A band of two halves
After 14 years and four albums, rock band Kasabian still divide the critics, but love them or hate them, there’s more to these likely lads than funny hair cuts, writes TONY CLAYTON-LEA
‘WE’RE DOING pretty well, aren’t we? We formed in 1997, and yes, it does seem a long time ago . . . As a teenager I was full of excitement and naivety, and we thought we’d join a band to be rock’n’roll stars. It was idealistic but it was a pure kind of idealism, I think.” Kasabian’s polite, attentive and improbably tall guitarist/songwriter Sergio Pizzorno – not looking anything like his 30 years of age – is thinking back over the years. He says he wanted to be a footballer – a centre forward, no less. His careers adviser wasn’t having any of that nonsense, however, and so by the mid-1990s, Pizzorno, whose family landed in the British midlands via Genoa and Devon, knuckled down to study rock music in all its hoary splendor. Within a year or so of leaving school, he and a few mates – similarly inclined types that passed over careers advice in order to follow their hearts and pledge allegiance to Oasis – formed Kasabian (so named after Linda Kasabian, a member of the Charles Manson “Family” cult).
From the very start, the likely lads from Leicester treated themselves to a lifestyle that catered to the whims of unattached, unburdened 21-year-olds. And yet underneath the veneer of good times was a panel-beater approach to music: the tap-tap-tapping of dents, the careful buffing up, the smoothing out. Slowly but surely, the band’s willfully self-generated lads-on-tour policy changed into something far more considered and adult.
And the loutish thing? Some people, Pizzorno implies, fail to balance the image with some of the music. “It puzzles them,” he says with a smile. “And in a way, that gives you the ability to do whatever you want.” It takes a while for perceptions to change. It doesn’t help that the band reek of slatternly, bohemian rock’n’roll style: for some reason, the sight of slim Caucasian dudes wearing cool clothes and varying hairdos says more about a band than their music ever will. For an album or two, that’s the kind of reaction Kasabian had to soak up.
“We look the part, for sure,” agrees Pizzorno, “but the music is obviously the most important thing to us. People might not think so, but I’m not really a believer in what is regarded as the rock’n’roll lifestyle, which usually means the sex, drugs and rock’n’roll thing. That’s all very nice, of course, but for me it’s the work that counts.
“So, like many bands, Kasabian can be misunderstood in a lot of ways. People read this or that about you, and when they meet you they realise that quite a lot of nonsense has been said or written. Yet, we all had this great energy; we met at school and we didn’t want to go to work, that’s for sure.
“We wanted to take over the world, but of course we didn’t know what that meant – it doesn’t really mean anything at all, does it? But it’s great to say it, and when you’re in a gang, it’s the kind of thing you say because that’s how you feel – you feel like ‘it’s us against the world’ and that the world had better look out.”
Initially, the world looked the other way, but as their 2004 self-titled debut album gave way to 2006’s Empire, which in turn paved the way for 2008’s breakthrough album, West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum,it seemed Kasabian had decided that enough was enough – whether it wanted to or not, the world was going to have to start taking notice.
“We had this great way of ignoring people who told us it couldn’t be done and that we just weren’t good enough,” recalls Pizzorno. “Obviously, we didn’t think that was the case, and in many ways used that as fuel for what we were trying to get across. It’s also possibly a provincial thing – we were told that success happened to people in the south of England or up north. We said: ‘That isn’t going to happen to us, and we’ll make sure of it.’
“So we took life seriously, to a degree, but most of the time we just rolled with it. I mean, Leicester? There isn’t much there except cheese, Gary Lineker, pork pies and Walker crisps. Because of the boredom, you go into your head, and you find an outlet – in our case music, which we obsessed over.”
The band’s latest album, Velociraptor!brings Kasabian’s story up to date.
As a football fan, we’re sure Pizzorno wouldn’t mind it being described as an album of two halves. One half comprises burly lad-rock tunes that should have (if only it were possible) speech bubbles coming out of them. The other half consists of tactful, ambient songs that undermine the perception of the band as rock’n’roll caricatures.
“It’s funny the reaction you get when you have two or more sides to you,” Pizzorno says. “In some ways, messing with the rulebook is a bit like what The Beatles did with The White Album: it’s everywhere, all over the place, but it works because all the songs are great. Who says you can’t do this or that? Life got considerably easier when we all realised that we should just roll with the way we felt, and not have to adhere to any given structures.”
Because of such an approach, Kasabian still divide opinion. “It’s the ultimate compliment, isn’t it? The fear is indifference, of someone saying we’re ‘alright’ or ‘just okay’. Either you’re in love with us, or you ask how dare we be allowed to make music. For us, such a division is beautiful. How do we balance that? Total mischievousness!”
We detect a bit of laddishness popping out, so we ask what would the 15-year-old Sergio think of his 30-year-old self? The smile on Pizzorno’s face is replaced by a rather more querulous look. He hesitates to answer.
“I suppose . . . Hhmm . . . Well . . . I’d say he’d be quite happy about how it all turned out. He wouldn’t have thought that he’d be as odd looking . . . I mean, it’s hard to believe, but I was a tracksuit-wearing oik into Oasis, wearing Henry Lloyd clothes. What else? Oh, God, he would never have guessed he’d end up looking like George Best, that’s for sure!”
Kasabian play Belfast’s Odyssey on November 25 and Dublin’s O2 on November 26. Velociraptor!is on release through Sony Music.