- Posted on Mar 14th 2012 2:00PM by Andrew Losowsky
This isn't a normal Spinner interview.
"I spoke to a kid from science class last week."
In the past 15 years, I've interviewed rock stars and actors, famous authors, Oscar-winning directors, politicians, inventors.
"Do you remember that French teacher?"
This is the first time I've interviewed someone I knew in high school.
Ricky Wilson and I lost contact with each other after graduation. Me, I went to college, traveled for a while, eventually moved to New York to be a journalist.
Wilson went to art school, did various jobs, and in the evenings he sang with a band. For many years, the Kaiser Chiefs were a support act in small venues in my home town. Then in 2005, the band's first single 'I Predict a Riot' was being used on car ads and quoted in national news headlines. The Kaiser Chiefs had suddenly become one of the biggest names in modern U.K. rock.
This is the first time we've spoken since -- but not the first time he's encountered one of our classmates.
"A year after we left high school," Ricky says. "I saw [name deleted] in a bar. He looked at me and said 'Ricky Wilson. How's your fucked up life then?'"
"How did you respond," I ask.
"I said, 'A bit up in the air, like your mother's legs.' And then he hit me, knocked a tooth out. Haven't seen him since. But, you know, I showed them all."
Ricky laughs, then says, "Everything I've done is about revenge."
I feel like he's maybe half joking, but if it is all about revenge, then it's being served liberally. Over the past seven years, the Kaiser Chiefs have released four top-selling albums in Europe, headlined gigs to crowds of 38,000, including in the main sports arena of my home town, they've performed on the main stage at the Glastonbury Festival, and appeared on pretty much every TV show going. They've played 'Letterman' and 'Leno,' Coachella and Lollapalooza. Right now, they're at SXSW, where they're playing Spinner's showcase. They have huge numbers of fans all over the world.
One of the things they're best known for is Ricky's hyperactive stage presence -- he jumps around while singing; he starts gigs at the back of the room and then crowd-surfs his way to the stage; he climbs the scaffolding that holds the lights, and sings while swinging like a monkey. One time, in Germany, he persuaded the entire room to sit down in silence mid-song, before they all leapt up together, screaming. Last week in New York, he ran up to the second level balcony during a song and threw beer onto the crowd below.
All this from someone who describes his high school self as "constantly trying to appear more average, and blend into the background."
Success was far from overnight -- it took nine years of playing those tiny gigs before the first album was released. But despite the mocking words of former classmates, Ricky never wavered.
"There must have been some kind of ... mental switch that got flicked. For so long, nothing happened. But I always knew that it would. No matter how many jobs I had when I needed money, in my head, the band was always my main reason for getting up in the morning. I never doubted I'd do anything else than be in a rock and roll band.
"When our first record came out, I think the reason we had such success was that, for the first time in a while, here was a band who looked like they wanted to be there. I think people embraced that. Because we did really want to be there. We were like five over-excited puppies."
The Kaiser Chiefs have been in the U.S. before, but they've just begun their biggest-ever North American tour, playing 20 cities in a month and a half -- smaller venues than they would play in the U.K., but large enough to get them noticed.
"I can't even look at the schedule -- if I did, I'd probably refuse to do it," Ricky says. "But every night there's a different crowd of people. Well, apart from a couple of people who are on the front row of every gig, but they're a bit ... odd. But otherwise, it's a different set of people every night, they've been looking forward to the gig for ages, and when we play our songs, it's the first time we've played them for these people. I much prefer being on the road to being in the studio. Every night we play a gig, it all becomes worthwhile."
We start talking about other people from high school. One kid, it turns out, was arrested for running a counterfeit smuggling operation. Another kid, of the most rebellious ones, now works for a major investment bank.
Ricky laughs again. "If you showed me a photograph from our last year in [high] school and asked me what I think they're doing now, I reckon 80 percent of my answers would be pretty much on the nose. But there'd be a few that would totally shock me. I'd never have pointed at you and said you'd be a journalist in New York, for one."
"Some people just kind of settle. I don't want to sound like a dick, for some people that's not a problem. Not everyone wants to be in a rock band. But I'm really happy doing what I'm doing. I don't have any ambitions to do anything else.
"And as long as we have people to play to, who want to see us perform, we're having a good time."
Reports from gigs in Boston and New York suggest that so are the audiences who go see them.
His mom and dad, by the way, are fine.
Andrew Losowsky is the Editor of Huffington Post Books. Find more of his stories here.