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Chiefs all mixed up
Chiefs all mixed up

Nick Hodgson misses the "glory days" of music when he would save his pennies and ride the bus to the record store in his native Leeds to buy an album or cassette.

The Kaiser Chiefs drummer and songwriter recalls riding home with his purchase rocking on his Walkman as he pored over the liner notes. Hodgson says all that is lost today, when music can be bought or "borrowed" with a few mouse clicks.

"How can you get somebody nowadays to invest emotionally, personally in music," he asks from his London base.

So, as the Chiefs embarked on recording their fourth album, The Future is Medieval, the band decided to do something different, something daring to make their followers feel involved. Singer Ricky Wilson came up with the grand plan: record 20 new songs and allow fans to make their own 10-track album, customise their artwork and then sell their version via the band's website, earning £1 ($1.52) each time it is downloaded.

The 20 tracks went up on Kaiser Chiefs' website on June 3 and a few weeks later Hodgson is still buzzing. "The idea of just being normal on your fourth album didn't really appeal," he says.

"We always thought (the idea) was a success because it inspired us to write the songs and keep the standard very high because we're putting 20 songs out, which is quite a challenge. You had to be happy with whatever combination of 10 people made. There was nowhere to hide, really."

According to the drummer, the most "included" song is Problem Solved, a typically upbeat burst of indie rock. The track does not appear on the 12-track version released in Australia today.

While the make-your-own-album experiment aimed to put power in the hands of fans, so far the bestselling versions of The Future is Medieval have been made by the Guardian newspaper, UK music webzine Drowned in Sound and BBC Radio 1 DJ Chris Moyles.

"That's not the real Chris Moyles," Hodgson explains. "That was some guy making money out of it . . . there will always be tricksters."

The Kaiser Chief laughs off such minor scams, adding: "I don't think there's a single element of the whole process that has disappointed me in any way. It's invigorating. There are always going to be flaws in the plan."

The band, which burst on the scene seven years ago with the excellent singles Oh My God and I Predict a Riot, spent 18 months "recording, writing and experimenting" in Hodgson's London basement studio, built in the three years since the Chiefs released third album Off With Their Heads.

There was plenty of improvisation in the studio, with Hodgson writing the excellent Starts with Nothing on the floor.

"I remember Oh My God coming out in exactly the same way," he says. "You just blurt it out. You don't know where it comes from but it's out there, and you like it."

Working in their own space allowed for plenty of experimentation but when they needed to hone the songs the band rehearsed for two weeks and then re-recorded the final 20 tracks with David Bowie producer Tony Visconti and Ethan Johns, who has worked with Crowded House, Kings of Leon and Ryan Adams.

"We didn't want to rely on computers and engineers to edit things afterwards," Hodgson explains.

"We wanted to be dead tight and to just put it down with no click (track), just play the songs - and that's what we did. With Tony we did eight songs in five days."

The drummer also helped with the production and has gone on to work with hyped indie band the Vaccines and also the Neat, the first signing to the Kaiser Chiefs' record label, Chewing Gum Records.

While the energetic Wilson takes centre-stage at their gigs, Hodgson is the linchpin of the rockers. Although he learnt guitar, piano and flute growing up, he always wanted to be a drummer.

"When you're a kid no one wants to give you a drum kit," he moans. Funny that.

Inspired by the likes of the Who's Keith Moon, Nirvana's Dave Grohl and the Stone Roses' Gary "Mani" Mounfield, Hodgson eventually got his way and now combines the pressure of writing songs with never missing a beat for the Chiefs.

And he says the choose-your- own-adventure concept for The Future is Medieval will not be an accomplice in the assassination of "the album" - it is just a reaction to the new ways in which people listen to music.

"We're all aware of the fact that people get their music in different ways now," Hodgson says.

"We're aware that people don't buy a CD in the shop, stick it in the CD player and listen to it from beginning to end. Those changes are not to be ignored. All we've done is make people think that there are alternatives."