Sometimes you have to jump through hoops to get an interview done without any issue be it sleet or snow, rain or shine, or even a poor land line connection on a Transatlantic call. The latter issue is what occurred when I spoke to Simon Rix, bass player for the Leeds rock outfit Kaiser Chiefs. While there were struggles in the communication it was important to do whatever I could to get my answers because this year the English quintet have had a lot to be proud of.
While mainstream exposure has largely come and gone here in the US over the last decade, Kaiser Chiefs are still a major act in the UK but even in their homeland interest has waned over time. After a big selling debut in 2005, the band continued to tour and pump out albums that over time received mixed reviews and declining sales. To make matters worse in 2013, founding member and drummer Nick Hodgson left to pursue other passions and many critics began to tout this as the end of the band. Instead of calling it quits they enlisted a new drummer, toured extensively and recorded one of their best albums to date Education, Education, Education and War which was released in April. Thanks in part to lead singer Ricky Wilson taking an offer to be a judge on the UK version of The Voice, the band received a new boost in popularity resulting in their first Number 1 album in seven years.
This week the Chiefs make their way here to the United States for a series of headlining shows, including one at New York City’s famed Webster Hall, as well as a slot on the Firefly Music Festival in Dover, Delaware. Through that crackling communication breakdown, I spoke to Simon about recording in America, the excitement behind pushing a band creatively to new heights, and the decision to take part in something that is viewed as so not rock and roll.
Pop-Break: Seeing as your overall popularity is much smaller here than it is in the UK how do you look at the shows you guys play when you come over here?
Simon Rix: We really like coming to America even though we haven’t always over the years come as frequent as we would probably like. Being very popular in England and in Europe we tended to focus a lot of touring over there and didn’t always make it over to America when we were actually gaining some exposure. Now we are really making an attempt to come over here a little more frequently. This will be the second time we have been over here this year and we want to keep doing more because the American fans really are appreciative of us coming over and playing for them. So these dates are something we are really looking forward to.
PB: So where did the decision to make the album in America come from? I mean with a song like “Coming Home” on the record I feel like that is something that should have been either recorded at home or at least largely conceived at home.
SR: Again it goes back to our relationship with America and we wanted to really try a lot of new approaches this time out. We said we wanted to record in America because we had never done that and for the most part we had an all American crew working on this album; American producer, engineer, etc. We in a way wanted to really capture that big sound in the production quality. It’s a big record and we wanted it to sound big. Being in Atlanta, which you know is mostly associated with being a predominantly hip hop-based city, really was welcoming and just perfect for a British rock band to record in. I think one of the things that you find is when a British band comes over and records in like Los Angeles they tend to sound like a California band; that sound is instantly picked up. We try not to do that. So in going to a city so different for a rock band to record in, we were able to catch the essence of who we are on record regardless of where we recorded.
PB: What was the writing process like on this record? With Nick departing I assume that opened the door to new collaborations between each member of the band. I know you and Ricky wrote “Bows and Arrows” together which I think is one of the highlights of the new record.
SR: I think everyone in the band brought ideas to the table as individuals which is great, but we worked together through all those individual ideas. I think this was the first time in a long time that we wrote together rather than apart because over the last few records we all just brought whatever to the table. This time we really got back to what it feels like to write together as a band. I think in a way writing together in different forms made us learn a lot of new things about ourselves. Much like us recording in America we wanted to try new things this time out, so just collaborating in different ways brought out a lot in us that we probably hadn’t noticed before. For Ricky and I, it was like the first time we really got to just get to know each other, which is weird to say since we have been together in a band for over a decade, but it just happens that way some times.
PB: You guys have been saying that this record was like the start of a new band but to me it felt like rejuvenation. There is energy and a feistiness that reminded me greatly of your first record, Employment. There have been multiple reviews that have accredited feisty with politically charged because of your hard working background but it’s not really like that I assume?
SR: I don’t think it’s politically charged. I think that’s kind of critics at times jumping the gun but also looking back on some of our previous stuff that might infer that notion. Songs like “Angry Mob” is more or less us talking about what everyone was talking about at the time not necessarily making a statement about it. I think it mainly comes down to the title of the record because it’s a Tony Blair quote, but for us we all just really liked the title. It wasn’t political in our minds; its more or less relating to going through life.
PB: Would you say the title is very much reflective of what you guys have been going through over the past year? Lots of changes in life and like you said discovering new things about each other?
SR: Definitely. Sometimes when you are writing an album getting the title first sometimes makes it easier to figure out where you want to go with the record. It’s almost like an occupation for the record which kind of makes sense when you think about our first record, Employment (laughs). Like it’s definitely the occupation of the record but with a title like Education, Education, Education, and War you already start seeing themes and ideas.“Bows and Arrows” was really written about ideas of fighting; me and you versus the world; and just getting out there and giving it your best. That’s very reflective I feel of us as a whole because you just have to get out there and fight. We are at our best when we are in a fighting spirit just taking on life.
PB: The album has been out for a couple months now and the overall reception has been pretty great. You also got a Number 1 album out of the deal thanks to not only Ricky’s work on The Voice but just the overall great quality of the record. How has it been for you guys now that it has been a few months since all that?
SR: It’s been great because it had been a really big year last year just writing and being ambitious and trying to bring together something that we could be really proud of. Looking back, it’s a big deal cause of where charts are and where our presence is on radio after the past few years. It’s funny cause the day it went Number 1 it felt almost like we hadn’t finished yet; like I pictured like a finishing line and didn’t feel that way just yet. It makes you feel like you want to keep going and moving on to the next thing and the next thing because it didn’t feel quite done. The best thing that has happened is we have been on the TV a lot in England and been on the radio a lot more. As a band that is something you always like because you want your stuff to get out there for people to check out, and we still after so many years enjoy hearing our stuff when it comes on the radio. So it’s been a wonderful experience this time around and we are just all taking it in.
PB: Do you feel like that this success makes the challenge to make an even better record next time out very important?
SR: Definitely. I think the goal up until recently was just getting this record out there to as many people as possible. You mentioned before Ricky’s work on The Voice. That was presented to us and the main reason Ricky took it and why we all agreed it should be done was because we thought we had a really great record and we wanted to get as much attention for it as we could. It’s been a positive experience although I know some may not see it that way, but it really helped us get out something we really felt passionate about. It’s been great, but the key is to keep going. After we made our first record and went into making the second record, fame was already in place and we kind of stopped learning. The title Education, Education, Education, and War really reflects that. You just have to keep going, keep writing, keep getting better live, and just keep recording. We are currently deciding on the third single from this record but we are also always looking ahead because as a band and just our love of making music you just keep moving forward and keep learning. That’s what I think being in a band is all about.
—————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————- Jason Stives is the Music Editor of Pop-Break as well as the resident Anglophile and Pop-Break representative for BBC America conducting weekly reviews of Doctor Who and Orphan Black. He is currently a contributing writer for PropertyofZack.com and a freelance creative consultant for fundraising and marketing campaigns in New Jersey’s various art communities. He is a graduate of Rutgers University’s class of 2010 with a bachelors in Journalism and Media Studies. When he isn’t attending concerts or writing the great American novel he moonlights as lounge crooner J.M Heavyhart turning the works of Dokken and Dio into Sinatra-esque standards (or at least he would like to be). Follow his constant retweets and occasionally witty banter on Twitter at @jaystives.