“It’s like a divorce. You can be as friendly as you like but there’s always a bit of an energy,” says erstwhile Kaiser Chief Nick Hodgson of his interactions with his former bandmates. Nick was the drummer and principal songwriter of indie music behemoths the Kaiser Chiefs, and in 2012, more than a decade after founding the band as a 23-year-old in 2000, Nick decided to bow out to concentrate on other projects, before embarking on a solo career. Describing what it’s like when he sees the other Kaiser Chiefs, Nick elaborates: “It’s a good energy, it’s quite exciting. It’s not like being friends with a normal person who’s your friend. When you meet up with the person, it’s like you’re meeting up with your ex-wife.”
In the intervening years the talented songwriter, who penned hits such as "Ruby" and "I Predict a Riot" during his tenure in the Kaiser Chiefs, wrote songs for the likes of Mark Ronson and Shirley Bassey. After several years of this, and never really giving much thought to the notion of becoming a solo musician, Nick started writing songs just for himself almost by accident.
“I just had this flash of inspiration that I was going to do an album, when I started writing "Thank You",” Hodgson says. “It was the end of March 2017, and I was feeling pretty miserable and I just thought, ‘I'll do this’. I just started playing the guitar really basically and a little melody came out, and then I started writing the words and I suddenly just went, ‘Okay, this is what I’m going to do now, I’m going to be a solo artist’. And I hadn’t ever thought that in my life before.”
The ten-track album Tell Your Friends, which features songs bathed in surreal psychedelia and catchy pop hooks, was the result of this flash of inspiration. The LP was recorded in Nick’s home studio in London last summer, while being ably assisted by Dave McCracken (Depeche Mode, Ian Brown) on production duties. Nick described the months spent writing and recording the album as being a “weird” experience for him, as the songs came together so easily.
“I started [the album] at the end of March and I finished all the songs at the end of August, and I don’t know how I did it so fast. I just had this really great feeling, everything flowed really well. I’ve had it a few times in the past. For the first Kaiser Chiefs album I had that feeling, where all the songs came in six months, and I don’t know where they came from – they just materialised. Those are the time periods that you have to treasure, because they’re infrequent.”
Nick drew inspiration from David Bowie and The Beatles when he was crafting the songs for Tell Your Friends, and describes how having “no barriers at all” as a solo musician meant that he could fully indulge in his influences. During the recording process Nick erased sections of songs that he viewed as being too dull, and would replace them with serpentine riffs and more exciting structures, in a bid to create an unexpected U-turn for listeners. As exciting as this was, Nick still appreciates the creativity that can flow when recording an album as part of a band.
“Take "Ruby", for example,” Nick explains. “I came in with the idea behind the song “Ruby” and then Whitey [Kaiser Chiefs’ guitarist], added this guitar sound at the beginning [sings the riff from "Ruby"]. And I think if I’d been left alone to do "Ruby" on my own it would’ve been a bit dull.” [Laughs.]
Now the skilled multi-instrumentalist is preparing to embark on his first solo tour, playing a string of dates in intimate venues in the UK and Ireland, along with his recently formed backing band. While this is a big change for a musician who’s used to playing stadiums, Nick is content to be touring without a punishing schedule and to be playing live shows under his own name, even if he admits to missing the massive gigs. The Leeds native now derives excitement from touring again, just like he did as part of the fledgling Kaiser Chiefs when he was in his early 20s.
“I actually loved the massive places, I don’t know why,” Nick says. “It’s like in a football crowd there’s this whole shared experience with thousands of people, it’s somehow the most elation you can get. At the moment I’m just doing little venues, and I’m loving it. In terms of touring, it’s totally different. I’m really excited about the tour and I’ve never been excited about touring before. When we first started touring [in the Kaiser Chiefs], we couldn’t see the end. There wasn’t a beginning and an end, there was just a beginning,” he laughs. “And it would go on for a year and a half or something.”
“I think with the beginning of the Kaiser Chiefs the ambitions were small, and then they got bigger and bigger, and now I’m doing that same thing again. I got offered a festival the other day and I was like, ‘Oh my god, this is amazing’. I must’ve played 300 festivals in my life, and to be offered one as a solo artist is a total buzz. I don’t know why but I was so happy. Anything that’s new is kind of exciting, I suppose.”
While excitement is building around Nick’s first solo tour, he never really anticipated reaching the point of releasing a solo album, let alone embarking on a tour. When he wrote his first few solo tracks he mainly just wanted to give people an insight into the music that he wanted to create and was passionate about, and with Tell Your Friends he has succeeded in doing that.
“I think my initial aim was just to put some music out, whether it was just online…I never really thought I’d put a physical record out. I wanted people to hear the sort of thing that I make on my own, really. I’ve always been making music on my own, since I was about 13, but all people know me for is the Kaiser Chiefs. I think I just want people to hear what my brain sounds like.”