THE recent urban violence in Britain has had a peculiar impact on shouty Britrockers Kaiser Chiefs. After several years of gentle decline, the group was thrust back into the spotlight as radio stations, for reasons too obvious to require elaboration, rediscovered their early hit, I Predict A Riot. How does it feel to have unwittingly penned the perfect piece of wry social commentary?
“Our relationship with the song hasn’t changed,” says Nick Hodgson, who inhabits the strange dual role of being Kaiser Chiefs’ main songwriter and their drummer. “It’s about what goes on in Leeds city centre on a Saturday night. It doesn’t mention looting at all.”
Though wary of being seen to have benefited, however peripatetically, from the inner city chaos that swept England in early August, Hodgson will allow that I Predict A Riot has acquired a second lease of life. “There has been a slight resurgence,” he says. “The first time we played it in England in the past few months the response was incredible. It was at (Reading’s) V festival. I couldn’t believe the reaction. It was the biggest response we’ve ever had to the song. And that’s saying something.”
The plain-speaking Hodgson has his own theory as to why British streets erupted into mayhem. Lacking any genuine means of venting their pent up energies, perhaps working class kids were looking for a way to express themselves. Should Kaiser Chiefs ever go on extended hiatus, he says he’d like to open a series of drumming workshops across Britain. If British youth had the opportunity to pound some pigskin once or twice a week, maybe they’d be less fond of lobbing bricks at department store windows, he reasons.
For now Kaiser Chiefs are fully occupied trying to breathe fresh life into their career. With their first two records, it seemed the Leeds five piece could not put a foot wrong. Alongside the aforementioned Riot, they clocked up such beyond-catchy hits as Oh My God, Every Day I Love You Less and Less, and Ruby, a tune that enjoyed smash status across the world. However, the tyres came off when they tried to overhaul their sound, working with Amy Winehouse producer Mark Ronson for 2008’s disastrous Off With Their Heads LP. Soon afterwards, the British music press snidely minted the new genre of ‘landfill indie’, a reference to the thousands of unsold Kaiser Chiefs CDs believed to be bound straight for the dumper.
Rather than going back to the sound that made them successful, Kaiser Chief’s response to the failure of Off With Their Heads has been curious. On June 3, without fanfare, they announced their fourth album, The Future Is Medieval. Initially, the record was download only, with fans invited to pick their own track-list. Many felt the Kaisers were naïve to release the project in such a fashion, including several highly-placed figures at their label.
“We primarily tried it because we wanted to do something different,” says Hodgson. “We knew it was a risk. We kind of enjoyed that. One of the things I’ve always hated is when you finish an album and deliver it to your record label. It sits there for three months, which is really boring. So we thought, ‘let’s spring it on people.’”
You get the sense the band were being purposefully obtuse in putting out an album on the web without any advance promotion. They were fed up, says the drummer, of the media malarky that nowadays is part of making a new record.
“We did have time where we felt, ‘should we just put it out on CD?’ Then we thought, fuck it, we’ve got an idea. We’ll stick to it and see what happens. The recording and the writing and everything is still brilliant. What isn’t brilliant is having photographers in the studio when you’re half way through making a record. And everyone talking about the album and all this stuff appearing on YouTube before it’s finished. That’s not very exciting. So we decided, ‘this time we’ll only have the good bits’.”
The strategy earned the band blow-back from several powerful quarters. “What I learned is that record shops didn’t like it,” says Hodgson.
“And the press didn’t like it very much. They got extremely snide about it. We were trying to do something different. You should be able to do that and not get slagged. We got a lot of good reviews but the bad reviews were mainly criticising what we had done. Which is wrong. You should embrace the change, and then slag the music.”
The band came together in Leeds in 2003. Named after a South African soccer team, they built a loyal local following and had major labels sniffing after their signature. Instead of signing for a fat advance, they opted for local indie B-Unique, which had a distribution arrangement with Universal. Six months later, I Predict A Riot came out and Kaiser Chiefs were all over the radio. This was followed with a hit-packed debut album Employment. Suddenly they were playing festivals and headlining arenas. For a few dizzying years the argument could be made that they were the biggest group in Britain.
It goes without saying that Kaiser Chiefs were disappointed their last album flopped, says Hodgson. At the same time, it’s important to put things into perspective. It was only considered a disappointment because their first two records did so well. Besides, success was in its own way as traumatising as relative failure, he explains.
“I remember not wanting to do Ruby,” he says.
“We’d love another Ruby now. At the time we felt we were losing the people who had been into Kaiser Chiefs from the start. Before the band we’d been indie kids with an indie mentality. Suddenly we’re looking at the indie kids slagging us off. And we were like, ‘oh no, we want to be like them again’. But there’s no going back. That’s what I’ve learned over four albums. Once you’re in the charts, there is no way back. You have to say goodbye.”
* Kaiser Chiefs’ new single Man On Mars is out today.