Kaiser Chiefs: Leaders of the pack

Kaiser Chiefs could just be the next classic British band. But they already know that, they tell Charlotte Cripps
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There is nothing remotely childish about the Kaiser Chiefs' intelligent, indie art- school pop music brimming as it does with energy. But it is hard to take this five-piece band from Leeds seriously as they gather together like schoolboys in the foyer of a London hotel. They are wearing striped blazers with the arms too short and school ties reminiscent of Billy Bunter, but look far prettier. It appears as if they have rummaged through the lost property cupboard of a secondary school and come up with outfits that don't fit.

Kaiser Chiefs' singer-songwriter, Ricky Wilson, 24, has more edge than the others, even with his tweed cap and cheeky grin. "We are like everything you've ever heard but nothing you've ever heard at the same time," he says of their music, which sounds as if Blur has merged successfully with The Clash and Madness. "We are trying to be a classic British band. There has been one every decade for the past 40 years. In the Sixties it was The Beatles; in the Seventies it was Roxy Music; in the Eighties it was Madness; and in the Nineties it was Blur."

The band, formed in May 2003, are actually named after a football team in South Africa, in honour of its former star, Lucas Radebe, who now plays for Leeds United. They have been compared to many classic British bands - including The Teardrop Explodes, The Kinks and Wire.

"Pop's Rubik's Cube has finally been completed," Wilson says, in earnest, about all the different strands of classic British rock that have found their way into his music. "We are a bit like pop magpies fashioning a glittering nest in which to lay our pure pop egg," he adds, making sure I have written down his quote exactly.

"NME will come up with a term for this music. It has got to have the word 'British' in it, hasn't it? How about BritPap," laughs Whitey (guitar; real name Andrew White), who has an indie hairstyle like Blur's Damon Albarn, but looks as if he should be in The Specials, in his black suit and white tie, with cherry-red DMs.

"It's not deliberate, but the thing was that when we started doing this band, we thought about what we wanted to sound like and it was all the those classic British bands with our own sound. But with all the mish-mash of influences, 90 per cent of the audience will be happy," says bass player Simon Rix, curly hair falling over his eyes and looking as if he could be on a Just Seventeen poster.

"It's Peanut [keyboards - real name Nick Baines] who the girls go mad about," says Wilson, pointing at a sweet-looking Peanut - who looks a like a healthier version of the former Libertine Pete Doherty. Nick Hodgson (drums/ songwriter) is absent,missing the interview to be with his London-based girlfriend.

Less than a year ago, Kaiser Chiefs were an unsigned band. Now the boys, all aged 24 or 25, are set to be the band to watch out for in 2005. Helped up the industry ladder by more established fellow indie-band members who recognised the Kaiser Chiefs' talent, The Ordinary Boys were first to bring them into the fold and insisted that their record label, B-Unique, sign them up in August.

Franz Ferdinand also took the boys under their wing, as a support band playing in front of huge audiences both at Brixton Academy in November and Glasgow SECC last month for their homecoming gig. The band is to join the NME Awards Tour 2005 (starting 19 January) with The Killers, Futureheads and Bloc Party, which last year saw Franz Ferdinand at the bottom of the pile. They are off to Los Angeles on Sunday to play and then back again to New York in February.

So Kaiser Chiefs have every reason to be excited. For the past six months, it has been relentless progress. Their debut album, Employment, out in March, is bursting with heavily melodic hits including second single "I Predict A Riot", which reached No 22 in November.

"It is a song about the mentality of lager-fuelled fights after the pubs close on Friday and Saturday nights in Leeds and how frightening it is to get home without having a fist plunged in your face," says Wilson. The first single, "Oh My God", about feeling homesick and uncomfortable in one's own skin, is also to be re-released as a single in February and is already getting plenty of radio airplay.

"It is a lot of work being in a band - travelling all the time," says Wilson about the song. "It is about a feeling of being trapped that you can get in a band. You can also feel like a fish out of water, most of the time, because you are in unfamiliar places," he adds.

Wilson writes most of the lyrics with Hodgson. Now all newly polished and sparkling, their material has been given the magic makeover by the producers Stephen Street (Blur, The Smiths, Catatonia and Suede) and Steve Harris (U2 and Santana). "It is all going so well," says Wilson with an assured confidence. "We have gone through periods when we haven't felt so positive."

The band are delighted with the finished debut album, although they have yet to decide the running order. "Saturday Night" begins with the former Blur guitarist Graham Coxon revving up his motorbike, a Honda Hornet. "I remember when I first met Coxon," says Wilson in a hushed tone. "He said, 'I like your shoes.' Apparently, he said that to Damon Albarn when he first met him, too. What an amazing thing to first say to somebody when you meet them. I remember he then asked me how it was all going? I told him that I found being in a band hard work. The goalposts are constantly moving. When you get to the single, you are at the album - never appreciating anything - not grateful for what you do have - always looking ahead - and he suggested wisely that I enjoy every minute."

The band are all sitting drinking beer as we talk. They are tired because they all had to be up at 6.30am to get visas from the US embassy for their trip to California. "You have to queue up and get in there very early and then after we waited ages, we were missing one document and so we have to go back again tomorrow," says Peanut looking exhausted.

What was life like before the Kaiser Chiefs? "The band all grew up in Leeds and knew each other for a long time," says Wilson. "Peanut, Simon and Nick all went to school together since the age of 11 years-old," he adds. "But we have all known each other for years."

The tour manager, Mike Darling, explains the band's dynamic. "It is not like they are thrown together randomly. Their sound has evolved. The process of making music is natural for them because they have known each other for a long time. They are very comfortable with each other, but not in an over the top way like bands like The Monkees were."

They had all been in different bands before becoming the Kaiser Chiefs. "We were all united with a love of Sixties soul. It was a really good basis for all the music we do now," says Whitey. "That is because it is all about the melody and Sixties soul was exciting and inspired us all to move and dance. Now when we go in to the studio, Ricky or Nick might have a first line for a song - or an inspired moment while we play. But they never arrive with a finished song. We all mash it out together until we are happy."

Why is the album called Employment? "It is a classic British problem," says Whitey. "No, that's unemployment," says Rix. Wilson continues: "No, firstly it is called Employment because this is what we do for a living now. Also because we wanted a classic album. It sounds like the name of a classic album. Employment wouldn't be out of place in a box set with other great British albums by The Clash, The Beatles, Madness or Blur."

What jobs did they have before being in the band? "Whitey was selling rare Beanie Babies on eBay," says Wilson. His friend looks embarrassed. "I went all around Yorkshire and found about nine Beanie Babies and sold them for 50 quid each. I also was a temp in an office," says Whitey. Peanut travelled around fixing people's computers. Wilson had been an art lecturer at Leeds College of Art and Design for a year before the band formed. Hodgson was a DJ in Leeds. "Just over two years ago, Hodgson and I founded Pigs - an indie club night at Hi-Fi, a club in Leeds that we still run the last Tuesday of every month," says Wilson. Rix was a landlord of a pub called Joseph's Well in Leeds, where the band are to perform a tsunami benefit gig tonight. "We were doing a secret gig there initially, as a warm-up for the US trip, but when we heard the news we thought it was a good opportunity to raise money for the victims," says Wilson. "You can feel so impotent when you can't do anything."

The band hopes to help other struggling bands on their way up to the top. "At the moment I would help indie band. The Cribs who are the most underrated band ever. They have just released an album," says Wilson. "You have to do other people favours, like we have had done for us," says Rix. "It is also important that we keep changing and evolving as a band," says Wilson. "My favourite bands improve with age. Often it seems like a lot of hard work, but now it has been worth it in the end. Magic happens when the perfect lyric falls into the perfect melody."

Kaiser Chiefs play tonight at Joseph's Well, Leeds. All proceeds go to the Disaster Benefit Fund for the countries hit by the Asian tsunami. 'Oh My God' is out 21 February, and 'Employment' is out in March, both on B-Unique

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