The Kaiser Chiefs scored a first-time-at-the-plate homer with their 2005 debut Employment, but that didn't make the band feel like it had arrived. On the contrary, they felt like they'd been given a valuable opportunity to learn what it takes to be a truly great live band. And considering they were being schooled by the likes of U2, the Foo Fighters, and Weezer—all of whom were eager to take the Kaiser Chiefs out on tour—the Leeds-based musicians couldn't have had better teachers.
“If you go to see a band like U2, Bono isn't jumping around, but he's totally commanding the stage,” keyboardist Nick “Peanut” Baines says on the line from a New York tour stop. “We would watch them from the side of the stage of the stadiums that we supported them at. You could feel the connection and the way it was all about getting the crowd going and making them feel part of it. Then we toured with the Foo Fighters, where [singer] Dave Grohl doesn't let up for the entire show. I don't know how he does it, but he's able to scream forever, and that totally gets people going. When you're touring with bands, both good and bad, you take inspiration from them.”
If the Kaiser Chiefs have a while to go before they're considered for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, at least they've already figured out what separates good acts from great ones, namely that having the best songs on the planet won't help you conquer the world if you're boring as bat shit live. If you were lucky enough to see Baines and company at the Commodore in the summer of 2005, then you know that—unlike many of their countrymen (yes, we're talking about those Peking Man look-alikes known as Oasis)—the Kaiser Chiefs aren't the kind of act that plugs in and then takes root at centre stage.
“You want people walking out of your shows almost happy that their friends who didn't want to go missed it,” Baines says. “You know, so that when they go to work the next day, and everyone asks, ”˜How was it?' they go, ”˜It was fucking amazing—you really should have been there.' I'm glad that people say that sort of thing about us. Even if we're tired or playing a difficult room and we're only at 90 percent, I think we're still better than most bands at 100 percent. We aim to please every single time.”
Far from sounding cocky, the keyboardist comes across as profoundly grateful for the success the Kaiser Chiefs have had. Realizing how lucky they've been, the band's members were determined not to lose their music-biz toehold with the recently released sophomore album, Yours Truly, Angry Mob. The hit U.K. single “Ruby” is the kind of classic Britpop that inspires mass sing-alongs at Wembley Stadium, “Learnt My Lesson Well” shifts from an amusingly bittersweet piano ballad to a Queen-issue stomper, and “Try Your Best” is made for those 3 a.m. comedown moments when the alcohol glow is just starting to fade.
When Baines, bassist Simon Rix, drummer Nick Hodgson, guitarist Andrew “Whitey” White, and singer Ricky Wilson arrived on these shores with Employment, they were part of a British invasion that gave us the likes of Bloc Party, the Futureheads, and Franz Ferdinand. The Kaiser Chiefs' place on a future one-hit-wonder compilation was secured at that time with their breakthrough single “I Predict a Riot”. Their challenge on Yours Truly, Angry Mob is that it's no longer enough to be from the land where toothbrushes are considered a luxury item and fish and chips qualifies as high cuisine. Baines is perfectly aware that, unlike two years ago when the Kaiser Chiefs staged their mega-hyped coming-out party, no one left South by Southwest this year buzzing about the U.K. usurping Montreal and New York as pop's current hot spot.
“The last time we toured North America, there was definitely that feel of a British invasion,” he says. “That died down, but now it's like the fittest have survived, if you know what I mean.”
Notable about the Kaiser Chiefs on Yours Truly, Angry Mob is the way that the group has toughened up. The obsession with pub-rock-indebted new wave is still evident in skinny-tie dance parties like “Highroyds” and “Everything Is Average Nowadays”, but what's more striking about the disc is that the guitars are bigger, crunchier, and harder this time around. There's a distortion-glazed sheen to tracks like “My Kind of Guy”, and Baines acknowledges that the Kaiser Chiefs have indeed gotten leaner and meaner, making one think that U2 and the Foo Fighters taught them more than just how to connect with an audience.
“The plan was to make this record like we sound live,” he says. “We're a bit louder, and we're projecting more confidence in ourselves musically. Employment was an album that was recorded in three different sessions in a hurried state that happened to go on to sell three million copies. What you hear on this album is the sound of the band as we are now. It's a result of touring for two years and of all the bands that we've been inspired by and played with, the places we've been, and who we are as people. It's honest. There's no studio trickery, and there was no sitting down thinking that we have to make a record that sounds like this or sounds like that. It's a strong dose of the Kaiser Chiefs and what we've evolved into.”
The result has cemented the band's status as new-millennium Britpop giants back in the U.K. Baines knows that the Kaiser Chiefs have yet to hit the same heights on this side of the pond, but figures that, thanks to the group's live reputation, world domination is only a matter of time.
“I haven't bought my house in Malibu yet,” he says with a laugh. “But we're able to tour the world and make this work. And what's really good is the fact that we can turn up on a festival stage anywhere and really put on a good show with the energy we put across. People don't expect that when you're walking out onto the stage in Norway at 3 o'clock in the afternoon.”
The Kaiser Chiefs play a sold-out Commodore on Tuesday (April 24).