The Brit-pop band the Kaiser & Chiefs are a hugely successful act and just played several big festivals in Europe. But the band originally got off to a rocky start. Initially called Parva, it signed a label deal shortly after forming in 2000. Upon issuing their debut, 22, group members figured they'd made it. They figured wrong.
"We thought the hard work was done when we got the deal," says keyboardist Nick "Peanut" Baines via phone from his London home. "Now, we know better. We don't want to become conceited or lazy. It's easy to think you've made it. We want to make the most of every opportunity we have. We know there's always another band around the corner willing to take our place."
After 22 didn't light the world on fire, the band regrouped and renamed itself Kaiser Chiefs. Their debut, 2005's Employment, was well-reviewed and went six times platinum in the U.K. It turned the group into superstars, at least in Europe. The sneering vocals in the single "I Predict a Riot" suggested the group would pick up the working class Brit-pop/punk sound pioneered by acts such as the Jam and the Clash. And it has.
"We talk about very normal everyday things we see," says Baines when asked about the band's political impulses. "We can't let a song get out if we don't feel it ourselves. We're not preachy. We just tell people what we see and how we see it. We don't necessarily say what the solution is or what people should do. I think it's the energy or style of music that we play. There's an aggression there, but it's not hard rock or metal or anything like that. We have dark lyrics but mask them with poppier melodies. We like having hooks and melodies and catchy choruses. There's a weird kind of combination of protest energy. Sometimes, the lyrical content does get hidden a bit."
The band continued to roll after Employment, topping the British charts with 2007's Yours Truly, Angry Mob, 2008's Off with Their Heads and 2011's The Future is Medieval. But after drummer Nick Hodgson left the group in 2012, it appeared the band might not be able to carry on without him. He'd been there since the start.
"When Nick [Hodgson] announced he was leaving, people assumed we would fade away and die," says Baines. "If anything, that was the most rallying part of the last couple of years. He didn't want to do it, so fair enough. He made us realize that we took our eye off the ball and we lost focus and that was the kick we needed to regain our focus."
The group quickly replaced Hodgson with Vijay Mistry, a friend of the band's from Leeds who had been in other local and touring bands.
"We wanted to get someone who was a friend," Baines says of Mistry. "We don't want that session drummer feel where he's with us on tour and then he goes off with some other band. We wanted someone to actually come in and be part of the band. He fits in great. He gets on with his sense of humor; he's just like one of us, which really counts when you're in an airport every other day or on a tour bus for three weeks at a time. That really matters."
Recorded in Atlanta with Ben Allen (Animal Collective, Cee Lo Green, M.I.A.), the band's new album, Education, Education, Education & War — the title is a reference to a speech Tony Blair made in 1997 when he was Prime Minister — features the same kind of spirited tunes for which the group in known.
"He came into the rehearsal room and he kind of told us off," says Baines when asked what it was like to work with Allen. "He said we were under-rehearsed and we were playing songs that we weren't made to play. We were still kind of in our arena or festival frame of mind, where we can go out and play the old songs and we've played them hundreds of times, so we know how to sort of perform and how to project them. I think we all secretly kind of quite liked someone external to the band coming in and taking control. I think that's what a good producer can offer a band, that kind of external focus. He can look at it and go, 'Right, I've heard the songs and here's how I think it's gonna go, here's how I think it should sound and here's how I think we can help this song or rework this song.'
"If you trust somebody enough to let them in, then ultimately they're not going to fuck it up because it's their career as well," he continues. "They want to make a good record. I think we took quite big steps sort of production-wise, and sonically there was a lot of energy that returned to the band. You can drop the needle anywhere on the record and you know kind of what album it is."
With its call-and-response vocals and chug-a-lug guitars, "Ruffians on Parade" is one of the album's most dynamic tunes. Baines isn't sure yet if the band will release it as a single.
"We always play it live," Baines says. "Live, it's great from the word go. I would love to be able to listen to it and watch us play it from the front. To be honest, this album is like the first couple of records where there are lots of singles. In this reeducation process, we realized we write good catchy singles. For the first time in a while, we're spoiled with singles. I'm not complaining about it."
And the band's benefited from singer Ricky Wilson's appearance as a judge on the British version of The Voice.
"I was thinking it might change him, but he took it on and was pleased to be asked," says Baines. "He's good at hearing the performance before they turn the chairs. I think it maybe showed that you have to work hard every day to succeed. It was a great thing for the band with the album coming out. It was a way for us to get back on TV in the U.K. We played 'Coming Home' on the finale, which was great for us. It's been a strange year. It was September last year when we were talking about it. We didn't know if we should do it, but it's put us back on the right trajectory."
Kaiser Chiefs with Streets of Laredo
8 p.m. Tuesday, June 17. House of Blues, 308 Euclid Ave., 216-523-2583. Tickets: $22 ADV, $24 DOS, houseofblues.com.