Rockers come of age
Kasabian have knocked all-nighters on the head, stopped dissing other bands - and have finally found favour with the harshest of critics, lead singer Tom Meighan says
Kasabian's Tom Meighan can't resist a triumphant cackle. "It's funny, the way everyone is kissing our behinds," he says of the band's sudden popularity among critics. "Thing is, the bad reviews never really mattered to us, mate. We go and try and make the best music. We don't give a shit."
He has to raise his voice slightly to be heard over a muffled tannoy announcement. Kasabian are rested up in a barn-like departure lounge in deepest Romania. They are on their way to headline a festival Meighan has never heard of in a corner of Eastern Europe he didn't even know existed until about 24 hours ago (in his carry-on luggage you will find the two items he never travels without -- Monster Munch corn snacks and Capri Sun orange drink).
"It's some shithole airport, innit," explains Meighan. "I don't know what the hell is going on here, mate. All I know is we are about to get on a jet with a load of cows and sheep and chickens.
"It feels like The Great Muppet Caper, where they stick them on a plane with all these weird animals. Or remember that Indiana Jones film where he's on the plane with them chickens [at a very wild guess, we think he's referring to one of the early scenes in Temple of Doom]. Well...it's like that!"
Four lairy lads from the dodgy side of Leicester, Kasabian were for years favourite punchbags for music journalists and elitist types generally. The most common gripe was that their songs were glorified 'terrace anthems', as if appealing to the sort of people who stand on terraces was the worst thing a band should aspire to.
That their early hit Club Foot bore a (very) superficial similarity to The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays was trotted out as further evidence for the prosecution (yes, how terrible to have a group whose finest moment suggested a kick-boxing mash-up of I Wanna Be Adored and Step On).
The jeerers were silenced in 2009 with the release of West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum, a sprawling, bizarre concept album exploring the relationship between art and madness (songwriter and guitarist Serge Pizzorno was at the time hanging about a great deal with surrealist Mighty Boosh comedian Noel Fielding).
Not even their most ardent detractors had it in them to pan the record out of hand; many held their hands up and admitted it was one of the finest British rock documents of the year. When West Ryder was duly nominated for the Mercury, nobody complained it was out of place among the usual parade of artsy student records and token hip-hop LPs. It didn't win. But the music universe wouldn't have imploded had it done so.
Now Kasabian are back with a long-player that, if anything, might be even better. The fantastically named (and punctuated) Velociraptor! sees the group reprising West Ryder's best elements -- the lurching dance beats and Middle Eastern melodies -- while slapping a great big slather of 30-something ennui on top. Recalling the childhood scrapes Meighan and Pizzorno used to get into (they've been pals since school) opener Let's Roll Like We Used To is, in particular, genuinely affecting.
If Noel had written it for Liam, Oasis might never have broken up. "It's really nice, isn't it?" says Meighan. "A lot of the album is about our past. It touches on nerves, all the things we've been through. It's a very real album. Very real."
Meighan is often painted as a Liam Gallagher, mad-for-it type. For sure, he knows how to swagger and has a bit of a motormouth. Ten years ago those were the very qualities that convinced Pizzorno he was the perfect frontman for his new band (Prince aside, Meighan is also surely the last person on the planet who will refer to another person as a 'cat').
Still, he's far from a two-dimensional, lager-chugging hooligan. Spend any time in his company and you discover he's actually rather a softie. For instance, when news of Amy Winehouse's death broke the first thing Meighan did was dispatch flowers and a message of condolence to her house.
"I'd met her numerous times, she was lovely -- a great talent," he says. "She got herself in a bad place, bless her. I've been fortunate not to see anyone crumble around me really. The band have been okay, as have people in other bands I know. Amy -- she was one of them you know? We went back a way. Before Back To Black came out -- we played some songs on guitar. It was sweet, man. I used to see her at awards all the time. On the other hand, she was a wild cat. That's how she lived her life."
When Meighan tells you Kasabian have matured, he is talking about more than their song-writing. A band that likes to party -- new song La Fee Verte is inspired by Pizzorno's love of absinthe, the spirit reputed to drive you mad -- they're gradually leaving their groupies-in-the-showers, telly-chucking days behind them. There is the occasional relapse. But mostly they find clean living a comfortable fit.
"When you're 23 you can stay up all night," says Meighan (recently turned 30). "I still do it now and again. Only not so much. I've got shows to do. We're a big band now, man. We were scamps back then. We had nothing to lose. We were fearless and the world was ours."
Along with knocking the all-nighters on the head, they've vowed to stop slagging off other bands in print. You wonder if they are going to find that a challenge. For a while, Kasabian raised inter-musician feuding to an art form. At Oxegen 2006, Meighan reportedly had to be kept apart from Kaiser Chief's Ricky Wilson for fears fists might fly. This was after Wilson had labelled Kasabian 'shit' in an interview, prompting Meighan to remark: "The next time I see Ricky I'm going to punch him in the face. I can't believe the Kaiser Chiefs dissed us -- they are ones to talk."
He later managed to get on the wrong side of cuddly Keane singer Tom Chaplin, describing him as a "posh boy" who lived on "pies and Quavers".
Most infamous of all was Kasabian's tiff with emo mega-group My Chemical Romance, whom Meighan critiqued as "clowns". "Their make-up will flake off and the scene will die out," he declared. "And it can't happen soon enough."
In what could have been a scene from Curb Your Enthusiasm, his tirade came back to bite him, however, as Kasabian found themselves seated alongside My Chemical Romance... on a 10-hour transatlantic flight.
"I know... 10 fucking hours," he says, shaking his head. "We got on and seen them and it was like, 'oh shit'. Right at the end of the flight I went, 'fuck this' and walked up and said I wanted to apologise. And they were like, 'oh man... why didn't you say this before! We've been sitting here shitting ourselves for 10 hours!' We laughed and hugged.
"It's only playground, man. Just a bit of fun. Anyone who takes us slagging off people seriously wants their heads looked at. It's a clever way of manipulating the media and getting people talking about us."
Velociraptor! is released today. Kasabian play The O2, Dublin, on November 26
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