Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

Pretty Good Year – The Kaiser Chiefs in Rome

Alongside the populist appeal of their songs, there is, without doubt, the fact that the band is part of a Brit-Pop the second coming package. Whether it be spontaneous or cleverly crafted by fashion organs like N.M.E (still considered a musical bible by many Italian indie kids, though the reasons for that would require an article in themselves), ten years on from the days when Oasis, and Blur (and, let’s not forget, bands of the calibre of Shed 7) graced Top of the Pops, a new bunch of British bands are being grouped together suggesting a new and world-beating scene. “There’s something that fits together with us, Maximo Park, Bloc Party, the Futureheads,” Peanut says. Perhaps noting my sceptical raised eyebrow, he preempts the next question: “It wasn’t intentional when we started, but it’s something that has become very apparent. It’s a type of British music again, all these bands have been growing in secret masses over the years, while American music dominated our market. It’s cyclical, and I think that the cycles are getting shorter and shorter, that’s the way with the media, fast everything where things happen much quicker nowdays. There’s a definite British songwriting revival. There’s something identifiably British about what we do”.

It’s an interesting point – the Britishness of what they do. Later, during the show, the opening notes of I predict a Riot provoke pandemonium. It’s a song that evokes the danger, humour, and drunkenness of a Saturday night out in a country where drinks are judged by strength and quantity rather than quality. It seems a far cry from Rome, yet they love it. Peanut, never short of an answer, has a fair idea of why the song works for audiences from Luton to Los Angeles. “We do think about this, more in hindsight really, after the album started doing really well. When you’re writing the songs, you’re doing them in a totally different context to what they become, where you go to Italy and everybody goes nuts. What it is, I think, from analysing what we do, is that the melodies are always poppy but the lyrics are often quite dark. Humorous, but dark, tongue in cheek, taking the piss out of ourselves”.

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 (as part of their European tour, when playing in a riot torn France, the band worried about whether to play the song – they did in the end). Are the Kaiser Chiefs serious social commentators behind it all? “When we write songs we’re having fun,” Peanut says shaking his head slightly. “Nick [Hodgson – the drummer] often has the initial chorus or the hook, or the melody for the first verse, and Ricky [Wilson – vocalist] will go off and write the rest of the song around that, to create a story. Often our lyrics are flowing, with a story throughout the whole song. We’re not hiding behind the humour. We’re ambitious, with big plans. We’ve worked a long time to get here, and we don’t want to stop where we are now, but we’re not masking some kind of U2 type political edge”. Ignoring the, hopefully unintentional, pun, we move on.

Part of the band’s great year was the unexpected privilege of being invited to play at Live 8 in Philadelphia. “It was an honour to be asked to play three of our songs, it was like ‘of course we can do that’, you know,” he says, somewhat safely. And what about the politics of it all? “We try to do things. This is our first album, and with Live 8 it would have been a mistake to get up on our soap-box and start talking about stuff”. And what about the cynics who suggest that playing Live 8 is more than an honour, it’s a sure fire way to sell shedloads of records? Here he stops to think for a moment, not offended in the slightest but rather puzzled. “Of course there’s that. But we were selling records anyway, though. This year’s been our year anyway, so maybe you could take some records off that, or even a lot of records off that, but we’ve been the most sought after live band in the UK this year. Our tour sold out in, literally, record time. That’s what cynics do, they’re cynical about things”. While Snoop Doggy Dogg’s philanthropy still remains suspect in this cynic’s eyes, the sheer certainty in Peanut’s voice when he responds wins me over. Whatever about the political point of it…

If it’s ten years after the explosion of Brit pop, it’s also ten years since the high profile media slagging matches between Oasis and Blur that culminated in their releasing singles the same week. Whether a real rivalry or a great way to capture headlines, the battle of Britpop, as the self-mythologising industry termed it, sold records. It seems to be a feature of the game, in England, that the quickest way to grab attention is to have a pop at someone. While the Kaiser Chiefs have picked up praise from the likes of Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters, and are one of the hottest bands in Britain, in the evolutionary struggle for stardom it stands to reason that there’ll be bands coming up from below them, eager to make some space. A wry grin passes on to Peanuts face when I mention recent stories appearing in the British press suggesting a certain disdain from recent #1 band Arctic Monkeys. Media tussles are inevitably also a part of the Kaiser Chief’s year: “You realise, after a year of doing interviews constantly, how much of a game it really is. We met the Arctic Monkeys in London, they were staying in the same hotel as us, and we asked them ‘why ‘dya slag us off in the NME?’, and they’re kids, you know. I felt weird,” he says, making a face, “’cause I’m nine or ten years older than them. I was almost talking down to them, not because I wanted to, but because, after the year that we’ve had, as I’m talking to them, they’re listening and learning from me – like they were asking about Japan, and we’d just been there to play. So anyway, it turns out that they were asked about us in an NME interview, like ‘what would you do if you had a year like Kaiser Chiefs have had, next year?’, and they said ‘we’d probably split up’, but the way it was reported made it sound like they don’t want to be like us,” he says, not particularly clarifying things.

“You realise now though, how much Oasis and Blur must have enjoyed that whole thing. We’ve learned a lot of lessons. We could easily embark on this ‘Arctic Monkeys are a bunch of twats’ type of thing, but they’re not quite big enough yet [laughs]”. He continues, with just a hint of bile, “They’re billed as an indie band, but we know, from being in the industry what it’s like. You realise they’ve got the same press guy as us, the same radio plugger as us, the same marketing team as us, and yet they’re talking about not wanting to be like us! They’re talking like that, but the people behind them want to sell them as much as they can, and they clearly haven’t got enough staying power as a young band, they haven’t put their foot down. They shipped 90,000 singles, which, if you want to be an indie band, you don’t do. They went to #1. It’s more amusing to me, than something to be worried about. From the inside, I can see why people would take a pop at us. ‘Cause if we say the slightest thing back, it’ll get in the headlines. It works. It’s quite fascinating!” And shamefacedly I smile, looking at the tape recorder on the table between us.

Swiftly changing topics I challenge him about the lyrics to The Modern Way – “Faking it every day”. While, by necessity, most bands do indeed fake it everyday, how far is the tongue in cheek when playing that particular song? “The lines in The Modern Way, that go ‘This is the modern way, faking it every day’ were written at the time when we lost our first record deal, the company folded, and it was singing about having seen it, and really wanting it. At the time we wrote it we had some friends in a band that got signed, and it was like peaks and troughs for us. That “Faking it every day” was singing about not being yourself, about trying to be something that will get you signed, the modern way to get a record deal. We went back to being genuine, playing music, which is what has worked for us”.

What, though, about the fake ages? In various different interviews you’ll find with the band their ages are given as variously 23/24, until you stumble upon one where they admit that in fact they’ve been celebrating those birthdays for some years now. “That’s faking it every day!” he says with a hearty laugh. “When we lost our record deal, the industry is so fickle that we had to pretend that we weren’t Parva, and the age thing was part of that. We hid up in Leeds, writing our songs, and eventually demos got out, when we were ready. You don’t have to give the man everything! Now we’re more relaxed. We’re all 27, apart from Nick whose birthday was last week – he’s 28. By letting the songs get out first, and letting the band come along afterwards it’s all worked out. We’re supremely confident, we’ve had such a great year”.

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