The Kaiser Chiefs are a rock band originally from Leeds, England, famous for their energetic live performances, as well as their post-punk revival sound. The group formed when high school mates Nick Hodgson (drums, vocals), Nick Baines (keyboard) and Simon Rix (bass, vocals) collaborated with Andrew White (guitar, vocals) and Ricky Wilson (vocals). After several unsuccessful attempts to secure a record deal as the band Parva, the group changed its name to Kaiser Chiefs (after a South African soccer club) to make a fresh start. The group was signed to B-Unique records and released the critically acclaimed Employment in 2005, Yours Truly, Angry Mob in 2007, and Off With Their Heads in 2008. After a three year hiatus, the group released their fourth studio album, The Future Is Medieval, in 2011. It allowed fans to build customized albums by hand-selecting 10 out of 23 tracks. In 2012, it was released in the United States, with slight variations, under the title Start The Revolution Without Me. June 4th, 2012 sees the release of Souvenir: The Singles 2004 - 2012.
Over seven years ago, I was sitting in the tiny green room of Popscene, interviewing a then-unknown British band called Kaiser Chiefs for a college newspaper. It was just after their very first concert in San Francisco, and the guys were all in a jubilant mood, presumably due to the fact that they were able to turn a small crowd of people into new fans. Just by looking at their faces, it was easy to tell that this was a band who could already sense that their career was only going to go up from this point. And since that night, Kaiser Chiefs have become one of the biggest bands to come out of England in the last decade, playing to crowds as big as over one million people. Fresh off the 2012 North American release of their fourth album, Start The Revolution Without Me (first released digitally in 2011 as The Future Is Medieval, which allowed fans to build customized albums by hand-selecting 10 out of 23 tracks), I sat down with frontman Ricky Wilson and bassist Simon Rix before their concert at the Fillmore in San Francisco. Despite the amount of success they've enjoyed so far, it was quickly evident—the way Wilson would be quick to crack a joke, or Rix would playfully engage in banter—that the Kaiser Chiefs are just as down-to-earth now as they were back when they playing to crowds of twenty people. Read on to find out more about their Revolution, and why they think having a sense of humor is an important part of their band.
Band of the Day: Question: Your fourth album, The Future Is Medieval, was just released here in North America as Start The Revolution Without Me. What is the revolution, and why were you so pre-occupied that we had to start it without you?
Ricky Wilson: The line is actually from the song “Cousin In The Bronx,” and we liked it and thought it would fit well as an album title. With this album, we wanted to do something different. Something that was exciting for us and for people involved. Rather than having people just download an album, we wanted to make something for them to revisit and feel a part of. And in a way, that was the thing we thought was a revolution. But it wasn't a revolution in the fact that we thought people would sit there and say this is gonna be the way people release music from now on, 'cause obviously it isn't. So maybe calling the new version 'Start The Revolution Without Me' is kind of a joke on ourselves. 'Cause even though we did do this big massive internet launch, which was still looking forward but keeping the emotional attachment you have with a new record, we eventually released a physical version of it which is kind of a joke on ourselves, really. But we did kind of do something new, and it was really accessible, and we enjoyed it, but people are people and will always want physical copies, and I think that's a great thing.
Band of the Day: You've played to crowds of fifteen people, and you've played to over a million, but in what environment do you feel more at home?
Ricky: It's different for each one of us, but for me I'd say between five and ten thousand capacity arenas. It sounds weird, and you might think it would be a bit sterile, but it's not.
Band of the Day: Why do you think that is?
Ricky: I think it's the space, and the crowds. Like, if people wanna stand up and go mental then, or if people wanna sit down, they can. I like it, I like the atmosphere. With stadium gigs, I've always felt that they're kinda too big, and they're just about making money, so I like the arena ones.
Band of the Day: And Simon?
Simon Rix: It's weird because we've also done small gigs that have been sterile. But then sometimes the small gigs can be quite mental. But I think it's just about the vibe really, it doesn't matter how many people as long as, you know as Ricky said, when there's like loads of people at the front jumping up and down, or people in the back enjoying themselves, having a beer or whatever.
Ricky: I also like it when there's a mixture of super fans and people who've been given tickets by their friends, or like at festivals, where you have to win people over. 'Cause it's a challenge as well.
Band of the Day: When you guys first started playing live, iPhones weren't around yet. So is it weird for you to see people at gigs who are completely attached to their screens?
Ricky: There was a time, there still is to an extent, where people just kind of live [concerts] through their camera phones. But it's funny 'cause now that you've got iPhone 4s, and they're really expensive, people don't wanna get them out at gigs, so it's kind of gone down a bit even though the camera quality has gone up. People aren't more willing to jump up and down with 'em!
Band of the Day: What would you say is your own personal measure of success?
Ricky: Physical fitness! Not really, that's the joke answer we give out first [laughs]. Personal measure of success? That I've never done a day's work in my life. Even though it's been hard work to achieve that goal, if you work hard enough to make yourself believe that you've never worked a day in your life, that to me is success. 'Cause if you've got a job you love it doesn't seem like work, anyway. Even when you're getting up at 4 in the morning, it's still fun.
Band of the Day: What are some of the biggest roadblocks you think you've overcome as a band?
Simon: We spent a long, long time trying to be successful in a band, and I think working out how to write good songs, and all sorts of things like that. We were very lucky, I think, because we had this band Parva which was us five, and it was like a work experience thing where we made an album, went on tour, and did all the things you have to do. But no one sort of noticed because we just kind of did it and then it collapsed, but it was great experience. So with Kaiser Chiefs we kind of started on the higher rung of the ladder, and went into it, and suddenly discovered loads of new things for writing good songs.
Ricky: I spoke to this rugby player once...you know rugby, right? It's like American football, only dirtier. And he really wanted to be over 16 stone [over 220 pounds] for the game, and he said he worked really hard at it, he'd be in the gym every day, working out, taking supplements with his diet, and he couldn't do it so he gave up. And as soon as he gave up, he just got fat [laughs]. And then he got to 16 stone really quickly! And I think that's kind of what we did. We were trying so hard, but once we just started enjoying it, and being ourselves, that's when it started happening. I think a lot of people are so caught up with the success, that they forget to enjoy it, and I think people can see through it when you're not enjoying it.
Band of the Day: Going off of that, you've always seemed to me like a band with a good sense of humor. Why do you think it's important to maintain?
Ricky: I think a sense of humor in life is really important. Even through the worst times, you've got to be able to find the joke in something, 'cause it'd be pointless otherwise. For example when we first arrived here, we were jet-lagged and I was in the back of this car, and so overtired and didn't want to go onstage—and you [Simon] were in the front—but I was pissing myself laughing at something, hurting my stomach!
Simon: You've always gotta have a sense of humor. Even last night we were playing in this little place, and some guy who's like an uber uber fan, you know, gets us to sign loads of stuff, he just had loads of Wikipedia pages about us that he was reading to us.
Band of the Day: What was the funniest thing that it said?
Simon: I think on Nick's [Hodgson, drummer] page it said something like he was a spaghetti-eating champion [laughs]! He's not! He's not even good at it!
Band of the Day: Not even second-tier?
Ricky: Nope, not even an amateur!
Band of the Day: What about spaghetti hoops?
Ricky: No, hoops don't count, that'd be cheating.
Band of the Day: Where do you do your best song writing?
Ricky: The funny thing is, with writing words, I found that I do my best writing sat at a desk. I have to make time to write. I'll do that for a few hours, then go for a walk. I'll walk to a pub, and that's usually when it happens. It's just opening up your senses, really, like doing warm-ups before going running.
Band of the Day: I have one last question for you. Is everything still brilliant in Leeds [Kaiser Chiefs' early band t-shirts had the slogan 'Everything Is Brilliant In Leeds']?
Ricky: I believe so, I haven't been there in awhile. But from what Andy [White, guitarist] told me, it is.
Simon: Leeds just got beaten 7 to 3 in football today, so that wasn't very brilliant.
Ricky: But there's always something brilliant to find, even in the worst places you go. There's always something brilliant. But that's just my positive, sunny outlook [laughs]!