we feel we have to do it. I think we need something new and different for ourselves. The excitement of doing this was what got those 20 songs. Whatever it is we do, you won't even hear about it unless it's brilliant."
Kaiser Chiefs play the Olympia on August 23
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