Few bands are able to strike the balance between cult indie status and commercial viability quite as well as Kaiser Chiefs have. Ever since they detonated onto the scene with 2005’s Employment, the quintet have amassed in excess of six million album sales globally, and have become seasoned veterans of the festival circuit. With their new collection of singles, Souvenir out now, Simon Rix talks to CALLUM FITZPATRICK ahead of their shows at Metro City on Friday, May 18; and Groovin’ The Moo on Saturday, May 19.
What’s the secret to Kaiser Chiefs’ longevity? Bass player Simon Rix says the band have managed to avoid crossing the daunting line into pop-cheese through a constant awareness of musical integrity, which stems from their working-class upbringing and British heritage.
“I think that being from Leeds, and from the north of England in general, really helps because there seems to be an understanding of what’s good, bad and cheesy,” Rix croaks with a harshness he accredits to his visit to Melbourne’s Cherry Bar the previous night. “Even though some people might think that we play bland indie music, I really don’t think that’s the case. From the very start, all the way to our latest release, we’ve always tried to have a lot of interesting stuff going on in the music and we always try out new ideas and sounds, as well as keeping things engaging in a lyrical sense. There’s nothing more boring than churning out another album and song that sounds like the last. You’ve got to keep it interesting.”
The Kaisers Cheifsare famously good at writing the classic British 45. If for some reason Oh My God, and Ruby didn’t push your buttons, chances are, Never Miss A Beat did. But what’s the secret behind being able to output killer hooks and infectious choruses on demand? “I think we have always liked playing gigs where everybody is singing along and having a great time,” says Rix. “Over the last eight years, we have done millions of festivals and I think that’s one of the main things we imagine when we’re writing and rehearsing for new records. We ask ourselves ‘what is it going to be like when we’re playing it in front of 60,000 people at Glastonbury?’.”
Renowned for their explosive energy on stage, touring has taken the Chiefs to all corners of the globe, however they haven’t lost sight of their roots – there has always been something incredibly British and working class that has run through the spine of the outfit – all the way to the iconic image of a stick of rock candy adorning the front of their latest compilation. Sonically, they have openly borrowed from UK new wave and ‘60s beat bands, and their lyrics often surround witty and cynical observations which question the state of society or drop UK-specific pop culture references. Rix says this is a trait the band has “shied away from in recent times”, but was especially prominent in the group’s early years.
“I think that at the beginning, we played on the British thing a lot,” he says. “There were a lot of American bands like The Strokes and The White Stripes around, so we were a reaction to that – we wanted to do something different. But later on, it was just a case of realising that it’s just the way we are – we’re British and we like to bring a bit of northern humour into our lyrics.”
Now, eight years down the track, the group have the release of Souvenir: The Singles 2004 – 2012 on the horizon – a collection of anthems which showcase the band’s extensive and successful singles career to date. “Ricky [Wilson - lead singer] is moving house at the moment, and he was saying that he’s been cleaning out his old attic and found loads of cool stuff that he’d forgotten about, and at the end of it, it was a really nice experience,” Rix explains. “That’s what Souvenir is like to us. It’s like a celebration of what we’ve achieved over the last few years, with some of our biggest songs, all put in one place for people who might not have bought all four albums.”
However he’s quick to point out that it’s strictly a compilation of singles and not a greatest hits, which would feature a completely different array of tunes. “It’s a funny thing for a band to do a singles collection of a greatest hits thing in the middle of their career, but it just seemed like we had more than enough stuff so it felt like a good time. After this, we’re just going to keep going.
“Even though the mass public probably won’t notice the difference, for us, a greatest hits is something you do at the end of your career. This just seemed to be logical because we have a collection of singles, but we also have a couple of new songs we’re releasing.”
These two new tracks, On The Run and Listen To Your Head could be some of the Chiefs’ finest and most ambitious work to date. “We really wanted to make sure these were on an album,” Simon explains. “It’s weird because even though the music industry is suffering and record sales are down, people are still buying albums. If you put a song out on its own, just to stick it on the radio, it gets a bit lost really. We think that the two new songs are really good, especially Listen To Your Head – I think that’s one of our best songs ever. We played it in the set and it sounded it immense straight away, so we thought it would be a waste to just release it on its own.”