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Posted June 1, 2014 by Jeff in Tunes
 
 

Nicholas “Peanut” Baines: Kaiser Chiefs on to the next chapter

Kaiser Chiefs by Danny North
Kaiser Chiefs by Danny North

Leeds-based Kaiser Chiefs have been a force in the rock world for the past five decades. While the group almost called it quits last year, it soldiered on and even got a good second wind. The new album, Education, Education, Education & War, has more of the fired-up tunes for which the band is known. A founding member, keyboardist Nick “Peanut” Baines recently phoned us from his London home to discuss the new album and upcoming tour.

How’d you get the name Peanut? That must go back.
A long time. It came from pictures, sort of self-portraits that we had to draw in school. Somehow mine resembled a peanut shape in my head that I drew and here I am 25 years later talking about it. Yes, these things stick. You know they stick.

The band’s playing huge festivals in the UK and then you’re coming out here and doing a bunch of clubs. What’s it like going from one extreme to the next?
It is quite a contrast. Festival season is generally June to September, so the summer’s always filled with just festivals, which is great outdoors or big tents or whatever. One day you’re in a field and it’s getting dark, there’s kind of lights everywhere. Then, the next time you’re in a club and people are sort of 20 feet away from you. It’s quite good when you have a contrast, like one gig after the other. The club gig gives you the immediate energy, the immediate kind of response. You can see the excitement in people’s eyes and you can see whether a song is working. Doing clubs also reminds you of when you were a smaller band. When you’re a small band, what you strive for then is to get your first taste of festivals. And then you think, “I like this. I like seeing a sea of 40-50 thousand people moving to the music and the lights look amazing and nighttime is like a fairground in the background and all the stores an all the food and stuff.” It’s everything you thought a festival would be. That’s what it feels like when you’re on stage. You see this mass of people and you can barely pick out faces and eyes and it kind of feels great, you know, then you feel good. When you go between the two I think one feeds the other, the desire to do the other one. It’s nice what we’ve been doing here in England. We’ve been doing some little shows for radio stations and little competition things. It’s crazy because you realize that the people in this room are just being blasted by this rock ‘n’ roll show for an hour. It’s great and you feel almost envious of them being in this little crowd. At the same time, festival season is kicking off for us.

It’s good having big songs you can project. We have an arsenal of big songs. We realized early on that they satisfied festival crowds and we always look forward to playing them.

You guys also added a new drummer. How’s he fitting into everything?
Yeah, Vijay [Mistry], he’s been great. He’s a friend of ours from Leeds and he’s been in other local and little touring bands. We knew he was a good drummer. We’d seen him in many different bands and he was always kind of one of the best things in those bands. So, when Nick left a couple years ago, we thought we wanted to get someone who was a friend. 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. We knew Vijay pretty well and we knew his brother as well back in Leeds. He put in loads of work and learned everything that we normally play live. He learned all of that to sort of come in and try out. We talked to him since and he was nervous. I think he slept for a day after. He was just exhausted by the tryout process. Now 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. He’s been great and now we’ve made the new album with him and he’s kind of put his stamp on the sound of the band. The time before that was just him sort of playing old songs, trying to fit in. The new album gave him a chance to sort of add his signature to the Kaiser Chiefs’ sound.

So the album was produced by Ben Allen and recorded in Atlanta. Talk a little bit about that recording process.
He was in London and he came to hang out for a few days and came to rehearsals with us and got into the songs straight away. We were trying out and talking different producers and trying to work out who we wanted and sort of expressed interest in him. He’d worked with someone else on our label before, so there was sort of a loose connection there. He came into the rehearsal room and now in hindsight I can tell you he’s a very focused sort of person. He’s got a very clear idea of where things are gonna go when he takes on the project. So, he came into the rehearsal room and he kind of told us off. 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 often 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, 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. 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.We met a couple of times in London and then went ended up going to Atlanta for six weeks into a studio. We went down there and just made the album in one go, which we haven’t done probably since the second record. You know we’ve broken it up into different producers and I think when I listen to the record now, I hear that. I hear an album in sort of a focused album with a sound that even though every song doesn’t sound the same, it sounds like the same record. You can drop the needle anywhere on the record and you know kind of what album it is.  While that’s not the art form, it’s an element of the art form that’s a bit lost when people just record a bit here, put on some vocals there, put some guitar on in the studio and do some other bits at home. Even though there’s a lot of instruments on the album, there’s an unknown sort of something you can’t hear in the background that ties it all together. You know it’s all been made in one session. It was a good process and a step for us that ultimately paid off. We enjoyed it and it helped us firmly earmark the next chapter in Kaiser Chiefs, the moving on after the uncertainty of the last couple years.

So, what’s the story behind the album title?
There are a couple of different aspects to that, but there was a speech that Tony Blair made in about 1997 where said, “My three main things for this country are education, education and education,” to sort of reemphasize the point.

He left the war part out.
It’s a little sort of nod, a literal nod to that, but also it’s also the way people say one thing in the media and mean or do another, which I think particularly applies in politics. I think politics … was always like a soap opera or like a comedy show. It’s not long to go until someone’s finally gonna pull back the cover and hold it and go “you realize this is all a sham.” [Politics] is one sort of wrong person versus another wrong person. It actually sort of seems to have the country’s interest at heart but it seems to be an awful lot of behind the scenes motivations from the business side. I think people are becoming more and more aware of that in general knowledge and general everyday life. I think it’s something that’s gone on for a long time and if it’s come to the state where it’s at now, it must have been happening for longer than we realized.

It feels like [the album title is also] what we’ve been through as a band. We re-learned how to write songs. We got a bit lost and had to reeducate ourselves because we had such an established routine when we were touring and making records. It was a bit of a battle to get back our fans and got back the public who was buying tickets and CDs again. There was a bit of a battle to be had.

When Nick [Hodgson] announced he was leaving, people assumed we would fade away and die. 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 opening track is “Factory Gates.” Is that a response to the Smiths’ tune “Cemetery Gates”?
No. Not really. No. But I think Ricky would probably quite like that. He works hard on his lyrics and tries to create scenes and images and pictures. We don’t have to sing about girls. If we do, it’s shrouded in some way. I think Morrissey was very good at creating striking visual imagery for words. You listen to a song and you’re in this crazy world and you feel very much involved in it. A good lyricist can do that and still give you a good melody. It’s not just one image. That’s the beauty of storytelling. People say things differently but they still do with the same excitement and passion.

What’s the deal with the laughter in “Misery Company”?
It’s quite surprising. Laughing is quite hard. When Ricky was first singing it and doing it live, he had to have a bit of a breather beforehand. Trying to project to maniacal laughter like that was hard to do. We had Ricky singing it, a few in the background and a robot voice a bit low in the mix. What seemed like a throwaway chorus was quite fun. It took a little bit to get it right. When we don’t have lyrics, Ricky starts humming or la-la-la-ing and the words come out eventually. They form themselves from the shapes of the words. The laughing was like a placeholder. [But we thought] can we have a song with laughing on it? Yes, we can. It’s a brave little step. I think it works really well because the song is quite sinister and we had been listening to lots of Pink Floyd, post-Syd Barrett stuff. You realize the theatrics do have a place and it feels like a scene from a movie. You can create a lot of emotions and help people move to the music with the slightest, unusual things. It doesn’t have to be a four-line statement about love and money and power that sums up the world; it can be a laughing chorus. When we play it live, people love it. I’ a great bit in the song. By the end, everyone is singing it. Clearly, a laugh can be a hook.

“Ruffians on Parade” is the best song. Any plans to put that out as a single?
I don’t know, but we always play it live. 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.

Ricky Wilson is a judge on The Voice. Has that changed his attitude?
He’s done with The Voice now. I was thinking it might change him, but he took it on and was pleased to be asked. 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 UK. 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.

Songs such as “I Predict a Riot” and “The Angry Mob” have a protest element. Talk about that side of the band’s music.
We talk about very normal everyday things we see. 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’ 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.

 Your first band didn’t last long. What’s been the key to keeping Kaiser Chiefs going for 15 years?
The first band was Parva. We got a record deal. We thought the hard work was done when we got the deal. Now we give it our all every single time. We want people to leave the festival thinking it’s the best thing they’ve seen all year. Every show is like that. The key to success is that we don’t take ourselves so seriously that we don’t become labored or painful. 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. We want to be here for the long haul. We’re building toward a goal we’ll never reach. There will always be something else we want to achieve.


Jeff

 
Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at jeff@whopperjaw.net.