‘Art is the important thing’: Kasabian’s Serge Pizzorno on fame and excess

The L.S.F. guitarist reflected on the peaks and troughs of his career in a Letter to My Younger Self

At 16 I had outgrown that period of going to the park on my bike and having the local bully throw darts at me. I was listening to a lot of music. Rave and drum‘n’bass and Oasis. Oasis was my gateway into different kinds of guitar music and then I started to get into psychedelic music. I became fascinated by the psychedelic world, that kind of abandonment. I saw a link between that and the rave community, Tribal Gathering, that kind of thing. There wasn’t much to do in Leicester though. Lots of people got excited about ‘going into town’ but that bored the hell out of me. I didn’t care about anything except music. I felt pretty strongly that, oh yes, I’ve found it, the thing I want to do. Amazing times.

I had to be savvy about things like the older lads and the fucking local lunatics who’d single me out because of my Italian name. And I had that big hair. But I didn’t cut it off, even though I knew, shit, I’m getting it. Back seat of the bus, you know what I mean? People throwing stuff at you. So I had to be streetwise. And I felt I didn’t quite fit in. I was part of the group but I was also always a bit on my own. When I was a kid I’m sure I was saying to my mum, what the fuck, why did you call me that? Why couldn’t I just be Tony? Then when I got older I got into Sergio Leone films, then Serge Gainsbourg, and eventually I thought, actually, I’m good with this.

If you met the 16-year-old me you’d see a boy who was… shy, definitely shy. Always observing. Not holding court, just sitting quietly in the corner watching. Introverted, though that would change if we became friends. But inside I was also full of confidence, this energy, which came from nowhere really, just this feeling in the air at that time of Britpop and this British art boom. It felt like Britain was exploding with energy. I felt like I was gonna be in a band and take on the world.

The gang thing is so important to our band. Having my boys. Sticking together through it all. There’s something amazing about that. We managed to find personalities who blended really well. We all knew our jobs and there were no power struggles. It’s so like a relationship. We’ve been on this journey for 20 years, from joy to disappointment to ecstasy. And we still have that ‘the band comes first’ mentality. Like we have to honour the band. And that total commitment – that’s actually in the sound.

It would amaze the 16-year-old me that he got to make more than one album. That was the dream, just that. I suppose if I told him that one day he’d headline Glastonbury, his head would explode. But then again, thinking about him now, he’d probably just say, yeah, of course I’m gonna do that. He was innocent, full of that fucking mental attitude. And I’d be like, mate, you do not understand how hard it is to get to that point. And he’d be like, don’t worry, it’ll be fine. And I’d go, listen, 0.1 per cent of bands get to do that. It’s only when you get to the top of the mountain that you look back and say, wow, that was a long old journey.

If I could go back and give myself advice… I suppose in the mid-2000s I sort of strayed from the path of knowing that making the art is the important thing. There were a few years of complete and utter excess. But I defy anyone at that age not to… destroy themselves in some way. So there’s half a feeling of telling my younger self, you might want to think about that period. And half a feeling of, that was kind of incredible. If you’re an artist and you’re an explorer maybe you have to go to these places. So I don’t know if I’d change it, I really don’t know.

I got my head together after that period of excess. I just thought, right, you’ve done that now. Partying is great but it had started interfering with what I wanted most. It was like a proper realisation – it’s making music that will make you happy. So I moved back to Leicester, got my studio sorted [‘The Sergery’] and I went there and just created every day, working on our third record, West Ryder [Pauper Lunatic Asylum]. I was waking up every day thinking, this is what it’s really all about. And that kept me away from all the madness.

Being on the road is so seductive. You’re not part of society, you’re like an outlaw.

Becoming a dad had a profound effect. Everything just became much clearer. There was a point to everything. Once you see this little thing, and you hold it in your arms, you think, ah, now I get it. Now I feel a better understanding of the world. And I’m sure in my head, before it happened, I was kind of freaking out, worrying how it would work out. Would it get in the way with me being an artist? But it was actually the opposite. I got even more ideas. I felt more free. The world made much more sense.

I’ve always been quite good at not bringing Serge from the band home. I enjoy that part of my character but he’s definitely someone who has to stay on tour. When I’m at home making the packed lunches, I can’t be that guy, that’s not a good look. Being on the road is so seductive. You’re not part of society, you’re like an outlaw. You don’t know what country you’re in, you have no connection to anything. Except the crowd. When you get onstage in front of thousands of people, and you get this incredible feeling, this high. Then you go home and all that stops, and you’re left with just yourself. And if you’re not happy with yourself, you’re in trouble.

If I could have one last conversation with anyone it would be my grandad. I lost him just in this last year and he was so special to me. He was a staunch socialist, an incredible man. Constantly fighting the fight, but in a compassionate way. He believed in talking to people. Socialism was like a religion to him, everything in his life was built around that. When we headlined Glastonbury [in 2014] I had a T-shirt with ‘Wilfred’ on the front. That’s my grandad’s name. I do miss those chats with him. I miss his knowledge and his nature, to see the good in the world. That attitude – the importance of unity and togetherness – it was so inspiring to be around. I’d love to have one more chat, just grab a brandy and sit talking with him.

DID YOU KNOW…

The Big Issue has inspired the launch of 120 street papers globally, including sister titles in Australia, South Africa, Japan, Taiwan and Korea.

If I could go back and relive one moment it would be just after we played Victoria Park in our hometown of Leicester in 2014. Sixty thousand people. It couldn’t have gone any better. It was perfect. And we were just sat, all the boys, in our dressing room, no one else around. Just us. All together. You know that moment in the film just after they’ve pulled off the perfect heist? No one talks. We’re not even looking at each other. But we’re sharing that silence, that tranquility. That feeling of, lads – what the
fuck just happened?

The self-titled debut album from Serge’s latest project The SLP is released on September 6. For more news and tour dates visit their website.