How Brit Rockers Kasabian Nabbed Their Fourth UK #1 Album
Photo by Charlie Gray
UK rockers have had a rough go of it on this side of the pond the last couple of decades. America can consistently be relied upon to rally around the stalwart earnestness of homegrown indie rockers and anything that can somehow be labeled ‘country,’ to turn back the invading Brits. But clever, fashionable, politically astute rock and roll, which seems to bubble up from the ground in the British Isles with astounding regularity, tends to arrive on these shores with a subdued plonk.
There are, however, pockets of acceptance here; and certain bands can rely on a decent crowd to turn up after deplaning at JFK. To wit, in the 90’s Oasis and The Verve packed venues stateside—and Radiohead still do. Now, with their first new release, and US tour, in two-plus years, Kasabian are currently carrying the torch for Britrock. Succinctly titled 48:13, their latest is their fourth consecutive UK #1. We grabbed a cup of tea with the band’s songwriter/producer/multi-instrumentalist, and very tall person, Sergio ‘Serge’ Pizzorno at the recently opened and sceney Ludlow Hotel.
Congrats on the new album. What’s the overall concept behind it, if there is one?
It’s our fifth record and it feels like a new start. From the beginning the vision was to keep it super direct, from the artwork to the lyrics to the music, we wanted to strip away the layers. It’s where the name came from; we weren’t trying to be clever, it’s the sum of all its parts. Using the pink for the cover too, there’s something amazing about the directness of it.
It’s a great punk color.
I love that color. Weirdly enough it’s actually a pantone, 813 is the number. It’s quite shocking actually, it has some punk references certainly. Also I like that fact that for some people we may be perceived as being a very masculine and powerful band, and for them I think the pink is probably a bit off-putting.
I of course can’t help notice the lower case and one-word song titles on this album, and the fact that it’s less than 50 minutes long, a rarity these days. Was that all deliberate?
Of course yeah, we committed totally to this directness.
Tell me about the creative director you worked with on the album, Aitor Throup.
We worked together on the last record, Velociraptor, so we met a few years back; he’s amazing, we get on so well. Previously when dealing with artwork, people pitch, management gets involved, it’s always been a bit strange; of course there are some incredible people out there, but it always felt a bit odd. Having a relationship with someone who comes down to the studio and gets to watch the record being made, it becomes a real collaboration, which is exciting.
It’s great when different art forms come together; like with the punks, when fashion was such a part of the movement, Vivienne Westwood, Malcolm McLaren…
Exactly, The Velvet Underground and Warhol…
Kasabian are pretty much universally loved in the UK; there’s not that much negativity I’ve seen, except for the weird recent Billy Bragg thing.
But early on there are certain things the media missed. I saw an interview with Stanley Kubrick and he said that you get put in this box no matter what you do and it’s hard to leave it. [The public] likes to simplify you as well, which is weird because there are so many more nuances, there’s so much more going on that people don’t get.
I guess you can either accept it, fight it, or try to make it work in your favor.
We do have a way of drawing all these people together and playing these huge shows and within that format we can sneak a bit of avant-garde in there. But we also appreciate the fact that we can have songs with big choruses in them that are popular.
Knowing you do have that success in the UK must make it cool to come here and enjoy playing more intimate venues.
It keeps you fresh if you know you have to go in and win the audience over. At the same time, on the last tour when we played Coachella it was incredible and did give a glimpse of what might be possible here; we’ve never gotten the love from America that we got at those two gigs, and it made us realize that maybe there still is a story to be told here. We don’t make it easy for people. We don’t write…well, take the [Arctic] Monkeys—it’s a rock record, you can play it on rock radio, everyone understands the quiff, everyone understands the leather jacket. We’re coming from a kind of futuristic, psychedelic, electronic place, but it feels like its going in the right direction.
Production on this album does feel a little more techno, more electronic.
The first instrument I ever got was a sampler and learned to play that before the guitar. So that has always been a part of our sound and sets us apart from everyone else. We just brought it to the front more here…a 20% increase.
You’ve obviously been to New York a lot, and BlackBook is based here; so tell us what you like about NYC.
When I first came—and it’s always the danger when people build it up and tell you you’ll love it—I thought, well it’s all right. But after the fifth or sixth visit I started having an amazing time; every corner there’s something going on, it feels like a peek into the future. Next time I’d like to do a week or two just here, especially this area, the Lower East Side.
You wouldn’t have come down here 20 years ago; now it’s so expensive, New Yorkers can’t afford it. It’s the same with London I guess, losing a bit of its Englishness.
Yeah, I understand that it’s lost a bit of its uniqueness; London definitely has. But I always get that excitement coming here. The thing is, while we’re quite successful and well known around the world, we’re not very well known here; and I think that’s a good thing. It keeps you on your toes ‘cos at this stage of where we’re at, you can become comfortable…and as an artist that’s the worst place to be.