Oh my God, I can’t believe itI’ve never been this far away from home (Oh My God – Kaiser Chiefs)
Could there be a better place than Rome to meet Peanut (Nick Baines), keyboardist and frequently designated spokesman of the Kaiser Chiefs? Though it may not seem it at once, it’s a city that could be twinned comfortably with the Kaiser Chief’s native Leeds. Sure, the eternal city has more tourist attractions, single handedly cornering the market on Roman ruins and Catholic churches. It’s all things to all men, the ancient seat of empire, but one thing that it is not is genteel. It’s beautiful, dirty, marble paved and decrepit. It’s bursting with life and soiled with shit. It is, so to speak, as refined as a Saturday night ruck in Rotheram. Images of Italy that conjure up designer labels and shopping are for the effete northerners of Milano – Rome’s favourite son of the moment is, after all, Francesco Totti, the footballer who is as well known for his camel-like habit of spitting at opponents as his technical wizardry. Rome is, as every Roman will tell you, the real thing. The Kaiser Chiefs are on a mission to convince the world that they too are the real thing.
Sincerity, or being genuine is one of the dividing lines between pop and rock, between catchy choruses and real soul, or so tradition suggests. Like Blur before them (one of their acknowledged musical influences), the Kaiser Chiefs have been burdened by accusations of a certain archness, a calculated approach to their music. “You’re making your songs concise,” interrupts Peanut, when I suggest that there’s something slightly manufactured about their winning pop tunes. “It’s not manufactured, that’s a dangerous label to have attached to you, isn’t it? You presume Pop Idol, X-Factor type things, don’t you?” In truth, Peanut, and the rest of the Kaiser Chiefs, in a very friendly way, couldn’t give a toss what your average music hack thinks about their songs, because, after years of struggling and working on their music, this year has, without doubt, been splendid for them. “It’s hooks,” he says, when pushed to pin-point why their debut album Employment [as the Kaiser Chiefs – read on and all will be explained] has made such a connection, “catchiness and hooks. It’s the bit where even if you don’t know the words, you can hum along. Where if you hear it on the radio you instantly recognise it. It’s something that jumps out. Musically we’re quite good together, we gel, but it’s that catchiness. Having a simple chorus, and getting to the chorus, and having the right number of choruses in the song – that’s the strength. The vocal delivery, the structure of the songs is quite conversational, so they’re easy to remember”.
Sitting outside in the still warm November sun, Peanut is in good form: “It’s like two or three degrees back at home now,” he exclaims surveying the beer garden with the happy smile of a Northerner skipping the winter. Success for the Kaiser Chiefs has been measured as much by the places they’ve been this year as by mere record sales. In casual conversation, without any apparent arrogance, he talks about trips to Japan, the US, and now a popular European tour. It’s interesting that the band have had such success, because there is something distinctly local about them. “No, I don’t think so,” Peanut responds when I wonder would they have sounded the same had they come from London.”Not if we came from London, no. Maybe Manchester or Liverpool, the North East. There’s something about Leeds, that Northern sense of humour, that you don’t realise you’ve got until somebody tells you that you have it, or other people start observing in your lyrics. We don’t take ourselves too seriously. We take the music that we make very seriously, and everything that we do, albums, photographs, interviews etc, we want to present ourselves as a good band, but we’re not professing ourselves to be the saviours of anything, you know. As much as we’ve got big plans and ambitions”.
Humour is a handy way to sell seriousness, as exemplified in I predict a riot, which, when you think about it, is anything but funny in terms of its subject matter
Ambition is a given with most bands that grace the pages of the fashion obsessed British music press, but the Kaiser Chiefs have a certain character to go with it. Only a couple of years ago they were a completely different band, Parva, that had been dropped by their record label and had become, to A&R men, untouchables. “You come back stronger don’t you,” Peanut says matter of factly about the dark days. “You fall back and regather, sort of thing. You take a knock like that and it makes you think. The first thing you think is, ‘well, what do we do now?’, and if your answer is to continue doing what you do, then it shows you’ve got the determination. We’ve clearly got that”.
You’d be hard pushed to find a friendlier platinum-disc-selling musician than Peanut, or indeed the other members of the band who float around outside the venue. There is a sense though that they haven’t quite come to terms with the idea that they have succeeded. The ambition and determination remain palpable, only the context has changed. “You always think of targets,” he says (which is an interesting way for a musician to put it), “but they’re based on where you are at the time. In that rehearsal room, without a record deal we wanted to play in London, to make an album that would go top 40! That was what we were excited about, what our targets were. This year, at the start of the year, we were in L.A., our first trip to America!” When mentioning ‘America’ his eyes light up. “On the 9th of January I was walking down Sunset Boulevard in a T-shirt thinking, ‘it was Christmas two weeks ago’, there’s not enough time for things to sink in. Two weeks afterwards we were back in England, doing the N.M.E. tour, and that’s when the buzz really took on. We were the first band on, and there’s that weight of expectation, big things are expected of you and we’ve lived up to it. I’ve not had more than a week off, the rest of it is just tour, promo, travel. You have to take advantage of the moment, not in the sense of milking it, but if you’re on a roll you might as well go with it, no?”
Let’s rewind and reconsider that Rome/Leeds twinning. It’s a half an hour before show time and outside the club there’s a huge queue of hip Roman indie kids, who for the most part will, sadly, not get to see the Kaiser Chiefs as the show is completely sold out. There’s precious little evidence of chip fat or drink-fuelled licentiousness on the part of the crowd. There is a tremendous air of expectation, bordering on reverence inside in the jam packed venue, which can only mean one thing: The Kaiser Chiefs are officially cool.