Ricky Wilson enjoyed The Voice but after two years 'it's time to get back to the Kaiser Chiefs'
With a sixth album out - one he's very proud of - and a batch of new songs to take on tour with his band, Ricky Wilson's feeling good. He talks to Andy Welch about moving forwards, being open to change, and life after reality TV
Ricky Wilson was standing in his kitchen the first time he heard Kaiser Chief's latest single, Hole In My Soul, played on the radio. As the opening bars sounded out, he started to shake.
It's a reaction he says he's not experienced since the band's very early days, when the Leeds quintet's 2005 debut was on its way to becoming one of that year's biggest-selling albums, and their singles, such as Oh My God and I Predict A Riot, were riding high in the charts.
"I poured a lot of energy - a lot of emotional energy - into this album," he says of Stay Together, the band's most recent album, which was released in October.
"We finished it in April, and I remember how excited I was having a copy of it when no one else did. I feel very proud about the album now, if you can feel proud of a short collection of songs.
"But I feel very good about it and I want other people to feel good about it too. I want people to like it."
The album was made with Brian Higgins of production outfit Xenomania, perhaps better known for producing slick pop for the likes of Girls Aloud, S Club 7 and The Saturdays, than indie-pop bands like Kaiser Chiefs.
It might sound unlikely, but when you consider the band's penchant for a catchy tune, it's not a completely ridiculous pairing.
It came about after Higgins went to a Kaiser Chiefs gig some years ago and, chatting afterwards, told Wilson he loved their anthemic songs and their slower ballads, but thought they were lacking in the songs-to-make-people-dance department.
"That was a really interesting to hear," recalls Wilson (38). "So we started meeting Brian, and by the end of the third meeting at his house to talk about maybe making music, we all went away with things we'd recorded on our phones to work on.
"Brian had the passion that's needed. There's no point making records because it's your job, and that goes for bands as well as producers. We needed that passion, and he basically joined the band for six months.
"He's incredible; you think of him as this pop impresario, for want of a better word, and you think he might work in a very clinical way. But it was more about jamming, and he had a very relaxed way of working. He captured something we hadn't before."
Among those things are, in fact, duff notes from Wilson, which in the past he'd have insisted on re-recording - but as far as Higgins was concerned, it merely added to the emotion the frontman was trying to convey at the time.
"I've always tried to edit out that sort of character before because it's embarrassing or whatever, but it's actually what draws listeners in, I've come to realise," Wilson admits.
The resulting album, to be played live alongside hits from their catalogue when they tour in February, sees Kaiser Chiefs' traditional guitar, bass and drums set-up augmented by synthesizers, to create an altogether more sophisticated sound than they might normally be known for.
It's all part of Wilson and his bandmates Andrew White, Simon Rix, Nick Baines and Vijay Mistry's commitment to moving forward with their music as they go on.
"A new record doesn't have to be radically different to what you've done before, but at the same time, it's boring to make a new record and it be too similar. Balancing that is the key, moving on without moving on too much. We're a member down now, so with too new a sound, we might as well change the name."
He is, of course, referring to former member Nick Hodgson, who left in 2012, prior to the release of their 2014 record Education, Education, Education & War. That album was something of a flag in the ground to say they could carry on without their main songwriter.
"It wasn't make-or-break, but there was an element of jeopardy to our last album. We didn't even know if we could do it. We were really fighting for it, and even then, we knew this new one was the record we were aiming for, but couldn't get there in one leap.
"We did it, though, and we don't feel like we have to prove ourselves any more."
Thematically, Education... was different to other Kaiser Chiefs records. More political, as you can gather from the title, a take on Tony Blair's mid-Nineties election pledge and war, one of the defining elements of his legacy.
Stay Together, however, is more inward facing and personal. "I don't know if those bigger songs connect," says Wilson. "Ironically, the smaller the subject, the more they connect on a bigger level. When you try to write something that encompasses big things that affect everyone, it rarely does hit home."
If, however, Stay Together fails to connect in the way Wilson wants it to - although it did chart at No 4 in the UK upon release - he says the band will just make another album. That's what they do, he says.
"The feeling I have at the moment is the same as when we started, when we were playing to rooms of people that didn't know or care about our band, and we knew we had to win those people over. We know we need to keep winning people over.
"We're in our 10th year, when lots of bands start relying on their heritage, but if you don't force yourself, you won't maintain a career. If we've had any criticism of the new stuff, it's that it doesn't sound as we did 10 years ago. But if we sounded like we did 10 years ago, we'd have disappeared years ago. That's the way the music industry works.
"We don't want to spend our lives thinking about riots and trying to pull girls in takeaways. We don't write about that any more, because that's not who we are any more."
Talking of changes, Wilson, of course, used to be a judge on TV talent show The Voice, but decided to leave when it moved from BBC to ITV, and concentrate fully on Kaiser Chiefs.
"I suppose I did a Mel and Sue before Mel and Sue did it," he says, referring to the former Bake Off presenters, who declared they were stepping down after it was announced the BBC favourite was moving to Channel 4.
"It came up when we were in the thick of making the album, and I can't really do two things at once. I really enjoyed it, but after two years, it's time to get back to Kaiser Chiefs and not be on The Voice," he adds.
"If in the future something comes up and I can do it, then I will. Tom Jones is doing it, so why wouldn't I?
"I learned a lot from him and from doing the show," Wilson confesses, "and I know I'm going to be jealous of whoever is on it, that's my nature, but it's not for me at this moment."
Kaiser Chiefs new album, Stay Together, is out now. They begin a UK tour on February 22. Visit kaiserchiefs.com