After a 40 minute-chat with The Sportsman about all things Elland Road, Kaiser Chiefs bassist Simon Rix’s love of Leeds United was confirmed further still when he later replied to us on WhatsApp with a Marcelo Bielsa thumbs up sticker. With music and sport so intrinsically linked, this is a man who clearly adores his club and his guitars.
As part of the Yorkshire five-piece for the last 15 years, named after the former club of Leeds United icon Lucas Radebe, Rix and his bandmates recorded a number one album, topped the charts with the emphatic ‘Ruby’, won three Brit awards, an Ivor Novello and were nominated for the Mercury Prize. However, while all of this was going on, United were embarking on a 16-year fall from grace.
But now, they are back! Back with Marcelo Bielsa and battling the Premier League big boys once more. While professionally Rix has done it all, supporting his football team has resulted in many difficult moments. Engaging, thoughtful and passionate, he talked us through his musical success and his years following the club everyone has loved to hate.
Let’s start with the name ‘Kaiser Chiefs’. It originated from Lucas Radebe’s former club in South Africa. Is everyone in the band a massive Leeds fan?
There were four of us at the time. Ricky’s (lead singer Ricky Wilson) not fussed, really, he supports Leeds but that’s it kind of just because he has to. He doesn’t support anyone else, is what I’d say, and goes to a couple of games. All the rest of us were big Leeds fans and most of us went to games. When we chose the band name I don’t think any of us were going to games because we were focusing on other stuff but, as teenagers, Whitey (guitarist Andrew White) went to ALL the games, home and away. The Kaiser Chiefs thing was interesting, it’s hard to find a name but I think it’s proven a good one. For me, it being linked with the club made it a little more special.
We picked the name (after Radebe’s previous club Kaizer Chiefs, who he joined from in 1994) and someone at Leeds had said Radebe had heard so they invited us to come to the training ground to meet him. We didn’t know what it was about. It was great to get in there, see what was going on as you don’t get that chance very often. I think we were slightly worried he’d say you can’t use it or whatever, but he was, as he is always, super nice, very friendly, and, the amazing person that Lucas is, he thought it was amazing that we named the band Kaiser Chiefs and supported us. Then a few years later in 2008 we went over to South Africa, and went in with Lucas to the Kaizer Chiefs training base and played football with them… funny innit, a South African football team giving you their support? But they always have. I feel like the Kaizer Chief shirt sales probably went up quite a lot in Leeds, from probably none to some.
Leeds were playing in front of thousands and then years later it was your turn with the band...
I think going to the game definitely gave me a taste of what that would be like to play in front of that many people. The pressure of being a footballer is different. For us, when you get past a certain point, everyone is on your side. They come to see you, they don’t boo you. If you make a mistake, they don’t criticise you or ask for you to be sacked! The abuse level is a lot less. I always say, at a Kaiser gig, there aren’t people cheering for another band.
What was it like hearing your music at Elland Road for the first time?
When we got relegated, during half-time of our last home game at Elland Road against Charlton, they played our first single on the big screen and showed the video and stuff. So that was big and we were really pleased in a weird way. It was a great, proud moment. Leeds used to run out to ‘I Predict a Riot’, for me that’s one of the best things that happened. Every week it makes me immensely proud and is something I could have never ever dreamt of happening.
You became the President of the supporters club in December, how does it feel to be even closer to the club?
Yeah, it’s really good. We’ve had some terrible owners and terrible times recently, so the trust is there to be closer to the club, to be a voice for the fans and to hold the club to account. I think they’d like a fan on the board but that hasn’t happened yet. At the moment, we have a chairman interested in doing the right things and looking after the club so it’s a little less hectic at the moment. Outside of making statements, they also do loads of good stuff like a food bank, it’s just nice to be involved in that.
At the moment fans can’t go to games and, as a musician, gigs have been halted too. Sport and music are two hugely important parts of our culture and have suffered as well. How’s it been for you?
In terms of football, because Leeds is dead stressful, when football was first cancelled I was actually relaxed because we were top and obviously we’ve got Bielsa. Because I really care too much, I’ve been 10 per cent more stressful than usual because we’d been trying to get promoted for three years. It was relaxing, something good to focus on and it’s a shame we couldn’t go to the stadium - Liverpool fans probably had a similar feeling. You look forward to something for such a long time and it doesn’t pan out how you wanted it to. It would have been great being in the stadium, all of us celebrating. It’s great to get up and enjoy the Premier League, and we can’t go down because everyone has to see at least one Premier League game. It’s not looking like that, we’re playing good football; I think the same thing happened under David O’Leary before we messed up, we played fast and furious football. I like the ‘Dirty Leeds’ tag in a way but I like it when people like us too.
The longer we can’t go, the more frustrating it is. The Manchester City game, the atmosphere would have been ace, going toe to toe with them. The worry is, before we get back in the stadium, Bielsa could leave, Pablo Herndanez is 35 too so we might never see him live again. It’s sad, all that stuff, missing those little moments.
It’s the same with music, I miss gigs. We did two socially-distanced gigs in September and it was weird, cars in the field stuff. It was great to get up and play as that’s part of me, you don’t realise it’s such an important thing. I feel sorry for people who have just released their first album; this is it, this was their moment. If this happened to us in 2005, my entire life would be different.
How much do you love Bielsa and have you managed to meet him yet?
I haven’t met him yet actually, which is interesting as usually it’s quite easy for me to get in the position to chat with managers. The situation hasn’t helped. He just means everything. How many murals of Leeds managers were there in the city centre a year ago? The answer is none, and now they’re all over the place because he’s just a cult figure. The way he talks, what he’s got to say and his opinion on stuff is so perfect, not everything is about winning, play the game the right way. He wants everyone to have a high moral code. He’s brought great football and success getting us out of the league. Leeds had a harder time than most getting out of the Championship. Everything was a rivalry, Yorkshire/Lancashire, Millwall, Cardiff… people who are always going to be 100 per cent up for the game. Due to the animosity, we needed a special manager with a special mindset and he’s transformed some players into international footballers like Liam Cooper and Kalvin Phillips. It’s great how he sees the game and works things out.
What have you made of the impact the many hairstyles in the Leeds dressing room has had on the Premier League?
Ahhh, the topknot, yeah. We have got a lot of those, probably too many. What I think is to blame, like, Jack Harrison had a very smart normal haircut and then lockdown happened, and it’s a very sculptured topknot. I think there is a guy they’re all friends with, this one hairdresser and I think it’s his fault. He is King of the top knot. As long as they’re playing well and it doesn’t stop them performing, they can do what they want.
As for this season, do you have a prediction for where Leeds will finish?
I hate it when people are boringly realistic so I want to say top four! But I think somewhere in the middle would be a great first season. Tenth.