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May 25 2017
It’s 20 years since Kasabian started recording music in Serge Pizzorno’s house. Ahead of a Belfast gig, the Leicester boys tell Joe Nerssessian how they went from being mere Britpop graduates to arguably the UK’s biggest band.
In May 1997, as Tony Blair walked through the gates of Downing Street while the UK was revelling in Eurovision glory and Donald Trump was divorcing his second wife, two teenage boys, fresh from sitting their GCSEs, were sitting in a sunny bedroom in Leicester recording music.
Twenty years later and Labour are back in opposition, the UK’s Eurovision efforts appear futile, and Mr Trump is the controversial leader of the free world. But those 16-year-olds? They’ve just scored their fifth consecutive number one album and, like they do almost every summer, are preparing to headline a major festival.
Love or hate Kasabian, they’ve confounded the cull of UK rock bands borne from Britpop. And with their latest record, For Crying Out Loud, arriving to critical and popular success, it’s very difficult to ignore their longevity.
“It’s mad that we had just left school,” says Tom Meighan, sitting alongside his best friend of those two decades.
“It would have been this time almost exactly. It was during our GCSEs in April, in the early summer. I was working in a Doc Martens factory and I remember going to Serge’s on the bus and we were recording. It was dead sunny outside – I can still smell the garden, I can see it all now, that was 20 years ago.”
Sergio Pizzorno exhales. “Whoosh, gone.”
Moments earlier, the pair could be found rifling through their publicist’s CD collection. Meighan, with child-like abandon, grabbed at several “Texas! …. Rufus Wainwright … Depeche Mode.”
They are very different from each other, these two rock stars. The frontman leans forward and back again, eyes darting around the room. He quizzes Pizzorno on what to say and aims most responses at his bandmate, who is calmer, relaxed.
Meighan cackles madly in response to a question about the contrasting year they endured in 2016.
While the tall, skinny guitarist and songwriter wed his long-time girlfriend, Meighan split from his own long-term partner. He admits the upbeat nature of Pizzorno’s writing on For Crying Out Loud kept him going.
“I don’t know where I would be if I hadn’t have heard Acid House or any of the beautiful songs that Serge has written,” he says.
“It saved me, it really did. It gave me hope. Everything was negative in my life and it picked me up and gave me a new lease. I just needed it and something to focus on.”
“I wrote the first 10 tracks really quickly”, says Pizzorno as he volunteers an explanation of the album’s journey.
“That’s the key to what this album is. It’s very concise and it is a feel good, uplifting record.
“I think if you make an album over a year, then you go through more ups and downs.”
Notably, that short period early last year coincided with the band’s beloved Leicester City upsetting all the odds and winning the Premier League title.
Meighan takes off where the guitarist left off. “Imagine if he’d written a depressing record?” he says. “I’d be s it.”
The cheerful mantra of the album is insistent. As one reviewer wrote, it can feel a little like someone shouting “cheer up, love” down your ear for an hour. But it’s largely been well received, although one negative was the reaction to You’re In Love With A Psycho. A mental health charity called the use of ‘psycho’ and the track’s accompanying video, which is set in a psychiatric ward, “damaging and disappointing”.
Unaware he is mocking Donald Trump, Meighan calls their reaction “sad”, while Pizzorno reasons, “It’s how people round our way talk”.
He adds: “It’s (like) when I say to my missus, ‘I’m gonna get home at 12 at night’, and then I don’t come home until Tuesday, and she rings her mates and says, ‘Ah, he’s gone psycho. I’ve not seen him all day’. They’re taking it the wrong way.”
At this point Meighan, perhaps reminded so much of his school days by the talk of 1997, appears to return to the classroom as he asks for permission to visit the toilet before remembering himself and, chuckling, wanders off.
A few weeks before the album’s release, the band took over Kentish Town Forum for a three-night residency and will headline Reading and Leeds festivals for the second time in August where they tease a “surprise” is in store, but won’t elaborate. They’ve also headlined Glastonbury twice.
In an era where UK bands are struggling to top the bills on the biggest stage, what do they think about the lack of guitar groups?
“It’s beyond a massacre… devastation, honestly mate,” says Pizzorno.
“To headline a festival you need four or five big albums, you can’t just have one album and go, ‘Waah I’m not headlining’.
“Well f write another good album, then write another one then write another one. Then when you headline you’ve f got 15 songs that are massive. You can’t go on there with one good song because you’re done.”
Meighan, who has returned, interrupts: “You’ve gotta remember it’s not just purely your fans. If you go out there like a small man, you get found out.
“But you just feel like a god, like a leader. Nothing can touch that. You feel like a giant.”
Pizzorno differs. He has had to learn to enjoy the performance side, for which he developed a headspace he slides into in the walk from dressing room to stage.
The four-piece have headlined a festival every year bar one since 2010, and 20 years together have taken their toll.
“For every year we’ve been doing this,” Pizzorno says, “we’ve lived five in that year, so we’ve lived 100 years”.
“F hell, yeah”, agrees Meighan.
“A minute ago we were 16 years old,” he laughs, reflecting. “But we wouldn’t still be doing it if we didn’t love it.”
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