Kasabian: Mad Men [Exclusive Article]
Here’s an exclusive article by Scott McLennan from www.ripitup.com.au [many thanks dude]
Until the filming of the video for Kasabian’s current single Fire, guitarist Sergio Pizzorno had always thought of himself as a pacifist hippie. All that changed when the Leicester musician found himself standing on the outskirts of Cape Town, legs braced and hands gripping a Kalashnikov rifle as it spat live rounds into the African desert.
“We had to fire these AK47s – what a job that I get to do that!” Serge exclaims. “I was holding this gun quite nervously before I fired it and I didn’t feel like I wanted to really do this, since it was pretty fucking scary. I let off 18 rounds and then I was like, ‘Right! Get me a box of ammunition! I’m here all day!’ That’s just not me, since I’m a real placid hippie. But I have to be honest and say it was a fucking buzz letting off these weapons.”
Fire’s video clip follows in the tradition of rumbling 2006 single Empire, which also featured multiple gun deaths. When coupled with the fact Kasabian’s three albums all feature references to shooting, taking aim or firing, it seems songwriter Serge has quite an interest in firearms.
“It’s always fascinated me since when I was a kid, just the sheer power and destruction that this tiny little thing can cause. I think I would have made a good revolutionary, but I can’t see myself killing another human. I couldn’t do that unless it was to protect my home or family. If that was the case I’d be the greatest soldier ever, but not for money or wealth or oil. I couldn’t fight that war.”
While their music videos have transported Kasabian to exotic locations such as Cape Town and Bucharest, many of the songs on third album The West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum conjure up exciting mental images even without accompanying videos. Underdog could soundtrack a US road trip along the desolate State Route 62 in a beaten up Trans Am, while Fire sounds like the pagan isle from The Wicker Man being overrun by pirate marauders. Serge agrees that Kasabian’s tunes possess a rich visual element.
“You know it’s really nice you’ve got on that, since the songs we make, you can almost get lost in them. They go left and right and you don’t know where you’re going to go next. The songs set your mind racing and you can imagine yourself in places. You can be sat in your office or in your car doing something mundane, but in your head you can be somewhere completely different. The reason behind the album’s title is that it’s about madness – and music is a form of madness. It’s an escape, and madness is an escape from reality. In the music I think we can do that. You can put Take Aim on and in that four minutes you’re gone, you’re not with it, you’re in this tune – it’s what I wanted to do.”
When Rip It Up spoke to Serge backstage during Kasabian’s triumphant Big Day Out appearance in 2007, it was hard not to be struck by what a cool, quiet guy he was. The mannered and chilled persona seemed at odds with the media portrayal of an arrogant musician making bold claims with Gallagher-esque frequency.
“With human interaction you get to see someone’s eyes, mouth and actions,” Serge states of the disparity. “When it’s written down you get to see none of that, but at the same time I have to hold my hands up and say that I want to go down with a fight. I have opinions and I’m not going to get to the third album and suck everyone’s dick just to get on the radio and have hits. I’m fucking me, man, I’m in the ring. I’m fighting everyone and am just a geezer trying to make his way, do you know what I mean? My heroes are like Keith Richards, who never kept his mouth shut. Keith was unbelievable. He didn’t give a shit, whether it was his bandmates or other bands.”
Sergio’s namechecking of guitar god Keith Richards comes as no surprise, with both the cover art of The West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum referencing The Rolling Stones’ psychedelic Their Satanic Majesty’s Request and the band’s new music also offering a Stones vibe.
“I really love the New York Stones period and I wanted to capture that ‘70s groove rock‘n’roll on Underdog, Where Did All The Love Go and Fire. The Stones have always been a big influence, but I’ve never wanted to sound like them. I don’t want to emulate anyone, I want to be inspired by them. What’s great about this record is that it’s a 21st century rock’n’roll record and it’s not a retro piece of work. It’s definitely how I imagine the rock’n’roll I loved would sound today. If the Stones were still making music like they were in the ‘70s I think this is how it would sound.”
The cover of The West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum finds Kasabian once again going through the dress-up box. Lead singer Tom Meighan is fitted out in Napoleon garb, while Serge has chosen the costume of a murderous priest.
“The idea was that we were at a fancy dress ball at the asylum, which plays with these ideas of grandeur. You’re a pauper but in your head you’re the king of France. I don’t think we take ourselves too seriously and life becomes considerably better when you stop taking it so seriously. It’s like what you were saying earlier about me coming across in the press as some arrogant pig – it’s all taking the piss really, all just for entertainment. That’s what music should be – get people on their feet and interested. ‘What the fuck is he going to do next?’
“We’re unique in the fact that no one has any idea what we’re going to do next,” Serge concludes. “It’s beautiful.”
You were on the road for years with Empire, did you get to the stage where you were going a bit mental?
“I think so,” Serge laughs. “It’s a strange existence. Others work nine to five Monday to Friday and get their weekends off with everyone else in the country to go fucking mental, but I’m on a bus going around the world with my best mates playing music, so it is fucking mental. It’s amazing, but it is an odd existence. It becomes who you are and you forget about what your life used to be like, so now normality is sailing around the world on this pirate ship! I can see why so many people get lost in it all, but I think we’ve done pretty well. We all get on really well and all live in Leicester, so we’re close pals. I think I’ve channelled my madness into this record.”
Fire is earning plenty of airplay in Australia at the moment…
…Do you still feel a tingle when you hear your music somewhere?
“You know what? I gotta say it’s one of the greatest feelings ever. When you’re in a car and one of your tunes comes on the radio, for me it’s one of the best buzzes. Someone else is playing it and you’re imagining other people hearing it – it’s a fucking great feeling.”
New song West Ryder/Silver Bullet samples a monologue from Chris Marker’s 1983 movie Sans Soleil, but Serge suggests his viewing habits aren’t limited to arthouse films.
“It’s like my musical taste – I can pretty much go from watching I Stand Alone and Irreversible to watching fucking Shrek 2, man. I love entertainment – I can watch The Holy Mountain and then watch Jaws and Stand By Me. I’m not a snob, I just like what I like and I don’t give a shit about being cool. For me, if I buzz off it then I like it and I don’t give a shit what anyone else thinks, so it’s the same with music. Whatever tune it is, whatever band it is, I go in without any prejudice and if my hair stands up on my arms then I’m in. If it doesn’t make me do that then I don’t care about it. “
It’s one of the interesting things about Kasabian – a lot of indie bands would be concerned about how people would react if they said they liked something that wasn’t seen as cool.
“It goes back to not taking it so seriously. The people I buzzed off just didn’t give a shit – Charles Bukowski, Salvador Dali. Now we seem to have these yes men who are there to shake hands and be everyone’s friend, but I just can’t fucking do that. Bukowski and Dali are my sort of people. That’s how I roll. In the underground scene it’s always been amazing, but in the mainstream you’ve got no one who you can look at and go, ‘These are the boys! We don’t know what they’re gonna do next!’ I think that’s exciting, I think that’s rock’n’roll. There’s never going to be another big scene, since the internet has put paid to that, but at least when we had our time, when people cared and people listened, we didn’t just waste it and become part of the fucking boys club.”
Having already won over Jay-Z and Dan The Automator, the latest hip hop identity to out themselves as a Kasabian fan is Kanye West. So will there be a collaboration after all this talk of mutual respect?
“Who knows?” Serge offers. “Maybe. It would be pretty darn psychedelic if we did.”
When Rip It Up spoke to Kasabian bassist Chris Edwards on the release of second album Empire, he suggested that Sergio and Tom were incredibly fussy eaters who weren’t good with overseas menus. Serge states he’s broadened his horizons since recording The West Ryder Lunatic Asylum with Dan The Automator.
“I got a bit better recording in San Francisco. Dan likes his food and I was eating all sorts of exotic flavours, so I’m getting there but I’m still a bit of a nightmare. We had Polynesian, Vietnamese, sushi… I really did go for it and tried everything, but I still stand by that shepherd’s pie is the greatest meal in the world.”
The West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum is released through Sony on Fri Jun 5.