Kasabian hope to seduce Bruce Springsteen’s fans at Glastonbury
For swashbuckling Leicester rockers Kasabian, the call came out of the blue, and the offer was one that they simply could not refuse. The group were already gearing themselves up for a busy summer, with a new album, their own headline tour plus a series of stadium shows with Oasis and the Enemy.
But the chance to shine as the main support act for Bruce Springsteen’s hotly anticipated appearance on the main stage at Glastonbury was impossible to resist.
‘It gives us an unbelievable opportunity,’ says Tom Meighan, the band’s hyperactive frontman. ‘We weren’t going to do any outdoor festivals this year, but playing Glastonbury with Springsteen is something different and we’re going to revel in it.
‘We’ve got a new audience to hit there. I don’t want to sound silly, but it is going to be a spiritual moment. The energy in the place is going to be electrifying.’
‘I’m excited, too,’ adds guitarist Serge Pizzorno. ‘At Glastonbury, you need to get to your place early, so there are going to be a lot of people standing in that field waiting for The Boss. They’ll find themselves watching this strange little band from Leicester. And they’ll be saying “Who are these cool cats? They are really good!” That’s the reaction we’re going for.’
Some bands might be daunted by the prospect of playing second fiddle at one of the rock happenings of the summer, but Kasabian are no shrinking violets. A supremely confident quartet, they have a swagger that sets them apart from their peers. Over-the-top bragging is second nature to them. And they love a challenge.
Like their soulmates Oasis, they see rock music as a matter of communal celebration and their live shows are raucous, singalong affairs, with the rabble-rousing Meighan playing the role of cheerleader-in- chief. But, according to the singer himself, their self-belief shouldn’t be mistaken for arrogance.
‘If you are going to stand up in front of thousands of people, you need to have that belief,’ he says. ‘When a boxer enters the ring, he doesn’t apologise for himself. It’s the same with us.’
Chatting over lunch at their Wheeler End rehearsal studio in Buckinghamshire, Meighan and Pizzorno cut rather contrasting figures.
The pair, both 28, have been dubbed Leicester’s answer to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, although an East Midlands equivalent of Liam and Noel Gallagher is probably a little closer to the mark, with Tom’s tendency to shoot from the hip balanced by the more thoughtful, measured outlook of Serge, who (like Noel in Oasis) is the band’s main songwriter. Any similarities with Oasis are a matter of attitude rather than musical content, however, with Kasabian shunning the Beatles-esque hooks of Britpop for a far more diverse set of rock and dance influences.
Having announced themselves with their self-titled debut album in 2004, Kasabian consolidated their reputation with 2006’s million-selling Empire. Now, with their third album, West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum, out next month, they are making their bravest move yet.
Inspired by Sixties concept albums such as The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper and the Small Faces’ Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake, it is an eclectic affair that blends Pizzorno’s fiery rock riffs with experimental flourishes, Mariachi horns and cinematic moods worthy of Ennio Morricone. The band began recording it early last year, with Serge producing the musical blueprint on a laptop computer in his Leicester bedroom after the band had returned from an exhausting world tour.
‘We’d been on the road for four years without a real break and I needed to sit down and take stock,’ says the guitarist. ‘I came up with the album title early on. I thought that giving the record a crazy name would give us the freedom to do whatever we wanted. I spent hours working on the tunes at home with a couple of old synths and a guitar. For me, it’s all about the buzz you get at three in the morning, when you come up with a beat and a great chorus.’
Having met at Countesthorpe Community College, on the outskirts of Leicester, Tom and Serge started the band – who also feature bassist Chris Edwards and drummer Ian Matthews – in 1999.
Inspired by the energy of the Britpop era, they gigged locally while making ends meet with a series of day-jobs – Tom working in the now-defunct Dr Martens factory in Leicester before becoming a sheet metal driller.
‘Musically, the country was buzzing and we felt that we could do anything,’ Serge recalls. ‘We were naive and childish, but we grafted until we got somewhere. I always believed it was going to happen for us. Even when people didn’t seem too bothered – and there were plenty of them – I knew we’d find a niche.’
After securing a deal with Sony Music in 2003, the band members left home to live in isolation in a converted farmhouse at nearby Rutland Water. It was, Serge recalls, a chaotic period.
‘We wanted somewhere where we could be together to make our first album,’ he says. ‘We existed on super-noodles, toast, pizza and Walker’s crisps. It wasn’t exactly healthy living. But it was an intense period. We were a bunch of ordinary lads from Leicester living in a farmhouse and having a brilliant time.’
Now, five years on, the band take a more considered approach to the routines of the rock business. As Tom puts it, they ‘pick their battles’ more carefully these days. Their propensity to wreak havoc onstage remains, though. Launching the new album with a gig in London last week, the band took to the stage in the grandest possible manner.
Picked out by searchlights, they emerged from a fog of dry ice and plugged in their instruments, only for their triumphant opening chords to be cut short when the power failed.
Even that wasn’t enough to dent Meighan’s comedic swagger. The frontman simply took a slow, theatrical bow, punched the air and walked off. Returning minutes later, he went on to perform with even more abandon than usual.
‘We’re a proper rock band,’ he says. ‘Too many groups just churn out pop hits to make money. Not this lot. We’re one of the last groups on the planet with real enthusiasm.’
• Kasabian’s new single, Fire, is out on Columbia on Monday. The album, West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum, follows on June 8. Their UK tour starts tonight at De Montfort Hall, Leicester. They are also playing Glastonbury. For more details, visit kasabian.co.uk.