British rockers the Kaiser Chiefs kick off a string of U.S. dates in Seattle on March 12th, three days before the release of their raucous, energetic debut, Employment.
“We wanted to make a classic album,” says the Chiefs’ shaggy-haired frontman Ricky Wilson over his cell phone as he walks across London’s Putney Bridge. “When we finished, the record blew my socks off. And I hope socks will be flying off all over the States!”
Produced by Stephen Street (the Smiths, Blur) and Stephen Harris (U2, Dave Matthews Band), Employment is packed with stomp-happy, New Wave rock and deadpan lyrics — as in the opener, when Wilson chants, “Every day I love you less and less!” Equal parts XTC and early Blur, the record’s instant hit is the dramatic rocker “I Predict a Riot,” in which Wilson croons, “A friend of a friend he got beaten/He looked the wrong way at a policeman,” before plunging into a chorus of la-la-las.
The Chiefs formed less than two years ago, when longtime friends Wilson, guitarist Andrew White, bassist Simon Rix, keyboardist Nick Baines and drummer Nick Hodgson joined forces. They’d all been in groups since their early teens — Wilson in a slightly embarrassing cover band. “We did ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ and ‘Johnny B. Goode’ really badly,” he confesses. “But at our first gig, when I was fifteen — that’s when I caught the bug.”
The schoolmates found that, as a united musical front, they had instant chemistry. “When you’re in a band, you always think you’re writing the best songs in the world,” says Wilson. “And then you look back and think, ‘Oh, God.’ But with the Kaiser Chiefs, I had this feeling: I knew it was right — partly because we’ve known each other for so long.”
Wilson found that he’d entered a new phase in his songwriting, as well. “I used to try to write songs about things that are cool, like what the Strokes would write about,” he says. “But all I can do is be myself, really.”
Before the band, Wilson and Baines had already been collaborating on a buzzed-about monthly party in their town. “We wanted to start the worst, most pretentious nightclub in the world: If you saw this place, it’s like the Scissor Sisters’ wet dream,” he says. “But people loved it! They got the joke, and they enjoy dressing up once a month and acting like a tit. I mean, straight men like nothing better than to dress up a bit camp — although there’s not much time for all that now, because I’m busy being an international rock star.”
The necktie-sporting, crowdiving singer is looking forward to bringing the party on tour. “In the U.K., people go mental at shows, and I hope people get a lot more mental in the States,” he says. “If I don’t spend at least half the gig in the audience, I haven’t had a good time!”