“This album isn’t full of grow-ers, it’s full of show-ers” - hmv.com talks to Kaiser Chiefs’ Ricky Wilson
16 years into their career and the Kaiser Chiefs are still going strong. They’re back today with a brand new album Stay Together (you can preview and purchase it on the right-hand side of the page) and we spoke to Ricky Wilson to find out all about it. He told us why they did things very differently, how working with pop producer Brian Higgins really shook up their recording process and why this isn’t an album about poetry and rocketships...
How did writing and recording Stay Together compare to making your last album Education, Education, Education and War?
“It was very different, but every album we’ve ever made has been, that’s why we’re still doing it. Some bands make a bit of money, get their own studio, get comfortable and every record ends up sounding the same. We recorded the last album all over the world and we were scrabbling a bit, desperately trying to learn how to be a band again after Nick (Hodgson, former drummer) left and fighting for survival. That made that album a lot more confrontational.”
Did you want to do something very different from last time?
“We wanted to kick against what we’d done last time. It turned out as quite a politicised album, it was full of social commentary and I wanted to do what we’d never done before. Simon (Rix, bassist) said to me that there was no point making a record because that’s what we do, we don’t need one to tour again, we needed to have a real reason to make it. I listened to the radio all the way on this long car journey and realised that every song was about relationships, which is not something we do, so I thought I’d have a crack."
You worked with Brian Higgins, who’s probably best known to people as one of Xenomania (songwriting team that have produced hits for Girls Aloud, Sugababes and The Saturdays among others), what did he bring to the process?
“The actual making of it was very different. We worked with Brian and he introduced us to this whole new way of doing things, which was basically just jamming. It was very freeing because you’re just improvising, you’re not being guided by your audiences or by critics, you’re capturing what comes naturally. We’d spend hours doing that and he’d sit there and pick out the bits that were coming together. It used to be that we’d jam for an hour and then try and write songs, this time we’d jam and that’d be where the good stuff was. We’re great at jamming, but we needed Brian for the editing and picking out of the good bits. It was intense and long hours, I never felt I could have an off day, I’m always worried now that the band would tell me I’d been spreading myself too thin from all my TV shows.”
How did the collaboration come about? It’s not an obvious one...
“He was the first producer we met and we clicked straight away. Everything he said made sense and he knew our band inside out. Back when he was riding high with Girls Aloud we were having our early hits so we were weirdly competing with Girls Aloud. I like that we’re back there now, having guitar music competing with the big hitters, it keeps the competition intense. So he’d followed us through that, understood what we were about and we went off straight away.”
You’d think a big time pop producer would be a lot more clinical and ruthless, but it sounds like it was quite free...
“You’re right, I had assumed it would be very clinical and efficient, but it wasn’t. Normally you write a lot and then settle down to record, which is days and days of miking up drum kits and sorting guitar sounds, but he was completely uninterested in that. There were no studio doors, we mostly worked at his house, he was far more concerned with the vibe than any studio set-up. It sounds like I’m downplaying his involvement, I’m not, we couldn’t have done it without him. He wanted to work with us from scratch, no songs to go off, no fine tuning, a complete blank slate.”
At this point in their careers a lot of bands have started producing themselves, but it sounds like you got a huge amount from Brian...
“There was definitely a point in our career when Nick was still in the band where it did feel like that is the path we were going down. He was producing a lot of the stuff and we were moving towards being in total control of our sound. It was great that he left, not the actual leaving part, because that felt like the end of the world, but in the end he’s done us a favour because it made us do something about it and all step up to fill his vacuum. We’ve spent our career hiring producers and not using them properly, to get a proper outside perspective, which is really hard. Watching myself back on The Voice it was weird, I’d see this guy who got angry really quickly and was very emotional, which was all the things I’d edit out about myself, but it’s who I am. A good producer will get that out of you.”
What kind of album is this lyrically?
“To an extent every album is a concept album, they’re what’s in your head at the time. In this case I was singing along to jams, not sitting down and picking topics out. I think it’s definitely my most personal album, a lot of what you’re hearing is me singing in the kitchen or in Brian’s spare room under the duvet. I’d also want to record those things, they’re full of bum notes and mistakes, but he’d want to keep them.”
You said it was heavily inspired by relationships...
“It’s not an album about love in the sense that it’s the first flush of love, getting together and everything being rocketships and poetry, it’s more about sticking with it and how difficult it is, how easy it is to quit, but it’s better to stay together.”
Was it always going to be called Stay Together?
“We went through hundreds of titles, loads of Kaiser Chiefy, too clever by half titles. This seemed like quite an unusual title for us, too simple, so we thought we’d go with it, try and be a bit more to the point. This leans much towards pop music and it’s much more direct and we wanted a title to fit that.”
How’s your new live set coming together? You’ve some big arenas booked for next year…
“Initially we thought that the album would be out before summer and then when it got delayed I got pissed off because it meant a summer of festivals playing new songs with an album not out. But we did it and I realised quite quickly that we’ve had 10 years since we started and there’s a new generation of fans and the new ones were going down better than the old ones. Whether that’s the new energy in the band or Brian’s influence I’m not sure, but this album isn’t full of growers, it’s full of showers. You hear it once and you’re singing along, that’s what we like, it makes touring a lot easier.”
Finally, how’s it going outside of the band? You’re on the TV quite a lot now…
“I like it. It makes me less anxious when I’m busy. I loved doing The Voice and presenting Bring The Noise was amazing, that’s not coming back, but I’ve got some more irons for next year. Being in the Kaiser Chiefs is my first job, but if I’m not letting anyone down then I want to do more. You get a lot of time off in a band and I don’t just want to sit on the sofa watching Murder She Wrote.”