vendredi, septembre 10, 2004

Kasabian: Party like it's 1990

Indie dance is back. And this time its home is Leicester... Steve Jelbert meets the spiritual heirs to The Stone Roses

10 September 2004

Leicester is hardly known as a hotbed of musical endeavour. Back in the hippie era, the city gave the world Family (who appeared, thinly disguised as "Relation", in Groupie, Jenny Fabian's notorious roman à clef). A few years later, their antithesis, the rock'n'roll showband Showaddywaddy, left their mark, before going on to breed a generation of super-sportsmen (really - their offspring included professional footballers and athletics champions). Then there was the unfortunate Mark Morrison. And that's about it.

So the young quartet Kasabian, with two genuine hits already this year, mainly secured through tireless touring, have already sealed their place in the local hall of fame. Their eponymous debut album is set to follow their last single, "LSF", into the Top 10.

Although the band are derided by some as baggy revivalists, revitalising the corpse of indie dance, the public certainly doesn't seem to mind. Nor do the people they're accused of plagiarising - the mercurial Gary "Mani" Mounfield, of Stone Roses and Primal Scream fame, is an avowed fan and friend. ("We brought the kid out of him again," Kasabian boast, conceding that it was not a difficult task.) They make no apologies for admiring his period, and as a recent, pointless list in a magazine put the Roses' debut at the top of its all-time list of British albums, they're obviously not alone.

"Rock'n'roll lost its imagination and electronica had no soul, so we married the two together," explains the songwriter Sergio Pizzorno, before struggling to spit out the word "innovation" to some laughter from his bandmates. "If you can sing a song with an acoustic guitar, then it's a song, but it's up to you to see how far you can take it," he adds, referring to Kasabian's open-ended recording methods, where each member might play any instrument, just like Primal Scream ("Old rockers, aren't they?").

They're part of a generation fired by the glorious oafishness of Oasis at their peak. "If it weren't for them," the singer, Tom Meighan says, "we wouldn't be sitting here now. They inspired us to pick up guitars and do music. They didn't give a shit. It wasn't: 'Here's a song we've written - you might like it.' That's what we took from them: attitude, more than anything else."

Meighan would like to make one thing absolutely clear, though. "We ain't Mancunians. We're from Leicester," he announces, in an East Midlands accent fit for a Shane Meadows movie. Right now, he's proud of his first full-length release. "I think people can relate to our brand-new baby, because they're not afraid to respond to a good tune, a good beat. It's about people saying, 'It's all right,' to each other, saying, 'Tonight we're going to have a good time, get pissed, have a dance and a giggle and put that tune on.' That's what's been missing for a long time; I believe that."

Though it may sound as if he's about to yell: "We want to get loaded... and have a good time", the familiar rallying-cry from Primal Scream's first hit record, Meighan could equally be referring to the plotline of any Sixties kitchen-sink drama or Alan Sillitoe novel. Kasabian are something of a throwback, not to a passing musical fad of the Nineties, but to an earlier "work hard, play hard" ethos.

"We've always been a hard-working band," Pizzorno explains. "From day one, we rehearsed four times a week. If anyone missed one, they got a kick up the arse. That's the only way - honest hard work. That's how bands get good. If we were still working now, this is what we'd be doing after work."

Kasabian took their name from one of Charlie Manson's notorious "family", the getaway driver Linda, but, a spot of communal living aside, they're hardly comparable to the murderous drop-outs. Having signed a deal a couple of years ago, they settled down in a Rutland farmhouse belonging to a friend's parents and, in the great British tradition, got it together in the country. "We're not from the country," the bassist and co-songwriter Christopher Karloff hastens to point out, "but people started to think we were from the farm."

Meighan takes up the theme. "We went there for the head-space. If we'd stayed in the city, we'd have been alcoholics and drug addicts. That's the truth. We'd have been on a bender every night." They recorded most of their debut album in the farmhouse, in rather primitive conditions. On the DVD that accompanies the record, the band show the viewer around their half of the gaff, including their rudimentary sleeping-quarters and even more rudimentary recording-equipment. "That's a computer. It's broken," goes a deadpan voiceover.

But the place left its mark. "We developed new musical tastes. New ideas slipped out. As a band, I think we grew, intelligence-wise," Meighan says. They will probably move out sooner rather than later, as their increasing success has turned someone else's rural retreat into something of a tourist attraction. "We're never there any more, now the train's going faster," Meighan continues. "But it's nice to be in the middle of nowhere, to chill out."

Catchy singles such as "Reason Is Treason", "Club Foot" and the soon-to-be-reissued "Processed Beats" have been well received, but the band's image has been skilfully manipulated, with impressive graphics and the occasional inspired video. The clip for "Club Foot", filmed in an old army base in Budapest, managed to conflate Cold War dissidence with the ancient rock-as-an-opposition-force thing. But it looked good, and even ended with a dedication to Jan Palach, the Czech philosophy student who immolated himself in protest at the Soviet invasion of 1968.

But, Karloff admits, "We didn't know who he was until about three weeks later."

"The director just put it on the end," Meighan adds. "But I'll put my hand up - it's a good video, man. Is this recording now? Good, keep it going."

The director, WIZ, managed to get Palach's dates wrong on his dedication. But it's a touching thought and more elevating than his choice of setting for the promo film for "LSF" - a women's prison, apparently for recidivist models. Even the band are unsure about that, preferring their upcoming offering. "It makes up for the incredibly bad last one," Karloff mutters, darkly.

The impressive artwork by Simon Corkin is more readily appreciated by the band, from the mini-flag that came with their first single, to the none-more-black cover of the album.

"It all just fell into place," Meighan says. "It's been said before that the road's already set up; we've just got to walk it. We just do what we do."

Right now, Kasabian seem to be revelling in the experience. A recent trip to Japan, where they already have a large following, was an eye-opener. "Have you ever been there?" a concerned Meighan asks. "You've got to get out there, man."

"It's like being on drugs," Karloff adds.

"We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into," Meighan continues, "but it was mad. Two thousand kids who couldn't get in, kicking the doors; girls crying."

"They had a lot of bruises on them. I wonder why that was," Karloff ponders.

These Leicester City supporters took part in a half-time shoot-out for charity at the Walkers Stadium the other day, and have appeared on the famous sofa on Sky Sports' Soccer AM. Pizzorno, once a trainee at Nottingham Forest alongside Jermaine Jenas (he wore Leicester socks under the Forest ones, mind), says simply: "It confuses me why people go on, if they're just there to promote themselves. But I genuinely love to talk about football." His predilection for the flashy flick means that he won't risk Sunday-league action. "You get murdered. People do serious damage to you if you try that stuff," he points out.

You'd hardly call them men of the world, yet you'd trust Kasabian's resourcefulness in certain situations. They're funny, too: their team impression of Bobby Gillespie is instantly familiar to all who've met the Primal Scream front man. And they don't tie themselves in knots by trying to capture their own essence.

"We're trying to connect," says Pizzorno, the man whose backing-vocal chants dig into the listener's head. "It's a piece of piss to be weird, but it's the hardest thing in the world to write a tune people remember and not be cheesy. If you can nod your head to it, it's good."

If they have a manifesto, it is a straightforward one. "It's very simple," Pizzorno insists. "There's no message. We're 23. We're in a band. We make music and we play it live."

But Meighan has other worries. "We used to get up whenever we wanted. It's a bit busier now."

'Kasabian' is out now on RCA/BMG

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