The Kaiser Chiefs

Ricky Wilson, the Kaiser Chiefs’ singer is being filmed for BBC2’s The Culture Show. “We were adamant…” begins Ricky. Adam Ant, The Kinks, Dexy’s; intelligent, indie-art, post-punk, Blur-esque, pop/rock; a lot of labels have been thrown the way of the Leeds quintet in the last six months. Which one do you think fits? Or better still, make your own. Be sure to build on recognised genres, simple themes. Say, acoustic or rock. From here suffix and prefix at will, taking care not to be too way out there; instead, subtly subverting. What about the New Wave Britpop/rock Uprising?

With a net this wide it’s also easier to embrace other bands such as The Futureheads, Razorlight, Bloc Party, the Uprising’s sordid but heartfelt affair – The Libertines – and it’s Pioneering Parents, Franz Ferdinand. This approach may seem crass, but it makes communication simpler, more accessible:
‘What are you into?’
“Oh, the New Wave Britpop/rock Uprising.”
‘The NeWbU? Me too! Swell, I know where you’re coming from.’

“All these are just labels. We know that music is music.” Primal Scream’s Come Together helps to soften the sharp-edged brand-boxes. It’s been over eighteen months since a lot of new, British bands started to come together, at regular intervals. But still no one has invented a bullet-pointed umbrella to encompass them all; and under which the increasingly popular Kaiser Chiefs can take shelter. This rather puts me out. I’ll have to do more than ten minutes research, or how will I know where the Chiefs are coming from or where they’re at?

“From the House of Kaiser, West Riding,” proclaims the sleeve for Oh My God, the band’s current, top six single. I decide to phone the House of Kaiser. Nick Baines answers:

“Hello, are you my 2.30?”

As well as playing keyboards for the Kaiser Chiefs, Nick is now on the fourth of eight interviews arranged for today and filling time by signing CD box sets of the band’s debut album – Employment – out in March. Nick and his cohorts are busy. “It’s been non-stop,” he explains. “I guess It’s easy for people to whinge that they’re tired. But we’re doing this every single day, it’s what we wanted to do and we’re doing it.”

Doing it includes expanding geographic horizons – playing first gigs in America and Europe – opening the ShockWaves NME Tour and answering the endless, banshee call of the media. “I don’t mind all of the offers because I want people to get excited about the music,” offers Nick. “Although we have had to turn a few down.” One appointment the Kaiser Chiefs won’t be missing is with Top Of The Pops. And this time it’s Nick getting excited: “when you’re younger and family and friends say, ‘oh, how’s the band doing, you been on Top Of The Pops yet?’ And you’re playing shambolic gigs to maybe 20 people,” he continues. “And perhaps they’re not aware of how the music industry is. But now we can ring them up and go, we’re playing on Friday!”

There is nothing contrived about Nick’s enthusiasm, he is doing it; which in the musical world has almost always involved a flirtatious – and sometimes salacious – relationship with the media. He nearly copped-off a while back. Nick met Simon Rix and Nick Hodgson at school and the trio were soon bumping into Ricky Wilson and Andrew White at various nightclubs around Leeds. By 2003 the five friends were calling themselves Parva and courting record labels. But the chemistry soured.

Ricky Wilson has previously commented that: “as Parva, we weren’t always being true to ourselves. We were a good little garage-rock band, around the time of the supposed New Rock Revolution. We just though that was what you had to be to get noticed and ultimately get signed.” And Mr Baines agrees, “We started off writing and sounding like other bands,” he notes. “But you don’t get any recognition for being the same as another band. I mean the White Stripes are great but then, you know there are 400 bands doing exactly the same thing but not as well. It changes, so you try and innovate, do something new. I guess it was a learning process, we thought more carefully about our influences.”

Nick expands on his influences: “I started off listening to music in my parent’s car; mod stuff, northern soul, The Beatles, Dexys. People writing songs from Great Britain; about living in Great Britain. Something I could identify with. It’s funny, on material like press releases the PR people ask who you like and then list them as influences. But that’s fine, as long as people don’t say that you sound exactly like that band or this band,” he continues. “Hopefully people can see the good points, the qualities you’ve taken from different bands but moved them forward in your own way.”

The Kaiser Chief’s approach to song writing may mimic that of many elders and peers: “we usually get a hook or part of the lyrics and then Ricky goes off and finishes the vocals,” states Nick. But on their first two singles the band have burnt a sound and emotion that is unmistakeably Kaiser. “Ricky writes about what he knows, experiences,” continues Nick. “We’re not making big statements, you know, someone with a message, trying to be so sincere but it doesn’t feel genuine. It’s Ricky’s observations so they can’t not be true. It’s just what he’s seen. It’s genuine.”

I feel I know where the Kaiser Chief’s are at and where they’ve come from. But unlike the serendipitous Keane, who helpfully employed a branding agency to position them, the five friends from Leeds seem unwilling to print any tacky labels. “People can enjoy the visual side, the music or read into the lyrics what they like, we’re not making every song a death song!” states Nick. “The pop song is important, something with a melody that you can hum or clap along to.”

I think this is the nearest I’m going to get. Pop. But on the strength of two singles, The Kaiser Chiefs appear to be more than this. Discordant tones lurk beneath the band’s memorable hooks and wry commentary. The Kaiser Chiefs write songs from Britain. British songs. Classic British songwriters? That’s it! Just like The Kinks, Dexy’s, Blur, The Beatles…


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