Rockers Kasabian are slowly coming to terms with their new-found success, writes Andy Welch.
Kasabian have had an epiphany.
Despite having sold nearly two million records and been invited to tour with good friends Oasis, the band have only just realised they’re huge.
“It’s weird, man,” begins front man Tom Meighan, with puppy-dog enthusiasm.
“We were doing Jools Holland the other week and we were the biggest band on it.
“Before, we’ve been on with big names, Smokey Robinson, Jarvis Cocker and people. We were looking at the list for this one, and those names aren’t there – we’re the biggest band. It’s funny...” he says, chuckling, pleased with himself. “About time.”
Kasabian’s star is shining even brighter thanks to chart-topping new album, West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum, a storming Glastonbury and the announcement of a UK arena tour which includes a date at Birmingham NIA on November 19. They’ll warm up with a couple of shows at Wolverhampton Civic Hall on August 24 and 25.
Tom explains the thinking behind the title of the new album.
“It was a real hospital in Wakefield. Our guitarist and songwriter Serge Pizzorno saw it on a documentary and thought it was a cool name and that was about it.”
While that might be a simple explanation, the reason why the album is so titled has deeper roots.
This third effort from the Leicester quartet is a homage to the psychedelic albums of the 60s, albums with ludicrous titles and equally preposterous contents.
“That’s it, brother,” asserts 28-year-old Tom. “All those mad records, like The Rolling Stones’ Their Satanic Majesties Request, or Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake by The Small Faces. None of the titles really make sense, and that’s what we wanted, in a way, but to make it modern and for the 21st-century.”
West Ryder’s sleeve continues that tip of the hat, too, with the Kasabian boys getting out the dressing up box. Tom looks particularly dapper in a Nelson-esque military costume.
“It’s like an English heritage psychedelia front cover, but it’s pretty evil-looking too. That’s what we wanted, that was our concept,” he says, pausing. “That, and to make it really, really good.”
A swaggering frontman from the simian school of Liam Gallagher and Ian Brown, Tom’s never been short of confidence, even when, as he admits, the band weren’t all that.
Now, however, with their best, most ambitious album, he’s positively brimming with emotion.
Thankfully, that cocksure streak doesn’t manifest itself as arrogance – he’s too likeable for that. Instead, it’s his boundless enthusiasm that comes to the fore.
After getting to a point with the album, “about 70 per cent done”, Kasabian decamped to San Francisco to seek out the services of renowned producer Dan ‘The Automator’ Nakamura, highly acclaimed for his work with Beck, Gorillaz, DJ Shadow and various hip hop artists including Busta Rhymes and Kool Keith.
“He’s not a natural choice, I guess,” Tom says, “but Serge has wanted to work with him for a while. It was amazing to get him, and to have another pair of ears on the album, to guide us through. He’s brought out the big beats and the album sounds amazing.”
Being out on America’s West Coast clearly suited Tom. Having only been there while touring before, he says it was good to be in one place for a length of time, and feels the city energised his singing.
“You don’t get more psychedelic than Haight-Ashbury,” he says, referring to the district of San Francisco synonymous with 1967’s so-called Summer Of Love and fledgling hippy scene.
“I think being there improved my singing 100 per cent, gave me more of an edge. Dan’s studio is underneath his house, which was lovely. I escaped for four weeks or so.
“I still didn’t do much sightseeing,” he adds. “Although last time we toured I went to that horrible little island, Alcatraz.
“Walking around there was horrible. They should leave the contestants from Britain’s Got Talent there. Get them on a boat and send them there,” he says, laughing.
Kasabian are in the midst of a gruelling few months with headline shows, festivals and a support slot with Oasis on their summer mega-shows.
Factor in their reputation for hard-living while on the road, and the prospect would make all but the hardiest of folk wince. But not Tom.
“I climb the walls when I’m off,” he says. “I’ve started painting – I’ve had a portrait of Brian Jones on the go for ages, but I haven’t finished it – and I catch up with friends when we’re not busy, but I miss touring.
“Having time to yourself is great, don’t get me wrong, but there comes a point when I have to get back on the road and start playing rock shows again.”
When the name Oasis is mentioned, Tom has nothing but praise for the band most see as Kasabian’s spiritual predecessors.
He’s quick to scotch musical comparisons, saying any similarities are more down to shared values and beliefs than any influences or sound.
“We believe in realism, like they do, but we’re from the other side of the rainbow to them, musically, and Noel would be the first person to say that as well.”
Like the Gallagher brothers’ relationship being central to Oasis’ story, the brotherly bond between Tom and Serge, who met in Leysland High School when they were 12 or 13, is equally important to Kasabian’s success, if less fractious.
“We met years ago and were in the same class in school, but I properly got to know him when we were 17.
“We’re pretty close, man, and we fall out a bit now and again, a few scrapes here and there, but it’s all good,” Tom says.
“I think I annoy him a lot more than he annoys me. Us lead singers are a rare bunch, but that’s how it is, and I love it.”