Interview – Kaiser Chiefs

SINCE releasing their debut album three years ago there is very little that Kaiser Chiefs have not achieved during an inexorable rise to the status of British music royalty on the back of no1 singles and albums, BRIT awards and some the catchiest anthems in recent memory. We decided to set Yorkshire terrier David Guile on fellow Leeds boy Andrew ‘Whitey’ White. We predicted a riot. Sadly they just had a nice chat about the band’s new album, feuding with Oasis and their laughing stock of a football club.

 “YOU don’t sound like you’re from Australia!” laughs Kaiser Chiefs guitarist Andrew ‘Whitey’ White five seconds into the interview.

 He’s right. In fact, he’s speaking to me five minutes from where I grew up in Headingley, Leeds. Having spent the last few months settling in Sydney it’s the first time I’ve heard a West Yorkshire accent in ages and, coming from the mouth of a member of a world famous indie rock group, it’s making me feel a bit surreal.

 The Kaisers started off by becoming big in Leeds and then steadily taking over the airwaves across the rest of the UK. I’ll admit I hadn’t realized they were so popular over here until the DJs on Triple J began playing new single Never Miss A Beat on a continuous loop.

 I ask Whitey if there was a definite moment when he’d first thought ‘I’ve made it’.

“Well, I definitely feel as though I’ve achieved a personal goal. If we’re talking about one particular moment I’d have to say our homecoming gig at Elland Road earlier this year.”

Was that the high point of your career so far?

 “Yeah, just to be out on the pitch of your hometown club and see all those fans … it was pretty special.”

 My next question was a bit daft but I’m glad I asked it as it turned up an unexpected answer. A hallmark of the Kaisers’ style is to drop into their songs the odd reference to Yorkshire culture. Bearing in mind we share a passion for Leeds United – the band is named after a former club of legendary defender Lucas Radebe – I can’t resist asking if they considered writing star striker Jermaine Beckford into their next album. Whitey chuckles.

 “We’ve not tried that yet. But we did try to get a couple of the Leeds players to contribute on the new album with a few handclaps and stuff. David Prutton was one, but I think he ended up going abroad when we were recording. Andy Hughes was another.”

 I’m surprised at this. I thought Prutton’s only contribution to popular culture was bearing an unsettling resemblance to Frank from Shameless. At the risk of letting football dominate this interview, I move on, asking Whitey who his greatest influences were growing up.

 “Well, if we’re talking about when I was a kid, definitely my parents. And cartoons. And I always used to like Michael Caine as well.”

 How about musically?

“It was always the Manchester music scene when I was growing up. I started properly noticing music at seven or eight, and it was all about bands like the Happy Mondays. I remember being fascinated by this documentary I saw about them in the 80s. And the Stone Roses. I used tobe into my BMXing, but the Stone Roses killed that off for me. Manchester was definitely where it was at. And then there’s Madness as well.”

Trying not to get distracted by a bizarre mental image of a cartoon version of Michael Caine singing House Of Fun I decide this may be a good time to mention their rivalry with a certain contemporary Manchester band. Noel and Liam Gallagher, the two smiling faces of Britpop, have something of a love-hate relationship with the Kaisers and quotes that have been attributed to the Chiefs lead singer Ricky Wilson claim that they are best placed to take Oasis’s coveted place at the top of the UK music scene. I ask Whitey’s opinion on this and get the sharp answer of:

“Ricky didn’t say that.” He’s not annoyed, just anxious to set the record straight. “We actually quite like Oasis. It’s just the media trying to stir things up. We wouldn’t dream of taking them on right now. They’re a lot bigger than us. For the moment, anyway.”

Whatever the Gallaghers think of them, one thing that the band definitely have in common with Oasis is an unfailing sense of knowing where they are from and staying true to their Northern roots through their music. It turns out that this is something that has  developed over time.

“When we started out we began by singing about American stuff, the sort of thing you see on TV, and after a while we realised that it wasn’t working, because we couldn’t relate to half of it, and neither could the fans. So we started singing about what we know instead and it’s worked out a lot better. The new record in particular sees us going back to our roots.”

This brings us onto the new album, Off With Their Heads, the band’s third release. Having just had the record hastily dropped on my desk, I decide it’s best to come clean and admit that I haven’t had chance to listen to it all the way through yet.

“That’s OK, neither have I. The studio haven’t got around to sending it to me yet!

I ask Whitey if this album – produced by Amy Winehouse’s best mate Mark Ronson – will see the Chiefs taking a new musical direction at all.

“Our sound has definitely changed since we started out. The first album was probably our most commercial, poppy sounding work. We felt that the second one showed us having matured a lot more as a band. As for this one, it was a bit of a risk for us, and probably for Mark as well, as he’s not produced a rock album before.“It’s a lot more ‘in your face’ than the last two and hopefully it’s going to do well.”

Having listened to Off With Their Heads, I think he’ll be pleased with the result – at least, if the company ever get around to sending him a copy. It seems to combine the catchiest bits of Employment with the slightly darker tone of Angry Mob, but there’s something else about it as well.I won’t spoil it for you but it’s definitely worth you picking up a copy. So, what does the future hold for Kaiser Chiefs? I hint that an Aussie tour wouldn’t go amiss.

“Yeah, that’s definitely something we want to do. We’ve been trying to get a gig set up in Byron Bay but so far nothing’s come of it. Where are you at the moment? Sydney? That’s obviouslygoing to be on our list. It won’t happen this year but maybe around the start of next year?”

Once Whitey gets going on something he’s passionate about, he will happily talk about it for ages – a simple man with a simple philosophy.

 “I’m just a bloke, really. A bloke who’s got lucky doing something he loves. And that’s all there is to it.”