“If it’s Spinal Tap, great! We’re a rock ‘n’ roll band, we’re supposed to be!”
So blares Kasabian’s newly-beardy singer Tom Meighan in the week Kasabian are heading for the centre of the UK’s musical universe: a number one album possibly approaching (say the midweek sales today), two weekends before they headline Glastonbury.
Maximum-exposure timing, then, for the old-school-earnest Billy Bragg to unleash the scorn, perhaps not the first to notice there may be a cartoon element to their grooved-up rock ‘n’ roll gait. Kasabian, Bragg declared, “have an important role to play: to remind us how true Spinal Tap was”.
The toweringly-haired songwriter Sergio “Serge” Pizzorno, said Bragg, is Nigel Tufnel and the title of Kasabian’s fifth album, 48:13 (named after the running time), is an indication of a lack of imagination. “They hadn’t bothered to think up any fucking titles,” harrumphed the sometime Bard of Barking, “so they just put the time on and Serge said, ‘That is genius’.”
There’s a misperception but the people that get us, really get us
“How embarrassing,” responds Pizzorno, coolly. “You can quote me as saying, ‘Stooping to personal attacks does nothing but undermine your credibility’. With 48:13, I’m not trying to be clever, that’s the whole point! There’s a misperception but the people that get us, really get us. And a hell of a lot of people do.”
“Give a shit,” adds Meighan, robustly. “People love us, our music gives people a passion and a lift and a joy. And that’s all it is.”
We’re in a huge dressing room backstage at The Graham Norton Show, the two Kasabian spokesmen pacing in bewildered indignation. To compound the Bragg outburst, they’ve also just read a mixed review (a confusing seven out of 10 verdict), Meighan declaring “it’s just the same old shit, saying we haven’t moved on, and we have”.
Kasabian have moved on, or at least into a buzzier borough, 48:13 mostly a pulsing, effects-driven, electro-rock rave album built for the communal bounce along, ideally in a field. The irresistible Eez-eh, with its arresting couplet, “Everyone’s on bugle/Now we’re being watched by Google”, could be the greatest comedy nutter’s drug anthem since The Shamen’s Ebeneezer Goode in 1992.
“Someone wrote, ‘It’s unintentionally funny, rhyming bugle with Google’,” snorts Pizzorno. “Unintentionally? I think it’s hilarious! We’re taking the piss, we’re from Leicester. Fuck ‘em, fuck ‘em all! The people will decide…”
There are currently around 1,450 Big Issue sellers working hard on the streets each week.
Ten years into their career and Kasabian still live in Leicester (although Pizzorno has a flat in west London) and are “a bit tired” today from a pan-European promo schedule including tours of Ireland, Scotland, England and Italy. Yesterday, they played live at both HMV Oxford Street and BBC 6 Music, Meighan injecting into Eez-eh two impromptu lyrics, “totally wired!” (from The Fall song) and “Jump! Jump! Jump!” (from the House of Pain song).
“You can’t not bounce to it,” he bounced, “it’s Giorgio Moroder!” It certainly wasn’t, as they’re so often still deemed, throwback ’90s “lad rock”.
Their Glastonbury apex arrives a decade after their Glastonbury debut, first on at 11am on the Other Stage in 2004. Meighan remembers it vividly, despite the booze ‘n’ drugs, driving straight to Glastonbury from Hammersmith after supporting Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.
We’re now outside on a wooden patio, Meighan attempting to sit still, a phenomenally friendly and curiously jittery speed-talker (even without the drugs, his mum is “the same”) constantly distracted by passing Kasabian crew and bandmates: “Alright boys!” Dressed all in black, a golden dinosaur skull swings on a chain, a 33-year-old still connected to his inner 10-year-old, obsessed with dinosaurs and E.T.
“So we come off stage about 9.30, we’re in the old tour bus and we were partying man,” he tumbles on, “stopped off at a Travelodge, two rooms between us, couldn’t sleep, got up, watching Trisha – we’re playing in two hours! – got to the site, beer, thinking, fuck it’s sunny, let’s get this gig over and we can party, had a peek half an hour before we were due on stage, no one there – this is horrible! – another peek five minutes before and there were 20,000 people waiting, fuuuuuck! We were only 23, it was fucking WOW…”
Ten years on and there’s an innocence, still, to both Meighan and Pizzorno, an enthusiastic, child-like charm staggeringly free from cynicism and impossible not to warm to. Up close, Meighan’s matey demeanour belies earnest eyes that beseech you to understand him, who clasps your hand in appreciation of any encouraging remark: “Fucking great mate!”
Pizzorno, meanwhile, now taking Meighan’s place, is not only preposterously pretty but emanates a prism of extreme gentleness, a Zen-like serenity that belies his confrontational hair. How would he describe said hair? “The Japanese Manga version of Keith Richards was always my vision,” he announces, gently. Such a sweet-natured man can’t be all that thick-skinned, can he?
“Well if you pull moves like we pull moves, you have to have broad shoulders and take it,” he notes, seated in his cartoon skeleton stage togs. “But the people will decide. If you’re not making good art, no one will buy it.”
In the UK in recent years, with rock ‘n’ roll bands, you can’t really win (unless you’re Elbow or the Arctic Monkeys): critically speaking you’re either too posh and privileged (Mumfords, Vaccines), too grateful and weedy (Coldplay, Bastille) or too belligerent working-class hobos (Kasabian, pretty much out on their own). The People, however, consistently love them all, with a special flame for the Leicester underdogs who are ever deemed, somehow, “thick”.
If you pull moves like we pull moves, you have to have broad shoulders and take it
“They assume we’re thick but people writing about us make themselves look stupid, not us,” decides Pizzorno. “I just think, you’re not even listening.” Their perceived history as Britpop-possessed teenagers is only partly true, the real ’90s was as much about the Chemical Brothers as it ever was the Gallagher Brothers.
Meighan and Pizzorno grew up together, their childhood bonds over BMX bikes and football soon replaced by music and marijuana, through Britpop, ’90s hip hop and illegal Midlands raves. Pizzorno’s first songs were “hardcore tunes”, written on a sampler, obsessed with US ’80s synth-pop ghouls Book of Love, Leicester drum and bass producer DJ SS and DJ Grooverider.
Meighan, son of a window cleaner and an NHS nurse, was (briefly) a sheet metal worker with Gallagher-sized dreams, while Pizzorno, son of a mechanic and a special needs teacher, was a born creative growing up in a psychedelic home.
“The house was always mental,” he chirps. “My mum would bring home mad pictures or an old chair painted in incredibly bright colours. She was ‘up-cycling’ before it was ever fashionable.”
Forming a teenage band in 1997 (with musician pals Christopher Karloff and Chris Edwards) Kasabian soon lived and rehearsed on a rural farmhouse, searching for their sound while searching the skies “for aliens” (and smoking infinite amounts of skunk weed). Meighan would begin rehearsals by bawling, ‘Hello Glastonbury!’. “Just to give everyone a cheer,” he thrills today.
Signed in 2003, their breakthrough third single Club Foot in 2004 (like an early Happy Mondays classic) went viral through a spectrum of TV, film and video games including Tony Hawk’s Project 8, Fifa 13, CSI: Miami, District 13 and Arsenal’s walk-on music at the Emirates.
Ever since, fans also multiplied like smiley-faced microbes, Kasabian now veteran festival headliners from T in the Park to Reading, who’ve sold out London’s O2 and Glasgow’s SECC (and co-headlined with Oasis at Wembley Stadium in 2009, the year their heroes exploded) – all with minimal media “permission”. In one aspect, however, Kasabian are resolutely ’90s: in old-school rock ‘n’ roll attitude.
“Everyone’s so apologetic now,” laments Pizzorno. “So afraid to put themselves out there. Whereas then, from Damien Hirst to Pulp, it was, ‘Fuck you, I’m me, whatever mate’. That stayed with me. I’m in their camp. I’m not gonna move to LA and buy a leather jacket, I still live in Leicester mate.”
Suddenly, he stares into the summer skies.
“I dunno what but something changed,” he dismays. “And it’s boring. It’s so fucking boring, soooooo boring!”
Kasabian’s famous friends, in 2014, remain the same as they’ve always been, all possessed of that old-school whatever-mate attitude: the Gallagher Brothers, Noel Fielding (Pizzorno’s brother in comedy fright-wear) and the mighty Ronnie O’Sullivan.
When Mark Selby, “The Jester From Leicester”, beat O’Sullivan at this year’s World Championships, Pizzorno’s loyalties were steadfast: “A friend is a friend!” Yesterday, he had a text from Noel Gallagher, “saying he loved the album, going through it with me like he always does, he really likes the acid house section in Treat”.
Both Pizzorno and Meighan are now dads (and Godparents to each other’s kids): Meighan had daughter Mimi last year while Pizzorno has two boys, Ennio, three, and Lucio, one. Having kids has made Pizzorno “fearless”, the old worries now insignificant.
“The only thing I worry about, really genuinely, is my kids,” he smiles. “So when you know your kids are alright, they’re all nice and tucked away in bed, you can sit there and go, ‘Alright, what’ll I do now? I’ll make some tunes!’ I’m not into the fame thing, the money, the sales, any of that bollocks, it’s making stuff, tunes, photos, films – that’s what I love.”
It’s his kids, too, that make him invincible over the forthcoming Glastonbury test.
“It’s nothing but an opportunity,” he beams. “To have an incredible night with a hundred thousand people there with me, y’know? That’s the thing, maybe that’s why we get it in the neck because we don’t see ourselves as ‘above’.
“Some bands feel they’re above the crowd – look at me, stand there like you’re the man – that’s never been us. We’re more – we’re all gonna have the fucking best night of our lives. And that’s not cool. You’re not supposed to let them in on that secret. Fuck that man, I can’t wait!”
Liam Gallagher once said Oasis was all about “freedom”. How about Kasabian?
“I think we’re all about honesty,” he decides, unperturbed by the Tufnel-ness of this response. “There’s no front here, there’s no Clark Kent into Superman bullshit. I’ve met a million bands, a million lead singers – who’s that guy? He’s nothing like that guy. We are who we are.”
Kasabian are bouncing their way through Eez-eh in rehearsals on Graham Norton’s stage, after which the assembled TV crew explode into spontaneous applause. Soon, Meighan and Pizzorno are testing out the red couch, all demented grins, like a pair of gatecrashing madmen.
A technician begins humming Eez-eh. “It’s a total earworm,” he yelps. “I’m even doing the dance!” The following Sunday, the people decide: 48:13 goes straight in at number one in the UK album chart.