Tom Meighan can’t make up his mind whether or not his new Yellow Submarine T-shirt fits.
The Kasabian singer loves coming to see Barbara Charone at MBC PR - where there’s always plenty of Beatles treasure to fondle. On this particular morning, it’s clothing: gratis cobalt blue swag promoting the release of the Fab Four’s newly-remastered cartoon classic.
Yet something’s not quite right. “They ordered me a fucking Large, mate,” he tells Music Week, pacing Charone’s office – an agitated panther in snug grey denims. “They’re fucking HUGE these, BC!”
He switches into a size Small, but craves some sartorial reassurance. Despite only meeting moments beforehand, he beckons us to confirm his new garment’s not too clingy. We oblige, and he’s satisfied into quietness - for about 0.63 of a second. Suddenly startled by a flash of football-related recognition, he bear-hugs Charone, bouncing on the spot. “Fucking Champions League! I know it’s Chelsea, but fucking fair play, fair play!”
Without pause, the motormouth Leicester City fanatic whizzes out of the door, mumbling about Kasabian’s new tour bus being “weird” and how he’s busting for a piss. Meanwhile, Tom is supposed to be conducting a phone interview. His PR tribe are courteous and patient – beaming at him like a gifted offspring – but teeth are being gently gritted.
Tom seems to want to interact with everyone, touch everything – a kind of natural preoccupied purgatory somewhere between E and e-numbers. It’s essential to what makes him so captivating on stage, of course; the only rock band frontman still deemed Radio 1-worthy, judging by last month’s guitar-unfriendly Hackney Weekend bill.
In contrast to his stimulation-seeking bandmate, Sergio ‘Serge’ Pizzorno hardly moves a muscle during our 40-minute solo interview. He sits with his wiry frame stooped forwards, elbows on thighs. His sentences are gradually offered, his hands clasped together in contemplation.
Serge has remained amused by and protective of Tom’s antics ever since the pair were 11 years old: ?it’s perhaps fitting that a man with the patience of a saint uses a crucifix as a key cornerstone of his Robert Plant-gone-goth get-up.
He speaks eloquently about his friendship with Tom, his love for Sixties psych-freaks like The Pretty Things, his respect for mentor Noel Gallagher – and why, after 12 years of electronica-flecked songs and one particularly leftfield, weirdly commercially huge album (West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum), people still dismiss his band as neanderthal pub rockers…
You told Music Week last year you were worried by the lack of new bands topping festival bills. Other than Jack White, you were pretty much the only guitar act at Hackney. Who’s to blame?
I don’t know if this is going too deep into it, but it’s almost as if because you can make music at home now, you get producers in their bedrooms using guest vocalists. The whole mates meeting at school not wanting to do real jobs and forming a band thing is old-fashioned. And maybe with the bands out there, it’s not cool to try and be big. We certainly grew up in an era when the only thing to be was massive. But we’re an odd fit: on paper, we shouldn’t be huge. With the tunes we release and the attitude and the albums we make, we shouldn’t be massive.
You’ve never been embarrassed about playing the biggest stages…
Definitely. We’ve always appreciated the fact that effectively, when you’re on stage, you’re entertaining. It sounds sick, it’s kind of a sick word – even saying it makes me feel a bit awkward. But it is true: you work hard, you pay your money to see a band and when you’re standing there you want to be fucking blown away. We’ve always understood that dynamic: people are there to see a show. Let’s make sure they go away saying: “That was incredible. I feel fucking reborn.” I’m not sure that could be said for many new bands.
We’re in the age where comment is everywhere. Perhaps people grow up far more self-conscious about their art these days – and from there, if they’re picked on, the defensive options are to say “you just don’t get it” and stay niche, or try and please every single person and be rubbish…
That is true. You have to take it on the chin. You have to accept that people are going to think you’re a complete cunt. But it’s better to buzz off that and wear it as a badge and say: “I am a cunt. So what? So are you.” I don’t have a personal Twitter, I never read reviews anymore.
That way, I protect myself from caring about what everyone else thinks. I mean, who leaves a nice comment? Most of the time, if you’re watching something – and I’m guilty of it – you’re going to hate it straight away. And there’s energy in that hate so you’ll be bothered to leave a bad comment.
No one’s going to say, “That’s amazing, let’s tell them how we appreciate the beauty in that”. You’re more likely to go: “This is SHIT!” That’s the best advice to any band coming through that we need right now: shut it all out. Forget about anyone else’s opinions but your own.
How’s America going for you? We’re told time and time again about it being a long hard slog…
That’s the thing. It’s dedicating so much time; weighing up the balance of the reward vs. whether you can put yourself through it. Annoyingly, it went well when we were last out there. In some ways, you wish it hadn’t, so you can say: “You know what, we’ll do the odd gig, but it’s not going to happen.” But we got on K-Roc. I don’t know the ins and outs but I think that’s a big deal.
Definitely – especially for a UK act who can’t be easily categorised alongside Blink 182 or Metallica…
They give even less of a shit about UK guitar bands in America than they do here! We’ve got a decision to make: do we go full on or not? It’s a poser, because is it worth killing yourself for? But there’s always a part of you going: “It would be nice, wouldn’t it?” The times are kind of crying out for it. We’ve given the US Coldplay, Mumford and Sons, Ed Sheeran – it’s all very nice, fair enough – and a load of boy bands. But it would be nice to give them something with a bit of, well, you know.
We’ve heard there may have been an issue with the label in the US that held things up?
This is a real shame: we got feedback from the American label that the last record [West Ryder] wasn’t going to happen. So we were like: “Okay. If we’re getting that bullshit from them, there’s no point.” There was this negativity. [The record] was blowing up all over the world, so we weren’t going to go to a country - in which it’s impossible anyway - to meet people who weren’t fucking trying to die for you and get your record on the radio. What was the point in spending three months in the States when we could go to Australia, Japan and elsewhere who loved the record?
We’ve moved label with Velociraptor! in the US and it’s just changed. We’ve got on the radio, we’re doing 3,000 a night in New York and all the gigs are sold out on the tour. It just shows what can happen when someone believes in you. We also got in our own people out there, which if you’re in a position to do that, I’d recommend to anyone. You need someone going into these fucking offices, man, ready to kill for you. Because no-one gives a shit.
West Ryder is a weird record in success terms: you have had massive pop hits off it, but it’s very experimental – even Fire has a bundle of time signature changes in it. I remember somebody describing you as “thug indie” a couple of years ago and being a bit perplexed. Does that perception frustrate you?
Absolutely. It’s amazing what sticks from the first few interviews you ever do; what carries over every year. You just think: “Fuck me, have we not shed that [reputation] yet?” I read about Stanley Kubrick – he was known as a recluse and a bit of a weirdo. But he just loved his house and didn’t like going to awards ceremonies because they were full of wankers. He preferred staying at home – he wasn’t a recluse or weird, he just didn’t want to hang around at these parties. He said that reputation stuck with him forever
and he could never shake it. It really annoyed him.
Don’t get me wrong, we’re no angels and we don’t do ourselves any favours because we like a fucking drink and a good time, and every now and again we’ll say something stupid. But doesn’t everyone?
Artistically, though, it’s different. If you put us in that [lad rock] category, I stopped getting annoyed when I realised what a prick you look by saying it. For all the people who know what we’re about, they’ll laugh at you for saying that. You sound so ill-informed if you’ve listened to the records and still have that opinion. You’ve been hypnotised by the media and you’re a sheep.
In a lot of ways, I’ve learnt to use it as a weapon: the more you think that of me, the more fucked up I’m going to make [our sound]. I’ll put eyeliner on, we’ll make tunes that sound like Silver Apples, we’ll put out more stuff that freaks you out – fuck you.
Noel Gallagher has become a mentor to you – and he’s quietly working hard with High Flying Birds’ tour schedule. How often do you talk?
All the time. We’re proper mates. It was weird for a bit because I was always a bit in awe; he was the reason I picked up a guitar. You’ve always got that thing of going: “Fucking hell. I had your poster on my wall. Fuck off, you’re doing my head in.” But that fades away. He’s grafting his fucking balls off now. It just shows the power [of music]. You hear people say “they should have stopped at 27” or whatever, but it’s in you – and it’s in him. It’s what makes him feel fucking alive. That’s inspiring. He still loves making music.
You are on Columbia in the UK, where Mike Smith recently exited. Did you work closely?
Yeah. Mike worked at EMI when we signed our publishing to them, too. Deep down, he just fucking loves music – and there’s not many of them around, especially in the higher jobs. You notice executives might be business-savvy, but it’s very rare that they are properly into music – every type. I have total respect for Mike on that level. And when he was in charge at Columbia, he just let us get on with it. He just let us follow what we wanted to do.
We had our ups and downs because as a band we’re fucking opinionated, but it shouldn’t be too cosy with bosses. You should be ramming what you’re putting out down people’s necks. But ultimately, Mike was always in favour of the artist and that’s a rarity and a beautiful trait to have – especially in the music industry and especially now. I have total respect for him for that. Wherever he goes from now, artists will always buzz off him.
There’s a new setup there now – how’s everything going in the post-Mike era?
Although we’re in the music business, we’re very much outsiders. We’re left alone to get on with what we do. We sit down and say: “Right. Our biggest tune, Fire, is the most mental pop song ever written.” What does a label say to that? You just have to put it out.
We’re difficult to get involved with and we’re lucky – this is a rare thing – we’ve never let anyone get close enough to [change us]. Our A&R man, Mike Pickering, is not only a legend – I hate the word, but he is – in electronic music, but to have chats with him about tunes is really good. It’s never going to be [controlling], but it’s support. He’s so important to us.