Listen to this track by Leeds-born new new wave quintet Kaiser Chiefs. It’s “Falling Awake” the newest single as taken from their upcoming and currently untitled sixth record.
After four albums in their original incarnation, and with their 2005 debut in Employment that made a splash big enough to provoke Brit Awards and Mercury Prize nominations, Kaiser Chiefs underwent something of a personnel change. After twelve years in the drum seat, co-founding member Nick Hodgson departed in 2012. The band were able to bounce back with a new drummer in Vijay Mistry, and with a new record last year, Education, Education, Education & War. That year, they also played for crowds at the London Olympics, playing “Pinball Wizard” subbing in for none other than The Who.
This year, the band are on the road again, with this single to serve as something of a preview for the awaited sixth full-length record. I got a chance to chat with Nick “Peanut” Baines, resident keyboardist and guitarist for the Kaiser Chiefs about the new single, their current tour, and about how the band is evolving from their mid-2000s original incarnation.
The Delete Bin: This year marks your ten-year anniversary since Employment, your widely celebrated début. In that time, what have been some of the biggest takeaways for you as a group of musicians and as evolving songwriters looking to put out quality work with every record?
Nick “Peanut” Baines of Kaiser Chiefs: The fact that we’ve been able to continue making records is one of the best feelings. We’ve seen many of our peers from c2005 just disappear into the wilderness and never be heard from again, but from the hard work we put into each record and the continuous touring, we’ve built a worldwide name for ourselves. It means a lot to have so many fans around the world that look forward to whatever we are doing next.
DB: Let’s talk about “Fallen Awake”, the single that precedes your upcoming sixth record. It reflects your interests in post punk, but I’m also hearing a groove-oriented dance feel in there as well. How much does this song reflect on what the rest of the record sounds like?
NPB: “Falling Awake” is a song from the sessions we did for EEE&W with Ben Allen. It didn’t make the cut for the record but Ben insisted that he saw something in this song and wanted to finish it with us. It took us a year to get back in the studio together with him but I’m glad we did because it turned out great. I know what you mean about the groove-orientated side of the track. That something that Ben definitely helped us to put into our songs. It stills sounds like Kaiser Chiefs but there’s something a little different bubbling away under the tracks.
Touring has taken up most of the last year so work on writing the new record is about to start soon. No idea whether Falling Awake will be a part of that record or not. I quite like the idea of it being a stand alone single.
DB: Your last record, Education, Education, Education & War dealt with a number of social issues, with a very evocative title to suggest what listeners were in for. Thematically speaking, what can we expect from the new one?
NPB: Unknown at the point as we haven’t written it yet! But the things we write best about are the things we see around us. Social issues always permeate our songs, intentionally or not.
DB: The band has endured the departure of a co-founder, and has seen changes in technology and the way it affects how music is consumed over the past decade besides. What’s kept a band of your stature moving in the right direction in the light of these?
NPB: I think the fact that we battled very hard to get Kaiser Chiefs going has instilled a determination in us all that makes us work hard and always want more. We were a different band before KC and had a small record deal with a different label. That all fell apart and it hit us quite hard. We hid away in Leeds, hatched a plan, worked very hard on the songs and about two years later, emerged as Kaiser Chiefs. We’ve now created something that is bigger than the sum of the five of us and that’s a hard thing to stop.
DB: In the recent past you’ve worked in Atlanta with producer Ben H. Allen III. You’ve mentioned that this period really helped to solidify your identity as a band. How has this affected the way this song, and all of the new songs have come out?
NPB: Working with Ben was a good experience for a number of reasons. Firstly, he’s a great guy and really gets into the songs and starts suggesting bits and changing things. When someone is comfortable doing that and pushing each of us to our creative limits then you know you’re going to get a good record out of the process. The role of a producer is like a 6th member of the band and he played that role well. He wasn’t just there to record songs, he was there to make a record with us. A very different thing.
Secondly, by recording in his studio in Atlanta, the actual recording process was easy as he knew the place back to front. No wasted time trying to get this working or wondering if they studio has one of these FX units etc. Thirdly, I think the sound of a record made in one location, in one long session, is something that the average listener can spot, even if they don’t know it. By working in Atlanta for 6 weeks with Ben, we made a coherent and consistent sounding record, which is not something a lot of modern records achieve.
DB: The band has embraced some non-traditional ways of being heard. Your song “Ruby” was included in Guitar Hero 3, and Ricky has been a coach on the third series of Britain’s The Voice. How do opportunities like these come about, and where do they fit in with raising your profile for new records and tours?
NPB: You don’t become an international touring band without promoting yourselves somehow. You start by trying to get on the radio and the music tv channels, then your music starts appearing on tv shows and video games and onwards and upwards. When you have big rock songs, people expect them to be on guitar hero 3 etc…
As for The Voice, Ricky was approached by the BBC as we’ve done a LOT of music shows with them and Ricky’s personality obviously caught their eye over the years. It all helps with new records and tours because ‘Kaiser Chiefs’ is in people’s minds when they see the videos/an episode of the voice/our song on a computer game.
DB: Many bands would like to be where Kaiser Chiefs are in terms of balancing commercial success with the artistic freedom to create a unique songwriting voice. How much easier or more difficult is striking this balance for upcoming bands today when compared to the days of your debut record?
NPB: I don’t know much more difficult it actually is, because I’m not in an up and coming band, but from what I see and hear around us, it sounds pretty horrific. There’s no building a profile any more, no long term plans. If you have a good song, then get it recorded and get it out there. You might never make an album but it seems that that isn’t the plan any more.
I’m sure the artists would like to make an album but the labels don’t always seem so sure. There are many overnight sensations that disappear as quickly as they arrive. Seems a bit of a shame that everything has gotten a bit desperate.
DB: You’re currently on tour. What are some of the dates you’re most looking forward to? Any places you’ve never played until now?
NPB: We’re about to start our worth American tour up in Victoria, BC and then spend a month travelling through the US. We’re going to some new places like Tucson AZ, Kansas City & St Louis MO, Memphis TN, Chapel Hill NC, Charlottesville VA, Baltimore MD – which will be cool to play to our KC fans there, as well as a load of the usual spots up and down the east and west coasts.
DB: Which of the new songs have been the most fun to play in front of crowds so far?
NPB: Making a new setlist containing tracks from EEE&W and our back catalogue is always a fun and slightly tricky task, but the new stuff seems to fit in really well. We enjoy playing “Misery Company”, “Coming Home”, “Cannons”. Actually, we can play every song from the new album live. We haven’t always been able to say that on previous records so it’s kind of cool to be able to switch songs in and out of the set.
You can catch up to Kaiser Chiefs and learn more about their current tour at kaiserchiefs.com.