With their most enormous gigs ever and boldest album to date, Kasabian are gearing up for their biggest year yet. Hamish MacBain meets a band still on the up
The pink? To be honest, we wanted purple and blue, but Kasabian were adamant. It had to be pink. Kasabian are all about pink at the moment.
A month ago, Tom Meighan and Serge Pizzorno spent a day out in east London, in overalls with brushes, painting a shopfront the brightest shade of pink imaginable (save for ’48:13’ in black in the centre). Then last week, they unveiled their album cover. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s the brightest shade of pink imaginable (save for their name and all of the individual track lengths, no titles) and the album title – 48:13 – in black in the centre.
The point of the pink is simple. As well as being in-your-face and “a nod to punk”, the intention is to play, as Serge puts it, “on the fact that people see us in a certain way”. By which he means the fact that he and Kasabian are still viewed – in a fair few quarters – as a ‘lad’ band.
“I think that will always be there, but in some respects so it should,” he notes. “There are so many other elements to this band, but… we are, really.”
Certainly, the first taste of said album, Eez-Eh, is not the work of a band bothered in the slightest about being pegged as lads. Lad ‘rock’, as a tag, might grate with them, given that the single has precisely zero to offer in the way of guitars. It is comprised instead of a bouncy electronic four-to-the-floor beat and synthesiser whirrs and buzzes, and is unashamedly “’avin’ it”. It will be endlessly compared to The Streets at their most geezerish. Tom notes that it reminds him of “Born Slippy, but more cheeky”, which is not a bad description: it definitely reeks a lot of “lager, lager, lager”.
“In some ways it’s giving haters what they want, but I kind of love that as well,” Serge continues, “because it is a proper geezer song. It was one of those beautiful moments that as writer you pray for: when they take 10 minutes no hassle, and you end up with the first single. It frightened me at first. I knew it was powerful but I thought, ‘Can we get away with that?’ But it’s just undeniable.”
Tom is also, it’s fair to say, very excited about Kasabian’s comeback single. And yes, OK, over the course of the time we’re sat out in a pub garden he also gets excited by a) the size of the sandwiches being brought out, b) someone on the next table’s dog and c) someone on the other next table’s kid (his own daughter is just about to turn two). He’s that type of guy. But ask him about Eez-Eh and he goes up plenty of notches.
“I know it’s going to be huge that tune. And the thing is, I think that tune could catch people’s ears that don’t even like rock’n’roll music. It could really go bang, and spark a whole new legion of fans.
“If that goes pop, then God help us: we’ll be gone!”
PAGING DOCTOR PIZZORNO
A few days earlier, after about a 20-minute drive from Leicester station, up a few tiny country roads, I come to the gates of Serge’s house (which, as you might expect, is more of a mansion). At the back is an outhouse with an old wooden door, on which is a wooden sign that says ‘THE SERGERY’ (hee hee). It is here, surrounded by vintage synthesisers, that Kasabian’s music goes from a thought in Serge’s head to a finished record. For the past two albums, he had assistance with the production. But 48:13, their fifth album, is him “from when the first note is sung to when the last shaker is put on”.
“After we’d headlined Reading and Leeds in 2012,” he begins, “I felt like I needed a bit of a break. But then we started building this place, and once you start that you think, ‘Ahh, I’ll just nip in for an hour, turn anything on.’ And soon I was like ‘F*ck’ – this sort of dread in some ways of going, ‘Aah, I’ve got something now and that’s it. I know what it means to make an album.’
This should have led to a long period of hibernation and contemplation and planning, but these days there are innumerable festivals to be headlined and only a finite number of bands up to the task. And so summer of last year saw Kasabian head out for a handful of big shows, including – on the same night the Rolling Stones headlined Glastonbury – a set at the Olympic Park.
Serge says, “That night I was like, ‘F*ck, we are that band: with the ability to bring 50-60,000 people together and have an incredible night, that’s not a garage rock band, that’s not an electronic band, but both at the same time. It was like, ‘That’s what Kasabian is, that’s what we do.’ We’re like an illegal rave in the Midlands played by a band from 1969. And that helped me with this record, ’cos I just wanted to distil what we are, tear it apart: to start from ‘What is this band?’ and then make an album that perfectly represents that. So when we go out again we’ve got these tunes that are for that.”
This means songs that are built for big spaces. As Bumblebee explodes out of the speakers you can practically smell the mile-wide moshpits, while the likes of Stevie, Doomsday and Treat (Tom’s fave) are all Kasabian turned up to 12.
All the track titles are one word, which Serge insists, like the music itself, is “about stripping away any faff, any self-indulgence”. There are more classically styled songs, such as the bluesy, closing SPS (a sort of caner love letter from Serge to Tom), but also plenty of ‘What the hell?’ moments – see Glass, when a street poet Serge found on YouTube pops up to deliver a sermon. “He’d never heard us,” says Serge. “He was expecting some rock band. He was like, ‘F*cking hell, I wasn’t expecting that!’”
Again, Tom, it’s fair to say, is a fan. “I don’t think we’ve come anywhere near this album before. I love all our records, but this is a pinnacle for us. Serge was saying, ‘It’s like we’re reborn.’”
Of course, Kasabian being Kasabian, there are also people out there who are not so enthused. When the album cover and concept were revealed there was the tweeted wave of derision customary to the times we live in. “I’m sure people will go, ‘Oh they think they’re clever,’” says Serge. “But it’s not about trying to be ‘cool’ or clever. It’s the opposite. We just wanted it to be the most direct way of communicating what it is. And it felt old fashioned somehow, to give an album a name.”
“I’m just sick of explaining our album titles,” Tom adds. “West Ryder…, Velociraptor!… why this, why that?’ You end up getting bogged down in these questions, so it’s just like, ‘It’s the length of the album, shut up, let’s get on with it! I wanted to call it ‘Volume 5’, like Sabbath or Zeppelin.”
More potentially damaging, was the kerfuffle around Eez-Eh at the start of this year. Kasabian gave a couple of music magazines a preview of some tracks they were working on, of which the now-lead-single was one, but with work-in-progress lyrics that concerned “horse meat in the burgers”. The piece came out, the wider media saw said lyric…
Serge: “…and the next thing I see online is another guy saying it’s a protest song about horse meat. He was talking about a song he’d never heard, the words weren’t right, he had no idea what the song was about or what context it was written in, and was just caning the band, caning the song. But he assumed that I was that thick that I would make a social comment on a year-old story. It was weird because when that piece came out, it was three or four weeks after I did the interview and it had changed completely and I was like ‘F*ck, that doesn’t even exist any more. It was a demo!’ I was thinking, ‘You should hear some of our other demo lyrics, they’re f*cking disgraceful!’”
If this has affected Kasabian’s confidence in what they are about to do, it isn’t showing today. But there is certainly a danger that things like this will make bands more unwilling to reveal anything at all until the last possible moment, more likely to playing things super-cautious and to give a sh*t about what people think of them. And that just won’t do, for anyone. “What it feels like is that people are scared to annoy people,” says Serge. “Bands are so frightened about the comments they receive on YouTube, they’re scared of putting themselves out there. And that’s a dangerous thing, because you get people that are self-aware with every move they’re making. They give a f*ck too much.” But it’s the people that don’t give a f*ck that are the most powerful people in this world. Hunter S Thompson, Jack Nicholson, they’re your boys! The ones that do sh*t and you go ‘Ooh mate, what’s that?’ and they go, ‘I don’t give a f*ck.’ It’s that that’s so dangerous and exciting.”
BIG AND BIGGER
So as well as the release of their fifth album, June will also see Kasabian ticking off what might be the last two big milestones they have left: the first of which is a giant homecoming show in Leicester. “We’ve been trying to do this show for years,” Tom says. “We wanted to do it at the football club, but there were too many restrictions.”
“At the council we banged the door and banged it and banged it,” Serge continues, “and this time they were like, ‘OK this could be a good idea’ and we done 50,000 tickets in two days. There’s a great tradition with all the bands we love where they do something massive like this, but to do it in Leicester is the most unfashionable thing, but so us. It could only be here because that’s Kasabian in itself. We are Leicester.”
And that second milestone, as you will know, is a headline set on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury. Tom and Serge say this has been something they have talked about since their very first rehearsal back in 1997, where the former would introduce the latter’s songs, to no one but themselves, with a bellow of “HELLO, GLASTONBURY!” Now, 17 years on, it is close to becoming a reality. And for a British band of Kasabian’s size, it does feel overdue.
“Maybe at the time you’d see other people get it and you’d be like, ‘Aargh, that should have been us,’” says Serge. “But the magic is so perfect because we weren’t ready, but now we are. We know we can bring it. It’s a nerve-racking gig and there’s a lot on it, but at this point I know I’m not going to look back now, go, ‘Oh, I f*cking sh*t myself at Glastonbury, I was well scared.’ Whether we do a good job or not, whether people caned it, I just want to be able to look back at it, and see my head, and know that I was having the time of my life.”
48:13 is released on 9 June
(Images: Levon Biss/Getty/PA)