Kaiser Chiefs bassist Simon Rix talks with Judith Dornan on their highs and lows and how they have new ways to selling their music online
The last 12 months have been packed with highs and lows for Leeds band Kaiser Chiefs.
They played the biggest gig of their lives – the spectacular highlight of the Olympics closing ceremony with singer Ricky Wilson making a showstopping entrance on a scooter to sing The Who’s classic Pinball Wizard.
But they lost founder member, drummer Nick Hodgson, who departed amicably before Christmas.
With a new album in the offing soon and with their current UK tour about to hit Preston Guild Hall this week, bassist and founder member Simon Rix is dwelling on the highs rather than the lows.
He recalls the Olympics ceremony as one of the greatest days of his life. He says: “Yeah, it was great. Really good. It was quite a nervous thing really. I don’t really get nervous anymore because we’ve done big gigs. Even at Leeds Festival, I’m not nervous. But I think everybody, even the biggest people who were playing like The Who or the Spice Girls or George Michael, it was everybody’s biggest gig. You don’t really get much bigger.
“I watched it back on the telly and it just looked amazing. So yeah, it was a really good day and a surreal day and there were lots of famous folk with us backstage.”
His greatest encounter that day was with the man whose song they were covering – The Who’s guitarist Pete Townshend.
Simon says: “On my list of people that I’d like to meet, there’s only a few people left. But one of them was Pete Townshend. So I got a chat with him which was great and also covered one of their songs, asked him if he liked it and he did so that was really good.
“Daltrey is more accessible. I’ve met him before, he does the Teenage Cancer Trust charity thing. He’s a really nice guy though.”
Even the Kaisers were a little starstruck that day. Simon recalls: “There was Nick Mason of Pink Floyd, some of Queen. David Beckham….he didn’t play but I had a chat with Beckham, that’s always good. It was A listers.”
Wilson, who had the challenging task of singing Pinball Wizard live to a worldwide audience of millions from the back of a scooter while the song’s writers, his childhood heroes, Daltrey and Townshend, watched from the stands, could have been forgiven for feeling intimidated.
But Simon says: “Actually it was always sort of on the cards. I mean, it was exciting – I think we all thought it was a totally cool thing to do. One thing, we’ve always gone onstage together obviously, at every gig. And this time, we had to leave Ricky so we left him on the back of a scooter at the entrance to the stadium and then we wandered off to the stage so that was a bit weird.
I saw him, looking back, and he was just looking very nervous. I felt a bit sorry for him.
Also, the stuff like making sure everything worked, making sure he could hear himself, making sure the mic worked and all these things, it was like any one of a million things could have gone wrong. We didn’t get a rehearsal either. We had one rehearsal earlier in the week but then everything ran late on the day that we didn’t get to rehearse.
I think that made him even more nervous, the fact that he hadn’t actually seen if it all worked or not. But he is… whenever we play, he’s always going for a wander around the arena. He’s used to a bit of danger so he enjoyed it. Give him the limelight, he likes that.”
The departure of Nick is bound to hit all the band as the Kaisers are a closeknit group of friends.
And he was key in bringing them together. Hodgson, Rix and Nick Baines met as 11 year olds in the same class at school before Rix and Baines went off to uni leaving Hodgson to meet and form a band with Wilson and guitarist Andrew “Whitey” White which became Kaiser Chiefs.
Their debut album, Employment, in 2005, won them three Brit Awards, the NME Award for Best Album and a Mercury Prize shortlisting and spawned Number One single, I Predict a Riot.
Since then, they’ve released three more studio albums, the last being the groundbreaking The Future is Medieval in 2011, and celebrated their career last year with the release of compilation album, Souvenir. But you sense the ennui of fame may have been setting in when the band declared they were going on hiatus before making The Future Is Medieval.
Simon agrees: “Sort of, yeah. The idea was that we’d been on tour a long time. The first three albums, it was all pretty back to back and we all just felt a little bit like we needed a break to get a bit of enthusiasm and excitement back.
“One thing was taking stock of what we’d achieved a little bit because you take everything for granted because you’re in the middle of it. And, as I say, to get a bit of the enthusiasm of going on tour or doing the albums and stuff, I think when you’ve done something a lot of times, you just start to take it for granted.
“So it was just not doing it and just going back to normal stuff. We probably had out about two months so we just went on holiday and just were at home and just did some stuff. Went to a pub and went to the supermarket and, you know, sat on the sofa. I don’t think I did much. That was the whole point, not doing much.”
Maybe it will prove harder than Hodgson thinks to stay away. Certainly, on that occasion, he and Rix were unable to leave music alone.
Simon admits grinning: “It wasn’t the first day - but one of the first things me and Nick did was decide that we wanted to put a record out by someone else so we just did this little record company, found a band and recorded them and stuck that out. So we sort of ruined it by stopping making music and then the first thing we did was release some other music.”
“The sort of stuff that we take for granted, it was exciting because it was the first time for them. So that was good and I think that helped us get the enthusiasm back.”
The band wanted to do something different with The Future Is Medieval and so designed a revolutionary digital release format with fans allowed to choose what tracks they would like and the order.
Simon says: “It was Ricky’s idea and I think we had to think of a different idea to get going again
“The third album leaked and there was a few bits and pieces of it that just made it an anticlimax and so we really wanted to do something different to everybody else and not just jump on to the conveyor belt again. We wanted to be like…just to do something different.
“We’ve done that thing of you record a teaser song and then you release it and then a few weeks later, you release the album and then you go on Jools Holland and you do this and then you do that and you do a session for this person. It’s like there’s a plan.
“We wanted to break out of that cycle and do something different.”
The Kaisers were delighted with the media response. He says: “Especially the first few days when we unveiled it, it was great, crazy, all on the front pages of newspapers. We got into weird places like the Financial Times who were interested in the idea behind it as well as just the music. So it was great.
“I think that people have got obsessed with sales figures but it did pretty well. Maybe not as well as if we’d just done a CD but then if you see album sales nowadays, like I saw the other day that Rihanna was Number One with less than 10,000 sales. Ridiculous, isn’t it? So you just don’t sell as many CDs or as much music as you used to do which is a shame but that was one of the reasons we thought we’d do something different – because you have to do something different to get people interested.”
Before setting out on this tour, they were all set to squirrel themselves away to write a new record which they hope will be out sometime this year.
Simon says: “We going to get back in the studio and I think we want to try and write a bit more as a band again, just get in and play. But we are hopefully going to have some new stuff by the time we get to the tour.
“Hopefully we’ll play some new songs and then at some point the new album will be out.”
Unfortunately, on their one previous appearance in Preston, headlining the Radio One Big Weekend in Moor Park in 2007, the city doesn’t seem to have left much of an impression.
Asked if he’s played here before, Simon says: “I don’t think so, no. I’m trying to think if we’ve ever played in Preston. I don’t think we have. The Big Weekend? Was that in Preston? Right, OK, it’s news to me. I remember doing that gig though. I don’t remember it was Preston, sorry, that is rude, haha!”