They have spent most of the past decade pegged by many as lad rockers, barrel-scrapers, knuckle- dragging musical neanderthals not fit to lick Oasis’s boots – but whether you’re a fan or not, you can’t deny that Kasabian have come up in the world.
The day before we meet Tom Meighan at a posh Gentleman's Club in central London, we're part of a group of European journalists who've been ferried to Abbey Road Studios – Abbey Road, no less – for the first playback of the Leicester quartet's new album, 48:13. Meighan shuffles onto the small stage and clears his throat, meekly introducing himself to the room as if we had never laid eyes on him before, and tells us that he hopes that we enjoy the album. "And if you don't," he deadpans, "you can just leave."
It's hard to figure Meighan out. He seems, in many ways, to be two people rolled into one: tipping a balance between self-confidence and arrogance, chest-thumping bravado and insecurity. He has a Gallagher-esque talent for insults, once referring to Julian Casablancas as a "posh skier" and Justin Timberlake as a "midget with whiskers", but when we sit down to talk to him about the album the next day, he is warm and sincere, a likeable bundle of manic energy that has no doubt been enhanced by the wine that he's been quaffing for most of the afternoon. He barrels headlong into answers without wasting much time thinking about them, doesn't hesitate in whipping out his iPhone to show us pictures of his (admittedly adorable) two-year-old daughter Mimi, and is clearly proud of the quartet's fifth album, which is bolshier, louder and more in-your-face than ever before, if that's even possible. And that's just the garish neon pink artwork.
“We’ve gone full circle,” he says, nodding enthusiastically. “It feels like it’s our debut album, honestly. It’s weird; there’s no fear in it. It’s just very direct. It’s the best thing we’ve ever done, without a fuckin’ doubt. I know I say that about every record, and excuse me – but it is.”
Once the band stopped touring their previous record, Velociraptor!, about 18 months ago, guitarist Serge Pizzorno – who writes all the lyrics and took sole control of the production reins for the first time on 48:13 – began writing new demos.
"He's always being creative, bless him – he can't stop," Meighan laughs. "He's Pete Townshend, he's fuckin' Paul McCartney. He's got so much shit, computers, numbers and words going through his brain. So I listened to some of the demos last summer and sang on some of them, and we took them to the studio and just did 'em. It was pretty straightforward, in that respect. I let him get on with his stuff and then I sing. That's pretty much it."
There is an undeniably dance-oriented aspect to many of the album's songs, which Meighan claims is a result of tapping into the music of their childhood. At other times, it harkens back to their eponymous debut with the addition of pace-calming interludes. Both he and Pizzorno have previously mentioned The Prodigy as an influence, a sound that is particularly audible on lead single Eez-eh.
"I love The Prodge and I love Liam Howlett, " he says, nodding. "It's weird, because when rave was dying out – around '91 or '92 – we were around 11, and rave was like a massive, massive cultural punk thing; everyone going into a field, taking drugs, whatever. I was only 10 or 11 years old and I remember hearing The Prodigy's Experience; my dad was like 'turn it down!', 'cos it did his head in. But we grew up with that culture, so some of it's stayed with us. Eez-Eh is an electronic, punk, cocky, funny sort of statement. There's a lot of character to it, that's why I like it."
It’s certainly a ballsy first single to put out there; was attempting to catch people off-guard a deliberate move?
"Well yeah, of course it is [ballsy]," he shrugs. "When Radiohead released Kid A, everyone shit themselves. But we had to keep moving, y'know? A massive thing was when Sergio got the Kanye West record Yeezus and played me Black Skinhead. The production on the whole record – but particularly that song – he really kicked it around. So we thought 'That's pretty cool; if he's doing that with hip-hop, we could do that with rock 'n' roll.'"
Their streamlined, no-nonsense sound goes hand in hand with the album's title, a simple reference to the running time. He had wanted to call it '5' initially, he said, in the same manner as Led Zeppelin's IV or Black Sabbath's Vol. 4.
"I had to explain Velociraptor! so fuckin' much; 'why'd you call it this, why'd you call it that'," he says, shaking his head. "We'd name an album and then we have to dig ourselves a hole to explain it, and I can't be bothered with all that. What I love now is that I don't think anyone can fuck with us now, and I love that. 'Cos all these years, there's been sneering and all this," he says, sticking his chest out and making a rude gesture. "So now it's like, 'Put that in your fuckin' record collection and shut your mouth'. It's true, that's how I feel. We've come back, we're not fuckin' about, I don't give a shit. It's called 48:13, simple."
Still, not everyone is enamoured with their new approach of making "rock music for the 21st century". I read him some YouTube comments that were left under the video for Eez-eh in the days after it first went online. One reads "I think I actually hate this tune", followed in quick succession by "First song I've actually hated at first listen, and then really liked after a few more". Meighan shrugs. "Cool, well that's the whole point really, isn't it?"
I read him another that says “Kasbian, are you on drugs? Silly question, of course you are.”
“We’re not!,” he protests. “That’s the thing. We’re just fucking craftmen. We just turn up and do it. There’s no bullshit, there’s no alcohol and drugs – fuck that, that’s for losers, mate. If you wanna do that in the studio, it’s up to you, but your music will sound like shit. You go in the studio to make music, then do whatever you want afterwards.”
I ask him whether he feels that Kasabian have gotten a raw deal from the press over the years.
“D’you know what, a lot of journalists and stuff misinterpret us and . . .” He trails off.
"Look. We were 23-years-old when we signed a record deal, we were young, naive, and we said 'fuck you'. People said 'I hate that band', but yeah, whatever. Everyone was like 'ladrock' kind of thing: whatever. Of course, there's a few journalists that still hate us. We were in Germany on a radio show a while ago and the guy who ran it said afterwards, 'I thought you were gonna be arrogant! You were amazing!' and I said 'What? Of course we've got arrogance, but it's in a good way.' When we came out, people pigeonholed us, but we were only kids, we were babies. It was our first album, and people were going 'fucking Stone Roses wannabes'. But I think we won. We won the battle."
Of course, you need that sort of bravado if you're going to headline Glastonbury. It's been 10 years since their debut and he feels like his band have earned the right to headline the biggest music festival on earth. If nothing else, Kasabian's reputation as a powerful live band precedes them.
"We ain't bad, like," he smirks. "And we're really appreciative of Emily and her dad, Michael Eavis, for giving us the opportunity to do that. It's lovely. And we've fucking got the right to headline it, y'know? On our day, we're the best band in the world – we can go toe-to-toe with any rock band, anyone, easily look them in the eye and beat anyone. I believe that, still. And I'm grateful for that. It's amazing, as well; you have to grasp it and breathe it in, because it'll go straight past us and before we know it, we'll be in another country playing, and it'll be like 'wow'. And the fact that the whole world's gonna be watching us at Glastonbury, it's big."
Still, even he is not immune to the odd bout of nerves and gets visibly choked up when he talks about the enormity of his band going from playing in Serge’s bedroom to the world stage. “I’ve had a few subconscious dreams about it,” he admits, taking a deep breath to compose himself. “Definitely, yeah, ‘cos I’m like that. But hey, we were born to do it. It’s as simple as that.”
Even with this new electronic influence, he still considers Kasabian to be a rock band first and foremost. “Of course we are, of course,” he insists. “We’re Led Zeppelin, we’re fuckin’ . . . yeah. We are a rock band.” Having formed in 1997, Kasabian have already outlived Led Zep’s initial 12-year lifespan. Does he think that they have another 17 years in them?
“I don’t know,” he says with a deep exhalation. “I’d love to think there is and I pray to God that there will be, but you don’t know. I could walk out the door tomorrow and get hit by a bus, or the band could break up, or whatever. These are real things that can happen, and there’s a fear of that, y’know? I mean, what do you do when that happens? All of a sudden your family’s taken away from you? You go crazy. But we’re not at that stage, we’re nowhere near that stage, and it’s all good. So hopefully, fingers crossed and touch wood, that won’t happen for a long time. Unless one of us dies, or something, or gets bald and fat. It’s life.”
Glastonbury is undoubtedly a major milestone in their career, but there’s further to go. They’ve signed a deal to release the album in the US, but admits that it’s a tough market to crack, attributing the hard-earned success of Arctic Monkeys and Mumford & Sons down to their commitment and long tours Stateside. Cracking the States means having to live “a second life”, but in the meantime, they’ll continue doing their thing.
“Listen, as long as people love it and say ‘wow!’ when I’m dead – which hopefully won’t be for a long while – we can say ‘fuck yeah, man, we did it,” he says, reaching for his wine glass and taking another sip. “We won. From a shitty little rehearsal room on Yeoman Street in Leicester to Glastonbury, we won. We fucking won.”
48:13 is out now. Kasabian play Glastonbury on June 29th