Kasabian: “The band wanted to carry on. What else were we gonna do?”

The Leicester rockers sacked their frontman Tom Meighan in 2020, leaving guitarist Serge Pizzorno to step up to the mic. New album ‘The Alchemist’s Euphoria’ finds a band reborn

“I never wanted to be a frontman,” says Serge Pizzorno, laughing awkwardly at the position he’s found himself in as Kasabian’s new bandleader. “I never saw that – I didn’t think that was ever gonna be part of my life… but now it is. So when sitting down with the boys and figuring that out, I then had to make the choice of: ‘How do I do it? How do I approach it?’ If I’m gonna do anything, then I’m gonna do it my way. I think the music that I’ve made and the band that we are, we’ve done it our own way.”

That’s the assertiveness needed for rebirth – for an exciting, fresh chapter as Kasabian without lead singer Tom Meighan, who was sacked from the band in 2020 after assaulting his partner Vikki Ager, which resulted in a domestic assault conviction.

But in many ways this new era for the totemic Leicester rockers, marked by the release of their seventh album ‘The Alchemist’s Euphoria’, isn’t all that different from the band’s 25-year history. Pizzorno has taken lead vocals on numerous songs across their catalogue and remains their chief songwriter. “It’s my life’s work,” he points out, settling into a plush leather sofa at his publicist’s office on a scorching day in west London. Each day is a commitment to writing in his studio; a commitment to doing what he loves. Why would he give that up?

Kasabian's Sergio Pizzorno
Sergio Pizzorno. Credit: Neil Bedford

If songwriting is Pizzorno’s refuge, then he needed to find a way to harness that comfort and confidence on stage – to step out of the wings as primarily a guitarist – as Kasabian 2.0. Part of that lesson-learning saw the musician study old VHS tapes of the greats including Iggy Pop as he worked on the band’s new album over the last couple of years.

“[It was] a continuation of me on the same tip going, ‘Well, I’m not just gonna stand there with the guitar and sort of hope for the best – I’m gonna try and become a frontman’,” Pizzorno says. “But I’d always thought, ‘Well, if I just give myself to the show and don’t overthink it’… and [I realised] it’s very much like that when I’m writing. I’ll have the mic, the beats will be going, and I’ll just get into a mode or a character or whatever.

“So that was the thing, man. Just singing those lyrics from there” – he jabs at his chest “– from where I wrote, and bringing the crowd in.” Pizzorno is mindful of considering what it’s like to be a fan: “I always imagine myself in that mosh pit, in the centre of it all.”

“The aftermath of Tom’s departure was like trying to pick up the pieces of your life”

It’s only been a handful of weeks since Pizzorno and his bandmates (Chris Edwards on bass, Ian Matthews on drums and newcomer Tim Carter on guitar and backing vocals) played their first live shows as Kasabian reborn. This writer caught the band at Oxford’s Truck Festival a week prior to sitting down with Pizzorno and was wowed by his buzzy stage persona, the group’s tightness and their enviable ability to keep the crowd hooked throughout.

Of course, this is a band who have won a variation on Best Live Act twice at the NME Awards (in 2007 and 2018), headlined Glastonbury in 2014 and have enjoyed six Top 10 albums. Their dance-rock, psychedelic, electro and experimental bombast has soundtracked films and FIFA video games over the years – they clearly weren’t suddenly going to wither on stage.

‘Scriptvre’, a brash, hip-hop rock crossover from ‘The Alchemist’s Euphoria’, in which Pizzorno provides a searing pep talk on self-belief (“You’re fucking with the best now”) sees him reference being on the precipice of that live environment: “On a roll, gotta reach for the light / Gotta reach for the mic as I walk from the shadow.” Prior to the album’s release, Pizzorno vowed not to write any songs about the band. Does that lyric find him breaking his own rule?

Kasabian
Credit: Neil Bedford

“Yeah, but not specifically,” he responds. “It’s just about the feeling of stepping in that moment. OK, you can say literally the words are that, but it’s also about the moment. The stage lights are on, but you don’t have to be in a band to feel that. You could be waiting to win the Euros.”

Fittingly, a couple of days after NME meets Pizzorno, the England’s women’s team erased 56 years of hurt by winning the European Women’s Football Championships. ‘The Wall’, the latest single from Kasabian’s new record, was even chosen to soundtrack the thrilling final as the band performed live. “You get back up, you get back up again,” Pizzorno sings on the emotional slow-burner, which began life as a simpler song about feeling defeated by a hangover but, in this context, morphed into an anthem for overcoming adversity.

The momentum that Pizzorno sings of, excavated from emotional depths after the band almost imploded in 2020, is very much the nub of ‘The Alchemist’s Euphoria’. Pizzorno has previously recalled going to see his sister, who lives by the sea, after the group learned of the charges against Meighan. Pizzorno imagined the band in a boat, he has said, “with huge fucking waves crashing in” and wondered if they’d sink or swim. Courage won out, and Pizzorno based the record on a loose concept about the twists and turns of a journey undertaken by a central alchemist figure.

“I’ve always been obsessed with symbols and alchemy symbols,” he explains of the album’s title and premise. “I have them all sort of in my head [in] this language – this kind of new alphabet that we could make. I love the word ‘alchemist’. I like the idea of bringing – in the context of a studio – different kinds of music together to make something new. And what we’ve always done is pretty euphoric. I love the word ‘euphoria’.

“When you’re creating anything, if you’re lucky, every now and again you’ll get a moment where you might come up with a great riff or a lyric or something. That’s the euphoria part. So the idea of having ‘The Alchemist’s Euphoria’ is like this sort of stopping in time, a moment that he [the alchemist] feels. “

Kasabian on the cover of NME
Kasabian on the cover of NME

Referencing the sound of lapping waves that open the album, Pizzorno continues: “And then in terms of the record, I sort of imagined… almost this album being the big ‘fork in a road’ sort of decision. There’s waves and [the alchemistic is] sat on the shore. [It’s about] whether he makes the decision to stay in the harbour safe or get in the boat. I think people can relate to that. We all go through life [moments like that] at some point. And what do you do? Do you have the guts to make the decision, or do you not?”

When NME asks Pizzorno how long the band chewed over a future without Meighan and whether they felt any guilt about ultimately moving forward, the mood shifts noticeably.

“It’s hard to put a time on it,” Pizzorno answers, his voice gentler and his eyes damper than before. “There was every emotion you could think of, you know? But ultimately, in the end, the band – we wanted to carry on… What else were we gonna do?”

Pizzorno calls the immediate aftermath of Meighan’s departure “horrendous” and “completely heartbreaking on so many levels”, both for the band and for his own family. “After that,” he adds, “it was like trying to pick up the pieces of your life, basically.”

“Liam Gallagher’s always been beautiful to us. There’s nothing but support and love.”

The musician understandably doesn’t wish to dwell on that heartbreak. Over two decades, Meighan has been as much a close friend as a band member, though he and the group haven’t spoken since the split. “You’ve got to understand [that] within a band, it’s deep,” Pizzorno adds. “There’s more to this story, but it’s one of those things where that’s our business and we’ll keep it that way, you know? Those [earlier] years were beautiful and they always will be, but that was then and this is now.”

Asked about the impact of no longer having Meighan in Kasabian and how that’s affected the overall songwriting, Pizzorno appears to be deliberately vague in his answer, as if trying to avoid tainting Meighan’s legacy.

“Nothing has changed really from the process from the first album [2004’s ‘Kasabian’] to this record,” he says. “It’s exactly the same as it’s always been. I’m in the studio every day trying to come up with some ideas, trying to get some songs together. And in terms of the vision, as well… that has stayed exactly the same as it’s been from day one. So it’s just a matter of waking up every morning going, ‘Have you got any good ideas?’, and [seeing] what happens.”

Kasabian's Tim Carter
Tim Carter. Credit: Neil Bedford

Pizzorno has taken a pragmatic approach since Meighan left, then, and besides beefing up his performance style to lead the pack, seems to have carried on much as before. ‘The Alchemist’s Euphoria’ contains some of the songwriter’s best ideas yet, with classic ‘90s house and hip-hop keys underpinning several tracks (see trippy raver ‘STARGAZR’ and the Hadouken-style electro-clash of ‘ROCKET FUEL’). In this, it reflects the eclecticism of The S.L.P, the solo side project he launched in 2019 with a self-titled debut album that featured Slowthai and Little Simz.

On the new record’s closer ‘Letting Go’, Pizzorno resurfaces that opening sample of waves lapping against shore for a glitchy acoustic ballad on which his vocals sound lighter and more compelling than ever before as he croons: “Even if your head’s not right, it’ll be alright / If you just start letting go.” The album’s finest moment, though, arrives via ‘T.U.E (the ultraview effect)’, a pulsing dance tune that evolves into a free flowing, prog-rock space opera à la Pink Floyd. Its title refers to a spiritual shift said to be experienced by astronauts who make it to space and see Earth from a different perspective. Pizzorno has said that he’s fascinated by such an idea, likening that alien feeling to that of moving on without Meighan.

“Our earlier years were beautiful and always will be, but that was then and this is now”

With those sonic experiments and a new line-up in mind, did it feel more important than ever to change things up for album number seven? “Not really, I don’t think so,” Pizzorno says. “I think this album’s a culmination of all the records we’ve made before. We’ve stepped on a hell of a lot of ground, if you listen back through each record. There’s definitely a Kasabian sound but it’s following on from the ideas that have been there from day one.

“For me, the important thing to get across was… my attention span is shot. I think the world’s is shot. So if anything I wanted everything to be super-direct. I wanted four or five songs within one song. I wanted things to change and I wanted this record to be played and still be fresh and new as when you [first] hear it ‘cause it sort of flies around. I just feel like it’s where we went next; it follows on from what we’ve done before.”

Kasabian's Chris Edwards
Chris Edwards. Credit: Neil Bedford

So the tunes are there on ‘The Alchemist’s Euphoria’, but now Pizzorno has to sell them onstage. During that superb, aforementioned headline show at Truck last month, he told the crowd they’d seen Kasabian’s “best fucking gig of the summer… it’s absolutely insane,” adding: “This is what you join a band for”.

Today he reflects on the requirements of a truly amazing live show, which has been a massive part of the band’s MO since the early ‘00s: “I think the songs need a different life. It needs a different interpretation. You could sing them really well but then you may as well listen to the CD.”

Kasabian's Ian Matthews
Ian Matthews. Credit: Neil Bedford

Yet his inspirations for a great gig may surprise those who’ve written off Kasabian as mere lad-rockers, a reputation they’ve railed against for almost their entire lifespan: “I went to see Kendrick [Lamar] a few years ago and that was insane, inspiring. And then Tyler [the Creator] as well. I think, like, those shows… [there’s] the combination of the tunes but then of just bringing everyone in.”

That’s not to say he’s absolutely determined to put distance between himself and the likes of Oasis, to whom Kasabian have historically been compared (with the bolshie Meighan their Liam and Pizzorno the Noel-like brains behind the magic). When Liam, a long-term friend of the band, invited Kasabian to support him at his massive Knebworth shows in June, it felt extra special for Pizzorno and co. – not least because the request came before they’d even played publicly in their new incarnation.

“There’s some beautiful things on the way. The album feels great and we’re really happy”

“[Liam’s] always been absolutely beautiful – and from day one,” Pizzorno says warmly. “We’d not played a gig [without Meighan] and, you know, he asked us to support him. So that’s the kind of belief you’ve got. He’s unbelievable. He’s just so super switched-on and there’s nothing but sort of support and love. And it’s mega.”

Unsure of what lies ahead for Kasabian – or even The S.L.P., for that matter – Pizzorno simply explains that he’s “got folders of loads of music”. He does, though, note the “beautiful” response from fans at festivals this summer and says he’s hopeful of a positive future: “There’s some beautiful things on the way. The album feels great and the band’s… you know, we are really happy. So we’ll see.”

As someone else once said: it’s getting better, man. In fact, Liam Gallagher’s infectious optimism seems to have enthused Serge, who relays wise words the former Oasis frontman imparted to him at Knebworth: “Pick up the flag. Pick it up; march on.” Pizzorno reflects for a moment, then adopts his Mancunian counterpart’s catchphrase, “D’you know what I mean?”, before stoically summing up Kasabian’s mindset in 2022: “March on – business as usual.”

‘The Alchemist’s Euphoria’ is out now via Sony Music