Just over 12 months back I spoke to the Kaiser Chiefs Simon Rix on the eve of the release of their last album, Duck. We talked more music than about his beloved Leeds United, but this time round there was a lot more to reflect on – and to celebrate.
Its a year since the release of Duck – Were you pleased with the reaction?
The short answer is Yes. The longer honest answer is it’s hard to work out how to measure success. I was pleased because people seemed to like it as a complete record and there was a good reaction to the new songs live. As with everything in the world things have changed since we first started releasing albums, but because old habits are hard to shake, I’d always like to have a few more sales and the fact that Ed Sheeran was STILL streaming a trillion a day meant it couldn’t be number 1. But I thought the reaction was good.
It was certainly proof that there’s still a market for “indie” music – DMA’s, Gerry Cinnamon et al are selling out stadiums despite getting next to no air play – this was your point at the time…
Yeah, luckily people like watching people play guitars, obviously the current situation changes life in many ways but we’re still getting lots of offers to play, both for this year where people are trying to work out how to do things differently and for next when they hope gigs might look a bit more like they used to. And the tickets are still selling. Solo artists have seemed more active during lockdown, plus I don’t know because I’ve never been to one, but I presume there’s more scope for social distancing at a Sam Smith gig than an Idles one. So we’ll see what happens next.
You were adamant at the time that you’d keep making albums. Duck took three years as a process, have you now started again, or has social distancing made new material impossible?
We don’t have one person who does the bulk of the song writing, It’s a team effort so I feel like it’s always going to take much longer than for other bands. We did write one new song in lockdown, which we performed live at the end of the “Not Playing the Hits” Brudenell gig; I don’t think it’s our best ever, but it was a worthwhile experiment. I think through these Covid times we’ve tried to do some different things for instance, the mini gigs. It’s been interesting to work out how to be a band when we can’t all be together. The timing is odd because finally 4/5th of us live back in Leeds now which was meant to make life simpler, but as per Leeds United, nothing is easy. I think the challenge is to work out how we continue to be Kaiser Chiefs in this strange time. Despite all that, I feel that we possibly needed a bit of a break, to not do gigs, relax and do the garden. At some point we need to make another record. Tour. Do festivals. To work out how and when that’s possible. I’m quite relaxed about it though for the moment. There are bigger things going on.
Do you think home recording is still for demos, or is it now “the future”?
I think we already knew that you don’t need an expensive studio, producer etc. We enjoy things like the luxury of residential studios and generally we pay to make our own records and hand them into the label nowadays, so we can make them where we want and take as long as we need without someone else getting involved. However lockdown has forced us to actually do it ourselves, use little home set ups and think outside the box. Personally, I’ve loved that. There were times when I think we were all impressed with how good we can be without any whistles and bells, even when we for some reason attempted a Queen cover. I don’t necessarily think that it will change in the future. But it’s nice to know we can.
You’ve kept yourself busy lock down as a band, streaming live shows. A new model seems to be emerging with one off shows and virtual tickets – do you see that being something you’ll look at?
Personally, I feel the music industry has shot itself in the foot. Years of deals that don’t benefit the artists have left us with a situation where basically gigging is the only way to make money. Everyone is happy to pay to watch football on the TV, but shows – I think people have got used to that content being free, to the extent that it feels wrong to suddenly ask people to pay for it. I enjoyed our home gigs, but I don’t think anyone is paying the mortgage with them. In terms of actually live – one offs can’t work, because artists need to tour to make money, venues need artists to do the circuit to stay open and the whole thing feeds into the local community and economy. On the other side there’s so many questions to answer before that can happen. Tour buses currently seem like a different concept.
In the meantime, “real” venues have had to seriously diversify or risk closure – Do you think that the powers that be in government could be doing more to help grass roots venues?
The live music industry in the UK is worth £5.2bn to the UK economy annually. To me that sounds worth investing in; it’s different to Arts Council funding for opera and ballet. I understand they need support but that’s because actually they don’t make financial sense with the numbers of people that are interested. With the live music we are talking about supporting something that will pay back, from nipping to the Brudenell for a band and a pint, to dinner and then Peter Andre at the arena. So let’s support it through this tricky time so everyone can continue to reap the benefits on the other side.
Finally, music wise, tell us who the band really want to collaborate with, but never have?
It’s a good question. We all like different things which is why these kinds of decisions are always tricky. Chemical Brothers would be a nice one to tick off. Those guys are still great.
So…a year ago we were reflecting on your Elland Road gig, which was a great day, touched by the disappointment that the club had failed to return to the Premier League. Were you relishing, or dreading the new season?
I was looking forward to it. Bielsa was the key really. If he hadn’t agreed to come back, I felt like we were doomed to return to previous form. As soon as he signed up I think we all presumed we would be there or thereabouts and that hopefully we could learn from mistakes of the previous season. I said at the time that the gig seemed weird as it approached, the promotion hadn’t happened and our album was delayed, but after the fact it was a bit of a moment, a chance to draw a line under the previous 12 months and for everyone to concentrate on the future. As we now know, everything was alright in the end.
At what point in the season did you really start to believe that promotion was a genuine possibility?
When West Brom lost to Huddersfield…Seriously, I was pretty confident about going up all season. Maybe not winning it, but we were playing well most of the time and snatching enough results that could go either way, even during the blip.
When lock down happened and I would have been happy with doing it via Points Per Game, but I’m glad we were able to finish things off in style. Again, at the restart I felt sure we’d go up: realistically, it was two out of three. Winning it has been a really nice bonus. It always felt like unfinished business that we scraped out of league 1 in 2nd place.
Deep down, did you ever have any doubts?
Basically, all the time. It was two years of stress. Just something there niggling all the time. I’m looking forward to a more restful season next year. Be happy to finish somewhere in the middle. Above Villa. And preferably Man U.
How did you feel when it was finally sealed – Joyful? Relieved?
It was a definite anticlimax. All those games. All the talk about players, managers, administration, EFL, refs, Ken Bates’ hotel, Cellino’s unlucky number.. and when we go up, I’m watching Huddersfield. I mean there’s a chance I could have been away and unable to make Elland Road, but it seemed a massive shame that we didn’t get that moment to celebrate together. But equally we’re up and in retrospect I don’t care about how it was celebrated, or who did or didn’t see the trophy on top of a bus. We are in the top division again. Let’s just stay there.
Personally, I think Pablo Hernandez or Stuart Dallas were probably my players of the season – who would be yours?
I think it’s great that Kalvin isn’t really mentioned. Or Ayling or Klich, both of whom shone last year. It’s not even that they were bad but that other people stepped up. Dallas for sure. He played everywhere and looked solid throughout. Ben White also had an outstanding season overall. But I think Pablo, just because in the end he dragged us over the line. Considering he was only able/allowed to play half a game at a time in the last 9, I’d say he was man of the match in most. Plus, he’s old enough that he could have his feet up back in Spain by now, so it’s even more impressive that he can cope with the pace of Bielsa ball.
It’s such a shame we couldn’t all celebrate together as fans – what did you do to mark the occasion?
I didn’t think anyone was going to help us out, so I made no plans that Friday night apart from keeping an eye on the West Brom game. I really didn’t know what to do with myself. I got on the phone to the people I usually go to Elland Road with, but we were spread out around the country, so ended up having a beer with Peanut. To be honest, I didn’t think I’d really marked the occasion well enough, till my partner told me I’d basically be out drinking or at home drinking for about 8 days in row. I really enjoyed those last two games, the shackles off, watching Leeds playing great football with no pressure. The perfect way to see out the EFL era. Let’s never do it again!
How do you think the Premier League will handle Leeds? We’re a very different sort of proposition to Burnley, or Crystal Palace?
I’m not sure the PL is ready at all, for the fans, or for Bielsa. It’s going to be really interesting. I think everyone has seen how we play this year, so they’ll have their game plans. Hopefully less teams will want to sit back and try and waste time and then nick a goal. I’m mainly looking forward to not playing Millwall and Barnsley and Huddersfield and all those other “derbies” that I don’t really care about, but means the opposition raising their game. Sometimes we’ll be the underdogs. But having Bielsa, I think that’s a great position to be in.
Marcelo Bielsa, god, or legend?
Someone sent me a link to Bielsa’s priest thanking him in church on the Sunday after promotion. I feel it’s probably a bit off putting for him, having his boss sat there while he’s trying to work. Does that answer the question?
Finally, it’s been the strangest time for everyone, and it seems fitting that Leeds would be promoted in the most unique circumstances ever. Do you ever wish things would be normal?
I keep saying it’s all so Leeds. Nothing is allowed to be perfect, never easy. On the other hand I think there’s something in people questioning whether we would have gone up with the fans in the stadium. Would we have won that game v Barnsley with everyone on Bamford’s back for missing a chance? Anyway, it took a global pandemic but it finally happened. As I said before thanks for the EFL memories, there’s been a lot of them. But I’m very, very happy to be out of it.
You can listen to Duck here.