Music interview '“ Nick Hodgson: '˜I am essentially a musician '“ whether it's playing Elland Road or playing some pub, I just love it'
It's almost five years to the day since Nick Hodgson publicly announced he was vacating the drummer's stool in Kaiser Chiefs and 'moving on' after a decade and a half in Leeds's most successful band of recent times.
Another five-piece, called Albert Albert, flickered briefly before Hodgson retreated to his studio in London to employ his song writing strengths in the service of others such as Mark Ronson, John Newman, Olly Murs, Dua Lipa, James Arthur, Duran Duran and Shirley Bassey.
That seemingly was that until a tweet in March this year suggested he was working on ‘solo material’. Eight months later he’s revealed the first fruits – a melodic single titled Suitable – with an album, Tell Your Friends, to follow it in January.
Hodgson, now 40, says he actually had “no intentions of doing a solo album at all, it was totally not on my list of things to do”, but, having found himself “getting a bit weary of the freelance work because it’s brutal”, he was looking for a new avenue for his music.
“I’d had a couple of reasonably-sized hits but you write a lot of songs and you get a lot of rejections and it just felt like maybe this isn’t exactly what I need right now. I want something where I can put it out and see people enjoying it straight away,” he says. “You don’t have to do it by committee, you don’t have a record company picking the tunes, you just have yourself and you can out it out and it’s just a great feeling, much more rewarding than having a song in a very large kind of set-up.”
He seemingly has no regrets about his decision to leave Kaiser Chiefs in December 2012. “For me, from the age of 21 it had been 24 hours a day, 365 days a year constant brainpower and constant obsession and I really felt like I’d done everything I wanted to do in a band,” he says.
“I just didn’t feel as excited any more and I’d run out of ideas for it and at that point I just thought ‘OK, I can’t be doing it’. I’d been doing it for 15 years and when I ran out of ideas I didn’t know where to go. I just thought ‘OK, It’s time to do something else’. I’m very good at switching my mind from one [thing] to another and I go ‘I’m doing this now’, and it wasn’t a hard decision at all.
“I had a year of touring after it. I told the band in 2011 and then we had a year together of touring; you can’t just leave that quickly.”
Albert Albert, he says, was all about simple enjoyment. “I wanted to come out of a massive band and just have fun. It was me and my wife and some friends, a couple of guys from Black Wire, who are a Leeds band. We did a few gigs and we had a really good time and it was all about the opposite of the serious band. Then [singer] Juanita [Stein] had to leave to go and do a Howling Bells album and tour so it kind of just faded away, but it was fun.
“I am essentially a musician. Whether it’s playing Elland Road or playing some pub, I just love it. I love getting on stage and doing it, really.”
Hodgson admits he initially found writing to order for others something of a culture shock. “Usually you’d be in a room with somebody and you’d start from scratch and write a song. You’d have a chat, I’d have a listen to the stuff they’d done so far say for a new album they were working on, usually in a day or two days you’d got a song. That was a shock to me when I left the band. In a band songs can take weeks and in this co-writing world you don’t have that time; you have a day or two days.
“With Shirley Bassey I actually wrote the song, sent it to [the producer and arranger] David Arnold and he liked it and did a production of it and got Shirley Bassey to sing on it then the next thing I heard was the finished version. That was cool.
“I liked doing it because you could do one thing one day then the next thing something completely different but the song you wrote the day before can be flying around the universe and doing something amazing while you’re on to the next one. It’s a really good antidote to the 24 hours a day, 365 days a year obsession of being in a band.”
The new single Suitable suggests the new album is going to be a warm, tuneful affair. “I think it’s one of the slowest tempos on the album but I think the sound and the style and the music is pretty consistent with the rest of it,” Hodgson says. “I’m very influenced by 70s production. I love Tame Impala who basically have that influence in their music as well. At no point do I sound retro but I do want to sound sort of classic. I played all the instruments on it and all the instruments that I own are pretty old, 70s guitars and drum kits, and that does come across. I’ve got a 12-string acoustic from 1974, if you play that on any song it suddenly comes from a different time. I thought ‘I’ve got all these instruments, I might as well let them do what they were born to do, really’.”
Hodgson and his wife Anna shot the video for the song in the Suffolk countryside on an iPhone for the princely sum of £4 for a selfie-stick. “It was a good budget that,” he jokes. “My kind of video.”
Tell Your Friends will be released on Hodgson’s own label, Prediction Records, on January 26, 2018. It was co-produced by Dave McCracken, who Hodgson had previously met while they were on the judging panel for the Ivor Novello Awards. “On the actual event, which was in May, before I went in I said ‘I need to find someone to work with’, then he was the first person I saw. Within about two minutes he said ‘What are you up to?’ and I said ‘I’m doing an album’ and he said ‘If you need help give me a call’. I was like ‘OK, I’ve found the right person right now’.
“It was amazing. He just added a professional element. I’d recorded all the instruments by that point and then I’d recorded guide vocals which were really rough and he just upped the whole thing. It went from being kind of low-key to much more high grade, so I’m grateful for that.”
Kaiser Chiefs guitarist Andrew ‘Whitey’ White features on one song which, like the Kaisers’ Angry Mob, is in two parts. “He came in for a couple of hours and I just got him to record a load of guitar,” says Hodgson. “The song changes pretty dramatically halfway through and I wanted some good guitar on it. I asked him ‘Can you do it?’ and he said ‘Yes’. It just so happened he was in London the next day so he came down and I was really impressed.”
Hodgson says the album has a personal theme. “I wanted to write stuff that wasn’t about other people, it wasn’t about other situations. I’ve written hundreds of songs before but they’ve always been for other people to take away or for Ricky [Wilson] to sing. This time I thought there’s no point in doing it if I’m not talking about what I feel. I had to delve in and just be honest. It’s quite a different thing, really.
“I thought I can’t be doing it if I’m singing songs about either characters that I’ve invented or situations in the world. I wanted to sing about love and fear and memory and the future and everything that was personal.”
On December 18 Hodgson will support his friends The Cribs at Brudenell Social Club in Leeds – the same venue where Kaiser Chiefs famously opened for the Jarman brothers back in 2005. “We were on first before The Cribs then the next day Franz Ferdinand were on before them,” Hodgson recalls.
The invitation to do the show came via text from Ross Jarman. “He said ‘Do you and your new band fancy supporting us?’ I hadn’t got a band at that point, this was about a month ago, but I thought I have to say yes. So my full-time job now is getting a band together, rehearsing, learning all songs, all the words and practising my singing. When I get up in the morning I’m just in gig mode. I really want to thank Ross for sending that text. It’s made me want to do some gigs.”
His band now includes Glenn Moule, from Howling Bells, on drums, guitarist Tom Dawson (“He’s from Leeds and he’s my friend, he’s in a band called Sunspots”), bassist Mike Darling, Kaiser Chiefs’ former tour manager, and Ben Gordon, formerly of The Dead 60s, on keyboards.
When he’s found an agent Hodgson hopes to tour in the new year. Crash Records will stage a show for customers who pre-order the album, at Headrow House on January 29. For details visit www.crashrecords.co.uk.
Hodgson says he feels in some ways like he’s come full circle with his music. “It definitely feels a very natural thing that’s happened. I haven’t forced anything or got stressed out about it, all the songs came really easily.
“Now in a way it’s similar to when we used to be called Parva and then we became Kaiser Chiefs and there was a three-month period in about 2003 when we wrote Modern Way and I Predict a Riot, all these amazing hits, and then it kind of dried up for a bit. I can remember back in 2005 thinking ‘Oh no, I’ve run out of songs’, but then I wrote Ruby. I’m hoping it will only be a temporary block.”