words: Tom Goodhand
pics: Angus Lamond
Tom Goodhand talks to KAISER CHIEFS, the young whippersnappers who might just be Leeds’ next pop stars.
"Hi! We’re Kaiser Chiefs, you may have heard of us on Teletext.” Not a classic claim to fame of course, but one for any fledgling band to be proud of. And proud of it Kaiser Chiefs certainly are. The Leeds-based (well where else do you expect them to come from in this magazine?) five-piece look every bit the young indie-kids that their songs sound like they should be made by.
The band features Ricky (quietly funny, eccentrically dressed in a golf-jumper and rolled-up jeans) on vocals, Whitey (sharply witty, Oasis look-a-like) on guitar, Peanut (ever-present porkpie hat, perhaps the most sensible member) on keyboards, Simon (very amiable, long curly-mop of hair) on bass and Nick (very tall, very talkative) on drums.
As many (too many for the Chiefs' liking) will know, Kaiser Chiefs were once another band, whose name is now taboo to them. Yet I can exclusively reveal it was five-letters long, began with P and had the letters v, r, and a in the middle (although not necessarily in that order) and another a at the end. This band decided to quit and then reform again “within about half a second” with a new name, and new songs. This change was born out of a necessity to ‘find a newer sound’ claims Simon, and to do “something that no-one else was doing at the time” adds Nick. And lo, Kaiser Chiefs were born.
It would be a brave (or earless) man that denied that innovation of the Chiefs. At a time when the alternative climate is all to happy to heap praise on any band with a passing knowledge of a few Rolling Stones riffs and the ability to smoke and play guitar at the same time, the Kaiser Chiefs chose to produce a record harking back to the blissful days of Brit-pop. Back to the days before Blur became Damon Albarn’s bit on the side, before Jarvis Cocker decided to dress up in a skeleton suit and make filthy electroclash. Hence, the band’s debut single sounds like a veritable mixing pot of Blur, Super Furry Animals, and older bands ranging from Madness to the Kinks. Throw some huge choruses and a few whoops in, and you get ‘Oh My God!’
Now some of the more insightful (by that I mean sad) of you may have noticed that the band’s name sounds a little familiar. Perhaps you are thinking “Gosh! Wasn’t that the name of Leeds United’s central defender Lucas Radebe’s previous club?” and you would indeed be correct. But why? Nick explains, “It was the first name we all said ‘yeah’ to” after it was suggested by a friend, plus “we need something positive, Kaiser Chiefs, it sounds good doesn’t it? Strong.”
From that name, the band have sprung an EP that’s getting praise from the NME and Steve Lamacq amongst others, and already sees them hoping for bigger things. Their aims for ‘Oh My God!’ may be fairly modest, they want it to “sell out”, and help them get their name out and build momentum. Ricky admits that they “did originally think Top 40, but that’s more or less impossible,” but hey, you have to “live a dream” he confesses. More importantly, they want a record deal, to get the chance to do a decent tour, and to get the second single, ‘I Predict A Riot’ (which they have already started recording) out.
Releasing records isn’t the band’s only passion though. Nick insists that “gigging is basically a vehicle for the comedy”, and Whitey confesses that if the band can’t get themselves an album for all their work, “it would be nice if they could commission us to have a comedy show like ‘My Family’ or ‘Smack The Pony’.”
Right now, the band has the typical indie-kid fixation with Steve Lamacq. After having him mention them a couple of times, and come along to see them at a recent gig in London, he is now making vague promises of playing the single on that night’s show. Thus prompting a number of phone calls and quick trip down the world-wide web during the interview, as well as the question, ‘I wonder what Lamo’s thinking now?’
Onto more serious matters: how does the song-writing work? It turns out that although Nick writes mainly, and he and Ricky split the lyrics, whilst Simon ‘decorates’. This leaves the remaining band members questioning what they do. Whitey persuades Nick to admit that the guitarist “sprinkles magic dust” and Peanut resignedly decides that that must make him the “cleaner”. Asking the band who influences their music prompts a never-ending list of “mainly British bands”, covering The Beatles (of course), The Kinks, Madness, Blur, Dexy’s, The Specials, 10cc, Wire. After Nick’s exhaustive list it is left up to Whitey to make the obvious, but let’s face it necessary gag, “and that’s just one song!”
The Chiefs’ live show is further proof of their power as a band, as well as their devotion to “trying to be a classic British band.” Simon emphasises the need for a “high energy” set. Apparently the band have a lot of “nice, slow album songs,” but they are all too aware that people “can get bored very, very quickly at gigs” so they need to keep the energy up. Ricky makes this clear by stating that gigs “are meant to be entertainment, people forget that.” Because of this, Kaiser Chiefs plan their sets “very carefully”, and don’t buy into the idea “of moving around so much you can’t play the right chords, because it is important to get your songs across”. At this point Nick throws in one of his numerous contradictions (many of which were to deny things he had just said!), worrying that “this sounds a bit like we’re a band of boring musos… we’re not the opposite of The Libertines, we’re in the middle.”
The interview closes in high spirits, with Nick showing his only semi-jocular ambition and belief in the band. “‘If this isn’t published for a month, all this may be out-of-date, because we will be a household name by then!” He laughs this claim off, but deep down, you can see it isn’t entirely intended as self-mockery.