They're one of the biggest names in indie-dom but, with album number three about to be unleashed, Kaiser Chiefs can still go out on the town without being pestered by paparazzi.
This month sees the release of Off With Their Heads, the third album from Leeds indie-pop quintet Kaiser Chiefs. The record was produced by Mark Ronson, whose makeover of the Chiefs’ ‘Oh My God’ on his album Version (featuring Lily Allen on vocals) proved a huge hit. Although Kaiser Chiefs frontman Ricky Wilson eventually decided to name the album Off With Their Heads after a line in one of the songs, his early attempts at coming up with a good title proved fruitless. Indeed, such was the extent of his frustration, he sought the counsel of a fellow rock star on the issue.
“We went through hundreds of titles,” recalls Wilson, sitting in his room at the Morrison Hotel in Dublin. “We were at a festival, and Jack White came into the room looking for Mark [Ronson]. I said to him, ‘You don’t have any spare album titles, do you?’ And he goes, ‘Oh right… I dunno’. And he left. Then later on, I was stood with him at the side of the stage, watching a band. And I said, ‘Have you done those album titles?’ He goes, ‘Yeah, I left them in the dressing-room.’ I thought, that’s a funny response.
“Then I got back to the dressing-room, and there’s a piece of paper folded in two on Nick’s laptop, with three possible album titles. But we didn’t use any of them!”
Funnily enough, Off With Their Heads does sound like a White Stripes album title.
“Yeah, it does,” Ricky laughs. “He has that Anglophile nature. But sometimes, the reason for doing something is that there’s no reason at all. For me personally, if I listen to the record – which I don’t do every day, I’m not obsessed – I don’t know why it fits, but Off With Their Heads has a kind of thread, where I can listen to every song and that title matches up. I see it as funny; in Belgium they see it as aggressive. They were going, ‘Why are you so angry about cutting people’s heads off?’ We were like, ‘We’re not. It’s just funny.’”
As a matter of interest, what were the three titles Jack White suggested? And why was he looking for Mark Ronson?
“The titles were Hermetically Sealed, Misery Company and Kaiser Chiefs Speak In Tongues. I think he was possibly looking for Mark for some kind of handover of the Bond theme. Cos Mark was doing the Bond theme, and now Jack White is doing the Bond theme. I think he maybe just wanted to talk to Mark about whether there were any hard feelings. Which there aren’t, cos Mark quit the Bond theme for his own reasons. Well, not his own reasons, I think it was one of his friend’s reasons. Well, Amy’s reasons.”
Does Ricky know Ms. Winehouse?
“I’ve met her on several occasions,” he replies. “She’s very nice. That’s the thing; she lets everyone in every single day in the papers, but I don’t think anyone really gets to meet her. Maybe I haven’t really met her. But I think she’s quite sweet and very funny.”
“It’s undoubtedly a strange life she leads; I saw a clip on Youtube a while back, apparently filmed by a paparazzo, and all the shocking footage showed was Winehouse engaged in the scandalous activity of getting Noel Fielding a taxi.”
“It’s odd, they do make a lot of money out of it,” observes Wilson of the paparazzi. “I’m glad they don’t follow us around. They wouldn’t have much to write about. But then again, they follow Amy Winehouse and Lily Allen around and they haven’t got much to write about. So, they make it up. It’s weird. I was telling someone recently about this thing that happened a while back. I was walking down the street in Primrose Hill, and there was this paparazzi guy who I’ve seen outside awards ceremonies. I recognise him, and he recognises me.
“He comes up to me and goes, ‘Alright Ricky? Seen anyone famous about?’ I went, ‘No’. And he goes, ‘I might as well go home then.’ I’m like, ‘Are you not gonna even take your lens cap off? At least flick a couple off!’ But the thing is, maybe at that time I was a bit disappointed, but thinking about it, it’s fantastic that our songs are well known, and our band is a household name, but we don’t generally attract that kind of attention.
“Sometimes I’ll say something stupid when I’m out to someone who I don’t know is a journalist, and it gets blown out of proportion, but most of the time we just keep our heads down and get on it with.”
Why do you think you’ve generally been able to escape that kind of attention?
“It’s cos we’re fucking boring,” deadpans Wilson. “I’ve no idea. It’s a really good position to be in. You have to kind of prepare yourself, because we’ve a got record coming out, so there’ll be more stuff in the papers. Maybe there will be someone taking pictures of me at a cash machine. Do you know what? No one would care if we didn’t have an album coming out. You have to put yourself in the line of fire when a record is released.
“It’s weird when they say, ‘Ricky Wilson walking down the street with a mystery brunette’. And you go, ‘It’s my girlfriend’. It’s fine when you’re just walking down the street like that, cos it’s just pointless. When you’ve got things going on in the world that are a lot more important than me walking down the street, it’s kind of funny. But when it’s totally made up, it makes you a bit angry. It’s like, is there someone just in an office with a list of names down one side, a list of things they’ve been spotted doing, and a list of people they’ve been seen with.
“And it seems they’re just going, ‘Right, him there with that person.’ It’s a bit annoying, cos there’s so much more going on in the world. The thing is, if there’s an article about Amy Winehouse going on a three day bender, or something about Barack Obama running for president, I’ll read the Amy Winehouse one first. I’m normal, I do understand the thing about Kerry Katona and all that.”
Ricky was actually at the centre of a big story a couple of months back, when he weighed in on behalf of Kele Okereke after the Bloc Party singer was assaulted by members of John Lydon’s entourage backstage in Barcelona. The incident – which appears to have developed into a kind of indie Wrestlemania – also saw Foals singer Yannis “The Undertaker” Philappakis (who was subsequently arrested) leaping to Okereke’s defence.
“That was hilarious,” reflects Wilson. “I mean, it was horrible, ’cos some of his entourage were being less than complimentary about some of my friends. I didn’t see the start of it, and I didn’t see the end of it, but I was quite vocal during the middle part. I was in a van, waiting for Kele to get in so we could go to the hotel. Suddenly, we just saw this mass of people. So I ran out, and I had a bad ankle – still do – and I had an umbrella as a walking stick.
“I ran in, and everyone was getting hit, but for some reason, no one had hit me – I think it was ’cos I was too famous (laughs). So I was stopping Kele from getting beaten up, and then I started shouting at Johnny Rotten. I was going, ‘Anarchy! Anarchy! Is this what you want?’ I don’t know why, ’cos it was the stupidest thing I’ve ever done. Of course, I had the umbrella as a walking stick, and he was going (Does Lydon impression), ‘Don’t shake your brolly at me! Don’t bring a brolly into my life!’ I just thought it was the most surreal thing, ’cos I was staring right in his eyes, and it was quite scary.
“So I bundled Kele into the van. Then he said, ‘I’m gonna kill him’, and he jumps out of the van. I had to get him back in. We went back to the hotel, and all these indie kids had been hit; there was proper blood and stuff. It was a proper big fight. Everyone was getting quite upset, and it was a bit harrowing. ‘Cos everyone wanted to meet Johnny Rotten, and he turned out not to want to meet anybody.”
Bizarrely, it turns out that Bloc Party weren’t even playing at the festival.
“Matt and Kele were just on holidays,” explains Ricky. “The thing is, Kele had been onstage with us that night playing tambourine, and it was quite good fun. But then, after everything, I was secretly thinking, ‘That was brilliant. I just fronted up to Johnny Rotten with an umbrella’ (laughs).”
Did he actually punch anyone?
“No, it was his entourage; maybe they’ve got the punk aesthetic wrong,” says Wilson. “I don’t know, I did read the next day that it was unprovoked and that he was signing autographs for fans. Now, he wasn’t signing autographs for fans. It was weird, ‘cos people were approaching him one by one to meet him, and it was like a lottery whether he’d hate you or be alright. There was one member of Mogwai who went up to him, and came back and thought he was great. Then someone else would go up to him, and he’d be like, ‘Who the fuck are you?’ It’s his prerogative I suppose, but I still think he’s a bit of a banana.”
Off With Their Heads is released on Polydor on October 20
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