"The legacy you leave behind is the music,” says Serge Pizzorno, his spindly limbs folded under a coffee-stained table. “Incredible music and great live gigs. That’s it.”
Contemplating how future generations will remember you may seem a tad dramatic, not to mention maudlin, for a 30-year-old musician. But if there’s one thing ShortList learns after a day in the company of Kasabian, it’s that they don’t muck about with regard to their profession. It’s something to be taken seriously. And maybe it’s time we recognised this.
Ever since Serge (laid-back guitarist and primary songwriter), Tom Meighan (hyperactive frontman), Ian Matthews (quiet drummer) and Chris Edwards (even quieter bassist) roared on to the scene in 2004 with their eponymous debut, they’ve been, not unfavourably, regarded as lairy lads done good. Lovably mouthy Leicester boys making amiable but unambitious rock that’s been precision-engineered to soundtrack football highlights packages.
But this lager-spattered image needs a rethink. We’re speaking to the band as they prepare to hit the road for a colossal tour that’s already sold out The O2 in London and Glasgow’s SECC. They’ve won a Brit Award, been shortlisted for the Mercury Prize, and their fourth album Velociraptor! (the third to go to No1) was accompanied by a constellation of favourable four-star reviews.
Plus, they’ve achieved all this popular acclaim while plundering Krautrock, psychedelia, techno, Ennio Morricone-grade mariachi and other gleefully loopy influences. As Serge drawls later in the day, “With what we’re into, we shouldn’t really be as big as we are. You shouldn’t get big off a concept record about madness where you’re dressed as a priest on the cover.”
They’re a startling anomaly. Cooler than Coldplay, but not quite as publically frosty as Arctic Monkeys. A restlessly inventive rock outfit that can fill stadiums and storm festival stages while pleasing critics. It’s this evidence that prompts us to stroll into today’s photo shoot and interview determined to take the band seriously. To look at the experimental talent behind the gobby headlines.
So it derails our plans somewhat when Tom interrupts our first chat in order to take off his trousers. “Sorry, mate,” he says, breaking off from our conversation about the band’s influences to stand up and unbuckle the belt of his sprayed-on black jeans. “Gets a bit tight down there sometimes,” he chuckles, hoiking open his flies as his bandmates look on and laugh. Music, mayhem and the true horror of perilously tight rock star clothes. It’s not quite what we had in mind. But, as we soon learn, it’s a pretty good snapshot of a day with Britain’s biggest band.
THIS ISN’T SPINAL TAP
This upcoming tour, which whips through the UK arenas before extending to Japan and Australia in the new year, is a testament to how big the band are now. And they’ve got suitably huge plans for the shows.
“It’s going to be monumental, absolutely f*cking fantastic,” beams Serge, with characteristic modesty. “We’ve got the perfect set, the perfect running order and it’s a euphoric, futuristic show.”
Have they got any Muse-style pyrotechnics or flying UFOs planned, then?
“We’ll do something that looks cool,” says Tom, chipping in. “But there’ll be no coming out of a f*cking egg, or anything like that.”
“You don’t want it to turn into Spinal Tap,” agrees Serge. “But if you play those big shows, you have to do something different or there’s no point. It can be done without looking like f*cking Kiss. We’re doing something that’s never been done before, where the crowd control the light. So on certain tunes, the louder the crowd get and the more energy they put in, the crazier the lights get. So the show changes every night depending on their reaction. It’s amazing.”
Don’t expect the inevitable beer-flinging scenes in front of the stage to be mirrored behind it, though. Tom and Serge both insist they’re not bracing their livers for a punishing drinking schedule, stating that their wildest partying days are behind them.
“We’ve learned to pick our battles,” says Serge with a smile. “With the first record you don’t give a f*ck. You don’t even think you’re going to make another one, so you just have the time of your life. Now, you know which nights to go for it.
“We’re in a rock’n’roll band, so we’re going to party every now and then. But you’ve got to be good at both. If you have a drink, you can never f*ck up. I saw an interview with Jack Nicholson and he was like, ‘I had a good time, but I was never late and never missed a job. That’s where I get my pride from.’ I’m down with that. I can’t be arsed to be out of it for five days. While you’re hungover, I’ll be in the studio working, motherf*cker. That’s how I roll.”
Tom nods in agreement and even admits he’s embraced early nights and vocal warm-ups in order to improve his singing. A booze-shirking work ethic? Openly advocating the importance of vocal-cord booster techniques? You’d never have caught Oasis saying any of that.
HEIRS TO THE THRONE
The cagoule-clad spectre of their Manchester forebears looms large over Kasabian. Not only are they held aloft as the natural heirs to the vacated British rock throne, they also happen to be friends and collaborators with both warring Gallagher brothers. Do they feel they’ve taken the place of Oasis?
“Maybe we’ve got the same spirit as them, but we’re a different band,” says Tom. “They were one-offs. A phenomenon.”
Serge is even firmer with his dismissal. “We’re not anything like them,” he says. “It’s an honour [to be compared to them], because Noel and Liam are why we’re here, but musically we’re nothing like them.” That might be stretching it for some — the bands clearly share fans and played a memorable double header at Wembley Stadium in 2009. In fact, Noel Gallagher recently revealed to ShortList that he’d have joined Kasabian in a heartbeat if they’d asked him. Would they have been up for that?
“Nah, he’d dictate everything too much,” laughs Tom. “Seriously, though, that would’ve been f*cking brilliant, but he’s got his own thing going on now.”
“It would be amazing,” adds Serge. “We’re good mates, so we could just wheel him out no problem.”
The arrival of Noel on the Kasabian tour bus would certainly breed a different atmosphere. Serge, Tom, Chris and Ian are visibly close. Larking about between setups for the photos, teasing each other about parts of today’s all-black wardrobe and, in Tom’s case, playing a furious bit of air guitar to the Fifties rock blaring out of the tinny studio speakers. Do they ever have any Gallagher-style bust-ups?
“We’ve had a few punch-ups,” admits Tom. “There’s even been blood, but we’re really tight. We’ve been together since we were 17.” Serge — who infamously spurned an advance from Kate Moss in the band’s early days — also thinks the fact that the band are all based outside of London (they all live in Leicester, apart from Bristolian Ian) helps to keep them grounded and out of the tabloids.
“Living in Leicester, five minutes from my mum and dad, and five minutes from my mates I grew up with, is where I like to be,” he says. “I don’t want to be f*cking about in some dingy flat.”
So you’re not likely to find Serge and Tom tumbling out of Whisky Mist with a glamour model on each arm. But they’re at pains to distance themselves from a lot of today’s apologetic and shufflingly awkward bands as well.
“There’s a rock’n’roll drought at the minute, so I’m glad we’re here,” says Tom. “People are frightened of making records that sound good on the radio.” He won’t quite call out other bands like he used to (“We were mouthy little b*stards when we first came out,” he laughs) but he despairs of the substandard music out there, describes The X Factor as a “vile, f*cking dead horse” and brands Simon Cowell “the devil of music”.
Serge is equally scathing about the current music scene. “We’ve been overrun by pop and I f*cking hate that indie attitude,” he spits. “Life’s too short to give a f*ck. I’m not religious, I don’t think there’s anything after this, so I’m here to have a good time and this is the one chance I’ve got. So get me the f*cking fur coat and let’s crack on. One knobhead might go, ‘Oh, I don’t like that.’ But who cares?”
FOOTBALL AND FINE ART
Fretting about what people think of you is pointedly absent from the Kasabian manifesto. When, in relation to the band’s recent Lana Del Rey cover, we ask Serge if he ever scans Twitter for criticism, he seems genuinely baffled.
“Do I hell,” he splutters. “Why would you want to see someone in their pants, who obviously f*cking hates you, call you a c*nt? You’ve got to be mental to do that. You might as well go into a dungeon and get f*cking whipped.”
They’re both adamant that they’ve got nothing to prove to the ‘lad rock’ detractors. In fact, in the laughably brief hiatus between finishing their last tour and recording the new album, they took on a few different projects.
Serge wrote the music for his friend Noel Fielding’s upcoming E4 show Luxury Comedy (“A work of total genius,” he grins) and British gangster flick London Boulevard. Whereas Tom stepped in front of the camera to appear alongside Stephen Graham and Sean Pertwee in Seventies wrestling pilot Walk Like A Panther. Does he fancy acting full time?
“Maybe,” he says, mulling it over. “It just gave me something to do in January — a bit of an outlet. It’s been filmed and we’ve done a pilot, so we’ll see what happens [with a series]. I play a nervous security guard.”
One extracurricular piece of work of which they were both part was a Sky Sports pre-season ad that saw them play against a team of pundits. “Weird but fun,” says Tom. “They took it quite seriously, but they were nice fellas. And I did barge into Gary Neville a few times,” he adds proudly.
Serge, a very handy former Nottingham Forest youth player (“I’d have hated to be a footballer. They can’t get away with anything”) enjoyed the surreal aspect of it. “I just thought, imagine if you’d seen Pink Floyd do something like that? It’d weird you out.”
But that’s as far as they’ll take their relationship with football. Don’t expect them to write England’s single for the 2012 European Championships. “Three Lions will never be beaten, so there’s no point,” Serge reasons. “We’ve been asked a few times, but it’s not for us. The only way we’d do it is if we could do no lyrics and pure techno. But we’d never get away with that.”
It’s these juxtapositions and odd fixations that set the band apart from predecessors such as Oasis and characterise the accessible but strange nature of their sound. Following his fondness for Star Wars, Tom reportedly spent £8,000 on life-size models for his home, and it was his love of dinosaurs that gave the latest album its name and title track. And he’s still got a range of intriguing influences today.
“Life On Mars, ET…” he says, excitedly drumming the table. “What else? I fall asleep to a CD of rain sounds. That’s weird, isn’t it? I find it quite therapeutic. You can get tropical storms and all that. Hip-hop — NWA, KRS-One — I’m influenced by that. There’s an element of MCing on [Velociraptor!’s lead single] Days Are Forgotten.”
“Yoko Ono’s early records have got this horrible kind of witch-like screaming that always stuck with me,” says Serge, joining in with his own creative touchstones. “There’s something really powerful about it. I watched Enter The Void by Gaspar Noé the other day and that’s f*cking insane, but then I watched Toy Story 3 recently and it blew my mind, too. I’m open to everything and I don’t dismiss anything. You can be into football and f*cking Salvador Dali. There’s so much out there that’s so incredible, you’ve just got to open your eyes to it.”
And that’s who they are. Oddballs who fill arenas. Leicester City fans that appreciate surrealist art. And cocksure rockers with an insanely committed work ethic. With all that in place, we don’t think Serge should have to spend too long worrying about their legacy.
Velociraptor! is out now and Kasabian play live at NYE RE:WIRED on 31 December; see Kasabian.co.uk for details
(Photography: Jay Brooks)
(Image 4: Rex Features)