"We wanted to do things we'd never done before" – hmv.com talks to Kaiser Chiefs
Three years after Leeds indie veterans Kaiser Chiefs tried to reinvent the concept of the album with a 'Pick What You Want' tracklisting for their The Future Is Medieval record, they're back on Monday (March 31st) with new album Education, Education, Education and War, a traditional 10-track effort.
We caught up with bass player Simon Rix to talk about recording in Atlanta, the departure of drummer and key songwriter Nick Hodgson, the arrival of new drummer Vijay Mistry and how the band have been coping with the attention that's comes from frontman Ricky Wilson's stint on BBC1 reality show The Voice.
Education, Education, Education and War is out on Monday, how are you feeling ahead of release? Are you past the point of being nervous at this stage of your career?
"I'm excited actually. We've done it a few times now, and it's great to still be excited. I'm enjoying talking about it too, quite often, when you've got to this stage, you've talked it to death and you're sick of the record already. But I think this time as a band we're a bit closer to the album and we feel like we've really achieved something."
You recorded the album over in Atlanta, what was that like?
"It was good, with this album we wanted to do things we'd never done before, and we'd never made an album outside of the British Isles. We selected this producer called Ben Allen, he wanted to do it in Atlanta because that's where his studio is, so off we went."
"We didn't know what to expect, a lot of bands go over to America and come back with an album that sounds a lot rockier or grungier, they get really into the surroundings. That didn't happen with us, it cemented out Britishness. We've moved on though, we don't sound like the same Kaiser Chiefs that were around in 2005."
Why did you settle on Ben Allen? He's known for his work with a lot of R'n'B and dance acts?
"His CV's really varied, he worked with P. Diddy a lot in the 90s, Gnarls Barkley, which he mixed. More recently he's done a lot of American indie bands like Animal Collective and Deerhunter. We liked that mix, it's an American version of where we were, in between the pop and indie worlds."
"We wanted to push ourselves on this album, we didn't want to hold back, hip-hop artists push things, they try things, we wanted to do that. We were very hungry this time, we really wanted to step up and he helped us do that. We wanted to make the best album we could and with the last two albums we don't feel like we've achieved everything we wanted to achieve."
How did working with Ben Allen compare to the other producers you've worked with? You've made records with some big names in the past, Mark Ronson, Steven Street…
"It was very different. We'd worked with Ethan Johns on the last album, great producer, but he's all about capturing the live feel. Steven Street is a lot more regimented, he wants everything right, very rigid. Ben was a combination, he wasn't always there, he didn't sit with me while I was recording the bass, he was a big picture guy. He talked about the sound of the record; he wanted us to create a 'Kaiser Chiefs universe' of sound, a palate of sound where the album would sit between. It really felt like he was the sixth member of the band, we've never had that before."
This is your first record without Nick (Hodgson, former drummer and the band's former main songwriter) and with new drummer Vijay Mistry, what was it like recording with him?
"This album felt very different, it had a big learning curve, we had to learn how to carry on without Nick, he was a big part of the band."
"Vijay fitted in so easily that it doesn't feel like a big deal, it was a big deal, but it didn't feel like one. He brought a lot to the album, he's less flamboyant, more rock, he's a great drummer to play with and gives us a fantastic backbone. He's re-energised us and the album."
How did you meet Vijay?
"I've known him for a long time, I put him forward, we were actually in a band together very briefly a long time ago. He's been in other bands for years and he's always been the best thing in whatever band he's been in. He's really positive, really good company, fantastic to be around."
This is the first line-up change you've gone through, how's that been? Has it been hard adjusting?
"I feel guilty about how easy it's been. I like to think if I left the band it'd be a massive struggle to carry on without me, and it was odd without Nick. But Vijay made it so easy. The other parts of it, the songwriting and the other parts Nick were involved in were a lot harder, he was a big creative force. But we learnt and found a solution. Some of us weren't sure we could do it without him, but I was always confident we could."
How did it change the songwriting process?
"It varied. Throughout our whole career, some songs have been written in rooms, some have been written by people on their own, that's still the case now. I guess it was different in that Nick was the glue, he was the driving force, he knew what he wanted, as a result the whole band stepped into the gap, it's much more bandy record."
You worked with Fraser T. Smith, who's written songs with the likes of Adele and James Morrison, what was that like?
"We knew we needed to learn new things, to meet new people and see how they work. One of the great things about working with Fraser was to find out what he thought was good about Kaiser Chiefs and what he thought we did well. Like I said, we wanted to do things we'd never done before, it was a great experience."
Last time you released a studio album, you came back with the idea that fans could pick their own tracklisting from a selection of 20 tracks, were you keen to do something more traditional this time? To let the music do the talking?
"Definitely. We wanted this to be very traditional, about 45 minutes long, that's it, no deluxe edition, keep it simple. That's a reaction to last time, I enjoyed last time and we won loads of awards, but for creativity, not for music. We wanted the music to do the talking this time, to keep things simple, last time was so complicated, far too complicated."
Between records, you released a singles collection; does this record feel like you're working with a clean slate?
"It wasn't that conscious at the time, but in hindsight it seemed like a nice way to bookmark Nick's time with the band. We do feel like a bit of a new band, refreshed and we really feel like we're doing a lot of things for the first time. Souvenir (the 'Singles' collection) was cool, but some of us weren't sure if it was the right time to do it, we weren't totally behind it, but we had to be very positive about it in the press. This time we're all delighted to talk about things."
How have the last few weeks been with your frontman on The Voice?
"It's been busy. But we knew that when Ricky was offered it that it would help push this album that we're all really proud of. It was the key reason for doing The Voice; we're really busy, busier than we've been for years. I don't know if the world was dying to hear a new Kaiser Chiefs album, but it actually feels like now people are excited about it."
So what's the plan for after the record comes out?
"We're doing lots of festivals, European festivals, American festivals and then a big UK tour at some point."
Kaiser Chiefs' new album Education, Education, Education and War is out on Monday (March 31st) in hmv stores across the UK. You can check out their back catalogue in our download store here.