The West

Chiefs get their mojo back
Kaiser Chiefs. Picture: Supplied

Kaiser Chiefs singer Ricky Wilson fondly recalls pulling an all-nighter with bassist Simon Rix after attending the Leeds Festival back in the late 90s.

The then-new bandmates in Chiefs predecessors Parva were "worse for wear" on an early morning bus when Wilson spotted a friend in a suit en route to his day job.

"I remember thinking 'I never want to be on this bus going to work. I always want to be on this bus leaving a party'," the 36-year-old laughs from London.

"We'd just been at this festival on the wrong side of the barrier, or what I deemed to be the wrong side," Wilson adds. "I didn't want to watch the show. I wanted to be the show."

He didn't have to wait long. Kaiser Chiefs notched up a string of UK hits, including I Predict a Riot, Oh My God and the chart-topping Ruby in the mid-Noughties to quickly establish the Leeds quintet as festival favourites and standard-bearers for jolly British indie-rock.

Their debut album, 2005's Employment, sold more than two million copies in the UK alone, while the follow-up, Yours Truly, Angry Mob, topped the UK charts and climbed into the Australian Top 10.

Somewhere along the way Wilson lost his passion. The commercial nadir of 2011's unwieldy The Future is Medieval precipitated the amicable departure of drummer and chief songwriter Nick Hodgson in late 2012.

Suddenly, recapturing their glory for the fifth studio album became a do-or-die affair.

"We were in the corner fighting our way out," Wilson says. "We were fighting for our survival and we were fighting for a life that we didn't want to let go of."

The result of this battle is Education, Education, Education and War, an album bristling with military themes which blew away the competition to top the UK charts this week. How did Kaiser Chiefs claw their way back from the brink to a famous victory? The short answer can be boiled down to two things - The Voice and Vijay Mistry.

But first, a bit of scene-setting: as we speak, Wilson is wallowing in bed, "happy-sad" two days after scoring that No. 1 album.

On Sunday afternoon he was in a pub celebrating the success of Education with his bandmates but the night before, the Voice coach was licking wounds after his contestant, Christina Maria, failed to win. "I didn't realise that along the way I'd care so much about The Voice," says Wilson, who signed on for the third series after the Script's Danny O'Donoghue left the show.

The singer admits he only agreed to take part in The Voice to help sales for the Kaiser Chiefs' new album. He was surprised to find himself deeply empathising with the contestants, who saw the show as their one shot at stardom, a career or a way out.

"I used to be like that," Wilson says. "Why as soon as I got it (success) did I forget about that? It's really important to me, so why should I not take it 100 per cent seriously and work?"

Besides the Voice, the other V that helped Wilson reconnect with life as a musician was the band's new member, Vijay Mistry - a drummer with local Leeds band Club Smith who quit his job to become a Chief.

Mistry's enthusiasm for the trappings of the touring lifestyle was a tonic for the jaded veterans. "We'd see getting on a long-haul flight as the worst thing ever," says Wilson, who hints that Kaiser Chiefs will head Down Under later this year. "He'd see it as a chance to catch up on movies, no telephone conversations and free beer.

"There's millions of people out there that are scientists working in labs (like Mistry) or teachers or lollipop ladies or whatever, who still want to be in a band," he adds. "Every job they've ever had has been something to fall back on, not their actual dream.

"For him to turn around to his wife and say 'It's actually going to happen' - it's a massive thing to him and it reminds us of how much we want it."

The West Australian

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