Kasabian’s eponymous 2004 debut shifted 700,000 copies in the UK alone.
Now the swaggering Leicester boys return with the sequel Empire, one of the most anticipated albums of the autumn.
We caught up with drummer Ian Matthews for a chat about all things imperial.
The excitement in Ian Matthews’ voice is palpable. Kasabian havefinished their second album, their single Empire is just dropping and theband is getting the live momentum going once again.
So much so that my callfinds them on the tour bus, picking them up somewhere near Dover.
“We’ve been on this bus for almost 20 hours!” he says, not a hint oftiredness in his voice, “and we’re on our way to Italy for a gig.” Our talkhowever inevitably switches quickly to the new album, and it’s clearMatthews can’t wait to talk about it.
“It’s a big mix. There’s much more in the way of variety on it, we’vepushed out further with our ideas. There’s Empire, of course, which is amarching stomp, I think, a kind of bouncing glam. There’s a track calledLast Trip (In Flight) which is a dirty, filthy tune that swings. Thenthere’s Stuntman, which is very rhythmic, and then the record chills out abit. There’s a very powerful track called British Legion near the end, andan acoustic track (assumed to be Doberman) where Serge just went in thestudio and sat there, with his acoustic guitar and just played it, and thesong came out, just like that. There’s a very cheeky mariachi trumpet soloon the end, from Martin Smith, who used to play with the SuperFurry Animals. The album goes on a real journey, not just going throughthe motions.”
Ian feels the band retain the edgy approach that characterised the firstalbum. “We’re different, we didn’t go out of our way to try and bedifferent but we’re not stuck on one musical style. We all love differentmusic and we’re all eclectic, rather than just listening to theClash or the Jam. We’re versatile, and we’re not scared ofbringing different modes in or using different drum sounds.”
A prime example of this is the album’s first single, Empire. “We bangedit out but it became obvious there was a gaping hole in the middle. We’dheard these Moroccan string players in Paris, and we had the idea ofgetting them to play the bit in the middle just in their style. It’s reallydistinctive, with a kind of a slide in it that works really well.”
With attention turning to their vocalist, Ian feels he too is moving toanother level. “Tom’s voice has definitely developed as it’s gone on.There’s a new track called Sun/Rise/Light/Flies, the fifth track on thealbum, where he has to sing so high, right at the top of his range, and itsounds absolutely amazing. I think touring has definitely matured hisvoice.”
Kasabian, it seems, are permanently on tour, but they’re still lovingit. Tom speaks with something approaching fervour when he says, “we’restill finding something new every night, even after about two hundred gigsin the last eighteen months! It still feels good playing the music, everynight is incredible.”
The band played this year’s T in the Park festival, a slot taken on atrelatively short notice. “We only heard about it a month before, it was sounexpected. When we do a festival like V one of the reasons we go there isto have a good time, so we’re gonna give them, the audience, such a goodtime, and give them Club Foot, Processed Beats, L.S.F. and stuff like that.This time it was great cos we could just go up there and say “right, thisis our new stuff, see if you like it”. And they did! Scottish audienceshave always been good to Kasabian – actually, all northern audiences are inparticular.”
The video for Empire has proved unexpectedly topical, with war as itscentral subject. “Right from the storyboard we realised this was big, ahair brained scheme! It was amazing, shooting it with cannons, soldiers,ditches, and all of us wearing uniform. We looked kind of pissed offthroughout it though, we’re meant to be normal working soldiers but we’vestayed in that trench overnight, we’re fucked off, and yet the call comesfor us again to go over into the action. We’re not being cowards, but we’vehad enough! Tom makes it through to the end though; he gets to look theleader in the face right at the end.”
It’s a pretty far cry from a year and a half ago, such has beenKasabian’s relentless surge forward. Ian offers his view on the secretbehind their success, saying. “I think we’ve been committed to the causeand to our fans. We know there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and thattouring is hard work. When you’re down it’s not so glamorous, but we loveit most of the time. I’m being honest when I say not a day goes by withoutme thinking I’m blessed. I think another reason behind our success is thatwhen we say we’re gonna do a show we actually turn up, unlike some otherpeople we might mention! We always deliver.”
Recently the band’s profile in the US has also been raised, due largelyto a tour supporting Oasis. “It was really good. Clearly we’re atsquare one over there, and we had to work really hard – I mean, it’s such amassive place, and you’ve got to take the time to do it. We got a reallygood reception in California in particular, and also Austin.”
As drummer, Ian recognises the importance of his role in the band’sstrongly rhythm-based sound. “Absolutely, with the big drum tracks likeProcessed Beats or Club Foot. Processed Beats was one of the early ones,when the guys picked me up in Bristol – we had a long-distance relationshipin those days, and it carried on for a few years.”
With that track in mind, he considers the possibility of a Haciendainfluence. “It’s an interesting question, but it’s definitely not a baggyrevivalist thing – Club Foot ain’t no baggy tune, but people do come andget big with it! The track Stuntman on the new album is possibly one thattakes from that era, it’s quite housey.”
We go on to talk about Kasabian’s powerfully inspirational music, astypified by Club Foot, and Ian’s enthusiasm is infectious. “You should feelwhat it’s like to play that every night! There is a euphoric, hold youhands up quality, saying we’re gonna have it massive!”
So what now for the band? “We’ve go another video to do, for Shoot TheRunner, a bit of a surprise there so I’m not going to say anything to spoilthe story. We’re probably going to do some British dates later in the year”(now confirmed on the band’s website). And summing up the mood in the camp,he says, “We’re absolutely buzzing right now, we’re right on the edge ofthat cliff – and just about to jump off!”