Settling into life in rock’n’roll
Kasabian have mellowed, setting aside the partying for families and professionalism on the road, but they’re still wild about the music, says Ed Power
By Ed Power
TOM MEIGHAN is an old school rock star, of a sort they were supposed to have stopped making. “I think someone must have slipped something in my milk,” says the Kasabian frontman. “I’ve had rock’n’roll in my DNA since I was a kid. Music is what I was born to do. I love every minute of it.”
This isn’t bravado. Meighan has had outrageous moments. Backstage at Oxegen, a few years ago, he allegedly came close to blows with members of Kaiser Chiefs. There have been feuds with the American emo band, My Chemical Romance, and soppy Britrockers, Keane, whose singer “lived on a diet of pies,” Meighan said.
“We were winding people up,” he says. “I don’t know why everyone took it so seriously. We were manipulating the press. We were having a laugh. That’s what bands are supposed to do. We wanted to stir things up. For a while, we went around telling everyone we were the best group in the world. Those are the things you say if you want to attract attention. It was part of the masterplan.”
Kasabian were dismissed as lairy Stone Roses clones. That changed with their 2009 psychedelic masterpiece West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum. The album was nominated for the Mercury prize, basked in five-star reviews and confirmed Kasabian’s status as one of the most exciting young rock acts in Britain. They haven’t looked back.
“Up until then, it was all ‘Stone Roses that, Stone Roses this’,” says Meighan. “To an extent, I could understand where the comparisons were coming from. In interviews, The Stone Roses made a point of being hard to talk to. They must have been a nightmare for journalists. They tried to wind you up.
“We were the same. We were characters and we wanted to wrap the press around our fingers. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Stone Roses. Well, they invented Britpop, didn’t they? As an influence, though? Come on, man. We were 10 when they came out. It was annoying to be called sound-a-likes, because our music had a rhythm to it. The whole thing was totally superficial.”
Kasabian liked to party. They drank and scrapped their way through tours. That’s why their music resonated. People saw they were the real thing. Was there a dark side to the excess? Sometimes, says Meighan. But not scary. “Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had bleak periods,” he says. “Sometimes, touring is hard. Usually it’s great fun. We’re entertainers. We’re not a hugely introspective bunch. We aren’t one of those shoe-gazing bands. We go out there and get stuck in, try to give the crowd what they want. That’s our mission.”
Their fast-living is in the past. The Leicester quartet are in their 30s and have started to settle down and sober up. In May, Meighan and his girlfriend had a baby. Guitarist Serge Pizzorno has a young son. Kasabian’s days of thrashing hotel rooms and living on whiskey and vodka are over.
“We’re family men now,” says Meighan. “And when we go on the road, we’re professionals. We’re a big band. We’re at this 16, 17 years. So we know what we’re about. We work hard and take our jobs seriously. If you’re in a big group, you can’t be a mess. You have to act responsibly.”
That’s not to say they’ve grown up completely. Meighan and Pizzorno may be older and wiser. Put them on a tour bus together, though, it’s as if nothing has changed.
“In terms of our personality and how we interact, we’re exactly the same as when we started,” says the singer. “We have kids and responsibilities and what have you. At the same time, around each other, we still act the same way.”
Kasabian formed in 1999. While still at school, Pizzorno and bass player Chris Edwards earned a following playing pubs around England’s East Midlands. At the time, the guitarist doubled as frontman. The spotlight didn’t agree with him.
One day, the duo randomly bumped into Meighan, with whom they were vaguely acquainted. He was standing outside a pub with headphones on, humming to nobody in particular. There and then, they realised they had found their lead singer.
As with all great musical partnerships, the relationship between Meighan and Pizzorno is one of opposites. Meighan is outgoing and mouthy; Pizzorno is quiet and contemplative. “He’s calm and reserved and waits for his moment to attack,” says Meighan. “Me … I’m full-on attack all the time.”
It’s been a year of contrasts for Kasabian. Their rollicking fourth album, Velociraptor, reached number one in Ireland and the UK.
But efforts to crack the United States have not gone to plan. They’re just back from a gruelling eight weeks in America. Meighan appears shellshocked by the experience.
“It was an emotional challenge,” he says. “We were going from state to state every day, man. In two months, we had four days off. It never stops. You gotta do your promo, your bullshit acoustic radio shows … then, at night, your own concert. It goes so fast.”
Though incredibly busy, Kasabian have started looking ahead to their next album.
“Serge has some songs written,” says Meighan. “The question is, ‘when do you record them’? It’s August now, man. It’s going to be Christmas before you know it. Maybe next year. I think we’re going to have to wait until then. We hardly have a moment to ourselves.”
There is a perception that Pizzorno is Kasabian’s driving force in the studio. He certainly comes up with many ideas. However, the band is far from a one-man affair. When time comes to knuckle down, everyone contributes more or less equally.
“We’re all big fans of psychedelic music,” says Meighan. “We all like funk and we all like rock’n’roll. Whatever’s on the agenda, we will step up and pitch in. That’s how it has been from the start.”
* Kasabian play Marlay Park Dublin with Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds on Thursday, Aug 23.