Tom Meighan sits quietly at his backstage dressing table and thoughtfully thumbs the pages of a battered copy of Crazy Diamond, a book detailing the rise and psychedelic fall of Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett. His current demeanor is in stark contrast to the last time we met and one wonders if the paperback on the counter is more than just a bit of light reading. The Kasabian front man looks into the tired sunken eyes staring out from the book’s cover, perhaps searching for questions as to how to avoid a similar fate. But this isn’t a man on the verge of burnout or breakdown. This may be a more reserved Tom Meighan but this isn’t the vacant contemplation of a man lost to himself and the world. It is the calm of one who now knows exactly who he is, what he’s doing and where he wants to be. “Syd was a genius,” he says solemnly, putting the book down. “A sad, mad, beautiful genius. It blows my mind when I think about what he could have achieved.”
Almost three years ago to the day, in this very same Brussels dressing room, Kasabian’s hyper-active singer was a bundle of unrestrained energy; an incandescent firefly of a man burning with belief, flitting around the room as if in pursuit of the thoughts and concepts which escaped unhindered from his churning brain and uncensored from his mouth. Meighan’s band were in the middle of an exhaustive world tour in support of their third album, West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum, Kasabian’s most critically acclaimed and successful record to date, and a raging, rollicking mish-mash of styles and experiments which had incredulously transformed them from contenders to undisputed heavyweight champions. After a decade of picking off their rivals with increasingly brave interpretations of the stadium rock blueprint, they finally ascended to the throne in 2009 to be crowned Britain’s premier rock act on the back of an ambitious and often gloriously deranged concept album. It unsurprisingly had a strange effect on all those involved…
“Before West Ryder we took a year off and I basically went through my Jim Morrison phase; drinking, getting fat, growing my hair long,” the cherubic 32-year-old Meighan says. “After (sophomore album) Empire and that tour, we had to reflect because that was already a fucking mind-bending experience in terms of how people had started to see us and talk about us. So all that stewing in our own creative juices went into creating the panoramas of West Ryder and we came out with a weird banquet of a record. We had no idea then that it would just make things go even fucking nuttier.”
Hardly a band known for lacking confidence or self-belief, the success of West Ryder, with the truckload of awards bestowed on the game-changing album and the subsequent hysteria which began to follow Kasabian wherever they went, stunned the Leicester quartet. The whirlwind of praise and the rapid elevation of their standing conspired to distort reality to such an extent that Meighan, guitarist and songwriter Serge Pizzorno, bassist Chris Edwards and drummer Ian Matthews agreed to pull back from the maelstrom at the first opportunity. With touring duties completed at the end of the summer festival season in 2010, the band retreated from the attention to concentrate on their private lives and families. Amidst the diaper changing and bottle feeding, however, Pizzorno was already fathering a new offspring, one which would come into the world under the name Velociraptor!
Kasabian’s fourth album, when it was delivered kicking and screaming in September 2011, had a lot to live up to in the shadow of its nearest sibling.
“We needed the break between West Ryder and Velociraptor! to get our heads straight and get back to being husbands, partners and sons,” says Meighan. “When we came off the road I cut my hair off and shed the weight. When it came to recording again, we just got stuck in and I think you can tell with some of the songs on Velociraptor! that they have more of an urgency to them. Once we’d taken stock, we wanted to get back out there so we didn’t really take a lot of notice about what was going on in music and in the outside world. We cracked on and did our thing.”
If a week is a long time in politics, then two years waiting for a new rock album is an eternity. Tastes change, fads pass and the music industry rolls on without stopping to wait for stragglers. Well aware of the vagaries of fashion, Kasabian knew Velociraptor! couldn’t retread already covered ground if the band were to stay relevant.
“Velociraptor! is a completely different record to West Ryder and it had to be,” Meighan says. “It’s a lot less underground than we’ve been in the past but saying that, there’s a lot of stuff on there which for us is quite a departure so it’s by no means a safe record. There’s weird jungle drums and chanting on Day Are Forgotten.Goodbye Kiss is like Roy Orbison working with Phil Spector. Le Fee Verte is a beautiful Syd Barret-era Floyd tune…I think it’s been a hard record for some people to get their heads around because it’s so diverse and if they were expecting us to stick to the West Ryder formula then it must have come as a pretty big fucking shock to some.”
While most of the reviews for Velociraptor! understood that it was a progression for the band and not only praised the music but also the courage showed in returning with such a different record to West Ryder, some critics were underwhelmed. Some bemoaned the lightness of the album and questioned the band’s decision to add a poppier, more commercial edge to the songs. “Velociraptor! was reviewed by some people in comparison to West Ryder but you can’t compare them,” Meighan says. “The only thing they really have in common is that it’s Kasabian.”
Criticism seems to have little effect on Kasabian’s belief in themselves or their music – especially as the success of Velociraptor! made it two UK number one albums in a row, a sign that the record had not only been taken to the hearts of the band’s fan base but had also won over many new followers.
“There’s always pressure,” says Meighan. “You always want to put out your best work but saying that, if Velociraptor! had flopped we would have just said, so what – let’s make another one.
“People seem to be too self conscious these days about what other people think about them. We would have been disappointed if the record had failed but we wouldn’t have freaked out about it. We’re a rock band and we’re in it for the long haul. We haven’t made our best record yet. If you look at Led Zeppelin and The Who, bands like that, they were building up a legacy. I’m not down with this indie attitude of immediate success, that’s teenage thinking. When you get a bit older you see a bigger picture and realize that you’ll get judged at the end by the quality of your entire output which is why we’ll keep on making the best records we can. As a rock’n’roll band we’ll stand the test of time.”
The last three years have seen many changes in the Kasabian camp. In addition to seeing their dream of being the biggest band in Britain come true, they have learned the lessons which come with achieving that dream. While still explosive on stage, these lessons, along with the changes in their personal lives, have inspired a new maturity; one, which in the long-term, may see them claim their place in Britain’s musical heritage and add to the legacy of bands they revere such as The Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Oasis.
“There’s the rock’n’roll cliché of the women, the drink, the drugs… We’ve done that, we’ve lived that,” Meighan says. “We started in our early 20s and we’ve been going for nearly thirteen years now.
“There comes a time when that lifestyle naturally tends to tail off as things change. You can carry on with that image and live that life if you want but at some point you’ve got to get up and go to work. We’ve got a good rock’n’roll image, I’d say. We’ve partied and we’ve had a good time. We still have an edge, a certain sense of danger about us, but we’ve never been dicks about it. We’re not Guns ‘n’ Roses any more or fucking Nikki Sixx but that rebellious image we got when we were younger will stick with us, I think, without us having to be falling out of Stringfellows with a couple of strippers when we’re 60.”
The work ethic which has seen Kasabian go from strength-to-strength creatively and commercially has seen them release their first live album and DVD in June and is likely to yield another studio offering sometime in 2013. What it will sound like, however, is anyone’s guess…
“I could just say to Serge, fuck it, let’s just make an electric blues album with every track a minute long,” Meighan grins. “Just go against the whole fucking establishment. We wouldn’t do it to piss people off or because it’s a gimmick. We want to evolve. We need to evolve. We know that the next record will be completely different from this one and so on. I mean, who wants to buy the same record from the same band year after year? Apart from the fact that I think that’s a bit like taking the piss out of the fans, we’d also get really fucking bored with that. We love loads of very different styles of music. Serge is badly into the Beastie Boys so our next record may sound like that, who knows? The only thing we can guarantee is that it’ll have Kasabian stamped on it.”
First published on PULUCHE (www.puluche.com)
Related material: Kasabian – The Last Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Band