Before you ask, it turns out Kaiser Chiefs weren’t big fans of their last two albums either. “Maybe the last couple of records we haven’t delivered the goods,” admits bass player Simon Rix. “I think there’s some good songs but I don’t know if they’re the best albums, so I felt like we had something to prove.”
Another reason to feel they’ve got something to prove is the loss of their drummer and founding member, Nick Hodgson. For most bands, that wouldn’t be such a big deal: find a new drummer, put out a press release, make a Spinal Tap joke and move on. But Hodgson wasn’t just their drummer, he was their principal songwriter – the one who often came up with the ideas before passing them on to frontman Ricky Wilson and the rest of the band to finish off.
“He was actually the person who was the linking between all the components of the band, you know? He left, so that was an important thing,” Rix says with understatement. “But I think now in hindsight it was a great shakeup. Something really big happened and it was like, ‘Wow, OK, what’re we gonna do?’ It was an opportunity, I think, for us to start again, like a clean slate – to do something different and push things in a different direction. I think also with the jeopardy that was caused by Nick leaving, it reignited our hunger.”
That new start has resulted in Kaiser Chiefs’ fifth album, Education, Education, Education & War. ‘War’ is an apt description – several of these songs sound like battle cries, calls to arms. “We’re at our best when we’re a little bit angry,” says Rix, “and we’re also saying something about society and life, modern life, that’s when we are at our best; when we’ve got something to get off our chests.”
After Hodgson announced his departure there were several awkward months when they still had shows to play before they could get on with this new beginning. “I think it’s easy if you fire someone, but because he went very amicably there’s lots of contracts and various things that had to be sorted out. We were just waiting around, really, because the four of us wanted to get on with getting on but we had a little bit of waiting around to do, so that was frustrating and a couple of us did some other things in the meantime.”
Those other things include Wilson’s surprising move of signing on as a judge on the UK version of The Voice, where he sits alongside Kylie Minogue, Tom Jones and Will.i.am. Not everyone in the band was sure it was a great idea, but Wilson convinced them, explaining it would get them back in the attention of the mainstream audience they’ve always wanted.
Right from the start, Kaiser Chiefs have been a pop band with their eyes on the charts, one who would perhaps have been more at home in the 1990s when they could have tussled with Oasis and Blur for a space on the front of NME. Instead, they’ve lacked competition, having gone straight to the Mercury Prize shortlist with their first album, Employment.
“When you’ve done it and you’ve had hit records and played lots of gigs and been given lots of awards, lots of praise, maybe you lose that hunger a little bit,” says Rix. “I’m sure I didn’t mean to, but I think we all did a little bit. I think we regained it; suddenly we had something to prove again – that we could do it without Nick. And also, I think because it’s our fifth album, we’ve done it for ten years, a lot of bands fall by the wayside and I think we suddenly realised we had to step up and we had to prove that we still were the best band around.”
Education, Education, Education & War out now through Liberator.