Kasabian - Now it's time to conquer Europe

Having shaken off the 'lad-rock' tag, Kasabian are hoping their new album will make them superstars. Elisa Bray meets them
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The Independent Culture

I love this story of Da Vinci: he used to sleep on dead bodies. He used to draw anatomy and it was illegal to keep their bodies, but he used to sleep on them. That's how far for his art he was going". Serge Pizzorno, Kasabian's songwriter and guitarist, is enthusing about mavericks of the arts world's dedication to their craft while pondering the lengths to which he would go for his own band. "I've not slept on dead bodies yet," he assures, "but I am prepared to go mad for the music. I'm obsessed with continuing to make great albums."

The Leicester four-piece may be one of the few British rock bands that can headline major festivals (they topped V's bill last year) and sell out stadiums, but they, too, are mavericks of sorts. Saddled early on by the lad rock tag, their last album West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum, released in 2009, marked a turning point in their image. A concept album written wholly by Pizzorno after Chris Karloff's departure, its cover featured the band's singer Tom Meighan dressed as Napoleon, and Pizzorno himself as a priest, and incorporating the less musically mainstream elements of Krautrock and psychedelia, still managed to become a number one hit.

"In some ways it's helped because people put you in a box and then when you don't fit in that box anymore it confuses the hell out of them," reflects Pizzorno. "If you do go wild, people say 'Wow, I wasn't expecting those boys to do anything like that'. What's great about the last record was that all the people that said it was lad rock looked silly. And I think finally people are going, 'OK, I got it wrong.' It's the one thing that we're into – music. It's an obsession."

Still, throughout their 14-year career, the band have accentuated the lad-rock image with their numerous outspoken comments about other musicians – which have made many a headline. "It's because we're gobshites," says Meighan. "We're always gobbing off and saying silly quotes and it's funny. We just did it for a reaction. We are what we are. We're an experimental rock 'n' roll band, with a boyish attitude, probably."

That they have outgrown the lad-rock tag is confirmed by their upcoming fourth album Velociraptor! In a way, it's a response to West Ryder. "The last record was a venture into madness, and it's a wild record. It was to challenge people," says Pizzorno. "This time I didn't want to do that. So it's more direct, all the tunes are melodic, big tunes. I had this idea when it was about 6am and this jukebox was throwing out incredible songs from Elvis to Roy Orbison to DJ Shadow and the Chemical Brothers. I thought, 'Imagine if you could do a record that did the same, but it was the same band.' Like a great mixtape."

A "great mixtape" is a fair description of how the album has turned out. Produced with Dan the Automator, famed for his work with Gorillaz, it swings from the stadium-friendly electro-rock stomp of the title track to the 1960s psychedelia of "Acid Turkish Bath (Shelter From the Storm)" and the album's beautiful closer, the meandering "Neon Noon". It also features their first 20-piece orchestra collaboration. Arranged with the help of a classical musician, it was the album's most painstaking process as Pizzorno would describe his intended sounds through oblique pop references such as, "I want it to sound like Syd Barrett's shoelace."

Meighan adds: "We've made an in-your-face record, instead of being experimental. I just said to Serge, 'Stop making eight minute psychedelic songs and write some pop songs.' And he did. It's a psychedelic pop album, really." He adds that he hopes it strikes their fans instantly, while staying true to their underground roots. "We haven't written this album on purpose for the radio or anything – we've never been like that. We're still leftfield, we still come from the underground, and to be where we are now is incredible, with how we experiment with music. But I suppose what carried us through is the melodies in our songs and that people like seeing us play. People love our band or they're not into us and I think that's the best."

Pizzorno once said the band provides "music by the people for the people" and that still sticks. "I can't help but write big choruses. Even if the songs sound like Silver Apples for eight bars, you get hit in the face by a massive chorus. It's meant for 60,000 people in a field with their hands up in the air, having a great time. We wanted that many people to be into it, but make it good psychedelic-rock-dance-pop music, so it is massive, but unique, just in the same way as all the bands that we love, the Stones, and Zeppelin. They were huge bands, but they were making really challenging music. For rock 'n' roll to move forward, you almost need to gather enough from the past, cut it all up and then re-stitch it all back together to give you something that sounds modern. I think that's the way you need to go to get people interested again."

Since West Ryder was released, all the band members, aged 30 and above, are now fathers – except for Meighan. The reason for the album's various moods and psychedelic tendencies could be put down to Pizzorno becoming a father for the first time, to baby Ennio (named after film composer Morricone), and the sleep deprivation that comes with it.

"It was well psychedelic," he recalls. "I'd get up in the morning, listen back and go, 'I don't remember any of that.' It was amazing because I was like, 'This is great, who's doing this?'"

With his new-found paternal responsibilities to attend to, it also prompted fast writing.

"It focused me in a way in which I was like, 'Ok, I've got a few hours, I can go down into the studio.' I had little bits of time and I made them really important and I suppose it helped, that's probably why it was so quick. [Having a baby] balanced everything out. Before he came I didn't know what was going to happen and I'm sure everyone thought it was lullaby album time, that we'd go really acoustic and it didn't really work out that way. It just put everything in its right place."

Of the two band members, Meighan is the loud, brash one with a restless energy that manifests in impatient fidgeting, while Pizzorno is the quieter, pensive one whose dreamer tendencies you imagine lend themselves well to songwriting. Their character traits are reflected by their differing tipples of choice: Pizzorno's is the psychedelic-inducing brain-addling absinthe, while Meighan is a "sambuca man". These chalk-and-cheese characteristics were always there, they say. The band met at school in Leicester in their early teens, through football, and it was a few years later in 1997 when Meighan turned up on his BMX bike in a black bomber jacket and with a satchel full of spray cans, and Pizzorno, then sporting a Gallagher haircut, asked him to join his band.

"Tom was pretty much like he is now. He'd walk into a room and everything would stop. He was a star instantly," recalls Pizzorno. "I was sort of quiet. I just floated along. I was there in body, but mentally I was in the clouds. I just thought how are we going to avoid going to work? We've got to be in a band." With their musical heroes – Mick Jones and Keith Richards, Liam and Noel Gallagher, Johnny Rotten, Syd Barrett, David Bowie and Paul Weller – in mind, they hit it off and have been a band ever since.

They have been touring Europe, and this could be the year that they break out over there, beyond comparatively tiny venues.

"I just love the fact that we're going out there to try and conquer it," Meighan says. "It's great because we'll headline V and then play Switzerland at 6pm on the other stage. We're a bit of a cult band in Europe, but I think things are starting to look better. The Monkeys are the same as us out in Europe and other bands apart from the obvious giants like Coldplay, U2 or Kings of Leon." Meighan confides that he used to hate touring Europe because he couldn't eat. "The food was disgusting. But I tell you what I've got into: tomato and mozzarella," he says with the enthusiasm of someone who's discovered a new country. "With some vinegar and some baguette. Delicious!" Fussy eating habits aside, you get the feeling touring must be a a great deal of fun for these old school friends. "It's wild, absolutely wild", says Pizzorno. "It's everything you can imagine and more. Going on tour with your mates, it doesn't get any better than that. It's a pirates' ship." Meighan recounts a story of how, "off their faces", they left the band's drummer behind at a service station in America's murder capital, only to remember three hours and 500 miles later.

With only a handful of bands such as Coldplay, Radiohead and U2 ahead of them, are they aiming even bigger, for super-stardom? "I think so, yeah", says Pizzorno. "We are. We're the last band left, really. There are not many rock bands left. So it's up to us in a lot of ways." Meighan adds: "I hope we keep making records. I want to be here talking to you when I'm 40. I just can't give it up."

'Velociraptor!' is released on 19 September on Columbia