AS CHART-TOPPING Yorkshire lads the Kaiser Chiefs bring their tour to Lincoln and Sheffield, reporter Andrew Trendell talks to guitarist Andrew ‘Whitey’ White about keeping things fresh, the state of guitar music and why ‘the future is medieval’.
You’d be forgiven for not even knowing that the Kaiser Chiefs have a new album out at the moment. Their previous efforts have been surrounded by huge fanfare and fairly incessant airplay of smash-hits like Oh My God, I Predict A Riot, Ruby and Never Miss A Beat. But this time around, they’ve fallen off the radar a little – something that the band themselves would be the first to admit.
The one thing that did attract attention was the inventive way they released The Future Is Medieval: by suddenly putting 20 songs online and allowing fans to choose their own individual 10 track version of the album for £7.50, with fans earning £1 for each version sold.
“It’s been really good,” admits Whitey. “I think that the idea surprised a lot of people. No one was expecting that from us.
“Through not releasing the album in a conventional way, we were kind of shooting ourselves in the foot a little bit. It was a shock release and we just thought ‘ah, no one will know about it and that’ll be cool’. Then of course we realised that nobody knew about it and it wasn’t that great, but people have loved the idea!”
Whitey smiles: “It’s quite rare for a band to be this brave.”
Most interestingly of all, the Kaisers’ idea meant that there’s the potential for no two fans to have same version of the album. This was the band’s way of taking fans back to the days of being involved with the music – hence the title.
“That’s perfect – that’s what people want,” says Whitey. “We wanted to let people put their mark on it. Basically, between us starting as a band and us finishing our fourth album, music has changed so much. When we started no one was buying music online.”
He goes on: “When you buy music online, you don’t really get any ownership. There’s nothing physical, you don’t look at the artwork and you don’t really care about it. You’d probably listen to it once and then that’s it. We just wanted to give people a certain sense of ownership for digital music, so we let people choose their own artwork and tracks to make them more passionate about it.”
But this is band with a strong run of hit-singles, ingrained into public consciousness and wedged into indie disco playlists for generations to come. Do they see themselves returning to the traditional top ten pop track?
“I honestly don’t know what the future will hold,” admits Whitey. “Music has changed and I don’t know what’s going to happen. There are only two major record labels left in the world and you just never know. We’re just going to keep doing what we do. If people stop listening to R n’ B and get back into guitar music then you’ll probably hear us on the radio again, but at the moment it’s quite thin on the ground.”
So, are the Kaisers going to join the chorus of their peers claiming that ‘guitar music is dead’ or is it as strong as ever but just harder for indie bands to survive?
“It’s rock hard, I feel really bad for new bands,” sighs Whitey. “We’re an old and established band now, but we’re always wandering ‘where’s the next big band coming from?’”
He continues: “When we released our first album it was quite common for a band to sell a million records – you had The Kooks, Razorlight, Arctic Monkeys, Franz Ferdinand and Kasabian. But that’s unheard of nowadays. If you sell a million records these days then you’re at the top of the charts for a year.”
“If you listen to the radio, how many guitar bands do you hear? You’ve got Arctic Monkeys and Kasabian but not many more. If you like that kind of genre of music, which I think Britain does and that’s what we’re based on, then it’s not great, but hopefully this drought will inspire a band like it did with The Smiths in the 80s and Oasis in the 90s.”
Whitey adds: “There’s a lot of rubbish out there but at least record labels used to be able to sieve that out. There hasn’t been that ‘new Oasis’ or ‘new The Smiths’ yet and I really want one to come out and rejuvenate British guitar music again.”
So will the Kaisers come back and give the scene that much-needed shot in the arm? Can there be that much left of their ‘to do list’?
“We’ve been there and we’ve done it,” admits Whitey, contently. “We’ve played stadiums, we’ve had number ones, we’ve won awards – but we still crave it. A bit of you says ‘just enjoy it now and go with the flow’ but the other part of you says ‘I want to get back in there and be current’.”
So it seems the end is a distant spot on the horizon for the Kaiser Chiefs.
“If we start playing to half-full rooms then we’ll probably stop, but I think I’ll know when our time is done,” smiles Whitey optimistically. “As soon as any of us appear on Loose Women or Celebrity Big Brother, I’ll probably leave the band and we’ll be over and gone.”
The Kaiser Chiefs play The Engine Shed in Lincoln on Tuesday 7th February and Sheffield Academy on Monday 13th February