Album Reviews Q&A: Kasabian
With the release of their fourth album, Velociraptor!, just around the corner, Kasabian are preparing themselves for another assault on the British charts. The Leicestershire-formed band's previous two LPs, Empire (2006) and West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum (2009), both debuted at number one in the UK, and their eponymous debut of 2004 continues to rack up the sales. Will Velociraptor! prove just as successful? The single Days Are Forgotten, out now, is sure to serve as a barometer of sorts; look out for where it charts on Sunday. Guitarist, producer and primary songwriter Sergio Pizzorno answers our questions about what is, even on one listen, clearly Kasabian's boldest album yet...
How are you feeling, now the album's release is imminent?
I'm impatient for it to come out now, because it's been finished for ages really, since April. And the fear of it being leaked... it's a nightmare. It happened to the last one - that leaked about a month before it was due to come out. I think we've survived it this time, but now I just want it out there. I've spoken about it a lot, and now I want it on the shelves so people can buy it.
That must be a strange feeling, dreading a leak. On one hand you want people to hear your new music, but on the other you have to keep it under wraps...
It's just a shame, because there's something so amazing about getting new music on the day it's released. The way the curiosity builds... I suppose it's natural to want to have a listen, but in this day and age nobody seems able to wait for the finished record. They want to hear the whole thing, now. It's nice, I think, and really exciting, when you wait for a release date.
I can certainly remember waiting for Our Price to open, so I could buy new CDs before going into college...
I can too, I used to do that. It's a real shame about piracy these days, but what can you do? I suppose you've just got to get on with it. I mean, with artwork and the music together, you get something that's worth buying. That's how we've thought about our albums - we want people to want to buy this, not steal it. That's the way around it - rather than give in, be more creative, have more ideas so that people will want to own what you've made.
Let's talk first impressions of Velociraptor!... I listened to it a few weeks ago, and what struck me was how confident it sounds, and how big it all sounds. It's full of this feeling that Kasabian are now a band that could try anything, all stylistic bets were off in the writing process...
That's the way it was, definitely. It was strange to become as big as we did off the back of West Ryder..., because that was meant as our experimental album, our psychedelic journey into madness. We've sort of done things the wrong way around - perhaps we should have had this album out before that one, and that'd have made more sense. But that experience made us realise that people do want to be blown away, they do want to be taken to different places, and the way to become as big as we have might well be down to never giving in, and to try new things all the time. But we definitely didn't want to repeat the West Ryder... formula; we didn't want another psychedelic record. We wanted to make what was a pop record to us, a record full of melodies and pop structures. But we still wanted it to be 'out there'...
I'd say, certainly, the variety across the new album is quite striking. Was there no fear that the myriad sounds, from mariachi flourishes to Led Zep-style bombast, would lead to a rather disharmonious album experience, that it'd just be a selection of tracks rather than a coherent whole?
(Laughs) Yeah, that was a thing, as there were moments where we wondered if it'd all fit together. But then we thought back to West Ryder..., and realised that we could f*** the rules. I mean, to have Goodbye Kiss on the same album as Switchblade Smiles is insane, but you just have to think of something like The White Album to realise that mixing things up like that is fine, actually. That's got Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da on the same record as Sexy Sadie - it shouldn't work, but it does. If it's good, I think people will go with you. And right now, people have had 40 or 50 years of great music, so tastes have become accustomed to so much different stuff. So as long as something's good, I think it'll always work.
And hopefully, given the fanbase you've attracted over your past three albums, there will be plenty of faithful followers willing to go along with your new sounds on this album...
Hopefully, yes. But what's brilliant is that you just never know. That's really exciting to me, that unknown - it's a great feeling, not knowing what people are going to make of it.
Given the huge success of West Ryder... - it went to number one, and was nominated for the Mercury - are you worried at all about this album not performing quite as well, critically or commercially?
Well, it depends... If we weren't so proud of the record we've made here, and we were doing it for the wrong reasons - i.e. we were in this for the money - then I think we'd be worried. Also, if we were just doing this for the money, then we'd have released an album a lot sooner after West Ryder..., to capitalise on that album's success. You know, we'd be keener to stay in people's minds, so we'd be churning something out just for the sake of doing so, really. If that was the case: yes, we'd be bothered if this album didn't go to number one. But honestly, I know that I can sleep easily at night knowing that we've made a great record here. We've never really needed anyone else's acceptance for us to feel satisfied - I think it's a waste of energy if you're doing this sort of thing exclusively for other people, rather than to satisfy your own needs. Once you reach that stage the music is bound to become stale. I hope that we've always strived to mess things up a little.
Well I'd say, certainly commercially, Kasabian have nothing left to prove, which opens up the possibility of your albums being more and more adventurous...
Definitely. It's amazing that all of our previous albums have done over a million copies in the UK. In this day and age, that's incredible. I mean, it's a b****** to sell any kind of record, so that's really been something for us. But our success, like I said, has come because we've never given in. We've really worked for this.
I get the impression from the variety of sounds on the album that perhaps Tom (Meighan, vocals) and you don't share quite the same taste in music. I'm wondering who is the hip hop head, and who's digging their classic rock vibes...
Well, it's fair to say that we do listen to a wide variety of stuff. On the tour bus, we'll go from Faust to Boards of Canada to Roy Orbison to the Stones, so there's an eclectic mix going on there. I don't think we can lie about stuff like this, so we'll admit to liking something regardless of whether it's seen as cool or not. Because great music produces a physical reaction - you'll start moving, or your hair will stand on end - and you can get that from a track that some people might think is crap. But as long as it triggers that reaction, I think, that's all that matters, which is why what we're into has always been so varied.
And Dan the Automator's involved again, after he produced West Ryder...; what brought you back to him for a second time?
I don't think there was anyone else for this record. It took nigh on six months to write and record this record, and I worked so well with Dan last time that it was just the thing to do.
Because you do some of the production yourself, how do you separate the musician side of you from the producer side of you, when it's your own material you're working with?
The thing is, the way I write, I never end up at the studio with an acoustic song. I've always arrived with the finished track in mind, so stylistically it'll already be in its right place. I don't even call what I do at home demos anymore, but what I record by myself tends to go onto the album as it is, stylistically anyway. The best way to describe it, really, is like you're working on a canvas: it might take four months to finish, as you're adding and taking away layers. Sometimes in songs there are three or four ideas going on at once, building those same layers... You can never get bored of it.
But if you were to do all the production yourself, without the sounding board of Dan - who, of course, is a pair of ears detached from the band itself - it could go on forever, couldn't it? It'd drive a man mad, picking tiny parts of a song away, and building them back up...
Yeah, that is true. But it's also... I dunno, it amazes me, and I like that control over everything. If something's not quite right, I like to know that I can change it. I want to make everything perfect.
I felt, from the one playback I've had, that Velociraptor! sounded fairly 'studio' heavy, what with the strings and various effects. Are you going to be able to play all of it live?
We're about a month away from rehearsing for the arena tour, but the early signs are good, and the tunes we've mastered are sounding incredible. The only thing is the strings, as there are a few tracks with really epic arrangements on them. Now, I'd absolutely love to take a string section with us on tour, but it's rather expensive carting around a 50-piece orchestra. So we'll record the strings onto a tape and play along with that. It's such a beautiful thing to have. But other than that, it's mainly 'rock band' elements at play, so it's really easy.
Perhaps there's scope for a one-off show with an orchestra? Perhaps at a festival next summer?
I'd love that. I'd absolutely love to do that. I'd also love to play this album from start to finish at a show, that'd be beautiful. But yeah, at some point it'd be incredible to get a string section in to play with us. If we're headlining a festival, that'd be amazing.
Finally, what have been your favourite albums of this year, so far?
Well, I really like the Sleigh Bells album, but that came out last year didn't it? It's 2011 now, isn't it? S***, I can't choose that then! I like the Miles Kane album, that's done well; and the new Black Lips album is incredible too. It's fantastic, the job Mark Ronson's done on that album. I know their work from previous albums, so I was a bit worried Ronson would clean them up too much. But he hasn't - he's kept them true to what they were, and even refined them a little. It's a great record, that.
Read the BBC Music review of Velociraptor!
Kasabian - Official Site (external link)
Watch the official video for Days Are Forgotten (external YouTube link)
Read more Album Reviews Q&A articles on the BBC Music Blog