Kaiser Chief’s new album, if it can rightly be called an album, has already become a talking point before many have had a chance to hear it. The furore has been caused by the novel method of release the band have come up with for ‘The Future is Medieval’.
The MP3 took away the physicality of albums, Radiohead dispensed with the price tag and now the Kaiser Chiefs have weighed in by doing away with the track listing.
‘The Fututre is Medieval’ consists of 20 songs. You pay for ten, but which ten is down to you (you can listen samples to help you decide.) Not only that, once you choose your ten tracks and their playing order you can sell on your version of the album and earn a £1 royalty.
Gigwise caught up with principal songwriter Nick Hodgson to discuss the decision, as well as the overarching evolution of the band.
Gigwise: What was the inspiration behind the novel form of release you’ve chosen for ‘The Future is Medieval?”
Nick: Ricky and one of his pals came up with it when we we’re thinking about this new album, and to be honest once they come up with it was more a matter of “why not?” than “why?”
It gave us all a bit more energy for making the album, it made things new for us again, which is important when you’ve been around and made a number of records.
It peaked our own interest because, obviously, it’s something that hasn’t been done before by us, or by anybody else.
We really just wanted to make getting a new album a more involving, absorbing thing. Like when we were kids and you’d go into to town to pick up the new CD by Oasis, or whoever, and you sit and read through the sleeve and the artwork on the bus home.
We’re not sticking our heads in the sand. We know people don’t do that nowadays, most people don’t even pay for music. We just wanted to make something involving, for who people still buy music and want to feel a sense of attachment with what they buy.
Gigwise: I suppose the fact that the album doesn’t have a fixed form must be useful in preventing leaks?
Nick: Yeah, it will help. With the last album it was kind of an anti climax when it came out, the way it leaked a fair while before the release date.
Gigwise: Does it feel weird to record tracks for an album knowing that, even if fans buy it, they may not hear certain songs?
Nick: It was something we thought about, but with all our other albums we’ve recorded a huge number of songs then whittled it down, then the extras become b-sides and bonus tracks. Doing things this way gives you the opportunity and incentive to make all those tracks equally worthy of getting on the track listing.
In many ways it made the recording process very intensive. A lot of the songs got recorded in four of five different ways, just to get them right for the album.
Gigwise: Is it strange to write an album not knowing what the sequencing will be like, not knowing how a song might seem when placed next to another, the narratives that might come out?
Nick: It’s true that this album won’t have the obvious thing of having one track which is designed to lead into another, but we’re happy with all of them. The album will have a sense of coherence whatever the sequence of songs because they all come from the same time period, they were all written at a certain point of our lives, with a certain mind set. They share the same DNA.
It also gives you focus on each song. Ethan Johns who did production on the album didn’t like the concept when he heard it, because he’s really into the idea of the album as a whole, from a to b. But he liked the songs and wanted to work on it anyway and he decided the concept really suited the songs. There was a point when we went off the idea and he talked us back round to it.
Gigwise: How do you feel this album will go down in a live setting, given that you could potentially play a song that nobody in the room has chosen for their version of the album.
Nick: To be honest, even if that did happen it wouldn’t be that different to past tours because we’re sort of known as a singles band. When ‘Employment’ came out and sold really well and we were touring properly for the first time, selling out huge venues, we knew, just form the sales figures that a lot of people had the album, but even then your album tracks get less of a reception than your singles.
Gigwise: You’ve had some huge singles in the past. Do you see releasing a collection of songs as opposed to an ‘album’ to be a logical extension of being a singles band?
Nick: It’s kind of ironic in that these songs are some of our least single-y that we’ve ever released, a bit darker. When we were younger we wanted to make bouncy tunes you could just go a bit mental to and jump around the room listening to, but life moves on and things change. These songs aren’t really like that
Kaiser Chiefs - 'Little Shocks'
Gigwise: What do you feel has lead to that change in your attitude and in your sound.
Nick: Well my dad’s been ill with Alzheimer’s. Obviously, that changes things because, music just feels irrelevant and becomes sort of peripheral. A year ago I wasn’t even really thinking about music much at all. I was messing about in my studio, but I wasn’t particularly focused. If your heads not there, your heads not there. When you do write you can’t help but write from the mindset you’re in at the time.
Gigwise: Do you worry at all that the music might be overshadowed by the format?
Nick: No. We had the idea for so long, well before a lot of the songs. We’d have been annoyed with ourselves if we hadn’t, especially if someone else came a long and did it.
Gigwise: Fans can earn a £1 royalty by selling their version of the album. That seems to me like a pretty big cut, when you consider all the parties involved. Is that altruism part of the plan, or is it bad maths?
Nick: To be honest I’m not mathematical in the least, but Simon our boss says it’s fine so we’ll go with it. I don’t think it’s one of those things like with Factory Records and New Order, where they were losing money for every record they sold. At least I hope it isn’t like that! Hopefully it’s a generous amount.
Gigwise: When Alex Ferguson was preparing for the 2008 Champions League final he said he only needed to pick 10 players because Paul Scholes would automatically be on the team sheet. Of the ‘The Future is Medieval’ squad, which is your Paul Scholes track?
Nick: Start With Nothing. It’s a monster track, we love playing it so much that we’re probably going to play at all our shows, so I’d advised people to pick that one!
There will be an official version of the album, physically released on the June 27.