Roughing it: Andrew White, Nick Hodgson, Ricky Wilson, Simon Rix, Nick ‘Peanut’ Baines in Leeds, September 29, 2008
IN an unobtrusive building on an industrial estate ten minutes north of Leeds city centre a band more used to arena crowds are playing a 30-minute set in front of 20 people.
“Does anyone feel really comfortable?” says Kaiser Chiefs frontman Ricky Wilson, dryly.
It’s a weird set-up.
For 20 minutes we’d assembled in the corridor of this band rehearsal studio not much bigger than your average detached house. Journalists, mostly from northern radio stations, stared at the floor, the ceiling, the studio Alsatian... but not each other.
There are signed photos on the wall, Chumbawamba, Bill Nelson... and even lesser-known clients, none with the draw of the band we’re here to see.
The notice board reveals the space costs £11 per hour to rent. Another warns that broken mike stands will cost you a tenner.
It’s a bit cheap for an arena-size, chart-topping, award-winning band isn’t it?
“We used to come here when we were in Parva,” says bassist Simon Rix, during a post-gig milling session, referring to their original incarnation a decade ago.
“We used to do these years ago when we were trying to get a record deal,” says keyboard player Nick “Peanut” Baines.
Of course, the location of the place they have been rehearsing in for their October tour of the UK and a jaunt in the US next month, is a secret. The Kaisers are roughing it on our behalf.
When we’re finally led into the back room – think a large garage with a high ceiling – Wilson tells us: “Get your ear plugs out, it’s really loud,” before kicking in with eight songs from their forthcoming album Off With Their Heads.
While Peanut would later tell EG that it’s a softer set than previous album Yours Truly, Angry Mob, it’s typically Kaiser material: punchy, singalong, anthemic, new wave-meets-Britpop. Plenty of head-bobbing beats, “oh oh”s and repeatable lines, such as “When the girls stop moving, the boys stop moving, when the girls start moving, the boys join in” (You Want History).
“I’m going to crowd surf in a bit,” quips Wilson before launching in to their next single Never Miss A Beat.
“Lily couldn’t make it today,” he says by way of introducing Always Happens Like That.
“She usually plays guitar on it.”
“They’ll write that,” warns drummer Nick Hodgson.
“Oh yeah, sorry I was joking,” Wilson assures us.
He’s referring to Lily Allen who guests on the album, some of which has been produced by Mark Ronson.
“It was just like having a friend around in the studio,” says Peanut, after the show.
“Totally easy. There was definitely no ego.”
Ronson helped “show a different side to us,” he adds.
“I think it puts us a step away from our peers. It’s not just guitar music. It’s got a better groove to it.”
But still tailored for the arenas?
“You’ve got to have that in mind, the level that we’re at, you can’t just make some concept prog rock album.”
Adds Rix: “This is the first time we’ve played some of them songs to anyone, other than ourselves... and Jesus.”
Rix, curly mop and beard, seems less comfortable with the set-up, by-passing questions with surreal responses.
There’s a track on the album called Tomato In The Rain. What’s that about?
“It’s an image for your head,” is all Rix will say.
Hodgson is more helpful: “I was just singing it playing the drums and Ricky said ‘did you say tomato in the rain’? and I said ‘yep’. And why not?”
It sounds good but it’s meaningless.
“It’s certainly not meaningless. If it comes out your mind... I’ve got a strange mind and everything that comes out of it means something.”
Rix suggested it was a sad image but surely rain is good for tomatoes?
“Not when it’s been discarded and knocked off a market stall, left in the street,” says Hodgson, the self-confessed band controller.
“The market’s packed up, it’s getting dark, starts raining, there’s one tomato left on its own. It’s sad isn’t it?”
For the UK tour which kicks off next week, Kaiser Chiefs will be supported by Nottingham’s Late Of The Pier. How come?
“The real reason is quite boring,” says Rix.
“Someone we know manages them. He told us to go and check them out so we went to see them at the Barfly in London and they were very good.”
Hodgson adds: “They’re brilliant. Bonkers. The most important thing about support bands is that they lift the crowd up. Anyone who has seen Late Of The Pier will know what I mean.”
While that tour by-passes Nottingham, the 2009 area jaunt will be kicking off at the Trent FM Arena.
They’ve a history of good shows in the city, says Peanut.
“I remember good times there.
“Just after we’d got our record deal around 2004 and we’d toured with the Ordinary Boys at the Rescue Rooms, then we did some kind of 6Music show, then did Club NME at Stealth... it seemed like it was the city we were in the most for two months.
“When we came back with own tour you’d got a good feeling before the bus even pulled in. So, good memories.”
Last November it was an Arena sell-out.
“Yeah. I felt like we’d really nailed it, gave people what they came to see. And we’ve no intention of changing that reputation.”
Rumour has it, that during one early Nottingham show the power cut out, everyone cheered and so the band manufactured a sudden stop into each set for the rest of the tour.
“That’s so long ago I don’t remember,” admits Peanut.
“Maybe legend will have it that was created in Nottingham.”
“We did a good gig in Nottingham once at Stealth,” recalls Hodgson.
“It was the first time that we’d had a totally mental gig of our own, as a headlining band. It was December 2004. Everyone went crazy, on the stage, pushing the gear over. It was a good moment.”
Adds Rix: “When we went on the NME tour in January ’05, we were first on. We did a few gigs then we got to Nottingham and it was the first we ever went out and everyone sang I Predict A Riot. Proper mass chanting. I remember coming off thinking ‘that was brilliant!’”
The Kaiser Chiefs will open their UK tour at the Trent FM Arena on Sunday, February 22. Tickets are £26 from the venue, by calling 08444 124 624 or online at www.trentfmarenanottingham.com. The single, Never Miss A Beat, is out on Monday. Off With Their Heads will be released October 20.
Listen to more interviews at thisisnottingham.co.uk/entertainment