The Kaiser Chiefs played rock clubs around Leeds, their hometown, for nearly a decade before signing their first record deal and were soon headlining sold-out shows around the world. Now that the band is famous, singer Ricky Wilson – who also serves as a judge on The Voice U.K. – can’t help but get recognized as he wanders around the university town he left eight years ago, a city rendered unrecognizable by aggressive urban renewal.
“I went for a walk, and I got lost,” he tells Men’s Journal of a recent trip. “I know my way around Vienna more.”
Many of the Leeds clubs the Kaiser Chiefs played during their formative years have closed or been renovated under a different name. The Duchess and Joseph’s Well have been shuttered; the former Town and Country has been reopened as the O2 Academy. “Music scenes come and go,” Wilson says. “Things change, and that’s what a good city should be like.” Still, he’s not thrilled about the massive shopping center “right bang in the middle of the city.” He jokes that it’s like a bad Clash song: “Lost in an Ikea.”
That’s the thing about time and progress. While Wilson was establishing himself, Leeds was becoming a more important cultural center. The city grew and, yes, made some compromises. Wilson says he changed as well.
“Only the people who have evolved will survive,” he says of joining the celebrity judges’ panel on The Voice. “I knew I would do whatever it takes. I just didn’t know that ‘whatever it takes’ would change so much in 10 years.”
He recently moved to Cornwall, on England’s southern tip, on a whim. Only after buying a house near the sea did he realize he now lives about a 20-minute drive from his father’s birthplace. “That’s really weird, innit?” he says. It is and it isn’t. Cornwall is beautiful and remote. It changes, but not very quickly.
Still, however far removed he gets from Leeds, Wilson says his hometown will always remain his songwriting inspiration. “No matter what I’m doing or where I’m recording, that’s still my go-to feeling,” he says. “That’s where it all comes from. The shops can change and the buildings can get taller, but it still feels the same.”