Ricky Wilson: ‘I thought I was Kurt Cobain’

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Polydor Records

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The Kaiser Chiefs are swaggering towards their seventh top 10 album

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.”

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Sir Tom Jones and Ricky Wilson on the set of The Voice

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.

“The puppy’s now three-and-a-half but I still haven’t got an answer,” he sighs.

After turning 40 last year, he started “thinking about children more and more” but says “I find it quite uncomfortable talking about it, because I just don’t know.

“But then, that’s what the song’s about… And the great thing about being in a band is you can write songs and it might help you answer those questions.”

Another revealing lyric comes in the closing track, The Battle For Seattle. Ostensibly an ode to youthful follies, it namechecks two of Seattle’s most famous natives, Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain and sitcom character Frasier Crane who, it transpires, have a deep personal resonance for the singer.

“When I was a teenager, I thought I was Kurt Cobain,” Wilson explains, “but then you get old and you realise, no, you’re Frasier Crane.”

“You are just desperate to settle down. So desperate that it’ll never happen.”

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Getty Images / NBC

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Grunge star Kurt Cobain and Kelsey Grammer as Frasier Crane – both role models for Ricky Wilson

He says he still binge-watches episodes of Frasier, which he describes as “one of the greatest TV shows ever made, just behind Jonathan Creek” and finds the psychologist’s disastrous personal life oddly reassuring.

“It’s very pleasant watching a fiercely intelligent person just get everything wrong. You realise that no-one’s good at life.”

“There’s a great realisation in your mid-30s that you couldn’t give a toss about what other people think. Everything shifts and you just realise, ‘I am what I am. I can’t change that much, and everything’s good’.”

He’s bolstered by the band’s continued success, with Duck heading for the top 10 and next year’s arena tour on the verge of selling out.

They might not have become the festival headliners they once threatened to be, but Wilson has made his peace with that fact.

“It’s probably not for us, because we don’t want to pay for the fireworks,” he laughs. “But as long as we have the most people watching us, we don’t care what time we play.”

And whatever happens, he’s got the eternal approval of his Voice co-host Sir Tom Jones – who devoted a single, crucial, sentence to Wilson in his autobiography.

“I met Ricky Wilson,” wrote Sir Tom, “Nice bloke, no bull.”

“I was over the moon with that,” says Wilson. “Tom Jones has met a lot of people and he knows the fakers, so if he thinks you’re quite real, then you must be.”

“You don’t need anything else, do you?”

And if Wilson ever gets round to writing his own autobiography, how will he repay the favour?

“Oh, you can’t sum up Tom Jones in four words, you just can’t,” he prevaricates.

“He’s one of the funniest people I’ve met. He’s got a lifetime of confidence, and it’s infectious…”

Then he takes a long pause, before conjuring up the phrase: “Sir Tom Jones: Un-defusable sex bomb.”

And with that, he goes back to his calamitous day. Nice bloke, Ricky Wilson. No bull.

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