Kasabian have never solely been the tub-thumping lad rockers some detractors have painted them as. For every ‘Underdog’ there’s been a cartoonish, outrageous alt-pop song like ‘Vlad The Impaler’ that draws on guitarist Serge Pizzorno’s art-school aspirations as much as it does the band’s talent for a rabble-rousing, lager-chucking refrain.
So it’s no surprise that Serge has branched out into The S.L.P, a trippy solo project that combines spaghetti Western-style themes with kaleidoscope pop and standout appearances from rappers Little Simz and Slowthai.
Here Serge sits down with NME to talk about the experimental, confrontational record – also titled ‘The S.L.P’ – Kasabian’s upcoming “annihilation music”, and the time Noel Gallagher sent him a Francis Bacon quote.
Hey Serge! So how come these songs are on an S.L.P record rather than a new Kasabian album?
“We [Kasabian] realised we’d not really had any time off – in terms of playing live or doing things – for like 20-odd years, or something mad. We thought: ‘Let’s just have a year where we do nothing.’ It felt like the right time. With this band we’ve seen so many things and done so many things. Joe Strummer said, ‘It’s good to shut the fuck up sometimes’. Even though I’ve not really done that!
But it was like, as a band, ‘Let’s just be quiet for a while.’ So then I thought, ‘What the hell am I gonna do? I’ll go mad not doing anything. It’ll probably be another five or six years [before I get another chance].”
After 20 years did you not want to just, you know, watch Coronation Street or something?
“I just can’t… I feel like I’m being chased by time. I just wanna do stuff, I wanna put stuff out. I do like making things. I pin-point on the art and making it, and don’t really think about the consequences. I didn’t really think about this too much. It’s only now that I have to talk about it and it’s like, ‘Oh, you’ve made a record on your own’. I didn’t really think of it like that. Those moments in the studio where it comes together – that’s everything.”
What do you admire about Little Simz, who appears on the track ‘Favourites’?
“Everything, really. I’m lucky to be able to work with her and get her on [the record]. She’s just so perfect for the song. Surprise was a big part of it. I wanted every tune to twist and turn so you never really quite know what’s gonna happen next. So I wanted to bring in people that I really wanna work with that wouldn’t necessarily be the first people you’d think of. There was that drive to make something interesting.
“I think [Simz] is at the forefront right now of making amazing, interesting music. Flow, delivery. Originally when she came to the studio it was an eight-bar thing; it quickly got turned into a 16-bar. She was like, ‘OK I got this’. She was sat there with a pen and pad for an hour – BANG! Straight back in. Finished it, little chat and then she was gone, back to rehearsing.”
And what do you admire about Slowthai?
“I just think he’s the real deal. I’ve seen him a few times live now. He’s spectacular. And a real nice guy. He’s got such a lovely way about him. He’s a real character and they are so hard to find. I went to see him in Birmingham; that’s as excited as I’ve been to see something new. He owns the stage like someone that’s been performing for 50 years.”
I wondered if he reminds you of the early days of Kasabian?
“Very much so. I really feel that – especially when I saw him in Birmingham in a tiny venue and it really reminded me of our early days and our first few gigs. There’s a confidence there but he’s also really charming. There’s something that draws you in. It’s great, man, the energy in that crowd; it’s well similar to the early days when we were playing King Tut’s [Wah Wah Hut in Glasgow] and York Fibbers and that – those mental nights where you could see that the crowd were just with you.”
On ‘Favourites’, you satirise social media…
“I’m fascinated by the world. It’s not like I’m a judge on the world; I just like to ask, ‘What is that? What is going on there?’ I was seeing more and more this unrealistic version of yourself, this perfect vision that you try and live up to. Where that’s gonna take us – God knows. I saw someone call it the fourth dimension where it’s like, how much you let the world into your life is now the norm. There’s the [online] world, and that’s fine, but then there’s you walking around as a person and letting people into that as well as everything else. I don’t know if that’s very good for ya.”
I recently re-watched, with great enjoyment, your famous Soccer AM goal…
“That’s gotta be 15 years ago now. 2005? [Actually it was 2006 – Ed.] And people still talk about it. If I did that now, given where the world is with social media, I really would have had to be answering for that forever. It’s weird that thing, man. It’s amazing – you kick a ball through an inflatable bouncy castle and that’s what people wanna talk about all the time. It’s a weird world, man.”
You got some stick on social media when, in 2015, you wore a T-shirt to the BAFTAs that said ‘Black Tie’.
“Before we started the tour I had so many clothes that I thought, ‘I need to figure out a way to not have to think about what to wear’. The idea was to have a white T-shirt with a different word every gig. So I had 250 T-shirts made [words included: “Voucher’, ‘Ta’ and ‘Les-tah’]. But then the idea was to choose words that made me laugh. When we did the BAFTAS – obviously you have to wear black tie – it was like, ‘Perfect!’ I’ve got a T-shirt!’ And I got annihilated for it. It was like, ‘How dare you disrespect the awards? It’s not even funny.’ It was like, ‘You’ve gotta see it in context!’ If you saw the story of how I got to that point, you’d go, ‘Oh, that’s quite good.’”
As with all of your work with Kasabian, there’s light-heartedness to ‘The S.L.P’. For instance: there’s a song called ‘The Youngest Gary’
“Humour’s really at the forefront – it’s funny when it gets lost on people every now and again. [My music is] littered with ridiculous, daft things. It’s always important to me that things are funny. A lot of my favourite artists use dark humour. Thom Yorke has some killers where you think, ‘That’s just pure comedy, that.’”
Do you think your sense of humour gets lost of on people?
“Oh, 100%. Our first song was called ‘Club Foot’. We’ve got a song called ‘Vlad The Impaler’ – what the heck? From the title you’d think it’s about this mean character, but it’s pure cartoon.”
Have you reconciled with the fact that some people think you’re not self-aware? Does it bother you?
“Do you know what, I learned pretty quickly. Even on the first record you’d read things and you’d hear things, and you’d wanna sit them down and explain yourself. Explain where certain things came from. Say they got the reference wrong – it’d do my head in. You’d go, ‘No, man! It wasn’t that film, it was this film!’ And then I realised with the second record there’s nothing you can do. You’re better off just shutting your mouth and getting on with it. Your never gonna win. So you just carry on.
“And then I think, over time, the more you put out the more output people start to go, ‘Oh, OK, I didn’t… Oh, it was that.’”
Kasabian are named after Linda Kasabian, the getaway driver for the Manson Family. It’s interesting that Manson is back in the news thanks to the Tarantino movie ‘Once Upon A Time In Hollywood’
“It’s amazing what’s sprung from that mad little period. A few years ago, someone played Linda Kasabian one of our songs. The quote said she was “pleasantly surprised” – whatever that means. It’s a good review; I’ll take that.”
Has working on this album affected the your work with Kasabian? Has it opened any doors, creatively?
“There’s the childlike thing of just making it for the sake of it. [When you’re in a big band] it becomes a machine and all of a sudden there’s 28 trucks at a gig. But it feels like it’s really reset. The next chapter for [Kasabian] feels really exciting for the band because it feels like I’ve seen Earth from outer space. I’ve looked back in. I’ve got a whole new perspective on what we can do next. And we’ll see what we can get away with.”
What do you see when you look down at the future of Kasabian?
“More of the same, really. Just turn it up a few notches. We were talking to Noel the other day and he said – it might have been a Francis Bacon quote – ‘Go for the nervous system.’”
So are you underway with the Kasabian album?
“Yeah, I’m always in the studio. I’ve got the studio at home. I’ve started already, and from the few bits that are there already, I know that they would not have existed without this album. The wheels are turning. It’s annihilation music.”