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Art of noise

They have just recorded a new album, are about to go on tour and have announced a major homecoming gig at Elland Road, so what are Kaiser Chiefs doing moonlighting  as art curators?

S itting in a rehearsal room in the Old Chapel music studios where Kaiser Chiefs recorded their debut album 13 years earlier, the band’s bassist Simon Rix has a few reasons to be cheerful.

He has just come back from a holiday in the Algarve; the previous night he watched his beloved Leeds Utd return to the top of the league with a convincing 2-0 victory over Ipswich and earlier the same day he found out all 5,000 pre-sale tickets for the band’s gig at Elland Road next summer had sold out within a few hours.

There’s more. Somewhere in between writing a dozen or so new tracks, he and the rest of the Kaiser Chiefs have also taken their first step into the world of art curation. Their debut exhibition, which opens at York Art Gallery in December, is called When All is Quiet, a surprising choice perhaps for a band whose frontman Ricky Wilson regularly turns up the volume on a string of hits from I Predict A Riot to The Angry Mob.

“It’s not unusual for bands to stage exhibitions, but normally it’s all about them, the song lyrics, the album artwork, the memorabilia,” says Rix. “We didn’t want this to be about us, we wanted it to be much wider than that, we wanted to explore the relationship between art, music and performance.”

Which is why 18 months ago, Rix along with Kaiser Chief’s drummer Vijay Mistry found themselves rooting around in the stores of York Art Gallery. The pair selected a number of works from the collection for the exhibition, but the real draw will be some impressive sound installations on loan from other galleries, a silent gig and a playlist of songs chosen by the band. 

“I’m not sure whether the gallery gave us a blank canvas exactly, but at no point did they turn around and say, ‘I’m sorry, you want to do what?’. There were some pieces like Janet Cardiff’s Forty Part Motet, which we had seen while on tour, that we knew we wanted to bring to the north.

“It’s a reworking of a 16th century choral piece where each of the 40 voices is played back through its own speaker. I first saw it at the Tate and it really reminded me of how it feels to play in a band. When you are in the audience, you are aware that the music is coming from those blokes on stage, but when you are on stage it feels like you are in a bubble of sound.”

While the band’s wish list, which also includes an homage to the British club scene and a piece by Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, was relatively easy to fulfil, devising their silent gig proved a little trickier. 

“Kaiser Chiefs gigs tend to follow a pattern,” says Rix. “We go in big and loud, then there is a little lull where we play more complicated stuff. That’s the bit where we know some people will duck out to the bar and then it builds up again to a natural crescendo.

“The idea of the silent gig was to see if you could create that same feeling if you take away the music and if you don’t have a frontman like Ricky to focus on. We asked the guy who designs our lighting sets if he wanted to be involved and while initially he wasn’t entirely convinced it was doable, it has come together.

“Along with the lights we will have lyrics from the playlist projected onto the wall and while we hope our fans will come to see it, we wanted the exhibition to have a much wider appeal.”

Rix and the rest of the band were putting the finishing touches to When All is Quiet while recording their new album, their first since Stay Together two years ago. 

“A bit like the exhibition, it’s very close to being finished,” says Rix, who won’t reveal the name of the album, but does admit that it’s more of a return to the Kaiser Chiefs of old. “It’s great coming here and just seeing what happens. Even when we are not together all of us are coming up with bits and pieces that we can share when we get into the rehearsal room.

“This is a good place, when we were just starting out I would come back here after dropping my guitar on stage in a club in Bournemouth and the guy upstairs would help me patch it up.  It always feels good to be here and finally we even have our own permanent rehearsal room.

“I’m not entirely sure why it took us so long, but until Nick left (Nick Hodgson, the band’s original drummer) every time we went into the studio we had to set everything up from scratch.”

Kaiser Chiefs recently announced a series of tour dates for January and February. The nearest they will come to Yorkshire is Manchester, but the 21 live dates will act as a bit of a warm up ahead of the band’s summer concert at Elland Road, part of Leeds United’s centenary celebrations.

“When we played Elland Road in 2008, the next day they lost in the play offs, so it tarnished the memory a little,” says Rix.
“This time the season will be over.  If they are promoted it will make the gig 100 per cent better, but whatever happens it will feel like a celebration of the club.

“The formation of the Kaiser Chiefs seemed to coincide with the start of bad times for Leeds United, but this season there has been a real sense of optimism and if Pablo Hernández can remain injury-free it definitely feels like we have
a chance of going up.”

Elland Road is a bit of a second home for Kaisers Chiefs who also performed a mini-set ahead of boxer Josh Warrington’s successful challenge for the IBF featherweight world title earlier this year.

“That was a pretty unforgettable night. It was a bank holiday weekend and as we drove into the ground we could see that everyone had had a few. More than a few. We were doing some pre-production work on the album with guy from Atlanta. He’d never seen us perform live and he’d never quite seen a crowd like that. “Music has changed so much even in the 15 years we’ve been knocking around, but the one thing that hasn’t changed is the live experience. Even the best technology in the world can’t recreate the feeling of seeing someone perform live.”

When All Is Quiet, York Art Gallery, December 14th to March 10th,

Kaiser Chiefs play Elland Road, on June 8th

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