When former Kaiser Chiefs drummer and main songwriter Nick Hodgson left the band, they got the chance to reform and start anew. Their fifth album «Education, Education, Education & War» is the output of said turning point. Before their show at X-Tra Zurich, keyboarder Nick «Peanut» Baines and drummer Vijay «VJ» Mistry found time to chat with Negative White.
VJ, last year you became the new Kaiser Chief. How did the fans react? Did they welcome you nicely?
VJ: The fans have been amazing! I was expecting a lot more in the way of you know «Who the hell are you?» Right at the beginning when there were pictures of me and the other four it was fine. But in case there was a picture of just me it got the outcome of «Where’s Nick? I miss Nick…» but then gradually that disappeared. And this year so far it has been like nothing. So I think, I’ve been fully embraced. Obviously the people in the band are important to the fans, though ultimately what’s important is the music and Kaiser Chiefs as a group.
When Kaiser Chiefs asked you to join in, you were still playing for another band called Club Smith. What did they say when you told them you wanted to leave to join Kaiser Chiefs?
VJ: They were obviously upset that I would have to leave but they always were happy that I’ve been given such an opportunity. The two bands know each other. Peanut and Simon know the rest of Club Smith really well as well. So it’s not like just a random band coming from nowhere. Kaiser Chiefs were nice enough to take Club Smith on tour before, that’s how everyone got to know each other. But it’s weird because it came to a certain point with Club Smith where we tried a lot of stuff. It got to the stage in a way we sort of decided we weren’t going to tour anymore. We may write but not touring intensely. So it came to a natural conclusion anyway. The timing was just pretty much perfect for me. Those guys carried on writing. They’re still writing now, they just don’t tour anymore. So it’s pretty much what we planned anyway.
Nick Hodgson was not just the drummer in Kaiser Chiefs he was also the main songwriter. How do you write songs now? Do you sit all together in a room writing?
Peanut: Yes, the way we wrote the last record is how we wrote the first two records. Kind of all together in a room. People had bits and parts of verses and choruses we would record something we would go listen to it at home, go back and revise it «That is too long. That is a good bit». In the early days Nick was like a big part in terms of the ideas but then we all made the song in the room together. And I think that’s what made the first two albums sound so good and so successful. And then yeah, things changed as years moved on. But I think when Nick decided to leave and we decided to continue there was kind of an excitement about getting back to the original way of writing again. In a room with ideas on guitars, keyboards with a bass line, whatever it is, just some part of our sound. And you build a song very quickly from there. Ricky started singing something a bit random at first and than after 20 minutes there’s a little sort of melody there and a little chorus bit there. That’s how we do it now. Everybody has a job and an identity in the band. It’s the five of us together that make the Kaiser Chiefs sound. And it feels good because it’s important for all members of a band to feel part of the writing process because you then feel part of every song. And I think that helps a year down the line when you’re touring and decide what songs to play live. You don’t really care in a way, because you care about every song equally.
One of my personal favorite songs of the new album is Meanwhile Up In Heaven. You played it often at Summer festivals and even before. But I noticed, recently it’s no longer on the setlist and there’s a lot of changing in the setlist in general. Why is that?
Peanut: Yeah, the reason is that we can actually play every song from the record live. And we haven’t had an album like that since the first album. It’s just a case of giving all the songs a chance. There are songs we’re constantly switching out like Bows And Arrows and Cannons or Factory Gates. And it’s a good position to be in, because we feel confident about playing all ten songs of the record. And long before VJ was in the band, I was kind of, not disappointed about, but I regretted the fact that we couldn’t play all the songs live but fans kept asking… Next year we’ve got a big arena tour in the UK. So at the moment we’re working on lots of old songs to mix it with the new songs. We’re making sure to keep every show fresh and put a varied set together.
VJ: Yeah, It keeps things interesting. Especially when they tell me to play a song I don’t know how to play! (all laughing)
Critics often seam to appreciate the new album for not just consisting of catchy «Na Na Na Na Na»-lyrics, but to have a deeper side and being more political. Do you agree or how would you describe the album yourself?
Peanut: I think politics is like a soap opera. It’s like not real. Someone was writing their speeches and when you see a politician on TV, they’re normally like actors. I think that became more and more the public’s opinion of politics. «Are they real people? Who would do a decision like this?» And I think the public’s frustration is higher then ever. So I think a lot of that is Ricky particularly writing in the lyrics. He writes about what he sees and what’s around him. And also it’s been the 100th anniversary of the start of World War 1, I think that was in Ricky’s mind too. In England particularly and obviously all over Europe there were all kinds of ceremonies and commemorations. I think that all was in Ricky’s mind in trying to theme the album. It’s not a war album at all but it takes it’s inspiration of what is in the social consciousness.
Ah, I see. Well since the other very present word in the album title is education, I was wondering if you were good students at school?
Peanut: Yeah well, I wasn’t a rebel. But there were times we did some silly things. When we were 16 we had some student’s travel cards so we wanted to fake them saying we’re 18. And in the library they had like a stamp with the school name and logo on it and I stole it to stamp and verify the faked cards. And it worked. The cards worked for the bars. (laughs)
VJ: I was just lazy. At university I was just really lazy. I lived in these flats on the first year, my room was on ground floor next to the front door and my classmate was living in the next building. Every morning he kept knocking at my window to pick me up. And about the third week in the first term in the first year, I put a sign at the window saying «I’m not coming into lectures» an that sign didn’t come down for the entire first year. I didn’t go to any lectures in the morning. So yeah, I was really, really bad.
But you still graduated?
VJ: I graduated but my degree wasn’t as good as it should have been.
While I was researching for the interview I found an interview Ricky did with a Swiss newspaper in the year 2007. In that interview he said there are only three bands leading the british idie-rock scene. Can you guess which three bands he named?
Peanut: He said Franz Ferdinand. Well maybe Arctic Monkeys? And…?
VJ: I bet he said Kaiser Chiefs!
Yes, exactly! You got all three correct. I was wondering what do you think, today is it still the same three bands leading and dominating?
Peanut: I think even in 2007 the bubble was bursting a little bit. The scene was changing already. So the survivors then are still the survivors now, I think. And you can see that in Europe, when we go to a festival in Hungary or Croatia or somewhere, then Franz Ferdinand will probably be on the bill and play a day before us or The Killers who are a very british influenced band and broke in England first. And I guess I’d say Kasabian and Arctic Monkeys. And yes, it feels like the survivors are still the same.
VJ: And even in 2007 like Peanut said the scene progressed and there were a new kind of bands who were gonna take over the world and some just came and gone. And in the meantime those three bands that Ricky mentioned are still going. So yeah, I think he’s right!
Peanut: I think it’s because especially outside of England people are very loyal to good music and good bands. We’ve experienced that all over the world. And that’s part of why we want to put a good show every single time. Because that’s what you get remembered for, I think. «What did you do at the week-end?» – «Oh, I’ve seen Kaiser Chiefs! So fucking amazing!» I want every person in the room on every gig that we ever played to say that! And I think because we try to achieve that and do achieve it a lot of time, that’s why we would make that shortlist of being a good live band with good songs.
Can you recommend me any good small bands you know, indie-wise or not, to watch out for before they succeed breakthrough?
Peanut: Well small, ehm, what we’re currently listening to is…ehm…
VJ: …Oh, Teleman!
Peanut: Yes, Teleman! They were recently supporting us. They’re really good. The singer has a great voice!
VJ: And really strong melodies!
Peanut: Yeah, yeah. They play really quiet and gently to create a really nice big sound. It’s nice to hear a band like that. I was at their soundcheck thinking «Oh, how beautiful is this song!» So yes, they’re a good band. And a band called Eagulls, I like them a lot!
VJ: I really like a band from Leeds called Hawk Eyes. They’re great. They’re kind of a bit more metal. But they’re really good.
Peanut: Oh, and a band called Pulled Apart By Horses. They spent a lot of time writing their recent record and it sounds just great. My mate produced it and it’s really good. I enjoy listening to it a lot. It’s a band you can tell on every song on the record they did. They made quite a complex album. When you listen to the record you can hear that they got better here and better there in their sound. So yes, they’re really good.