Kaiser Chiefs: Exclusive interview ahead of Warwick Castle show

'You have to accept there will be ups and downs': left to right, Nick 'Peanut' Baines, Simon Rix,Vijay Mistry, Andrew White and Ricky Wilson. Picture by Danny North
'You have to accept there will be ups and downs': left to right, Nick 'Peanut' Baines, Simon Rix,Vijay Mistry, Andrew White and Ricky Wilson. Picture by Danny North

It’s July 2005, and the Kaiser Chiefs are playing to an estimated one million people in Philadelphia at a concert beamed to billions around the world.

Ten years later, the Kaiser Chiefs find themselves playing at dear old Warwick Castle. Yes, there will be thousands upon thousands there and yes, it’s hard to picture a more perfect summer setting. But to the uninformed viewer, it might seems something’s gone wrong for the biggest British indie-rock act of the century.

And yet, tracing the band’s past decade, the castle show on July 10 may well help seal one of their greatest triumphs. For they appear to be about to pull off a rare feat: a glorious comeback without having gone away. No wonder bassist Simon Rix seems especially enthused about coming to Warwick.

“It’s going to be good – I’m looking forward to that gig,” he said. “We’ve never played Warwick Castle and maybe some new people will come who’ve never seen us before.”

The Kaiser Chiefs came to prominence in 2005. Their debut album,Employment, reached number two in the charts, won the Ivor Novello Award for best album and was nominated for the Mercury Prize. Three singles - Oh My God, I Predict A Riot and Everyday I Love You Less And Less - made the top ten and swiftly became shoutalong indie staples. Their vibrant live performances earned them a place opening the mammoth Live 8 concert in Philadelphia, a show that also featured Kanye West, Bon Jovi and Stevie Wonder.

Not that the band were satisfied. “Making it is weird,” said Simon. “What you realise when you make it is that you never make it. Everyone’s trying to do the next thing. The next album you want to be a number 1, and you want to play a bigger place, and play more stadiums or play bigger festivals or whatever.

“We just thought we were going to do it. Everyone else thought we were mental. We got reasonably old before we made it - most people make it when they’re 18 or whatever. We were about 25 by the time things really happened for us. By that stage, your friends are getting proper jobs and families, and we were still trying to be in a band. But the five of us always believed we were going to do something.”

And they were to do even better in 2007 with Ruby, their first number one single, whose parent album Yours Truly, Angry Mob also topped the charts. Few acts since have so combined commercial success, critical acclaim and indie credibility.

But 2007 was to prove a peak for the band. While their third album, Off With Their Heads, reached a very creditable number 2 in 2008, the 295,000 copies it sold amounted to a seventh of those achieved by their debut. Reviews were becoming more tepid, and it would be three years before their next album, The Future Is Medieval, which scraped into the top 10 and made waves more by its innovation (fans could download their own choice of songs to make their own record) than by its quality. A singles collection released the following year reached only 19 in the charts and vanished after five weeks. The band showed up at the gaudy closing ceremony of the Olympics, but The Kaisers had been deposed. And then their drummer, Nick Hodgson, who had been credited with much of the band’s creativity, left.

“Nick leaving was the turning point,” said Simon. “It gave us a bit of a shock. At the beginning of our career everything went right, and then maybe we had a bit of a downturn.

Kaiser Chiefs performing in Brighton. Picture: Mike Burnell

Kaiser Chiefs performing in Brighton. Picture: Mike Burnell

“But we were still making music we liked and playing good gigs – we never felt like it was a low. We were just getting on with it in our bubble. Nick leaving made us think ‘do we want to do this?’. It was always five of us against the world and one of us was gone.”

So the remaining Chiefs decamped to a barn in Somerset. “We had no drummer and we had no songs and we thought ‘what are we going to do next?’. Just the four of us sat there and made music and were excited about making music again. It felt like the old days. There was no pressure, because there was no band, really.

“The whole of that year, 2013, I felt like we were in a new band – it was like writing our first album, and that was a moment of freedom.”

It also helps to have a lead singer as telegenic and energetic as Ricky Wilson – and when he got the job of a judge on BBC One’s Saturday night show The Voice, mainstream appeal beckoned.

It’s a period Simon seems to recall with mixed emotions. He said: “There was a bit of a dip – some people weren’t aware we were still going. I think it helped to give us a bit of a PR boost, but without a good album, it would have meant nothing for us.

“Obviously it makes him more famous, and in the second series of The Voice we had nothing to sell – we weren’t doing much. The first series, when he first went on it, it made people aware that we were still going and were still good and made people look us up again and opened some doors.

“Ricky’s whole reason for doing it was to promote the new album. It did that and the album was number 1. But it had to be a good album as well. People have done those programmes before and put stuff out and it’s not done that well. It has to be both together.”

Ricky’s new role drew plenty of detractors though, with accusations of ‘sell-out’ thrown loudly at the frontman and the NME opining: “The Kaisers’ star had been falling for some time, and goodness knows where it is now. Underfoot perhaps.”

And Simon had his own concerns. “I thought about that – is it cool, all of that other stuff.

“But I was shocked personally with how little it affected anything. I think in the end people respected him because he was doing what he had to do for the band. It would have affected our indie credentials if we’d come out with a pop album with will.i.am – but we came out with a good guitar record, and people were like ‘cool, they’re back’, and everyone was pleased we were back.

“I got the feeling that everyone wanted us to do well – it was a really nice time. Everyone we were talking to was saying ‘it’s great that you guys are back’ – and for us it was quite insulting because we didn’t think we had gone anywhere.”

The album to which Simon alludes is called Education, Education, Education and War. Its Blair-goading title is evidence that the band’s talent for twinkle-eyed social and political commentary is intact – and its sales and reviews suggest that the Chiefs are returning to their throne.

“What we’ve learnt is that if you’re going to have a career, you’re going to have ups and downs,” said Simon. Quite a few of the bands that we started out with have reformed in the time that we’re still about.

“A lot of artists do one or two albums and then just disappear – there are lots of one-hit wonders, but if you have a career you have to accept there’ll be ups and downs.”

And the band are undoubtedly on an up at the moment. “2004, 2005, 2006, were very very exciting times, hectic times,” said Simon. “There was lots of lots of stuff going on and nothing can ever prepare you for that – you’ve been in a band, playing local places, and suddenly you’re going around the world, playing exciting places, playing lots of gigs to millions of people.

“It is weird and exciting and good, but we’ve done it now for quite a lot of years, so we’ve kind of got used to it in a way. And in the nicest possible way, it’s what we do and we very much enjoy it.”

Kaiser Chiefs play at Sounds in the Grounds at Warwick Castle on Friday July 10, along with Ella Eyre and Professor Green. The following day, the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra play at the castle.

Tickets for the Friday cost £48.50 for adults and £32.33 for children.

Visit www.warwick-castle.com/explore/summer-concerts-at-warwick-castle for more information.