Ricky Wilson: ‘I thought I was Kurt Cobain, but…’


Ricky Wilson is having a bad day.

He’s smashed a picture frame, cracked his phone screen, and been given a parking ticket after driving to the post office to collect a parcel… without any ID.

The only sliver of consolation is that the Kaiser Chiefs’ new album, Duck, has landed at number two in the midweek charts, held off the top spot by the unstoppable pop juggernaut that is Edward Christopher Sheeran, MBE.

“I’m not going to complain about that,” laughs Wilson.

“As a band, we’ll always be happy being the underdog. I think we’d just be confused if we came out on top.

“So thanks, Ed for keeping us the underdog. You’re doing the right thing.”

The Leeds quintet have certainly experienced their shares of ups and downs. Originally called Parva, they were dropped after releasing their debut album in 2003, and found themselves shunned by a music industry that regarded them as damaged goods.

Rebranded as Kaiser Chiefs, they confounded expectations by getting a self-released single, Oh My God, onto the UK singles chart in 2004, which led to a new record deal and the Brit Award-winning album Employment.

The album bizarrely attracted the attention of then-future Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who took umbrage at the single I Predict A Riot, writing a lengthy column for the Telegraph in which he derided the band “epic softies” and “weeds from Leeds”.

“He was saying that in his day rock stars didn’t predict riots, they incited them,” recalls Wilson. “And a couple of years later, he was mayor of London and wouldn’t come home from holiday when the London riots were happening.”

“It was just such a silly thing for him to say. He’s a buffoon, in the most cunning way. I didn’t think you could have such a thing as a cunning buffoon, but there you go.

“It’s something I can tell the grandkids while they’re sitting on a hubcap drinking out of a tin can in this dystopian Mad Max wasteland: ‘Remember the guy that messed everything up? Well, let me tell you something…'”

Indie Alan Bennett

Undeterred by Johnson’s diatribe, the band went on to score hits like Ruby and Never Miss A Beat, but their future was thrown into doubt when chief songwriter Nick Hodgson quit in 2012.

Cast adrift, Wilson joined a touring production of War of the Worlds, then signed up as a coach on the TV talent show The Voice.

At the time he was accused of selling out, but he believes his TV career might have saved the band.

“I thoroughly enjoy going on TV and stringing sentences together and sitting on a sofa next to Giles Brandreth,” he says.

“There’s a lot of people who don’t like doing that, who think it gets in the way of the music. But if other bands had someone like me in them, they’d do a lot better.”

Maybe he’s got a point: His three-year stint in the revolving chair ended with the release of Education Education Education and War, an album that put the Kaiser Chiefs back in the top five, and they haven’t looked back since.

Duck, their seventh release, marks a return to the colourful, sing-along anthems of their heyday – the result of a deliberate decision to go back to the start of their career “before we were scared of letting anyone down” and get together “in a room, making a racket because its free entertainment for us, really”.

The songs all start in the same way, with the band locking onto a groove and playing it repeatedly while Wilson “sits in the corner” and tries to come up with a melody.

“It’s a lot of pressure,” he admits. “There’ve been a few in the past where the band think it’s the best thing they’ve ever done and I’m like, ‘I’ve got nothing’.”

That’s emphatically not the case on Duck. Wilson still has a lyrical twinkle in his eye, at one point rhyming “agenda” with “credenza” like an indie Alan Bennett, while tackling some unexpectedly weighty topics,

On Wait, he discusses his body insecurities (“passing every mirror just to check you’re looking slimmer“), while Golden Oldies reveals how buying a puppy with his fiancee made him question whether he’d ever become a father.

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