Interview with Tom Meighan of Kasabian - January 6th, 2012
By Mike Bax
Tom Meighan, lead singer of UK five-piece Kasabian, is in a particularly good mood when he rings me up to chat. In a car heading into London, his thick accent and somewhat dodgy cellular signal make for a bit of a rocky conversation, but transcribed here, his answers seem spot on.
In Europe, Kasabian is a going concern. Their albums sell in large quantities, their music lifted for all forms of television, sporting events, and video game soundtracks. The band’s music fits in well with so many elements of popular culture abroad they almost seem like a band that launched with a silver spoon when compared to some of their musical compatriots. Like so many UK bands before them, Kasabian is an underappreciated band here in North America. Their headlining tours abroad are quite massive, but on this side of the pond the band plays to significantly smaller venues across the country. In reality, I was quite fortunate to be chatting with the lead singer of a band I both love and respect… if Lithium was a UK vehicle, the band likely wouldn’t bother chatting to me.
Combining a sound that throws back to the baggy Happy Mondays / Stone Roses sounds of the nineties, Kasabian delivers a contagious mixture of hip swaying club music fused with the retro rock sound of yesteryear. Their latest album, Velociraptor, is their most infectious album to date (and it’s their fourth full release, for anyone keeping score). Kasabian is set to play the Kool Haus in Toronto on March 29th, just a few days before they will take the stage in Indio, California at this year’s Coachella Festival.
Mike: Hello, Tom. It’s great to get a chance to chat with you.
Tom: Cheers, mate. Thanks.
Mike: Where are you right now?
Tom: I’m in a car, going to London.
Mike: I understand you will be coming to North America shortly.
Tom: Yes, that’s correct.
Mike: It’s going to be amazing to see you perform again. I’m looking forward to it.
Tom: Yeah, me too, man. We haven’t been over there in a while. We’ve got a lot of stuff to catch up with over there. (Laughs)
Mike: The last time I saw you play it was the Empire tour; had to be at least five years ago now.
Tom: Wow! That was indeed five years ago, wasn’t it? Maybe six.
Mike: You had the Swedish band Mew opening up for you. It was a great evening of music.
Tom: That’s crazy, man - crazy. Where does the time go? Where has it gone? Wow!
Mike: On Kasabian’s latest album, Velociraptor, “Let's Roll Just Like We Used To” starts off like a bit of Sergio Leone score material for some unmade film - an interesting way to lead off your most diverse album to date. Was that intentional?
Tom: Well, yeah. I mean, thanks for that mate, I appreciate it. For Velociraptor, it’s pretty simple, really. We’d come off tour and we had a bit of a break, and Sergio had a few songs together, but not in any sense of order, really. He gave me a call and said, “I’ve got a few songs here. Why don’t we get together and record them?” And I said, “That’s great!” There’s no point in waiting on this stuff, really. We didn’t rush it. We didn’t panic on the record or anything. We didn’t feel like we had to push a record out. It came nicely for us, which was cool.
Mike: Nice. Did you try to suggest that this was going to be a different album from Kasabian with that Leone intro?
Tom: Yeah, I think so. I think the songs on Velociraptor are more direct, you know? They’re basic. Well, they aren’t really, but they sound more basic, don’t they? West Ryder really surprised everyone. I don’t know how it got so big, really. We had a concept for that record when we made it. Velocipator, we had to go the other way, really. We went for the old first chorus bridge a bit more on this one. It’s a bit of a simpler record for us, really - a NICE record.
Mike: Can you talk a bit about Dan the Automator and his production on Velociraptor?
Tom: Yeah, Dan was cool, man. Working with Dan is pretty easy, you know? Same with West Ryder… he was cool to work with and really laid back. We liked his style and we wanted him again. He’s a good chap.
Mike: What do you think he brings to the table for Kasabian as a band?
Tom: Well, I reckon that he gives us good space. He finds things in our music that we don’t hear sometimes, and he takes these things and puts his signature on them, which is great. He picks these things up and gives them a bit more oomph - a bit more of that kick, you know? He’s really good at what he does. He’s a clever man.
Mike: I don't think I've ever talked with a band that has a bona-fide stadium chant as you have with 'Switchblade Smiles'. You must be a football fan then?
Tom: Thanks, mate. Yeah.
Mike: Who's your football team?
Tom: Leichester. You’d probably say “lie-chester,” wouldn’t ya? (Laughs)
Mike: Are you guys all football fans?
Tom: Yes, we’re all massive football fans - me and Sergio are. Chris supports Leeds for some weird reason. (Laughs) I don’t know why.
Mike: Did you have ANY inkling that the song would be associated with football when you wrote it?
Tom: Not a chance, man. We didn’t really have that idea at all. We didn’t think that would happen with any of our songs. Our music is a bit like that though – it attracts TV. It attracts games and it attracts films. We bring a certain energy to it, I guess… a certain taste. That’s why people seem to like it. We don’t write music for fucking football though. It’s just a thing that happens. I like it though, but I can’t tell you why it happens, really.
Mike: Are you ever surprised the way your material finds life on the air, in commercials, and as a national sports’ anthem? 'Days Are Forgotten' wound up becoming a WWE Theme song, right?
Tom: It’s surprising, really. It’s energy music. It kicks in and gives you an oomph. It seems to have a direction, and makes you aim straight, you know? That’s why they likely pick it. I’m not sure why they like us so much, to be honest.
Mike: Do you approach a North American tour differently than a European tour? How so?
Tom: Yeah, you know… we do more drugs.
Do more drugs and drink more alcohol. We’re free people, mate… we’re free. Nahhh, I’m kidding. (Laughs) No no… them days are gone. We’re pretty good boys now? We’re alright. We’re not bad.
Mike: Like many British bands, I feel like North America is a very different challenge for you musically. I feel your band is under-appreciated here.
Tom: Yeah, and so do we. That’s why we’ve got to finish business there.
Mike: Is it strange to achieve such massive success abroad and essentially come to North America and start over again and again?
Tom: Well, it is what it is mate. I don’t know… I think that’s the case with loads of bands right now, isn’t it? It isn’t as big and as massive as it used to be all around. You’ve got the huge bands still, of course, but everyone else seems to struggle more. You have to remember that we haven’t been to North America for a very long time. We did a lot of work out there on the first album, and again with Empire, and then we kind of left it. We thought. “Fuck it! There’s no point doing it if we aren’t going to grow any bigger”. We’re a club band in America and the same in Canada. We could play to 3 to 4 thousand a night anywhere else. That’s just the way it is. But now is the time to try and challenge ourselves to tour it again.
Mike: They've moved your Toronto show, Tom. The original venue sold out fast and the promoters had to move Kasabian to a bigger venue. So when you play here in March, it will be your largest headlining Toronto show to date.
Tom: That’s fantastic. How many does that venue hold, Mike? Do you know?
Mike: If they fill it, the Kool Haus can hold close to 2500 people.
Tom: That’s cool, man. That’s amazing. 2500 is fantastic, really. That’s great.
Mike: When you come over here to tour, what places and things do you crave on this side of the pond? Except drugs, of course…
Tom: Yeah, I like the Fox channel. (Laughs) I like Twinkies. They’re lovely, really soft cakes, and I dig the culture there, mate. I like the way things are done differently than over here. The culture change is fun to experience. The whole tour experience will be great.
Mike: I love that you played a show on a 747 for VEVO in Leichester. The footage online looks amazing - makes me wish I lived in the UK and could have seen it in person.
Tom: That was pretty cool. We really enjoyed doing that. I have to say again, I just can’t wait to get over to Toronto again. What was that club called again?
Mike: Kool Haus, but the Haus is spelt German style…
Tom: Nice. Are you from Toronto?
Mike: I’m from just outside of Toronto, but I see almost all of my live music there. I’ve never seen Kasabain anywhere except in Toronto.
Tom: Oh wow. Cool.
Mike: I’ll say this as well… I've seen you perform live a few times now and you never fail to deliver the goods. Kasabian is amongst a handful of bands that I keep on a list of bands people HAVE to see at least once. You guys have a real groove on stage.
Tom: I definitely agree with you. You have to see us to get us. We’re a rock band. That’s where we really work, I think. That’s where we get our credibility, really. When you see us live, it all makes sense somehow. It all comes to life. I’m with you on that one bro, big time. Cheers. (Laughs)
Mike: Do you change the music you play when you tour over here? Do you customize your live sets for North America?
Tom: Not really. No, we’ll play the new album and we’ll try and re-invent the old songs a bit to make them interesting again. That’s what we like doing. We’ll re-invent some of the old stuff and play a bunch of Velociraptor songs. You’ll see. The set is just fantastic now. It’s pulsating.
Mike: To me, Velociraptor sounds a bit different from your previous three albums, as I mentioned. The music is still hip shakingly good, but it sounds a bit more rooted in retro music. I can hear some sixties Ray Davies coming through on many of the songs.
Tom: Yeah, nice one, man. We went back to some old music, yeah. We’re influenced by a lot of things when we write.
Mike: Were you all looking to try and change things a bit when you were getting into the early writing for what became Velociraptor?
Tom: Definitely. I was just saying this to Sergio. The next record could be us belting out nine hard rock songs and putting them out as the next Kasabian album. What we do next will be something different from Velociraptor, just like Velocirator is quite different from West Ryder. We’ll try something off-scale.
Mike: What about Velociraptor are you most proud of, Tom?
Tom: Everything about it. It’s a body of work. It’s our art. It’s just fantastic. For me, the sentimental songs would be “Man of Simple Pleasures” and “Goodbye Kiss”; songs like “La Fee Verte”. I like that there’s a sentimental side that we’re showing people on the album, which is beautiful. I really like that. I also like the first song on the record, which you mentioned earlier. I think it’s beautiful.
Mike: The first time I played it, I thought it sounded very different.
Tom: “Let’s Roll Like We Used To” is quite different for us. It’s beautiful though. There’s a spirit to that song that I love. I think it’s a really beautiful song.
Mike: If I was taken to task on Velociraptor, I think I'd say it’s your broadest achievement to date as a band.
Tom: Thanks, man. That means a lot. Cheers!
Mike: I would have to pick “Switchblade Smiles” as my favourite song. It sounds like it has just enough of where you were mixed with where you certainly seem to be going as a band.
Tom: Nice one. Thanks bro.
Mike: I look forward to experiencing it live in a few months in Toronto.
Tom: Thanks for your time, bro. Happy New Year!