Mob Rule: An Interview with Kaiser Chiefs

Dan MacIntosh

Keyboardist Nick Baines explains the rise from peanuts to festivals.

In many respects, Kaiser Chiefs are a throwback to wonderful old British Invasion bands, like the Who and the Kinks. They write catchy songs, which they perform with sincere spirit, yet they are entirely contemporary at the same time. Their debut album Employment won them a place in the hearts of those who also love similar next gen new bloods, such as Hot Hot Heat, Franz Ferdinand, and the Futureheads. The act's second CD, Yours Truly, Angry Mob, continues where its debut left off; it's a second helping of hyperactive musical fun.

Keyboardist Nick "Peanut" Baines is in New York City to promote his band's new disc. He may not be the high-jumping performer vocalist Ricky Wilson is, but he is nevertheless a delightful man -- even with the odd nickname.

"When I was ten years old in school, we had to draw pictures of ourselves in class -- I don't think I was ever meant to be an artist," Baines recalls. "My head looked like a peanut. It was ridiculous. And the nickname stuck ever since." But does his dome still resemble Mr. Peanut? "No, that was only in the picture," he asserts.

Heading back to the music, the new Kaiser Chiefs album was produced by Stephen Street, who has also worked with Blur and the Smiths. Now that Street has participated in both Kaiser Chiefs CDs, it looks like these guys have forged the perfect producer-artist fit.

"He did half the tracks on Employment," Baines explains. "Although he expressed an interest in doing the second record, we felt like we wanted to change and move away from the producer, which is kind of natural when you get ideas for a new record. And then we suddenly realized that he was great on the first record. He's a great producer. His track record is amazing. He wanted to make the record, and we like him. So, yes, we worked with him again and it turned out great."

The first CD was titled Employment, and Kaiser Chiefs sounded a little new to the job. But this latest recording finds them coming off much more comfortable in their work boots.

"Being on the road nearly two years for Employment, we've become much more confident and a bigger sounding band," asserts Baines. "We sound more like a big rock band. So when we were in the studio [this time], that was the natural sound we wanted to capture. It sounds a lot more confident -- like a band that's progressed – especially if you listen to Employment and then Yours Truly, Angry Mob. Hopefully you'll hear the progression in how we've evolved as a band, but that we also haven't lost our identity, which is very important."

In case you're expecting a series tracks about bottle-throwing malcontents, Yours Truly, Angry Mob is by no means a concept album for rioters. It does, however, fit together well as a collection of songs. Nevertheless, what does the title mean, anyhow?

"In a way, I can't really explain it," Baines struggles. "The 'Yours Truly' is how you sign off a letter. People want an explanation of the title because it's quite provocative; the title makes you think and it's open for interpretation. It wasn't a concept or anything like that -- where the album title came first and the songs came afterwards. It suggests that the songs that are on the record are meant to be listened to as one collection of songs. It's a moment in time and a snapshot of where we are at the moment. It's kind of just an inviting sort of title that makes you think. Some people will make their minds up one way; some people will make their minds up another way as to what it means. But at least it makes people think. It's not a bland title, [such as] "eponymous", which is a lazy way of doing it.

"[The mob] suggests a group of people, but we are not the angry mob," Baines clarifies. "The subject matter of the songs is not necessarily things that we've experienced. Our opinions are often observations we've made about how other people act and how other people conduct themselves in everyday life. The lyrics are very conversational. There are songs about love. There are songs about the changes that happen to our lives. But it's definitely not an album about being famous and how you wish your life was normal again, or anything like that."

Whenever Kaiser Chiefs write songs, it is a group effort. Surprisingly, this songwriting process begins with the man on the skins.

"Nick [Hodgson], our drummer, plays all kinds of instruments," Baines notes. "He plays drums, but he plays guitar and piano as well. He comes up with the melodies, and we'll come up with the verse with the lyrics and everything or maybe a chorus including the lyrics. Then he'll take it to us again in rehearsal where we'll work it out; we'll all sort of gradually make an arrangement out of it. So Nick's kind of the songwriting starter, and then -- as a band -- we put the Kaiser Chiefs sound to it. There's no doubt that Nick is sort of the main songwriter. But he never finishes a song by himself. What comes into us is in a very unfinished state. It might just be a chorus or a verse. Then we have to agree if the song makes us feel how we want it to make us feel. But we work very quickly. We don't spend weeks on one song. The lyrics are the one thing that -- in the end -- takes a little longer to refine."

I caught one of Kaiser Chiefs' multiple Los Angeles appearances, but it was not under the best of circumstances. Rolling Stone put the show on and gave away tickets to anybody that wanted them. Many folks were just there for the free show, not because they dug Kaiser Chiefs.

"I remember that show clearly because we'd been to The Avalon earlier, maybe in the summer," Baines thinks back. "That show at The Avalon was in October or September. We'd been there on our own tour and I think we'd had OK Go supporting us. I forget. It sold out and it was amazing. We thought, 'It's brilliant on the West coast of America! We sold out The Avalon!' The place was going nuts, you know? When we got offered this [second Avalon] gig, it was kind of a warm-up. We went on tour with the Foo Fighters a day later. I thought, "Yeah, this would be a nice kind of warm-up show to get us going." But it was a corporate thing for a room full of people who didn't seem to like music. It was an atmosphere where we didn't really enjoy the show at all. I remember that. I don't remember many shows that we really don't enjoy. And that was one that sticks in our memory. Obviously, we got to where we are because we like to put on our show and give 110% every gig. We feel disappointed if we don't get the crowd going, but that crowd ... I don't think anything could have gotten them going."

The next time Kaiser Chiefs make it out to Southern California, it will almost certainly be a better experience for both band and audience. That's because the group will be at Coachella for the first time, a festival famous for attracting hardcore music lovers.

"We'll have had a month of being on a North American tour by then, culminating at Coachella," Baines notes. "We'll be tight. As a band, we'll be playing well by then." And maybe the mob will be less angry and more excited.

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