KAISER CHIEFS                        

With a new lineup, the British rockers set out to get an Education  


It would have been easy for Kaiser Chiefs to simply call it quits. Following the departure of drummer and primary songwriter Nick Hodgson in late 2012, the remaining four members had doubts about carrying on—before deciding to prove to their fans, and to themselves, that they were capable of continuing. The result is Education, Education, Education & War, the band’s fifth album and catchiest collection of songs in years.

Recorded in Atlanta with Ben H. Allen III (Gnarls Barkley, Animal Collective), the new record recaptures the English indie-rockers’ playful, sometimes manic side and balances it with a serious sense of purpose. “We got our hunger back,” says singer Ricky Wilson. “We feel like we did before we had our first record deal, when it was that or nothing.”

Wilson and bandmates Nick Baines, Simon Rix and Andrew White convened to begin writing tunes shortly after Hodgson left, and added longtime friend Vijay Mistry on drums. Just as they were about to begin recording, Wilson got an offer to be a coach on the U.K. version of TV’s talent competition The Voice. Wilson was reluctant at first—but he and the band decided the show was an excellent opportunity to bring attention to the new album.

“All my reasons for not doing it, which were that I thought we’d made too good a record, became the very reasons for doing it,” says Wilson. “It was too good a record to risk it not getting out there.”


What’s behind the album title?

We decided early on we were going to know what this record was about, and for that, we needed a title. Our successful records— personally, not in terms of record sales—have always had a title and a focus early on, and the themes of education and war started to crop up a lot.



It was a weird year for us. After Nick left, we were a man down—yet it felt like we were a band again. And four blokes from northern England admitting that they needed each other was a massive thing. That’s where that war energy came from. And the other part of that was, I’d been in a band with Nick for as long as I can remember. I’d never written a song without him. None of us had. We had to kind of learn everything from scratch. There was a Day 1 when we looked at each other and didn’t know whether there was going to be a Day 2 or a Day 3, and here we are a year later. So we had to re-educate ourselves.


How’d you feel when Nick left?

At the time, I was fairly angry—but it was misplaced anger. He’s happier now, we’re happier now. But his leaving made us hungry again, and I hadn’t felt that hunger in a long time. Nick had creative control, really, and that was fine. He was the one who was supposed to do all the hard work. But I had become too comfortable, and I realize now that although you imagine that’s what you’re striving for—to be comfortable—once you get there, you’re in quite a bit of jeopardy. I enjoyed being in a position where I could fight my way out of it. We’re all a bit like that. You just don’t really realize it until someone takes it away from you.


How did you like working with Ben?

We’ve worked with many producers over the years, but we’ve never really worked with them. We never really let them in the band. But Ben was good fun. I think Ben was the first one to tell us off. When he came to London we played the songs for him, and he told us we were under-rehearsed—which was brave of him. There are five of us and it can be quite intimidating for a guy we’d never met before to come in and tell us that. I thought, “Wow. I like this guy.” Also, what I really liked about him is that he seemed as hungry as we are to have a hit.


Did you feel like you had something to prove as a band?

There was a lot of proving to be done with this record. Someone who was considered to be our main songwriter and leader left, so what is there to do for a band apart from splitting up? We’ve got to prove to ourselves, to our fans, and to Nick that we could do it. Not only did Ben get that, he felt the same.


What does Vijay bring?

He’s like the anti-jaded device. First and foremost, before the drumming, I was interested in someone we could get on with, because you have to travel the world with this guy. And we’ve known Vijay for years. When we travel, I think, “God, we’ve got to sit on an airplane for 12 hours.” But he’s like, “Oh, 12 hours! I can really catch up on my films!” He’s just enjoying everything, like we did the first time—and when you see someone else doing that, you can appreciate everything a lot more.


How did Vijay mesh in the studio?

Ben really pushed him. He didn’t make life easy on him. It was quite an emotional time for him. He’d been in bands before, but he’d never traveled to work with a big producer. But that was another thing about living through someone else’s eyes—you’d listen to the playback of a song in the control room and see Vijay getting quite emotional about hearing it back, the very same way I used to get when I heard myself doing something I didn’t know I could do.


Did that affect the band?

This is where I get quite British and find it hard to show off, but I’m singing better than ever before, partly because I thought the spotlight was going to be on me because I’m on The Voice. But we’re not being embarrassed by ability, which we probably have been before. Alternative musicians never like showing off. They like to make it look like they didn’t put in any effort. But on this one, we put in a lot of effort, and I believe it shows—which is the closest you’re going to get me to saying I think we’re brilliant.


What does being on The Voice mean for the band?

It’s massive, way beyond anything we thought was going to happen. It was something I didn’t want to do—it’s a TV talent show, which is not my kind of thing. But then you think, “We’re really proud of this record and we want as many people to hear it as possible.” Like it or not, the TV is in the corner of everyone’s room, so this is a really good way for our new record to not go unnoticed. No matter how proud you are of it, no matter how brilliant, there’s a real danger nowadays for a record to go unnoticed unless something happens—and you can’t just wait for that to happen by accident. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to sell more records, because if you sell more, more people hear them, and that’s the reason we do it. It’s to connect. And it’s that connection that I really like. There are people who like making records that never leave their bedrooms, but as soon as you put something on YouTube, that’s you trying to connect. So why wouldn’t I want to go on TV? I’ve got a record coming out.

–Eric R. Danton


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