After taking his seat on The Voice, Ricky Wilson tells Duncan Seaman why he and the rest of Kaiser Chiefs are once again hungry for success.
AS has been his usual routine for the past couple of years, Ricky Wilson has been warming up for the day ahead with a run.
Pounding the streets and parks has become something of passion for the Kaiser Chiefs singer since reaching his thirties.
“I try to do 10km – about six miles – a day; I did 13 this morning,” he says of a fitness regime that’s given him the trim figure that has prompted much comment since he became a fixture of primetime Saturday night television as a judge on the BBC show The Voice.
“I don’t want you thinking I’m Mr Motivator or anything,” he quickly adds. “I use it as an excuse to get out of stuff. If we were on tour and I said, ‘I’m thinking of having a lie-in between 9am and 12pm’, someone would say, ‘But we’ve got these interviews...’
“It’s also self-improvement.”
His daily run long pre-dates his television appearances.
“I’ve been running for a couple of years, not for any other reason than I was in my thirties and I’d got comfortable enjoying life then my girlfriend reminded me I’m supposed to be a pop star. So I started working harder.”
It transpires Ricky was invited to judge The Voice two years ago, before the talent contest began its first run. He vacillated and instead Danny O’Donoghue, lead singer with The Script, occupied a swivelling chair for the first two series – and to winning effect. In 2013 his contestant Andrea Begley won the public vote.
“I don’t think I turned it down,” Ricky says, “it just went away.” As has been the way with Kaiser Chiefs for a few years, he admits, they would be offered things then “over-think” them. “By the time we’ve made a decision the opportunity has gone – that’s what I did, I couldn’t make my mind up.”
The 36-year-old, who was born in Keighley and educated at Leeds Grammar School, takes pride in the fact that he is something of a trailblazer on this type of show. With respect to his predecessor, he says: “Danny is not from the NME world”.
“Before I did it I was bracing myself for negativity from the ‘alternative’ world but that negativity never came. People seem to like it. I think the alternative world shoots itself in the foot. It shies away from trying things that can get it noticed. This is a foot in the door for alternative music on television – it’s the quickest way into people’s homes. I hope it leads to more alternative acts getting airtime on programmes like [Later with] Jools Holland – anything that’s a step towards that is a good thing.”
Ricky’s honesty about his motivation for appearing on The Voice – to get the Leeds band Kaiser Chiefs noticed again – seems to have won him respect. Following the departure of drummer and principal songwriter Nick Hodgson last year, the band seemed to be quietly fading away; now, their soon to be released fifth album Education, Education, Education and War is expected to top the charts.
“Nick was leaving for a long time,” Ricky admits. “After the third record he was not motivated, then we had to do that ridiculous internet thing [where fans could create their own version of the band’s fourth album The Future is Medieval from a selection of 20 tracks] – part of that was motivating him to make another record. It really worked, he wrote a lot for it.”
What he’s been trying to impress upon Team Ricky, his crop of contestants in The Voice, is that while pop stars’ careers are by their nature short-lived – “It goes up and up and up then drops off” – artists take the long view. “Artists’ careers have peaks and troughs and the peaks can make the troughs feel better and the troughs can make you do it again. When you have your first blip and you don’t sell records then it’s not time to throw in the towel. You’ve got to remind yourself how much you wanted it in the beginning.
“Sometimes it’s easy to see the privileges as being chores. Going on this show I’ve learned so much from it. Seeing kids in the position I was in 10 years ago reminded me it’s all this or nothing. When something is broken you don’t throw it away, you fix it.”
In an interview earlier this year, Ricky said he thought Kaiser Chiefs had lost the anger they once had. Today, he reflects: “Anger is an interesting word. Hunger is closer to what it is. When ambitions get fulfilled you’ve got to remember to build them and change them and widen the goalposts so you have something else to strive for. There was a point where I sat back and thought, ‘I’ve done more than I thought I could ever achieve’.
“When you get to the point where it’s not fun any more you realise jeopardy was the thing you worked for most, being the underdog got you up in the morning. We had not had that jeopardy for a long time.
“Suddenly you are in a position where you had to be twice as good as you thought you could be. We’ve written a record that I think surpasses the first one [Employment, which sold two million copies in 2005]. I can’t wait for people to hear it.
“It was made in a similar way to the first one. We were finding our feet. We had to be a band again, to interact with each other, to be honest with each other. It was back to four guys in a room making a racket. When Vijay [Mistry, the band’s new drummer] joined it was five guys making a racket with a beat.”
What has been striking on this series of The Voice has been the chemistry between Ricky and his fellow judges – Sir Tom Jones, Kylie Minogue and Will.i.am. Ricky says good-naturedly: “I’m not stupid enough not to realise I’m the least famous person to that particular party – that’s why I’m there, I’m closest to the guy in the street. But backstage in the dressing rooms you realise everyone is pretty much the same: it’s smoke and mirrors, hair and make-up. Although they have spent almost all their lives in the limelight they’re still normal people who laugh at the same jokes. I really enjoy it, it’s given me an insight into that world. That does not mean I want to stay there. I’m looking forward to going back to my band, where I belong.”
Ricky’s father worked in television; what he learned from that, the singer says, was not to hang around while he was working. “I’m the same – when I’m doing shows I don’t like having people I know there, it makes me less sure of what I’m doing. I learned that from him, it must have just rubbed off on me – the fact that it’s a job even when you are jumping around with a couple of beers inside you, singing.”
But they did have a father-son discussion before Ricky started filming The Voice. “He did sit me down and say, ‘This is going to be hard’. I knew it was going to be tough. You’re a cog in a machine.”
As for what he has been looking for from singers in The Voice, he says it’s all to do with heart and soul. “There have been some amazing, flawless singers in the blind auditions that I’ve not turned round for, people who are very talented. There’s a difference between flawless, trained voices that can sing anything and people who can communicate with me. Sometimes it’s not about how technically good they are, it’s about flaws and what’s wrong with it that gets the heart racing or the heart breaking.”
The “large quota of Northerners” he chose for his 12-member team is accidental, he says. “I wasn’t at any point listening and trying to work out if they were from Leeds or not, but on a subconscious level I warmed to these acts.”
Tonight, after a series of singing battles, Team Ricky will be whittled down to his final three contestants. He is “close” to them and has confidence in them all, although ultimately it will be down to the public to decide who wins the competition.
“I have confidence in the fact that they’re going to get better. It’s going to be tough for the public to vote because it goes out of my hands soon, but I’m looking forward to that. I know the British public will make the right decision.”
He is unsure how he would fare in his contestants’ shoes. “I’ve never had to be in that position,” he says. “I’m not saying I would not have done it. If somebody had offered me a shortcut to fame in 1995 I would have taken it, but I probably was not ready and I wouldn’t have got that far. I was ready in 2005. Then we would support anyone, play anywhere, travel anywhere to play a gig, to do whatever it took. But the music industry has changed. You’ve got to roll with the punches.”
After the success of this series, Ricky “probably” would do it all over again. “No one has asked,” he says, “but when me and Kylie joined the show it changed it a little bit for the better, I think. The chemistry has been pretty good and the viewers seem to like it. If I was them [the BBC] I would not mess with a winning formula. I probably would do it but it would depend on whether the band’s schedule would allow it. It’s all about the band.”
The Voice is on BBC1 tonight at 7.15pm and tomorrow at 7.45pm. Kaiser Chiefs’ new album is out on March 31.